KWH hosts freewheeling online book group

Penn Current
June 20, 2013

This summer, eager readers and writers will gather for a book group highlighting some of Penn’s finest nonfiction writers. The participants? Prospective Penn undergraduates. The location? The students’ closest computer or mobile device.

The “Narrating Your Self” group is an online book group run by the Kelly Writers House, the campus hub for all things writing and reading. Led by Jamie-Lee Josselyn, associate director for recruitment at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing and a nonfiction writing instructor in the University's Creative Writing Program, the “Narrating Your Self” book group is the 70th online gathering from the Writers House.

Penn parents and alumni in far-flung locations have participated in previous online book groups, but Josselyn says this is the first for prospective Penn students.

“I’m focused pretty much on working with prospective students and the recruitment of strong writers to Penn [so] it seemed like the obvious thing to do,” explains Josselyn, who travels to schools and programs around the country. “Our idea was to have the students read writing by Penn faculty members. Those are the people they’ll be able to study with.”

In the 10-day course, which begins on June 24, the 60 rising high school seniors will read excerpts from three books, and discuss how writers create themselves on the page. The first reading will be an excerpt from Senior Lecturer Paul Hendrickson’s memoir, “Seminary: A Search,” about his time as a young man in the Catholic seminary. The second will be from Lorene Cary’s memoir, “Black Ice,” about her experience at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire. The third will be from poet Kenneth Goldsmith’s lengthy and experimental work, “Soliloquy.”

Steven Minicola
Kelly Writers House was founded in 1995 by a group of Penn students, faculty, staff and alumni. Each semester, Writers House hosts approximately 150 public programs and projects.

“Kind of an indirect benefit of this—these are a bunch of students who are getting ready to write their college application essays, so they’re getting ready to create themselves on the page, for better or worse,” Josselyn says.

Josselyn will send out an introductory email with some guidelines and questions designed to spark discussion. The students are all part of a listserve, so the participants will see every email and follow-up message. Victoria Ford, a Penn student in the Class of 2015, will join Josselyn as a “discussion assistant” during the book group meetings.

Josselyn is no stranger to a classroom setting (and has co-taught an online book group before, in 2005, on short stories by Richard Ford and James Alan McPherson), but she says this will be a learning experience for her as a teacher.

“I’m really hopeful that this will give students a really strong sense not just of writers who they can work with, but also the kind of student-centered freewheeling discussion that happens all the time at the Writers House,” Josselyn says. “This is a way for us to bring the Writers House into the iPhones and laptops of these people who hopefully will have a chance to be students here at Penn.”