Current Groups

Book group 71: October 21 - October 30, 2013

Courtney Zoffness: Separate But Together: Links in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad

The stories of linked collections are supposed to be both self-sufficient and interrelated; according to writer Michael Chabon, the interest of linked narratives lies in what happens “in the interstices.” Using selections from Egan’s Pulitzer Prizewinning A Visit from the Goon Squad as our guide, we’ll discuss what holds these particular stories together. In what ways do they speak to each other? How do recurring characters change or grow—or stay the same? What thematic threads bind them? And how are our expectations met or surprised or disappointed when familiar elements reappear? While addressing questions of connectedness, we’ll also discuss the craft and style of each “independent” narrative, from its structure and point of view to the sharp prose for which Penn alum Egan has become so well known.

Courtney Zoffness co-founded Speakeasy at the Kelly Writers House while an undergraduate at Penn. She went on to receive graduate degrees in creative writing and has since taught at nearly a dozen universities, including Yale, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Freiburg in Germany. Her fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, and she was recently awarded a 2013 Emerging Writer Fellowship at the Center for Fiction in New York. She lives in Brooklyn, where she’s at work on her own collection of separate-but-together stories.

Book group 72: November 4 - November 14, 2013

Janet Falon: Getting Your Words Out: Using Techniques from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones to Begin or Augment Your Creative Expression

Bones is one of a group of contemporary books – including Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, etc. – to provide the how-to’s of a writing practice that aims to both sustain and deepen your writing. In this class we will not only read the well-written Bones – (never trust the advice of a writing teacher whose book is lousy) -- but we will try many of the techniques and share their results with each other online. There is no criticism of individual writing samples, either by the instructor or classmates; the Bones technique is about nurturing your writing process at this point without the negativity of being judged. This class is appropriate both for beginners who are ready to FINALLY do the writing they’ve long intended to do, for writers who feel stuck or blocked, and for already productive writers who want to be reminded of basic writing tools that enhance both the writing and how it’s done. The only thing you’ll need is a copy of Writing Down the Bones.

Janet Falon, MLA, has been an award-winning writer and writing teacher for 37 years and has studied with Natalie Goldberg in New Mexico. A former newspaper reporter and magazine editor, Janet is the author of The Jewish Journaling Book and has taught journaling to a variety of audiences ranging from people with cancer to church groups. Janet has been teaching at various locations at Penn for more than two decades, working with both with students and staff on topics including 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 an assisted-living facility and at various businesses and organizations, works with individual clients, and leads a non-fiction writing group.

Book group 73: December 5 - December 19, 2013 and January 2 - January 16, 2014

Al Filreis: The Poetry of Rae Armantrout

Rae Armantrout is one of the great living poets in the U.S. Her poems are pithy and torqued and complex, as Emily Dickinson's are. Yet she has her ear to the ground of American popular culture, hearing precise bits of ads and slang and mediaspeak. Her poems are short and make for good intense discussion as we work together to understand them. Participants might like to purchase a copy of one or two of Rae Armantrout's recent books, but this is not a requirement. Your discussion leader will send by email copies of the poems we will discuss. Note that Rae Armantrout, who lives in California, will be visiting for three days in April 2014 as a Kelly Writers House Fellow.

Al Filreis, Kelly Professor and Faculty Director of the Writers House, has led many online book groups and has taught several all-online semester-long courses. He has won many teaching awards (Lindback, Ira Abrams) and was named the Pennsylvania Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation. He produced and hosts several podcasts, writes several blogs, and maintains vast web sites on modern poetry, the cold-war culture of the 1950s, and the Holocaust. He has published four books. Here is Al's web site.

Book group 74: February 3 - March 3, 2014

Julia Bloch: The Poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks is perhaps best known for her spare, rhythmic, jazz-inflected poem "We Real Cool," which reads both as a politically charged mock-anthem of disenfranchised youth and as a powerful example of the way rhyme and meter can be harnessed for social critique. But "We Real Cool," as masterful as it is, should be understood as just one piece of Brooks's long career in poetry. The wider body of work Brooks produced in her lifetime spans an incredible range of form and content, from the early ballads and street scenes of A Street in Bronzeville to the epic coming-of-age long poem Annie Allen to the later, more radicalized free verse she wrote after encountering the Black Arts Movement.

Spanning many different decades in American literature, Brooks’s work forges links between the experimentalism of the modernist period and the populist poetry of social protest. Born in 1917 in Topeka, Kansas, Brooks spent most of her life on the South Side of Chicago, which was home to the second largest population of African Americans (after Harlem) who left the South during the Great Migration. By the time of Brooks’s death, in 2000, she had come to be identified variously with modernism, the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts movement, and the Chicago Renaissance. She was the first African American to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in any category — she won in poetry for Annie Allen — as well as the first African American woman to serve as Poet Laureate of the United States.

During this month-long book group, we will explore the range of Brooks's career, and consider how Brooks's work reveals changing ideas about race, gender, motherhood, urban living, and education in the twentieth century. We will read through The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, which collects work from across Brooks's career, and we will also read the eclectic and stirring long poem Annie Allen in its entirety, in addition to excerpts from prose and interviews and, of course, recordings of Brooks's remarkable readings.

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 creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania.

Book group 75: February 19 - March 19, 2014

Lily Applebaum and Max McKenna: Writers House Fellows OOC

This four-week open online course (or OOC) reconsiders the works of four past Kelly Writers House Fellows and asks, what makes writing contemporary? Drawing on an archive of special readings and intimate discussions recorded in our Arts Cafe over the last fifteen-plus years, Lily Applebaum and Max McKenna will lead discussions on the essayist Ian Frazier, fiction writer Jamaica Kincaid, fabulist Robert Coover, and poet Susan Howe. Participants will read one or a few shorter texts by each of these former Fellows, and watch their performances and talks given during their two-day visits to the Writers House.

The Writers House Fellows Program is a yearly project that brings three eminent writers into the intimate space of the Writers House. During a two-day visit, the authors hold both public events and a conversation with students who have been intensively studying the author's work and preparing questions and discussion points all semester long. This special OOC borrows its form and content from the face-to-face course, but groups together Fellows from across the years, lending fresh context to their appearances and revealing how their comments on writing have held up (or not) over the years!

Max McKenna is a first-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 modernism and contemporary literary culture, both in-print and online. He can be reached at

Lily Applebaum is the assistant to Al Filreis, Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House. She is starting the second year in her role as the Writers House Fellows Program Coordinator, and is also a teaching assistant for the Coursera course ModPo and the coordinator of the Brodsky Gallery at the Writers House. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania. She can be reached at

Book group 76: April 7 - April 16, 2014

Patrick Bredehoft: Blood on the Tracks: Tangled up, and blue...

"Love is so simple, to quote a phrase." ~ Bob Dylan

Almost 40 years after it was first released, Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks remains one of the all-time great albums, even as it continues to defy easy categorization. Critics and audiences (as well as Dylan's own son) have viewed the album as strongly autobiographical, despite the singer's repeated assertions to the contrary. Fans debate the record's status as a concept album, and anticipate the possibility of a Brazilian film adaptation with a mixture of apprehension and expectation. With a mere ten tracks, Dylan offers songs that are simple, sweet, and sad, alongside winding ballads rife with venom and uncertainty. In less than 52 minute of music, Dylan wends his way across America, around the world, and in and out of love affairs, spinning an adventure tale that continues to surprise, delight, and confound our expectations.

Patrick Bredehoft is the Director of the Penn Alumni Interview Program, which is based out of the Office of Alumni Relations. The Alumni Interview Program aims to offer an alumni interview to every Penn applicant, through the collective efforts of thousands of Penn graduates. From 2010-2012, he worked for Penn's Undergraduate Admissions Office, where he read applications from around the world, in addition to serving as the liaison between the UGAO and the Kelly Writers House. Before coming to Penn, Patrick was an IB English teacher and college counselor at a small boarding school near Istanbul, Turkey, where he also served as Head of Foreign Languages. Patrick holds a BA in Literature & Creative Writing from Dartmouth College and a Masters of Arts in Education from Lesley University.

Book group 77: May 15 - May 24, 2014

Al Filreis and David Roberts: short stories by John Cheever and F. Scott Fitzgerald

This group will focus on two short stories: John Cheever's Boy in Rome (1978) and F. Scott Fitzgerald's One Trip Abroad (1930). Though positioned from two very different time periods in American history, both stories center on Americans traveling abroad, searching for something they don't have at home. We'll study each story on its own, and then discuss them together to find what the two authors and their characters have in common in their search abroad, and how they differ.

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.

Al Filreis, Kelly Professor and Faculty Director of the Writers House, has led many online book groups and has taught several all-online semester-long courses. He has won many teaching awards (Lindback, Ira Abrams) and was named the Pennsylvania Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation. He produced and hosts several podcasts, writes several blogs, and maintains vast web sites on modern poetry, the cold-war culture of the 1950s, and the Holocaust. He has published four books. Here is Al's web site.

Book group 78: June 23 - July 2, 2014

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

**For Prospective Students Only!**

How do writers create 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 discussing excerpts from memoirs by Lorene Cary and Paul Hendrickson who are both much-loved nonfiction writing teachers at Penn. We will look at excerpts from Beth Kephart's recent book, Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir to tie it all together. (Beth is also a beloved member of Penn's creative writing faculty.) 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 the first of its kind: 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. Her writing has been published in The Sun, The Philadelphia Inquirer, LOST Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, in the six-word memoir anthology It All Changed in an Instant, and elsewhere. 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.