Workshop Registration Requirements
Some workshops may require that students email samples of their writing or personal statements to workshop faculty, either prior to online registration or immediately after registration. Any such requirements will be clearly stated in the course list; students should rely on the information there to determine whether anything is required beyond submitting the online registration request. Written arts majors are not permitted to take workshops during the semesters in which they are enrolled in the Senior Project.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I take more than one workshop per semester?
The Written Arts Program does not allow students to take two or more workshops concurrently. This restriction applies to workshops, such as playwriting or screenwriting, that are offered by other programs. We think workshops are exceedingly valuable, and most of our written arts students have taken several by the time they graduate, either in a single genre or multiple genres; but we firmly believe that the content of one’s creative work must draw from the entire palette of liberal arts education.
Can I take workshops in more than one genre?
The Written Arts Program encourages students to practice their creative work in as many genres as they feel inspired to sample, given that a fiction writer is enriched by close study of poetry and vice versa, etc. However, a written arts student should be mindful that permission to embark on a creative Senior Project will be dependent upon demonstrated proficiency in the genre of the intended project. In addition, we encourage you to work with your adviser in determining the college-wide requirements when you are contemplating taking a workshop.
Can I take a workshop more than once?
A workshop can be repeated for credit, even with the same instructor. However, the program encourages students to work with as many different instructors as possible.
The exception to this rule is Level I workshops. You may not take a Level I workshop more than once, and you may not take a Level I workshop if you have already taken a workshop in that genre. For example, you may not take Fiction I twice, and you may not take Poetry I if you have already taken Poetry Practicum.
What are some of the workshops offered in the past?
Affinities and Discoveries: How to Sustain a Literary Life during and after Bard (Mona Simpson)
Students engage with a broad range of literary magazines, in print and online, from samizdat to Condé Nast. They are guided to recognize and identify literary sensibilities, developing their own affinities and eventually engaging in a more concrete way with the particular periodicals they most admire (in various forms potentially including submission of their own work). In this manner an ongoing conversation begins to take place—one that can extend well beyond Bard. Students discuss the mechanics of literary community building, from submitting, interning, blogging, tweeting (one recent editor of the Paris Review Daily maintains a Twitter feed about all things Pym), forming literary chat rooms and real-life book clubs. They consider strategies for sustainable engagement with the reading and writing they have cherished at Bard, extending into their twenties and far beyond. This class encompasses a full academic year; students must commit to enroll for two consecutive semesters.
Black Mountain College and the Invention of Contemporary American Arts and Poetry (Ann Lauterbach)
Started in 1933 in Asheville, North Carolina, by a disaffected academic idealist, Black Mountain College was founded on John Dewey’s notion of a Progressive education, where the relations between thinking and doing, idea and practice, were understood as in a seamless continuum, one that was necessary to an enlightened politics of engagement. This course examines the premise of this utopian experiment and explores the historical platform, both European and American, that allowed radical modernist idioms in poetics, performance, and the visual arts to flourish in the midst of a depression at home and chaos abroad. Faculty included John Cage, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Robert Rauschenberg, and Charles Olson, among many others.
Blown Deadlines: A Course in Journalistic Writing (Wyatt Mason)
Journalism: the word’s root suggests writing that is disposable, good for a day but gone tomorrow. And yet some of the richest writing in every era was supposed to serve only a passing moment but has endured nonetheless. This workshop explores the endurance of some of the greatest examples of deadline writing, with readings from the old guard—Johnson, De Quincey, Baudelaire, Twain, Orwell, and others—as well as from the recent past and present—Guy Davenport, Leonard Michaels, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, James Wood, Katharine Boo, John Jeremiah Sullivan, and more. These readings are married to essays by students that analyze the various forms they encounter—personal essay, critical essay, narrative with argument, reported pieces (including profiles and process pieces), satires, hit pieces, and hybrids of all of these.
Close-reading Evil (Francine Prose)
This class looks (word by word, sentence by sentence) at the ways in which language has been used to portray and explore the mystery of evil, studying texts ranging from the Book of Genesis and Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale to the fiction of Flannery O’Connor, Denis Johnson, and Roberto Bolaño; reading fiction and nonfiction written during and about American Puritanism, the slaveholding South, colonial exploration, and the Hitler and Stalin eras; and looking at newspaper and magazine articles that address, directly or indirectly, the problem of evil. Two short weekly papers are required.
Cultural Reportage (Celia Bland)
This is a course in practical criticism, with all that entails: description, evaluation, comparison, judgment, as applied to books, music, pictures, and shows of all sorts, with emphasis on clarity, judiciousness, depth, and style. Weekly writing assignments are paired with weekly reading assignments: Norman Mailer, David Foster Wallace, Orhan Pamuk, Alison Bechdel, Susan Sontag, Rory Stewart, Lucy Sante, et al.
The Dying Animal: Literary Criticism as an Endangered Journalistic Form (Wyatt Mason)
How does one write—on deadline—about new works of literary enterprise for an intelligent audience outside the academy? How does one, when given five thousand words of real estate in the New York Review of Books, or the New Yorker, or Harper’s, write an essay which will engage the new work of literary merit—a collection of poetry or stories; a novel; a biography of a writer of any of these forms—and offer an opinion of the work’s merits that is as fair to the ambitions of the author in question as it is to the larger endeavor of literary enterprise? How, in short, do you say what you think while the clock ticks and a reputation awaits being made or unmade? And how do you do that in a literary culture in which less and less space is given over to this essential humanistic endeavor: the public conversation about books? In this workshop, students read examples of literary criticism from throughout its history, including writing by Samuel Johnson, William Hazlitt, Thomas De Quincy, Virginia Wolff, Edmund Wilson, Mary McCarthy, John Updike, Denis Donoghue, David Foster Wallace, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Rivka Galchen, and James Wood. Through this exposure to the varieties of argumentative experience, they learn how such pieces are structured and how arguments—aesthetic ones—are mounted and defended, to the end of writing a final, 3,500-word piece of long-form literary criticism.
Ecstasy, Hysteria, Obsession: Literature and the Extreme (Francine Prose)
Great literature has often portrayed extreme emotions and their consequences—unrequited love and erotic obsession, ecstatic joy and misery—as intense but nonetheless “normal” aspects of human experience. But in the early twentieth century, these same states of consciousness began to be viewed as illnesses requiring treatment, as aberrations with only a minimal relation to the political and social realities that may have helped create them. The reading list includes long novels, stories, plays and works of nonfiction: Proust, Freud, García Márquez, Bolaño, Brontë, Mansfield, St. Aubyn, and others. There are large amounts of readings and weekly one-page response papers. Class discussions focus on language and on close readings of short selections of works from the syllabus.
The Ecstatic Word (Michael Ives)
In this performance workshop, participants explore the border territory where sound meets poetry meets music meets drama known as sound/text composition, examining notable examples from this ever-evolving tradition and producing pieces in creative response. Among the historical materials to be investigated are glossolalia; Russian avant-garde Zaum and allied notions of transrational and imaginary language; Sprechstimme; European and American sound/text composition; sound poetry (from Kurt Schwitters to Christian Bök); experimental radio (Beckett, Cage, Nordine, Firesign Theater, among others); the jazz poetry movement; field recordings and found materials; contemporary experimental performance poetry; and if time permits, digital voice manipulation. The course places a decided emphasis on live reading skills and performance practice. Students are expected to commit to at least one, if not more, fully realized public presentations of their work. Both writers and musicians interested in exploring language as a compositional medium are welcome.
Egocircus (Anne Carson)
This is a workshop in the methods and practice of collaboration. Students explore collaborations between and among artists drawn from various periods and genres and are expected to make brief collaborative works each week, which will be performed in class. In addition, there are weekly presentations of established collaborative works drawn from a range of historical and contemporary artists including John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Robert Rauschenberg; Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas; FLUXUS; Gilbert and George; Marina Abramovic and Ulay; Destroy All Monsters Collective; and the Piña Bausch company. The final project is a five- to ten-minute performance in which the entire class participates.
The Elements of Style (Francine Prose)
What do we talk about when we talk about style? How does style affect the ways in which we read, transmit, and receive information and understand the world? And how does style express and reflect our social and political attitudes and biases? This class analyzes, word by word, examples of different genres (short fiction and novels, essays, magazine pieces, reviews, and newspaper articles), concentrating on subjects that will include point of view, diction, phrasing, word choice, and subtext. Visual style—film, painting, fashion—is also under consideration. A short paper is due each week. The course is open to students in every field.
The Essay (Lucy Sante)
This course considers the essay form as well as its style, with a particular focus on voice, viewpoint, and rhetorical technique. Intensive study is devoted to word choice, cadence, and even punctuation, in the belief that even the most minute aspects of writing affect the impact of the whole. The goal is to equip students with a strong but supple command of their instrument, a prerequisite for personal expression. There are writing and reading (from Macauley to Didion) assignments each week, and exercises and discussion in class.
Exile and Extrangement Fiction (Norman Manea)
This course hinges on reading and discussion of selected fiction by such writers as Mann, Kafka, Nabokov, Camus, Singer, Kundera, Naipaul, etc., examining the work for its literary value and as a reflection of the issue of exile—estrangement as a fact of biography and a way of life. The complex topics of foreignness and identity (ethnic, political, sexual), of rejection and loss, of estrangement and challenge, and of protean mutability are discussed in connection to relevant social-historical situations (war, expulsion, migration) and as major literary themes.
The Eye Is the First Circle (Benjamin Hale)
“The horizon which it forms is the second,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world.” In this course, students work on how to see closely and write closely: to train their eyes to cipher the world as keenly as they can, and write it down. This is a nonfiction workshop, focusing less on personal memoir and more on exploring, honing powers of observation, and uniquely capturing explorations on paper. Readings will include Emerson, Geoff Dyer, Eula Bliss, and Will Self, among others. This course will involve a lot of long walks. Students will be expected to write an average of three to four pages per week.
Fiction Workshop I (various instructors across semesters)
This course involves both intensive reading and writing of the short story, and is intended for students who have made prior forays into the writing of narrative but who have not yet had a fiction workshop at Bard. Open to first-year students and new transfer students only in the fall semester; open to all beginning fiction writers in the spring.
Fiction Workshop II (various instructors across semesters)
This intermediate-level fiction workshop is suitable for students who have either completed Fiction I or who have done meaningful writing and thinking about fiction on their own. It is open to any thoughtful mode of making fiction, whether traditional or experimental or in between. Students are expected to produce and revise three or four carefully developed stories, to provide written critiques of their peers’ work, to read and respond to published fiction and essays, and to complete a series of structured exercises.
Fiction Workshop III (various instructors across semesters)
This is a workshop in prose fiction for advanced students. Students are expected to submit at least two works of fiction to the workshop and critique their peers’ writings.
Gertrude Stein and John Cage (Joan Retallack)
Gertrude Stein and John Cage are arguably the most influential American figures in the experimental arts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In this class, students read, view, and listen to selections from their work while noticing key connections to important developments in the fields with which they are most closely associated: literature, visual arts, music, dance, and other performance arts. Though Cage credited Stein as a major early influence on his work, the two never met. In this class they do. Students study what they each had to say about their own aesthetics, then put key examples into conversation with one another, ending the semester with an assessment of their contributions to the way the arts are viewed and practiced today. Along the way, the work of a number of important modernists, postmoderns, and contemporaries enter the mix—including Picasso and Virgil Thomson (Stein); and Duchamp, Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, and Jasper Johns (Cage). The steady current throughout is attentive, conversational readings (and performances) of their poetry, poetics, and lecture texts in order to make sense and meaning of their unparalleled inventiveness. Students compose two portfolios of essays and experiments in Steinian/Cagean poetics—one due at midterm, the other at the end of the semester.
Hobbyism and Professionalism (Joseph O’Neill)
This course investigates the hobbyistic impulse in writing—the impulse to write for private pleasure—and considers the importance of unprofitable conscientiousness, idiosyncrasy, and self-regulation in the making of fiction and nonfiction. Writing directed by obsessions and internal priorities is contrasted with writing pressured, in part, by professional demands. Readings include unclassifiable work by Michel de Montaigne, Hubert Butler, David Foster Wallace, Charles Fort, Fernando Pessoa, and Nicholson Baker; sermons by John Donne; fiction by Franz Kafka and C. S. Lewis; the diaries of Victor Klemperer; Facebook pages; and other ostensibly commodified and uncommodified texts.
How to Use the Language (Francine Prose)
This course examines how language is used (badly and well, and for a wide range of reasons) by great writers and by the daily papers, by advertising and TV. How does language create character, reproduce everyday speech, suggest meaning, describe consciousness, form our social and political views, and change our attitudes and preconceptions? The reading includes stories, novels, and memoirs by writers such as Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, John Cheever, Gustave Flaubert, Isaac Babel, Katherine Mansfield, Roberto Bolaño, Mavis Gallant, Jo Ann Beard, Anne Emaux, and Jennifer Egan. Two short papers a week are required.
Hunting Human Beings: An Exploration of “the Profile” as a Journalistic Form (Wyatt Mason)
The mainstream magazine or newspaper profile has a long history in English, one that dates back to Daniel Defoe’s pioneering efforts, efforts that—significantly—ran in parallel to the emergence of the English novel. In this course, students read through the history of the profile in English as they attempt to come to an understanding of how a written portrait of a living person—Defoe’s profile of the criminal Jack Sheppard, for example—differs in nature and form from a written portrait of an invented person—such as Robinson Crusoe in Defoe’s novel by that name. A writing workshop, this course focuses, nonetheless, on reading. Students analyze how writers through time and working on deadline have managed the formally repetitive task of seizing facts about a person and forging them into a written portrait that offers a distant reader a fair—and sometimes unfair—picture of an individual human being. Readings are drawn from the history of the practice of journalism of this kind, including texts by Defoe, De Quincey, Hazlitt, Twain, Rebecca West, Edith Wharton, Dorothy Parker, George Orwell, Joan Didion, Janet Malcolm, Gay Talese, James Agee, Norman Mailer, Katharine Boo, Jennifer Egan, David Foster Wallace, Leonard Michaels, James Wood, and John Jeremiah Sullivan.
In the Wild: Writing the Natural World (Susan Rogers)
In this course, students read and write narratives that use the natural world as both subject and source of inspiration. The course begins with intensive reading to identify what nature writing is and what makes it compelling (or not). What is the focus of the nature writer and what are the challenges of the genre? Students read works by Emerson, Thoreau, and Muir; then move forward to contemporary writers such as Annie Dillard, Gretel Ehrlich, and Edward Abbey. There are weekly writings on the readings and an occasional quiz. In addition, students keep a nature journal and produce one longer creative essay that results from both experience and research. This means that students must be willing to venture into the outdoors—woods, rivers, or mountains. Prior workshop experience is not necessary. A curiosity about the natural world is essential.
An Introduction to Poetics (Ann Lauterbach)
In broad terms, poetics refers to ideas around the making of, and criteria for, artistic form. How is a poem a poem? This course examines the ways in which certain linguistic elements, including prosody, syntax, diction, grammar, and lineation affect the writing and reading of poems, asking how historical, social, and individual contexts might affect a poet’s formal choices, interrogating the ambiguity between subjective and objective theories of poetic creation and critical judgment, and questioning the possibility of interpretive validity in a world of continuous informational flow.
Introduction to Poetics: Texts, Forms, Experiments (Joan Retallack)
This course is designed for any students who wish to explore poetic forms, as well as those who are considering (or on their way to) moderating into Written Arts. (Those already moderated are also welcome if there is room.) Students investigate what poets need to know in today’s world, not only about poetry per se, but also about the many models and metaphors from other disciplines (philosophy, science, music, etc.) that have always inflected the poetries of their times. The course explores a broad range—historical and varietally—of ways to compose with words that have and haven’t been called poetry. (Just what determines whether or not a piece of writing is a poem?) They also pay attention to technologies that are currently expanding the genre, looking at various kinds of digital poetries. This is a hybrid class: part seminar, part workshop. Students produce midterm and final portfolios of work, as well as present work designed for performance—both individually and collaboratively. There are readings from a required booklist and handouts throughout the semester. The class is required to attend poetry readings and other events related to the course during the semester.
Investigative Poetics (Joan Retallack)
This is a practice-based seminar in which students study and create extended poetic projects designed to explore a range of forms, media, questions, and logics while addressing our situation in today’s world by means of poetry. Underlying assumptions are: (a) there are things one can know only in the form of poetry; (b) a complex world must be engaged, at least some of the time, with complex forms of art. Though some of the projects can involve visual and electronic media, as well as performance dimensions, the emphasis throughout will be on working with language. To bring students into a high level of consciousness about the forms and questions under examination, there is in-class writing and performative study of texts (four book-length investigative poetic projects and periodic handouts) as well as periodic short essays. Students complete three extended poetic projects, each accompanied by a five-page essay recounting philosophical and conceptual points of departure, their thinking along the way as they composed the projects, the projects’ relations to the investigations of the class, and the material processes in which students engaged. Attendance is required at poetry readings and other events related to the course during the semester.
Irish Writing and the Nationality of Literature (Joseph O’Neill)
In this course, students read so-called Irish writing as a means of investigating the general notion that literary texts may possess the attribute of nationality. How is “Irishness” to be located in a text? What is the function of the term “Irish” when applied to a piece of writing? In what ways does the idea of “nationality” (or “ethnicity” or “community”) connect the literary, juridical, and political realms? What does artistic discourse have to do with political ethics? What might a postnational literature involve? Students read artistic work by (inter alia) Jonathan Swift, Maria Edgeworth, Oscar Wilde, Somerville & Ross, J. M. Synge, W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, Francis Stuart, Flann O’Brien, Samuel Beckett, and Seamus Heaney; touching on theoretical work by (inter alia) Rudolf Rocker, John Rawls, Noam Chomsky, and Benedict Anderson.
Literary Reportage (Lucy Sante)
This course introduces students to the art of journalism. At best, journalism can rise to literary excellence. Participants study reportage as well as criticism, looking at examples of both genres since Macauley’s contributions to the Edinburgh Review. The question of what lifts journalism to a higher literary level is pursued through consideration of some famous examples: John Hersey on Hiroshima, Michael Herr’s dispatches on the Vietnam War, Alma Guillermoprieto on Latin American politics, Hunter S. Thompson on the party conventions, V. S. Naipul on Trinidad. Also to be discussed is the vexed subject of literary license. Reportage by Ryszard Kapuscinski and Curzio Malaparte is fine literature, to be sure. Both authors claimed to be writing journalism. But they clearly made things up. Can a writer have it both ways: the license of fiction and the claim to be presenting the truth? Finally, students read some of the best critics, including Cyril Connolly, Edmund Wilson, and Pauline Kael.
Materials and Techniques of Poetry (Michael Ives)
It is the unique capacity of poetry to capture the movement of mind and body in a resonant verbal architecture. In this course, students examine, from the ground up, the elements of that architecture by asking what, in the most concrete terms, makes a poem a dynamic, saturated language event. Rather than thinking of structure as an imposition, this workshop considers it an aid to the freeing of the imagination. Along the way, students encounter such aspects of poetic form as patterns of repetition; the infinite varieties of syntax, punctuation, meter, and typography; the “color” of vowels; and the rhythmic implications of word choice and sentence structure. Participants explore a range of techniques and materials from around the world and from the beginning of recorded history right up to the present moment. Writing for the course takes the form of creative responses to a wide variety of reading and weekly “experiments.”
New Directions in Contemporary Fiction (Bradford Morrow)
This seminar is devoted to close readings of novels and collections of short stories by innovative contemporary fiction writers published over the last quarter century, with an eye toward exploring both the great diversity of voices and style employed in these narratives as well as the cultural, historical, and social issues they chronicle. Particular emphasis is placed on analysis of fiction by some of the more pioneering practitioners of the form, including Cormac McCarthy, William Gaddis, Angela Carter, Jeanette Winterson, Kazuo Ishiguro, Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, Michael Ondaatje, Ian McEwan, and Jamaica Kincaid, along with two or three authors who visit class to discuss their books and read from recent work.
The New York School: Poetry, Art Collaboration, and Criticism (Ann Lauterbach)
Following the Second World War, there was a great upsurge of cultural activity in and around New York City, as America began to assert its power on the world stage. Drawn from diverse strands of Modernism, poets and visual artists joined with critics and arts institutions to form what came to be called the New York School, creating a new aesthetic vocabulary. Poets include Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, and Barbara Guest; artists include Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Philip Guston, Joan Mitchell, Larry Rivers, sculptor David Smith, and photographer/filmmaker Rudy Burckhardt. Readings include contemporaneous critical responses by such influential figures as Clement Greenberg, Dore Ashton, and Edwin Denby.
Nobel Laureates (Norman Manea)
This course discusses some important books of modern and contemporary literature by authors who received the Nobel Prize for Literature (Albert Camus, Thomas Mann, Jean-Paul Sartre, Saul Bellow, Mario Vargas Llosa, Orhan Pamuk, Elfriede Jelinek, Czeslaw Milosz, Imre Kertesz, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Boris Pasternak) for their topic and vision, for their innovative way of writing. Students take into account some special cases (Sartre, Solzhenitsyn, Pasternak, Jelinek) for their political and/or moral impact in the public arena; and examine the procedure and value of granting prizes, big and small, deserved and not well deserved, in a time when even the cultural field is dominated by the market; debating the absence in the Nobel list of some great literary names (Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, etc.).
Nonfiction Workshop I (a) (Wyatt Mason)
This course presents the breadth of formal possibilities available to writers of short nonfiction. Students workshop—i.e. read and comment on critically and insightfully—published pieces by Montaigne, De Quincey, Hazlitt, Baudelaire, Poe, Dreiser, Twain, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Edmund Wilson, George Orwell, Joan Didion, John McPhee, Guy Davenport, Leonard Michaels, John Updike, Ben Metcalf, David Foster Wallace, Marilynne Robinson, Cynthia Ozick, Jeanette Winterson, James Wood, and John Jeremiah Sullivan. Workshopping these established writers enables students to learn both what a piece of nonfiction writing is as well as to learn how to workshop something: It isn’t a given! In addition to short writing exercises throughout the term, the course will build to a final assignment that will see students attempt substantive pieces of nonfiction writing of their own, guided by formal lessons learned through reading the best in the form. Open to first-year students and new transfer students only in the fall semesters; open to all beginning nonfiction writers in spring semesters.
Nonfiction Workshop I (b) (various instructors across semesters)
This course is for students who want to write “creative” essays. Creative nonfiction is a flexible genre that includes memoir, the personal essay, collaged writings, portraits, and more. They can range from lyrical to analytical, meditative to whimsical. Students will read a range of works and then offer up their own creative experiments, paying particular attention to the relationship between language and ideas. Weekly writings and readings. No prior experience with creative nonfiction is needed. Open to first-year students and new transfer students only in the fall semesters; open to all beginning nonfiction writers in spring semesters.
Nonfiction Workshop II (various instructors across semesters)
This intermediate-level workshop is suitable for students who have either completed Nonfiction I or done meaningful writing and thinking about nonfiction on their own. The workshop offers structured exercises that experiment with voice, perspective, narrative structure, and specific vocabularies. Central to the class are discussions of assigned readings and critiques of the students’ own writing. Attendance at various lectures and readings is required.
The Novella (Mona Simpson)
A yearlong class on the “long story” or novella form, intended for advanced and serious writers of fiction. Students read novellas by Henry James, Flaubert, Chekhov, Flannery O’Connor, Allan Gurganus, Amy Hempel, Philip Roth, and others, using these primary texts to establish a community of reference. Discussion will focus on technical aspects of fiction writing such as the use of time, narrative voice, openings, endings, dialogue, circularity, and editing, from the point of view of writers, focusing closely on students’ own work. Students are expected to write and revise a novella, turning in weekly installments of their own work and of their responses to the assigned reading.
The Personal Essay (Susan Rogers)
This course involves equal parts reading and writing and is for students who want to develop their creative writing and analytic thinking. Readings are taken from Philip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay, which traces the long tradition of the personal essay from Seneca through Montaigne (the father of the personal essay), and on to contemporary stylists such as Richard Rodriguez and Joan Didion. The personal essay is an informal essay that begins in the details of everyday life and expands to a larger idea. Emphasis is placed on reading closely to discover the craft of the work: how scenes and characters are developed, how dialogue can be used, how the form can fracture from linear narrative to the collage. Students’ works—three long essays—are critiqued in a workshop format. The course is for students with experience in writing workshops, fiction writers and poets who want to explore another genre, and writers who enjoy expressing ideas through the lens of personal experience. Those who bring knowledge from other disciplines are encouraged to apply.
The Poetics of Space (Ann Lauterbach)
Poets, critics, novelists, and philosophers have long pondered the mystery of how writing conveys a sense of space (place) and the objects found in it: persons, plates, roses, cars, fences, cats, stars. Words do not resemble things, and so writers must find ways to conjure material presences in the mind’s eye. Beginning with the grapheme and glyph, students examine figures such as image, metaphor, simile, and metonymy; ideas of description and depiction, mimesis, and ekphrasis; and the complex relation between verbal particulars and abstraction. They ask questions about the difference between a blank page and a screen and contemplate the ways in which the digital age has altered the sense of near and far, the tactile and the corporeal; how the emphasis on visual information alters relations to memory and knowledge. They consider the possible connection between the aesthetics of visuality and the Western bourgeois culture of desire. This course has reading, viewing, and writing components; students are expected to write critical and creative responses.
Poetry and Society (Joan Retallack)
What, if anything, does poetry contribute to the most significant conversations of humankind? To conversations about our commonalities and differences—matters of race, class, gender, war and other forms of violence; cultural and political power; social values; responsibilities to fellow human beings as well as to other forms of life on the planet? Does poetry resonate with knowledge and intuition necessary for thinking about such matters but unavailable by other means? Can it be a potent form of agency? This course examines these complex questions via specific texts and writing explorations by students in both essay and poetic forms. Students look at the role of poetics in human rights and environmental (ecopoetic) discourse, investigative poetics, ethical thought experiments, and more. Texts by Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein, Wallace Stevens, Etel Adnan, Mahmoud Darwish, Raul Zurita, Nourbese Philip, Rachel Zolf, Jonathan Skinner, Juliana Sphar, and Jena Osman, among others, are likely to be included. This is a practice-based seminar involving experimentation with poetic forms, the crafting of short essays, and collaborative research in areas of contemporary social concern. The final assignment is a combined essay and poetic project. The class is required to attend poetry readings and other events (e.g., human rights and environmental policy programming) related to the course during the semester.
Poetry Practicum: How Forms Become Contents (Ann Lauterbach)
Practicum is a Latin word meaning the practice of something as one moves from learning about it to doing it. This course will have the spirit of experiment, in the sense of testing things; and a sense of inquiry, in the sense of looking closely at how specific choices—words, punctuation, syntax, etc.—inform how meanings are made. Students will look at examples from Sappho to Stevens to Silliman, as well as at critical writings, to help align their intentions to their writing practice.
Poetry Workshop I (various instructors across semesters)
Open to students who have never had a workshop in poetry and who desire to experiment with making their own writing a means of learning both about literature and poetry and about the discipline of making works of art. Attention is mainly on the student’s own production, the individual’s awareness of what sorts of activities, rhythms, and tellings are possible in poetry, and how poets go about learning from their own work. The central work of the course is the student’s own writing, along with the articulation, private and shared, of response to it. Readings are undertaken in contemporary and traditional poets, according to the needs of the group, toward the development of familiarity with poetic form, poetic movement, and poetic energy. Attendance at various evening poetry readings and lectures is required. Open to first-year students and new transfer students only in the fall semesters; open to all beginning poets in spring semesters.
Poetry Workshop III (various instructors across semesters)
Students give their attention to (meaning, they read and write) what has loosely been termed “prose poetry.” In addition to encounters with such authors as Max Jacob, André Breton, René Char, W. S. Merwin, Russel Edson, John Ashbery, David Antin, Rosmarie Waldrop, Leslie Scalapino, and Haryette Mullens, they explore the uses to which materials such as aphorisms, industrial manuals, field guides, etc. can inform the construction of new, “hybridized” creations. The goal is to promote formal elasticity and boundary defiance as a catalyst for the release of imaginative potentials.
Postgenre Fabulism and the New Gothic (Bradford Morrow)
Over the past several decades, the critical boundaries between literary and genre fiction have become—as the result of ambitious work by a number of innovative, pioneering writers—increasingly ambiguous. The earliest gothicists framed their tales within the metaphoric scapes of ruined abbeys and diabolic grottoes, chthonic settings populated by protagonists whose inverted psyches lead them to test the edges of propriety and sanity. Postmodern masters such as Angela Carter, William Gaddis, and John Hawkes, while embracing a similarly dark artistic vision, have radically reinvented and contemporized tropes, settings, and narrative arcs to create a new phrase in this historic tradition. This movement, identified as the New Gothic, appears to have risen in tandem with a parallel literary phenomenon known as postfantasy or New Wave Fabulism, whose achievement is to have taken the genre of fantasy/horror in a similar revolutionary direction. While not breaking allegiance with the fundamental spirit that animates their genre counterparts, writers such as Kelly Link, Elizabeth Hand, and Jonathan Lethem are creating a body of serious literary fiction. Other authors whose work students may read include Valerie Martin, Karen Russell, John Crowley, Jonathan Carroll, and Peter Straub. One or two authors attend class to discuss their work.
Prose Studio (Lucy Sante)
Just as the visual arts employ studios to stretch muscles, refine technique, and launch ideas, so this class functions for writers of fiction and nonfiction. Every week there are paired reading and writing exercises concerning, for example, voice, stance, texture, rhythm, recall, palette, focus, compression, word choice, rhetoric, and timing. For serious writers only.
Reading and Writing Contemporary Mythology (Benjamin Hale)
Roland Barthes writes in Mythologies, “Everything, then, can be a myth? Yes, I believe this, for the universe is infinitely fertile in suggestions. Every object in the world can pass from a closed, silent existence to an oral state, open to appropriation by society, for there is now law, whether natural or not, which forbids talking about things.” In this course, students examine mythologies in the contemporary world: reading, among other authors, Barthes, Sontag, Borges, Zadie Smith, Joe Wenderoth, David Foster Wallace, Rebecca Solnit, Tom Bissell, and Will Self; and writing on a diverse range of subjects, including mass-produced children’s toys, professional wrestling, striptease, Hollywood blockbusters, fast food, video games, commercial still-life photography, tourism, lobsters—the horde of material, often ugly and often unexpectedly beautiful (but always interesting), that feeds the mythology of our chaotic contemporary culture. Students work on their own writing as much as on reading and discussing published works. Writing assignments are in dialogue with the reading; and while this is nominally a nonfiction workshop, the pieces students write are perfectly free, perhaps even encouraged, to tread the nebulous borderlands between fiction and nonfiction.
Reading and Writing the Hudson (Susan Rogers)
“To those who know it, the Hudson River is the most beautiful, messed up, productive, ignored, and surprising piece of water on the face of the earth,” writes Robert Boyle in The Hudson: A Natural and Unnatural History. In this course students get to know the Hudson in all of its complexity through reading a range of works and through writing personal essays of place. Readings range from history to natural history, literature to environmental policy. In addition, each student undertakes independent research into some aspect of the river, from the brick or whaling industry to gardens or villas of the valley. Students use this research, combined with personal experience of the valley, to develop extended creative nonfiction essays for critique in a workshop format. The course is open to all students interested in creative nonfiction writing from a researched, interdisciplinary perspective.
Reading for Writers (Mary Caponegro)
This course is designed to be a joyous, rigorous exploration of that component of fiction which distinguishes one author from another, and which is a more ruminant feature of certain authors’ works than others. Students look closely at what constitutes style, and what makes one writer a stylist and another not. If “reading for the plot” is the default paradigm in fiction, what happens when we train our minds to look behind the scenes of plot, to observe how cumulative linguistic, imagistic, and syntactic patterns coalesce such that sentence generates story? What is the relation of style to form and structure, and what range of choices exists between the polarities of restrain and ostentation? Coursework involves analytical papers with occasional creative options. Works studied include many of the following literary texts, in general one book per week: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov; Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, Worstward Ho, by Samuel Beckett; The Aspern Papers, by Henry James; The Palm Wine Drunkard, by Amos Tutuola; Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar; The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker; Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson; The Passion Artist, by John Hawkes; Lost in the City, by Edward P. Jones; In the Heart of the Country, by J. M. Coetzee; This Is Not a Novel, by David Markson; The Last Samurai, by Helen DeWitt; The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell; In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, by William H. Gass; Because They Wanted To, by Mary Gaitskill; The Sea, by John Banville; Bogeywoman or Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon; Netsuke, by Rikki Ducornet; Amy and Isabelle, by Elizabeth Strout.
Toward (A)moral Fiction (Mary Caponegro)
The novels in this course each grapple with ethical issues through fictive means. In navigating them, students assess the ways in which literature can create, complicate, or resolve ethical dilemmas—or eschew morality altogether. The class also attends to craft, investigating how authors’ concerns are furthered by formal considerations. Students read one novel per week, occasionally supplemented by theoretical texts. Analytical writing is the primary mode of response, but a creative option is given for students to find their own fictive path to a social, ethical, or political issue. The syllabus draws from the following texts: Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas, Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory or The Heart of the Matter, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Roberto Bolaño’s By Night in Chile, Michel Tournier’s The Ogre, Elfriede Jelinek’s Wonderful Wonderful Times, J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, Rikki Ducornet’s Netsuke, J. G. Ballard’s Crash, Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island, Kenzaburo Oe’s Nip the Buds Shoot the Kids, Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow, and Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child.
The Tragic Heroine in the Western Imagination: From Euripides to Tennessee Williams (Daniel Mendelsohn)
The figure of the tragic heroine—suffering, abject, grandiose, vengeful, self-sacrificing, murderous, noble, alluring—has gripped the Western imagination for nearly 30 centuries, from the Homeric epics to 20th-century theater, raising a question that remains compelling: Why do male authors focus so consistently on the representation of suffering females, often for the benefit of male audiences? Through a series of close readings of representative texts (classical, medieval, Renaissance, Neo-Classical, Enlightenment, nineteeenth- and twentieth-century) in a number of genres (epic, tragedy, lyric, fiction, opera), the course explores the aesthetic nature and ideological roots of this cultural preoccupation. Closer readings of texts are accompanied by theoretical materials and secondary scholarship; weekly film screenings are required.
Translating Illuminations: Illuminating Translation (Wyatt Mason)
Over the course of the term, each of the students in this class translates—in its entirety—Arthur Rimbaud’s series of prose poems that has come to be called Illuminations. The purpose of the class is not to come up with a collective translation of the poem; rather, class discussions and independent research into the meanings of words inform participants enough about both French and English for them to arrive at their own individual translations of the poems. The class goes through the poems line by line, discussing the meanings of the words in the French originals and the boggling range of alternatives they present in English. The course functions as a writing workshop because learning to translate from a foreign language into English is writing at its most pure: It is the key to learning how to write resourcefully and powerfully, to knowing the weight and weft of words. Writing assignments are due every week and include both rigorous research into the French language and deep engagement with every writer’s best friend, the O.E.D. Translation is supplemented by reading previous translations of Rimbaud as well as essays on translation—not theoretical essays but writing on translation as a practice, a habit of mind. It is essential that students have both a passion for English usage and a background in the French language.
Women on the Edge (Mary Caponegro)
In this class, students study numerous experimental female authors and their predecessors, concentrating on those who might be least familiar. Emphasis is on the intersection of formal innovation with preoccupations of sexuality and gender. Authors may include Dorothy Richardson, Nathalie Sarraute, Anna Kavan, Ann Quin, Clarice Lispector, Marguerite Young, Kathy Acker, Annie Ernaux, Helen DeWitt, Elfriede Jelinek, Angela Carter, Rikki Ducornet, Jeanette Winterson, Giannina Braschi, Jaimy Gordon, and Elana Ferrante. Some familiarity with Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein is assumed but is not a prerequisite.
Writing Fiction for New Media (Paul La Farge)
This class explores some of the formal possibilities that digital media open to the writer of fiction. Students work with several technologies, among them hypertext, interactive fiction, platforms for location-specific writing, animation, and multimedia. No technical proficiency is assumed, but the class involves working with applications and learning some basic coding skills. Students consider digital-media works by Michael Joyce, Shelley Jackson, Geoffrey Ryman, Neal Stephenson, and others; and read paperbound works by Borges, Nabokov, Cortázar, Roubaud, and others, which inform and anticipate the space of digital literature.
Writing the Female Rebel: The Antiheroine in Fiction (Edie Meidav)
What do women want? What do they script—or have scripted upon them—when societal mores resist their desires? This practice-based seminar, a literature class designed for writers, investigates the trope of the female rebel. Does a woman of independent mind go the way of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, Hermia, Olivia, or Lady Macbeth? From madness to cunning, from truth telling to gender minstrelsy, from sly submission to power-mad subversion, the antiheroine finds herself crossing boundaries dictated by class, gender, familiar convention, or ethnicity, resorting to a particular taxonomy of tactics. Beginning with Sophocles’ Antigone (and a few of her later dramatic, fictive, and operatic iterations), students explore the memorable creations of writers such as Alameddine, Braschi, Brontë, Cather, Defoe, Dermansky, Freud, Gaitskill, Larsen, Myles, O’Connor, Rhys, Roth, Schutt, I. B. Singer, Tea, Tevis, Winterson, and Woolf, all the way through contemporary graphic novelists such as Alison Bechdel and Leela Corman. Aiding the cartography of female rebellion in literature are the following course requirements: class presentations, literary analysis, film viewing, and creative writing.
Writing the Modern City (Teju Cole)
This course centers on aspects of contemporary urban reportage through a close reading of five recent works of creative nonfiction: Haruki Murakami’s Underground, Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul, Ivan Vladisavic’s Portrait with Keys, Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City, and Sharifa Rhodes-Pitt’s Harlem Is Nowhere. Topics include alienation, crowds, nostalgia, infrastructure, the role of the observer, and literary technique.
Writing the World: Nonfiction Prose (Lucy Sante)
This is a course in two skills: learning to make excellent nonfiction prose and learning to see the world. When it comes to the art of nonfiction prose, the emphasis nearly always falls on the personal, and especially on essay and memoir. In this course, students will turn their gazes outward and think about how to write from direct experience of events. Models will be drawn from history and from the broad category of nonfiction writing often, and absurdly, called “current events.” The goal is to become compelling witnesses and makers of acute prose—but the goal is also art, not journalism. Students are expected to write four to five pages every week.
Writing Workshop for Nonmajors (Robert Kelly)
This course is designed for juniors and seniors who are not Written Arts majors but who wish to see what they can learn about the world through the act of writing. Every craft, science, skill, and discipline can be articulated, and anybody who can do real work in science or scholarship or art can learn to write, as they say, “creatively.” The workshop gives not more than a dozen students the chance to experiment with all kinds of writing but in particular with the creative essay. The creative essay is elastic, allowing for meditations and rants, portraits and personal essays. Students read a range of works then produce their own writings for critique.
Written Arts Senior Colloquium (Mary Caponegro and/or various instructors across semesters)
The Senior Colloquium in the Written Arts is an integral part of the eight credits of the Senior Project. It has several objectives: intellectual/artistic, social, and vocational. The primary purpose is to guide seniors, both practically and philosophically, in the daunting task of creating a coherent and inspired creative work of high quality within a single academic year. Emphasis is on demystifying the project process, including its bureaucratic hurdles, as well as exploring the role of research in the creative realm, and helping students use each other as a critical and inspirational resource during this protracted solitary endeavor, sharing works in progress when appropriate. This supplements but never supplants the primary and sacrosanct role of the project adviser. Program faculty and alumni/ae, career development and other staff, and outside speakers (such as editors, translators, MFA graduates and directors, publishing personnel, etc.) contribute their collective wisdom and experience, sharing the myriad ways in which writers move an idea toward full creative realization, and giving a glimpse of the kinds of internships and careers available to the writer.