Last week, my Online Prose Workshop read “Hepburn and Garbo” (pgs. 151–165) and “Ten Notes on Oscar Weekend” (212–221) in Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind;“Upon This Rock” from John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead; and “LookingAround” from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. They then completed the following reading discussion:
Changing My Mind is a series of occasional essays. Select one of Smith’s essay from your Introductory week assignments and one from the Week 1 assignments, and compare and contrast the occasions for these pieces. How do the occasions for each piece change the tone of the piece? (Hint: describe the tone of each piece and then make the connection between each essay’s occasion and its tone.) Please upload this by 11:59 pm on Saturday, September 17.
This week, they are completing a writing exercise called “Pop Art”:
Freewrite 250 words about your experience encountering something to do with pop culture. This could be about the time you met a celebrity or the time you camped out for tickets for a concert. It could even be about watching the VMFAs in your pajamas on the couch. Please upload this by 11:59 pm on Saturday, September 24.
In this exercise, I ask my Craft of Prose students to think about the ways in which one element of their worlds—sports—can reveal a great deal about cultural values in addition to demonstrating some of what’s possible. With the class having just read about the Quidditch World Cup in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and been introduced briefly to other examples of games popular fiction, they will create their own sport, have a partner demonstrate, in a charades-like fashion, how that sport works, so that the writer m then ask themselves if they effectively described the sport in “All in Good Sport.”
I’m giving these exercises on the first day of class in order to get a better sense of where the students are in terms of their poetry knowledge and reading ability. Additionally, I wanted to introduce them to some terminology (e.g. line breaks, tone, concrete details, etc.) that will make it easier for them to talk about poetry throughout the course.
Instructor’s Course Description
As a means of exploring the craft of prose writing, we will read, analyze, and imitate two living writers: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Jesmyn Ward. By reading two, book-length works by each writer—a short story collection and book-length essay by Adichie and a novel and memoir by Ward—we will see how these writers develop their unique styles across genres and locate how their personal concerns inform their fictional narratives. Additionally, we will supplement these texts with short stories and essays by some of the most influential prose writers of the 20th century to understand the history and development of American prose over the last one hundred years. We will translate these immersive reading experiences into writing skills through discussion, exercises, and workshop. Several times throughout the semester, students will turn in original writing for workshop, a collaborative discussion about writing techniques and their effects on readers, and later revise two of the pieces using the comments received in workshop. You should bring to this class a hard work ethic supported by curiosity and generosity. We will base our discussions on how texts work rather than what they mean, after Francine Prose’s ideal of “reading like a writer.” My approach to teaching writing is founded on the belief that our writing skills must be practiced and cultivated, and that one must continually challenge one’s aesthetics, habits, and concerns throughout one’s writing life in order to write anything of consequence to one’s readers and, perhaps more importantly, one’s self.
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Anchor, 2010. ISBN: 978-0307455918
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Anchor, 2015. ISBN: 978-1101911761.
The Best American Essays of the Century, ed. Joyce Carol Oates. Mariner, 2001. ISBN: 978-0618155873.
The Best American Short Stories of the Century, ed. John Updike. Mariner, 2000. ISBN: 978-0395843673.
Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward. Bloomsbury USA, 2014. ISBN: 978-1608197651
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. Bloomsbury USA, 2012. ISBN: 978-1608196265
Each class member should respond to a poem written by the person seated on their right. They can argue or interrogate an idea, provide an anecdotal narrative that relates to the first person, or work associatively away from the original kernel to access something new. Participants should remember their addressee’s personality, concerns, and
The next step has two variations. Students should then write a response to:
the response to their own poem so as to create a dialogue between the two poets, or
the response written by their original addressee so as to create a chain of communication.