Current Groups

Discussion Group 136: June 22 – July 1, 2022

Jamie-Lee Josselyn

Discussion Group 137: Sept 19 – Sept 28, 2022

Lily Applebaum

"'It isn't fair, it isn't right,'...and then they were upon her." Where were you when you first read the haunting final lines of Shirley Jackson's 1948 short story "The Lottery"? Sitting in a high school classroom? In front of your New Yorker? Behind a library copy of her short story collection by the same name? Scrolling online after hearing a reference that piqued your interest? This ten-day discussion group will explore the fantastic literary merits of Jackson's short story itself, and then radiate out to explore the enduring legacy of this short but powerful piece of writing. We will examine reviews, excerpts from Shirley Jackson's letters, teachers' guides, interviews, hate mail that flowed into the offices of The New Yorker all of summer 1948, and more, all of which will be provided. If you have never read the story, this will be a fantastic introduction and a crash course; if you've been a long-time fan of Shirley Jackson's writing and "The Lottery," this discussion may turn up new and exciting angles for you! Is "The Lottery" just the product of a writer with a twisted mind? A teaching tool against mob mentality and violence? A dark mirror we can't stop looking into? Let's get together this fall and really ask ourselves why a short story published 74 years ago still feels as terrifying and relevant as if it were written today.

Lily Applebaum is a Philadelphia-based adult education instructor, specializing in English for speakers of other languages and workforce training at District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund. She worked joyfully and pridefully as the assistant to the faculty director at Kelly Writers House for ten years, and is thrilled to be back to lead another online discussion group this year!.

Discussion Group 138: Jan 6 – Jan 20, 2023

Joan Retallack

Discussion Group 139: Feb 6 – Feb 15, 2023

Twitterature, Now: Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box” led by Devorah Fischler

In the spring of 2012, The New Yorker published Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box” twice. First as serial, then as short story. For one hour an evening over the course of ten days, the @NYerFiction account posted it on Twitter at a pace of a single >140-character tweet per minute. The magazine then published it in its entirety in the electronic and print editions of the Science Fiction issue.

Describing “Black Box” as “a series of terse mental dispatches from a female spy of the future, working undercover by the Mediterranean Sea,” Egan aimed to create a story whose structure was inseparable from Twitter as a short-form digital platform. A decade and several transformations of that platform later, we’ll discuss how it measures up as “twitterature.”

We’ll consider not only how the tiny textual requirements of pre-2017 Twitter fit into a larger context of short fiction, serial media, and digital storytelling, but also how “Black Box” reads differently by 2012 and 2023 standards. Published on the heels of Twitter’s role in a wave of global populist revolutions and citizen acts of service, this piece of sci-fi appeared during a moment where many felt that Twitter was poised to be a global force for good. What’s changed?

Devorah Fischler is the Senior Science Writer at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science. She has taught widely in literature, culture, and politics at Penn, Temple University, Moore College of Art & Design, and the Rosenbach.

Discussion Group 141: Feb 20 – Mar 1, 2023

Victoria Ford: Dear Kin: Letter Writing, Black Women Writers, and Friendship

Some of the most interesting writing between Black women writers and poets can be found through their correspondence. Letter writing—from informal notes to editorial suggestions and reviews—offers a new frame to engage with the generosity of some of our most beloved artists. Letters map the terrain of the intimate relationships and bonds shared between Black women writing as survival. In this book group, we will explore how the epistolary form and in particular, these private and intimate archives, can offer us as readers and writers building relationships with other writers. Excerpts for this discussion will include letters written by Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, June Jordan, Lucille Clifton, and more.

Victoria Newton Ford is a poet from Memphis, Tennessee. She is a MacDowell and Lambda Literary Fellow, and her work has been supported by Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, the Vermont Studio Center, and The Hurston/Wright Writers Workshop. She earned her B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania. She is currently working on her first manuscript about Black mothers and their daughters, captivity, and haunting.

Discussion Group 142: Mar 13 – Mar 22, 2023

Kevin Varrone

In Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit writes: I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought. I tend to agree with Solnit’s idea, and literary history suggests a lot of other poets do as well! Walking roots us in place and offers the opportunity to think and see, without rush––to stay in the current of time, but just barely, on its edges, taking it all in. In this book group, we’ll read and discuss 10 walk poems by 10 contemporary poets through the lens of these ideas and we’ll put to the test Solnit’s take on walking, as well as the famous idea attributed to Saint Augustine that––solvitur ambulando––it is solved by walking. (Poems will be provided to participants of the group.)

Kevin Varrone is an avid walker and the author of the recent chapbooks How to Count to Ten and Redemption Center, as well as three full-length collections, most recently, Box Score: An Autobiography. He was a 2013 Pew Fellow in the Arts and teaches writing at Temple University.

Discussion Group 143: May 8 – May 17, 2023

Al and David Robert's book group on short stories

Discussion Group 144: Jan 18 – Apr 19, 2003

Al and David Robert