Current Groups

book group 79: September 2 - September 30, 2014

Janet Falon: Fun with Words

If you’re eager to play with words, to try new ways of writing and some unconventional and lively approaches to self-expression, this class is for you. From September 2nd to September 30, you will receive a new writing prompt each weekday, which you will respond to and send to the instructor and, if you’re willing, the other class participants. Although the instructor will not be making in-depth comments on each submission, each piece will be read by the instructor and the other students if you choose to share (and we hope you do!). The goal here is not so much to turn out high-quality writing, but to help you break through stale writing, to try new things, to expand your understanding of your own writing process – indeed, to have fun with words. No writing experience or expertise is necessary. Really.

Janet Falon, MLA, has been an award-winning writer and writing teacher for more than 35 years.  A former newspaper reporter and magazine editor, Janet is the author of four books—including The Jewish Journaling Book—and has taught writing at many different venues at The University of Pennsylvania for nearly three decades. Working with both with students and staff at Penn, she has led classes in journaling, personal essay, creative process and overcoming writers block, writing food memoirs, business writing, etc. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Philadelphia Inquirer and many other publications; additionally, she wrote several projects for WHYY-TV, one of which was awarded a local Emmy. Janet also teaches writing at a continuing-care facility for older adults, cancer-support organizations, and at various businesses and organizations.  She also works with individual writing clients, and leads a non-fiction writing group.

book group 80: October 6 - October 15, 2014

Kristen Martin: Turning the Ephemeral Evergreen: Tracing the Solid Roots of the Food Essay

In recent years, food writing has become ubiquitous—we all consume it every day, whether it be consciously, by searching for a recipe on Pinterest or a critique on Yelp, or unconsciously, as we scroll through captions on Instragram photos and Facebook posts. While the internet has made it possible for anyone to be a critic or recipe developer, it has also rendered the food frenzy ever more, well, frenzied. We are obsessed with documenting our experience of food, capturing a static portrait of each ephemeral bite. But often food blog posts and recipes don't satiate us in a memorable way, as they fail to reach past the food itself.

The best food writing does more than just record and evaluate a meal's looks, smells, and flavors. It illuminates beyond food, providing insight into identity, culture, memory, place, and history. No other aspect of the genre accomplishes such a meditation quite as well as the food essay. During this ten-day book group, we will explore the food essay, tracing the genre to its roots in 19th century France (with Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's The Physiology of Taste) to its modern-day place (in the pages of food magazines like Saveur.) We will discuss how the essay has continued to be a source of thoughtful reflection and exploration on the subject of food, even through centuries of constant evolution in food culture. We will ask why essays like Charles Lamb's "A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig" and M.F.K. Fisher's "Once A Tramp, Always..." have an enduring hold on us as readers. At the same time, will also question the concept of food as metaphor, and ask if food can really provide an entry point into all topics.

Reading List (all to be provided to participants):

  1. "Aphorisms of the Professor" and "Meditation 4: On Appetite" by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (from The Physiology of Taste: Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastrononmy,trans. M.F.K. Fisher)
  2. "A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig" by Charles Lamb (from Essays of Elia)
  3. "Once A Tramp, Always..." by M.F.K. Fisher (from The Art of the Personal Essay, ed. Phillip Lopate)
  4. "Faith and Bacon" by Francine Prose (from Saveur)

Kristen Martin is currently pursuing an MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia University, where she writes memoir and personal essay and teaches University Writing. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011. Throughout her time at Penn (and for a year after graduation), Kristen worked at the Kelly Writers House, as a project assistant, research assistant, and chocolate chip cookie baker. In 2012-2013, she was the Fulbright-Casten Family Scholar at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra, Italy, where she wrote a thesis on the way Italians talk about food, received a Master in Food Culture and Communications, and ate an unconscionable quantity of gelato. Her writing, food-related and otherwise, has appeared in print and online in various publications, including Saveur magazine, The Toast, VICE, Cleaver Magazine, and Philadelphia Magazine. She cooks in a tiny kitchen in Brooklyn.

book group 81: November 17 - December 17, 2014

Julia Bloch: The Poetry of Anne Waldman

During this month-long book group, we will explore the work of Anne Waldman, the “Outrider” poet whose lineage includes Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, and the Beat, New York School, and Black Mountain trajectories of the New American Poetry. We will discuss how Waldman’s “open field investigations” into radical shifts of language and states of mind make hers a resolutely activist poetics—as well as a poetics that seeks to create new understandings of consciousness. In addition to reading selections from important works such as Fast Speaking Woman, her chant-infused collection first published in 1975; Kill or Cure, her 1994 collection of credos, manifestos, and incantations; and new poetry such as Jaguar Harmonics, published in May 2014, we will also read sections from Waldman’s long poems, such as 2000’s Marriage: A Sentence; 2009’s Manatee/Humanity, on evolution and endangered species; and the 720-page anti-war feminist epic The Iovis Trilogy: Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment, composed over the course of 25 years. Readings will be distributed by your discussion leader; note that Waldman will be visiting Philadelphia for three days in February 2015 as a Kelly Writers House Fellow.

Julia Bloch is an editor of  Jacket2 and associate director of the Kelly Writers House. Her book Letters to Kelly Clarkson, a series of prose poems, was published in 2012 by Sidebrow Books  and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. She is also working on a book in literary studies devoted to gender and the long poem in twentieth-century American poetry. From 2006 to 2011 she cocurated the Emergency reading series at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania, where she completed a PhD in English literature; from 2011 to 2013 she taught in the Bard College Master of Arts in Teaching program in Delano, California. She now teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania.

book group 82: December 4 - December 18, 2014, January 2 - January 16, 2015

Al Filreis: The Poetry of Emily Dickinson and Lorine Niedecker

This discussion group will look closely at some poems by Emily Dickinson and Lorine Niedecker. These poets favored intensive, focused language, compressing large ideas and complex responses to the world into powerfully pithy phrasing, super-selfconscious line-breaks, torqued idioms, and multivalent connotation. We will talk about one poem at a time, alternating between Dickinson and Niedecker as we go along. Our mode will be collective, collaborative close reading.

Al Filreis is Kelly Professor of English, Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House, Director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, Co-Director of PennSound, Publisher of Jacket2 magazine, and creator and lead teacher of ModPo, a massive open online course on modern and contemporary American poetry. Among his books are Modernism from Right to Left, Stevens and the Actual World, and Counter-Revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945-60.

book group 83: February 18 - March 18, 2015

Lily Applebaum and Max McKenna: Short fiction at the Kelly Writers House

This month-long discussion group will consider the work of four different short fiction writers, all of whom have read their work at the Kelly Writers House in the past, to explore this unique genre. As we take our tour through the KWH archive, we'll discuss what makes short stories so compelling, how masters of the form create interesting characters, plot and setting with limited space, and how experimental and avant-garde writers subvert or play with the conventions of the form. Participants will read and listen to one or two very short stories per week, and our discussion will be guided by daily questions or close reading of select passages and go forward from there. All readings and audio visual materials will be provided for participants on the group's discussion site (although we hope you'll be inspired to purchase a short story collection or two!).

Lily Applebaum is the assistant to Al Filreis, Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House. She received her BA from Penn and is now in her third year at the Writers House. At KWH, she coordinates the Writers House Fellows program and works as teaching assistant to both face to face courses and the massive online open course ModPo, where you may know her as the person who answers the phone during live webcasts. Lily is also beginning her fifth year as coordinator of KWH's Brodsky Gallery, located throughout the first floor of the house. She can be reached at

Max McKenna is a second-year PhD student in English at the University of Chicago. He received his BA from the University of Pennsylvania and, for three years after graduating, worked as an administrative assistant at the Kelly Writers House where he continues to assist on select projects, like the ModPo MOOC. He has published fiction in several Philadelphia-based literary journals, and a number of essays on modern and contemporary literary culture, both in-print and online. He can be reached at

book group 84: May 14 - May 23, 2015

Al Filreis and David Roberts: Two stories that beg to be read twice

During the ten days of this group, David and Al will co-lead a discussion of two stories, Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever” and Rudyard Kipling’s “The Gardener.” Participants are encouraged to find the texts of these stories and read them in advance. Our discussions will range from large thematic concerns to close readings of passages. We will seek to make connections between the two stories, but we will also simply seek to admire the art that made them distinctly. No prior knowledge of fiction is required. Novices are more than welcome. There might even be a bit of fun, as David, a graduate of Penn’s little-known business school, promises to make a few “Wharton jokes” as we read the first of our authors.

Al Filreis is Kelly Professor of English, Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House, Director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, Co-Director of PennSound, Publisher of Jacket2 magazine, and creator and lead teacher of ModPo, a massive open online course on modern and contemporary American poetry. Among his books are Modernism from Right to Left, Stevens and the Actual World, and Counter-Revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945-60.

David Roberts is a member of the Kelly Writers House Advisory Board, a denizen of the KWH book groups and when he is not reading, works in Manhattan in the investment business. He is a 1983 graduate of the University Of Pennsylvania.

book group 85: June 22 - July 1, 2015

Jamie-Lee Josselyn: Narrating Your Self: an exploration of writing by Penn faculty

**For Prospective Students Only!**

How do writers create and render themselves on the page? Is it the writer's job to transport her reader into an alternate time and place through the creation of scenes and the genesis of thoughtful reflection, or, instead, to make her reader aware of the constructed nature of writing itself? Is it possible—or even preferable—to achieve all of this at once? We will spend the first part of our time together looking at excerpts from beloved Penn nonfiction writing instructor Beth Kephart's recent book, Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir to give ourselves a framework through which to consider personal narrative writing. Next, we will read and discuss excerpts from memoirs by Lorene Cary and Paul Hendrickson who are also much-loved nonfiction writing teachers at Penn. Just when things start to make sense, we will transition to writing by Kenneth Goldsmith, who is called "experimental" by some and "uncreative" by others—and who is also adored in the Kelly Writers House community.

This special 10-day group is a chance for prospective undergraduates to read and think together while exploring the amazing variety of writers who teach in our Creative Writing Program. Consider this a glimpse into what four years at Penn can be.

Jamie-Lee Josselyn is the Associate Director for Recruitment at Penn's Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, a nonfiction writing instructor in the Creative Writing Program, and has worked at the Kelly Writers House as the Assistant to the Faculty Director and Coordinator of the Writers House Fellows Program. She has taught creative nonfiction writing at St. Paul's School's Advanced Studies Program in Concord, New Hampshire, at the Wharton School's Advanced Management Education Conference, at the New England Young Writers Conference, and in the Philadelphia public school system. Jamie-Lee has a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA from Bennington College where she was the nonfiction editor of The Bennington Review. Jamie-Lee is currently a Senior Fellow at Penn’s Hill College House.