“Pop Art” Writing Exercise for my Online Prose Workshop

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 “Looking Around” 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.

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Writing Exercise: “View-master” for Online Prose Workshop

Last week, in ENG 2016OL: Online Prose Workshop, my students read “One Week in Liberia” and “Speaking in Tongues” (pgs. 110–148) of Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind. Read “Damn Cold in February: Buddy Holly, View-master, and the A-Bomb” by Joni Tevis and Creative Nonfiction Primer on Moodle. They then completed the following writing exercise on a discussion forum.

 

Writing Exercise: “View-master”

Free-write 250 words about a trip you took to some place that interested you. It could be as dramatic as Liberia (a la Zadie Smith) or as local as your post office.

Fall 2016 Required Texts & Course Descriptions

ENG 2015: Poetry Workshop

American poet C.D. Wright once wrote: “If I wanted to understand a culture, my own for instance . . . I would turn to poetry first. For it is my confirmed bias that the poets remain the most ‘stunned by existence,’ the most determined to redeem the world in words.” In this course, we will hold poetry to this noble standard, as an amplifier for the voices in our culture and an invocatory rendering of our world. In doing so, I’ll ask you to not only read and write poetry but also begin to look at your surroundings as a poet would. This requires close examination of images, scrutiny of your thoughts and feelings about subject matter, and consideration for other points of view. Additionally, you will be asked to think deeply about language, in terms of its meanings, its sounds, its rhythms, and its forms. You should bring to this class a hard work ethic supported by curiosity and generosity. As a means of introduction to the craft of poetry, students will submit original poems for workshop, a collaborative discussion about writing techniques and their effects on readers.  In addition to workshop, you will be asked to engage with the writing of contemporary poets, to read like a writer would. I’ve chosen Poetry magazine as our required text so that you will have a lens through which to examine the current landscape of American poetry and to see that even today poets are still trying to “redeem the world in words.”

Required Texts

  1. Hirsch, Edward. A Poet’s Glossary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. ISBN: 978-0151011957.
  2. Poetry magazine student subscription, available at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/subscribe

 

ENG 2016OL: Online Prose Workshop

This course will focus on the prose forms of the short story and personal essay, and emphasize drafting and revision. Students will respond to published prose and write their own pieces for workshop, a collaborative discussion about the effects of a writer’s choices on readers. 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.” We will use Megan Mayhew Bergman’s collection of short stories, Almost Famous Women, and Zadie Smith’s collection of essays, Changing My Mind, as a touchstone for learning writing skills and discovering genre conventions. 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.

Required Texts

  1. Bergman, Megan Mayhew. Almost Famous Women.  Scribner, 2015. 256 pages. ISBN: 978-1476788814.
  2. Smith, Zadie. Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays. Penguin, 2010. 320 pages. ISBN: 978-0143117957.

 

ENG 2031: Craft of Prose

In Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Marco Polo tells Kublai Khan that “the city must never be confused with the words that describe it.” In this course, we will shoot high and aim to write so richly and uniquely about our fictional worlds that they will be rendered in our readers’ imaginations as palpable, the words and places indistinguishable, symbiotic, “real.” We will take as our lodestars a number of texts, including Calvino’s Invisible Cities, a short story collection by Centenary’s fall 2016 visiting author Megan Mayhew Bergman, and one of the Harry Potter novels. 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 one of the pieces using the comments received in workshop. Additionally, we will play host to Centenary’s Fall 2016 visiting writer, Megan Mayhew Bergman, and prepare accordingly. 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.

Texts and Supplies

  1. Bergman, Megan Mayhew. Almost Famous Women.  Scribner, 2015. 256 pages. ISBN: 978-1476788814.*
  2. Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Harcourt, 1978. 165 pages. ISBN: 978-0156453806. +
  3. Everett, Percival. I Am Not Sidney Poitier. Graywolf Press, 2009. 234 pages. ISBN: 978-1555975272. +
  4. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Scholastic Paperbacks, 2002. 752 pages. ISBN: 978-0439139601.*
  5. Russell, Karen. Vampires in the Lemon Grove: And Other Stories. Vintage, 2014. +
  6. Writing Journal

 

ENG 3099: Special Topics: Literary Editing & Publishing

“Editing, like writing, is fundamentally about composing a world,” Peter Gizzi writes in his essay “On the Conjunction of Editing and Composition.” In this course, students will learn how this act of composition takes place, from submissions to printing, by reading first-hand accounts of editors in the profession and through practical application. This reading intensive course will challenge you to read like an editor rather than a reader, writer, or critic, and ask you to consider how literary magazines contribute to literary culture. You will be exposed to many different types of editing styles, and you will be asked to begin to cultivate your own approach to editing a literary magazine or journal while being introduced to all the skillsets needed to create a publication. We will use literary magazines as a case study for all of our publishing inquiries, but we will likewise touch upon the book-publishing process and market. The class will include an investigation into the history of literary magazines; editorial meetings in which students will evaluate and debate sample pieces; papers that analyze literary magazines, editorial roles, and the state of contemporary publishing; and a final editorial project in which student groups will “compose a world” through a mock literary magazine by developing its mission, design, and content. In many ways, this course acts as a kind of introductory practicum for students interested in pursuing future publishing opportunities as editors, production editors, and as writers.

Texts and Supplies

  1. Lupton, Ellen. Thinking with Type, 2nd edition. Princeton Architectural Press, 2010.
  2. Kurowski, Travis. Paper Dreams: Writers and Editors on the American Literary Magazine. Atticus Books, 2013.
  3. Art supplies, paper, etc. and whatever else you may need to create your final editorial project.

Spring 2015 Course Descriptions and Reading Lists

Bookplate of American painter and illustrator Edward Penfield (1866-1925)

Bookplate of American painter and illustrator Edward Penfield (1866-1925)

In the Spring 2015 semester, I will be teaching ENGL 215: Textual Analysis at Virginia Commonwealth University and CRWR 212: Introduction to Creative Writing at The College of William & Mary. Below I’ve included the course descriptions and required texts for each course followed by a brief explanation of my choices for the classes’ reading lists.

VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY
ENGL 215: TEXTUAL ANALYSIS

Course Description
“Brickwork: Urban Imagination”—From the sidewalk to the skyscraper, alleys to main thoroughfares, the urban landscape has not only provided the setting to many works of great literature, it has become a kind of a foil for many protagonists. In this course, we’ll read novels, nonfiction, and poetry that use the urban landscapes, the exterior world, that increasingly engage, complicate, and reveal charactes’ internal life. Starting with photorealistic portrayals of cities in a particular moment, like those in essays by Joan Didion, and moving on to fabular remakings of place, as found in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, students will learn the basics of close reading, analyzing the literary devices and strategies, comparing and contrasting works, and contextualizing their discussion toward a main question about how a city can make a person, how people make a city. In addition to the previously mentioned authors, students will read excerpts or texts by Kazim Ali, Teju Cole, Charles Dickens, Nick Flynn, James Joyce, Rebecca Solnit, Zadie Smith, Anne Winters, and more.

Required Texts

  • Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Ed. Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray. 3rd Edition. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. ISB: 978-0312461881.
  • Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978. ISBN: 978-0156453806.
  • Gautier, Amina. At-Risk. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011. ISBN: 978-0820338880.
  • Levine, Philip. What Work Is. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992. ISBN: 978-0679740582.
  • Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass and Selected Poems and Prose. Penguin, 2014. ISBN: 978-0143107439.
  • Winters, Anne. The Key to the City. University of Chicago Press, 1986. ISBN: 978-0226902272.

A course packet available online with excerpts taken from the following texts:

  • Ali, Kazim. Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities.
  • Biss, Eula. Notes from No Man’s Land.
  • Cole, Teju. Open City.
  • Crane, Hart. The Bridge.
  • Diaz, Junot. Drown
  • Dickens, Charles. Night Walks.
  • Didion, Joan. Slouching Toward Bethlehem.
  • Flynn, Nick. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
  • Gunn, Thom. The Man with the Night Sweats.
  • Hull, Lynda. Collected Poems.
  • Joyce, James. Dubliners.
  • Lowell, Robert. For the Union Dead.
  • Meitner, Erika. Copia.
  • Meitner, Erika. Ideal Cities.
  • Neruda, Pablo. The Heights of Machu Picchu (trans. Morín)
  • Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader.
  • Sandburg, Carl. Chicago Poems.
  • Shapiro, Alan. Night of the Republic.
  • Smith, Patricia. Blood Dazzler.
  • Smith, Zadie. White Teeth.
  • Solnit, Rebecca. Wanderlust: A History of Walking.
  • Teitman, Ryan. Litany for the City.

*The goal with my selection of these required texts and the course packet is to keep the students engaged and challenged while exposing them to a variety of canonical and contemporary writing in their acquisition of essential textual analysis skills.

Additionally, I want them to be exposed to poetry throughout the course, unlike my students who read only one poetic work this semester. I find that students who read a lot of poetry become much better readers of poems and, I’d even argue, all other texts; continued exposure is the key to their understanding. I came to this conclusion after reading the responses to Autobiography of Red, in which many of them thoroughly investigated sound and line breaks. I realized that I hadn’t trusted the 215 students enough to “get” poetry when I was making my syllabus because they hadn’t taken any college literature classes before; this time, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and give them equal parts poetry and prose.

The excerpts in the course packet will be short, and they will be used either on their own (like Didion), as a supplement for their books, and/or for in-class assignments. Many of the books on the excerpt list were originally a part of the working text lists. I decided, however, to cut down the required reading from this semester’s seven texts to five so that we could spend more time on in-depth exploration. In this way, we’ll have more focus on a few core texts and I won’t have to cut out many of the authors I want to teach. I might supplement Anne Winters with Alan Shapiro poems and an excerpt from Dickens’s Night WalksInvisible Cities with some of Ali’s Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities. Once I start making the course calendar, I’ll have a better idea about how I’ll juxtapose these texts.

I decided to add the Bedford Glossary because I felt like I often had to remind students of literary terms, strategies, and concepts this semester. They received these terms through lecture, discussion, and a glossary I created. A desk reference such as the Bedford, however, will provide them with many more possibilities to understand and locate literary devices and to explore the lenses through which to analyze texts. I haven’t decided yet whether I want to test them on a selection of these terms, but I think it might incentivize them to learn core terms.

WILLIAM & MARY
CRWR 212: INTRODUCTION TO CREATIVE WRITING

University Course Description
Workshop format emphasizes the basics of writing fiction and poetry. Class meets for one two-hour session per week. No previous writing experience is required.  Open to academic freshmen and academic sophomores with priority given to academic freshmen.

Required Texts

  • Biss, Eula. Notes from No Man’s Land. Graywolf Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-1555975180.
  • Burroway, Janet. Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft. (3rd Edition). Penguin Academics, 2010. ISBN: 978-0205750351.
  • Gautier, Amina. At-Risk. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011. ISBN: 978-0820338880.
  • Levine, Philip. What Work Is. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992. ISBN: 978-0679740582.
  • Nelson, Maggie. Bluets. Wave Books, 2009. ISBN: 978-1933517407.
  • Rankine, Claudia. Citizen. Graywolf Press, 2014. ISBN: 978-1555976903.

*I decided that I wanted my Creative Writing students to be exposed to the types of writing that we generally eschew in lower-level courses, especially hybrid works like prose poems, lyric essays, etc. So many creative writing students I’ve encountered have such set ideas for what poetry or prose should be that it’s hard for them to engage the genres in any new way. The idea here is that we will start with fiction (Gautier), move into the essays (Biss), transition into poetry (Levine), and then consider poetry/prose hybrids (Nelson and Rankine). In every other creative writing class I’ve taught, questions about prose poetry and, less frequently, lyric essays have arisen. They want to know what they are and how to write them. I want students to understand genre as one bridge you can walk rather than separate rocks you have to hop between to cross the river. This decision is founded on my belief that a writer of any genre can learn from strategies of other genres and that there are many intersections between the genres.

I will use the Burroway for the students to learn essential concepts (setting, tone, point of view, etcetera), and I’ll likely use the example texts therein for in-class assignments to jumpstart exercises and or discussions.