Archived Course Descriptions

Fall 2014

WRT 380:  FIRST-YEAR SEMINAR

Naomi Shihab Nye
Mondays, 9:00 am – 12:00 noon
FDH Seminar Room

Restricted to, and required of, entering MCW class of Fall 2014.  Description forthcoming.

WRT 380W:  FICTION WORKSHOP

Elizabeth McCracken
Mondays, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

The good news and the bad news is: there are no rules. When it comes to writing, a piece of fiction succeeds or fails only depending on how it obeys its own rules, when it teaches the reader how to read and enter the particular fictional world. In our workshop, students will read each other’s work with generosity and optimism and rigor, to understand each piece’s best intentions and try to help the author to fulfill them-to learn, in other words, not only how to be critics, but how to read our own work critically. We will discuss in class and in conference both the smallest details of writing fiction as well as its loftiest aims.

WRT 380W:  POETRY WORKSHOP

Dean Young
Tuesdays, 9:00 am – 12:00 noon
FDH Seminar Room

This is a class for practicing poets.  The majority of our class time will be discussing the work generated by the poets in the class.  Each student is expected to submit one poem a week and be an active and prepared participant in workshop discussions.

WRT 380W:  FICTION WORKSHOP

Cristina Garcia
Tuesdays, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

Our priority in this workshop will be reading and critiquing each other’s works-in-progress. Each writer will have the opportunity to have two to three stories, or excerpts of longer works (up to seventy pages total), discussed in class. In addition, we’ll be reading five strikingly different books (novels, memoirs, reportage)—one every couple of weeks—and studying, in-depth, the various narrative strategies employed by their authors. We’ll focus on issues of voice, structure, characterization, the role of research, and stylistic techniques. Creative responses to texts as well as other brief writing assignments, both in-class and out, will supplement the readings and critiques.

The required books for this class are:  Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinki, Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas, Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. Additional short stories will be assigned.

WRT 380W:  SCREENWRITING WORKSHOP FOR SECONDARIES

Kathleen Orillion
tenatively, Wednesdays 10-1 (subject to change)
FDH Seminar Room

Students will write an original, full-length feature screenplay.  Over the course of the semester, each student will have 3-4 opportunities to submit their work-in-progress for class discussion.  Everyone is required to read one another’s work and provide thoughtful, detailed, and constructive feedback.  Although we will be considering issues of plot, structure, and momentum, this workshop will, for the most part, emphasize character-driven screenplays—that is, stories that develop organically from the character(s) that you create.

Spring 2014

WRT 380W:  FICTION WORKSHOP

Denis Johnson
Mondays, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

We’ll meet once per week for three hours and talk about two short stories each time.  Over the course of the semester, we’ll see two stories by each of our participants.  As for any novels, let’s deal with those case by case, with the aim of looking at and discussing 30-50 pages during the semester.

Each week before the class, I’ll meet for one hour each with the previous week’s two writers, and we’ll talk again about last week’s stories and about anything else on our minds.

WRT 380S:  THE POETICS OF MEMORY

Brigit Pegeen Kelly
Tuesdays, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

In this class we’ll be thinking about, among other things, memory as a poetic faculty, and metaphor as the tool that shapes perhaps most vigorously our understanding of how memory operates. We’ll use Douwe Draaisma’s book Metaphors of Memory: A History of Ideas About the Mind to back up theoretically our reading of the core texts. These texts are of different types–memoir, fiction, poetry, autobiography, journalism–but all of them foreground memory, or offer alternative perspectives on memory, or serve as significant mnemonic texts, or display memory’s poetic prowess.  At the very least, I hope this class deepens our appreciation for the mysterious workings of memory in our lives, the world, and good books.

Writing Assignments: You will be expected to write weekly responses to the readings and to complete at the end of the semester one long critical or creative piece.

Books:

Beckett, Samuel. Nohow On: Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, Worstward Ho

Borowski, Tadeusz, This Way to the Gas Chamber, Ladies and Gentleman

Chatwin, Bruce, The Songlines

Davis, Lydia, The End of the Story

Draaisma, Douwe, Metaphors of Memory: A History of Ideas About the Mind

Galvin, James, The Meadow

Haien, Jeanette, The All of It

Kincaid, Jamaica, Autobiography of My Mother

Lightman, Alan, Einstein’s Dreams

Oz, Amos, In the Land of Israel

Rilke, Rainer Maria, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (translation by Norton or Hulse)

Saroyan, William, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Sebald, W.S. Vertigo

Schulz, Bruno, Street of Crocodiles

C.K Williams, The Vigil

WRT 380W:  POETRY WORKSHOP

Brigit Pegeen Kelly
Wednesdays, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

A writing workshop provides, among other things, structure for writers, an impetus to write, an immediate audience, exposure to new work, critical feedback, and a community.  But I think the most important thing it offers is the rare opportunity to learn how to read work-in-process in practical ways.  This is a paradoxical practice, involving, as it does, the need to make exacting observations and raise incisive questions about the material at hand while simultaneously getting oneself out of the way of the poem and the poem’s author.  If done well the practice demands that the reader pay as much attention to the way he/she reads, sees, and makes judgments, as to the way poems operate.  I don’t think a workshop should be an editing venue, a repair shop, or a critical combat zone.  I like to think of it as studio space—a place to work, revise, observe, think, exchange ideas, and improvise.  We will read and discuss during the semester four recent volumes of poetry by three established American authors.  Weekly, you will be asked to write one poem for workshop and critical comments on the work of your peers.  You will also be asked on an irregular basis to complete exercises, reflections, and revisions.

Books:

L.S. Asekoff, Freedom Hill

L.S. Asekoff, The Gate of Horn

Brock-Broido, Lucie, Stay, Illusion: Poems

Graham, Jorie, Place: New Poems

WRT 380W:  NOVEL WRITING WORKSHOP

Stephen Harrigan
Tuesdays, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

The sole focus of this course will be on helping students either to finish a novel or to finish a substantial portion and have a confident understanding of where the story is going.  There will be no required reading other than material I may bring in to illustrate a practical story-telling point. We will meet once a week as a group to read and discuss work-in-progress, but from time to time I may use the classroom hours to meet individually with the students to talk about plotting, character development, etc. as it applies to their own projects. Because every novel is different, and every writer works in his or her own manner, I want to keep the structure of the course somewhat loose and open to improvisation. I will function less as a professor than as a hands-on editor, reacting to the work, suggesting changes, offering guidance about marketing and other practical matters. In addition, I anticipate inviting a few successful novelists or publishing professionals to visit the class and talk about their experiences, both in writing and in selling their work.

Fall 2013

WRT 380S:  FAIRYTALES

Edward Carey
Wednesdays, 9:00 am – 12:00 noon
FDH Seminar Room

“It is hardly too much to say that these stories rank next to the Bible in importance,’’ W.H. Auden on the Brothers Grimm.

This seminar will examine the form of fairytales, why such stories have survived, what makes them so indelible, what inspiration they are to writers. Tracking the history of fairytales, the imagination of people for centuries stored in wonderful tales, the course will study the collection of the social historians the Brothers Grimm to the more personal, miserable autobiographical narratives of the tall, lonely and desperate Hans Christian Andersen, and to more modern practitioners, among them, Leonora Carrington, Angela Carter and Richard Kennedy. We shall also spend some time on three very isolated European figures of literature, Robert Walser, Bruno Schulz and Daniil Kharms, whose own painfully personal versions of fairytales are as shocking and original today as they were when they were when first published; astounding and unlikely works featuring schools for servants, fathers who turn into stuffed and moth-eaten condors, and many old women who tumble out of windows.

We shall examine the simplicity of the form—it has been said that there is no fat on a fairy tale—its vibrancy, its sheer imagination, its cruelty and what lies beneath its seeming nonsense, often messages of a more sober and alarming content. We shall wonder over ugly sisters, evil stepmothers, simple brothers, hapless tailors, ‘ifrits, jinns, little red caps, decaying houses, depressed Christmas Trees, bluebeards, flying trunks, many thieves, mutilated bodies, a porcelain husband, and a flea who lived with a louse.  We shall learn the lessons of economy and plot that such tales have to teach writers of any sort of any genre.

Please note: participants will be required to write short fairytales of their own.

BOOKS:

THE COMPLETE GRIMM’S FAIRYTALES, introduced by Padraic Colum, commentary by Joseph Cambell

FAIRY TALES by Hans Christian Andersen, translated by Tiina Nunnally

WRT 380W:  FICTION WORKSHOP

Elizabeth McCracken
Wednesdays, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

The good news and the bad news is: there are no rules. When it comes to writing, a piece of fiction succeeds or fails only depending on how it obeys its own rules, when it teaches the reader how to read and enter the particular fictional world. In our workshop, students will read each other’s work with generosity and optimism and rigor, to understand each piece’s best intentions and try to help the author to fulfill them-to learn, in other words, not only how to be critics, but how to read our own work critically. We will discuss in class and in conference both the smallest details of writing fiction as well as its loftiest aims.

WRT 380W:  POETRY WORKSHOP

Michael McGriff
Tuesdays, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

In this class, the workshop group will offer feedback on student work (5-10 new poems per participant over the course of the semester). The poems submitted to workshop will not be generated from prompts or assignments.

We are all working writers faced with the same opportunity / dilemma: how to think of poems both as individual artworks and as components that will eventually serve the larger architecture of a book. We will read 5 full-length poetry collections and discuss them in terms of their parts and wholes.

Please purchase all books before the first day of class.  You are encouraged to read all of these titles before the course begins.

Required books:
The Singing Knives
by Frank Stanford (Lost Roads)
Alphabet
by Inger Christensen, translated by Susanna Nied (New Directions)
The Night
by Jaime Saenz, translated by Forrest Gander and Kent Johnson (Princeton)
Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions
by Maurice Manning (Yale)
Altazor
by Vicente Huidobro, translated by Eliot Weinberger (Wesleyan)

WRT 380S:  HISTORY’S GREATEST HITS (crosslisted with HIS 381)

H.W. Brands
Tuesdays, 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
SZB 284

A workshop for graduate students devoted to the craft of writing history in both nonfiction and fictional form. Students will read selections from some of the greatest writers of history (Herodotus, Plutarch, Gibbon, Carlyle, Parkman, Dickens, Tolstoy, Strachey and many others) and will assess what makes for compelling historical writing. Students will meanwhile develop writing projects of their own. Some students will bring drafts to the workshop and polish these. Other students will commence drafts during the semester. All will present their works-in-progress to the seminar, with the ultimate goal of writing history in the most riveting manner possible.

WRT 380:  FIRST-YEAR SEMINAR (limited to/required of all first-year MCW students)

Naomi Shihab Nye
Mondays, 9:00 am – 12:00 noon
FDH Seminar Room

Restricted to entering MCW class of Fall 2013.

A dynamic, rollicking, multi-genre, reading and writing marathon.  In this course, we’ll consider fiction, nonfiction, poetry and plays, writing responsively to each, discussing all texts, creating an interweave of pleasure and possibility.  First/second draft parallel form responses to readings will be due every week.

Required:

THE LOVE OF A GOOD WOMAN, Alice Munro (Knopf, 1998)

THE VERMONT PLAYS, Annie Baker (Theatre Communications Group, 2012)

SLEEPING WITH THE DICTIONARY, Harryette Mullen, (U of California Press, 2002)

HOUSE OF STONE, A Memory of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East, Anthony Shadid (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)

SOME RECOGNITION OF THE JOSHUA LIZARD, New and Selected Poems, Robert Burlingame (Mutabilis Press, Houston, 2009)

THE RANCH THAT WAS US, Becky Crouch Patterson (Trinity University Press, 2012)

THE YELLOW BIRDS, Kevin Powers (Back Bay Books, 2012)

SUDDEN FLASH YOUTH – 65 Short-Short Stories edited by Christine Perkins-Hazucka, Tom Hazuka and Mark Budman (Persea Books, 2011)

MADNESS, RACK AND HONEY, Collected Lectures, Mary Ruefle (Wave Books, 2012)

THE TROUBLE BALL, Martin Espada, (Norton, 2011)

Optional and helpful:

THE GIFT OF TONGUES, Twenty-Five Years of Poetry from Copper Canyon Press, Edited by Sam Hamill (Copper Canyon, 1996)

BRAIDED CREEK, A CONVERSATION IN POETRY, Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser (Copper Canyon Press, 2003)

WHAT I CAN’T BEAR LOSING, Gerald Stern (Trinity University Press, 2009)

Any book of William Stafford essays from Poets on Poetry Series, Michigan:  THE ANSWERS ARE INSIDE THE MOUNTAINS, or WRITING THE AUSTRALIAN CRAWL, or YOU MUST REVISE YOUR LIFE, or CROSSING UNMARKED SNOW

Spring 2013

WRT 380W: POETRY WORKSHOP

Linda Gregg
Mondays 1:00-4:00 PM
FDH Seminar Room

I want us to try and write great poetry with the understanding we might fail. The class will be run in a serious and supportive way. Students will be expected to turn in one poem a week, which will be discussed by everyone in class. Sometimes there will be specific exercises, sometimes not. Joseph Brodsky once told me that poetry was the greatest invention of mankind.

WRT 380S: THE CRAFT OF THE INVISIBLE

Linda Gregg
Thursdays 9:00 AM – Noon
FDH Seminar Room

When I was a young girl growing up in the country, I discovered something important. Seeing that a hawk flew high up in a circle, or yellow maple leaves on a wet path near dusk in the woods, or biting into a bay leaf, or seeing an egret breaking through branches to fly into the night sky ­ I found out when I wrote these things down, it ended up being more than I was saying.

After that, I realized I had a way to express my being inside and out, not just me, but everything in the world. That’s why I decided to be a poet. So that’s what I’ve done for the last fifty years.

It’s always included magic and the ineffable.

Having said that, there is a craft. I look for that – I have trained myself to know the difference. I’m looking for this union and that’s what we’re going to do in this class. We’ll try to find it in a number of poets, which might include Ritsos, Pavese, Tu Fu, Hart Crane, Lorca, Pound, Donne, Follain, Hopkins, D. H. Lawrence, Creeley, Snyder, and Jack Gilbert.

Students will be expected to choose one poet, write an essay, and bring along 3 of his/her poems to talk about in class.

WRT 380S: METAPHYSICAL MESSAGES: A CONSIDERATION OF A TRADITION IN LITERATURE

Peter LaSalle
Tuesdays 1:00-4:00 PM
FDH Seminar Room

This course will examine the metaphysical element in a selection of modern and contemporary literature (prose, poetry, and drama) as well as in some painting. For our purposes, the metaphysical element will basically mean the creative imagination exploring, questioning, and ultimately—and very daringly—going beyond standard assumptions about time and space, dream and reality, etc., as perhaps true knowledge begins. The works themselves may be seen as the “messages” of the course’s title.

The Reading:

I. Symbolism, Decadentism, Surrealism, etc.

The Flowers of Evil, poems, Charles Baudelaire
Nadja
, a novel, André Breton
Nightwood
, a novel, Djuna Barnes

II. Borges and Bombal: The Buenos Aires Connection

Labyrinths, stories and essays, Jorge Luis Borges
New Islands
, stories, María Luisa Bombal

III. An Interlude with Painters

Gustave Moreau, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Odilon Redon, Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Delvaux, and René Magritte (paintings viewed on websites)

IV. Contemporary Messages

Transparent Things, a novel, Vladimir Nabokov
Collected Shorter Plays
, Samuel Beckett
The Lime Twig
, a novel, John Hawkes
Selected Poems
, Mark Strand
Best American Fantasy 2007
, edited by Anne and Jeff VanderMeer, stories by Elizabeth Hand, Kelly Link, Ramola D., Daniel Alarcón, and others. This anthology casts a pretty wide net in its definition of “fantasy,” to include much postmodern experiment and also what often falls under labels such as “The New Weird.”

Students will present weekly responses to the reading in class and will write two papers.

The first paper will be a personal essay on thinking about the metaphysical element in relation to the student’s own creative writing; it will be due at midterm. In the second paper, longer, the student will select a writer whose work seems metaphysical and examine that work according to ideas developed in the course, for the sort of engaging and even stylistically innovative essay about literature written by a creative writer and found in a literary magazine (rather than commentary that is simply functional, as maybe done for a research/analytical article in an academic journal); this paper will be due a week before the end of the course, to allow for discussion of all the student papers during the final class session.

WRT 380W: FICTION WORKSHOP

Elizabeth McCracken
Wednesdays, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
FDH Seminar Room

The good news and the bad news is: there are no rules. When it comes to writing, a piece of fiction succeeds or fails only depending on how it obeys its own rules, when it teaches the reader how to read and enter the particular fictional world. In our workshop, students will read each other’s work with generosity and optimism and rigor, to understand each piece’s best intentions and try to help the author to fulfill them-to learn, in other words, not only how to be critics, but how to read our own work critically. We will discuss in class and in conference both the smallest details of writing fiction as well as its loftiest aims.

Fall 2012

First-Year Seminar: WRITERS & THEIR OBSESSIONS (Required of/limited to all entering MFAs)

Anthony Giardina, visiting writer
WRT 380
FDH, Wednesdays, 9:oo am – 12:00 noon

In this class, we will explore the work a group of novelists, playwrights and screenwriters did when they either stepped out of their customary genres to write about their interests and obsessions in other forms, or when they attempted to incorporate those obsessions into their own work. What happens when writers set out to explore their seemingly non-literary interests? How do they manage to make those interests “literary”, and how did they have to bend and expand the scope of their work in order to do it?

The works we’ll be reading and discussing will be chosen from among the following:

(Poetry) The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck, February in Sydney, Yusef Komunyakaa, “The British Countryside in Pictures” by James McMichael.   (Novels) Nosferatu by Jim Shepard, A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley, City of God by E.L. Doctorow, The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop., Robert Coover, Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954 by Steven Millhouser.   (Plays) Take Me Out by Richard Greenberg, Via Dolorosa by David Hare.   (Screenplays) The Third Man, Graham Greene.  (Nonfiction) But Beautiful, Geoff Dyer, “On Boxing”, Joyce Carol Oates, “Fathers Playing Catch with Sons”, Donald Hall, The Pleasure Dome, Graham Greene, “Standards”, E.L. Doctorow, Mrs. Nixon, Ann Beattie

Writing assignments will take the form of short pieces exploring the topics the writers in question explored. Each week, in the class following the one  where we discuss the subject a given group of writers explored (sports, music, nature, movies, politics), you will bring in a short piece, to be read aloud in class, on the same subject. This is not to be critiqued, but simply to be read and shared. Then we will conclude with one longer work, based on your own obsessional- or extracurricular- interest. This can be in any form you choose (story, essay, poetry, play, screenplay), but this time it will be workshopped.

Writing about Class in Classless America

Anthony Giardina, visiting writer
WRT 380s
FDH, Thursdays, 10:oo am – 1:00 pm

Why has the subject of social class always been such a difficult one for American fiction writers to tackle? And why have so many of the more well known examples by those who have attempted to do so failed to capture the reality of class in this country, substituting, in its place, a simple myth of rich and poor?

At a time of renewed class consciousness, this course will look at some of the well known, and less well known, American novels and stories in which  writers have attempted to deal with aspects of a subject Americans have not, until very recently, wanted to admit existed. A particular concentration will be placed on works that tell a kind of secret history of class in opposition to the more public story we have always told ourselves.

Among the works being considered for discussion: Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, both of which provided the early template for writing about class; John O’Hara’s “Imagine Kissing Pete”, and James Salter’s Light Years, which offered a new way of looking at class, albeit using radically different fictional techniques (providing a contrast between writing about class through social detail and through the prism of the individual consciousness) ; Hortense Calisher’s “In Greenwich There Are Many Gravelled Walks”and Richard Yates’ A Special Providence, as well as Yates’ story “Oh Joseph, I’m So Tired”, which introduced to postwar America the notion that art and education were changing traditional views of class;  Dorothy West’s The Wedding and Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, which look at racial and ethnic class consciousness in contemporary settings.

In the last weeks of this course, each student will write and present an essay on a particular writer or individual work, concentrating on both the subject of class and the fictional technique used to explore the subject.

Fiction Workshop

James Crace, visiting writer
WRT 380W
FDH, Tuesdays, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

The main purpose of this class is to workshop student manuscripts and to provide encouragement for fiction projects. It will be a meeting of friendly professionals doing their best to be generous and helpful.  It is presumed that any writer accepted by the Michener program will be gifted and industrious. However, group sessions will start from the premise that raw talent is rarely enough to produce the best work or to forge a writing career. The course will, therefore, investigate the challenges and rigours of a professional writing life and hope to provide relevant skills and strategies. As well as receiving and offering painstaking and supportive reactions to colleagues’ manuscripts, students will explore the possible responses of critics, publishers, line editors, publicists and readers to their work.

We will address some of the following issues:   Have students identified and developed their strongest and most natural writing voices?  Are they working on  the right novel or story collection for their skill sets?  How to deal with setbacks and surmount obstacles – everything from writers’ block and rescuing a failed narrative to knowing when to abandon a project?  Is the manuscript ready yet? Has it been appropriately edited? (There will a weekly focus on editing techniques).  What is the book’s strongest pitch? Who are its readers, what is its constituency?  What strategies will help writers cope with the rare successes and the common disappointments of seeking an agent or editor and then making a work public?

The course will comprise approximately eight manuscript workshops. Students will need to find the courage to bring their problems rather than their achievements to the table. Writers need to pay more attention to their weaknesses than to their strengths. The philosophy of this workshop is that feedback, no matter how critical, is not an affront but an essential support.

A further four sessions will be role-play encounters in which students (with their own manuscripts under scrutiny)respond both to project proposals and to finished work as a publisher’s panel might; fillet the prose as a line editor would; and offer the kind of critical and commercial responses that mark the publication of any book.

The remaining sessions will look pragmatically at the Writing Life, its rewards and its dilemmas.

There are no required texts, but there will be required reading throughout the course—not only the submitted work of colleagues, but also short pieces which highlight some of the technical decisions to be made before embarking on a story or a novel:  tense, voice, tone, point of view, et cetera.

To summarise, the course aims to strengthen the writers’ resolve by facing up to rather than dismissing the personal and professional problems they will inevitably encounter.  The instructor expects to be available to all students for private meetings during his semester in Austin. These will be the kind of discussions—intimate and supportive—that you might have in the future with your agent or editor.

Poetry Workshop

Dean Young, MCW Livingston Chair in Poetry
WRT 380W
FDH Tuesdays 10:00 am-1:00 pm

Students will be expected to turn in one new poem a week, an impossible goal perhaps, but our aims will be primarily generative, our discussions pointing forward. Of course the paint will be wet so our focus in the close examination of this work will be descriptive rather than evaluative, with suggestions towards exploration rather than correction. Poetry can be usefully thought of as a craft, as a series of devices and perfectable techniques that can be learned, but it is also an art, a product of the imagination and, while the imagination can be made more sophisticated (one of our main goals), it does so through liberation, experimentation, recklessness. What may initially seem like an error may in fact be the crucial point at which the poet is trying to discover new territory. A mistake may be a great opportunity; the Liberty Bell is better for the crack. Poetry often verges on the debacle of itself. It ain’t math. But it must also actively assert itself as poetry through resistences to and/or identifications with aspects of pre-existent poetry (and there’s sure a lot of it.) We’ll do our best to honor the forward trajectory of the imagination while still working towards revision and polishing, towards making finished poems.

Long Form Journalism

Stephen Harrigan, MCW Adjunct Professor
WRT 380W
FDH, Wednesdays, 1:00 – 4:00 pm

The course will be taught in collaboration with Jake Silverstein, the editor of Texas Monthly and graduate of the Michener Center for Writers, and with the participation of journalist and author Sam Tanenhaus, who is currently the editor of the New York Times Book Review.  The semester’s work will center on the writing of narrative non-fiction, with a strong focus on reporting.  Straight-out memoir is discouraged, but we’ll welcome any personal dimension to a story that makes a case for itself.   Students will be expected to complete two writing assignments: a shorter piece of between 1000 and 2000 words that might be a work of criticism, observation, or argument; and a longer (5,000-6,000 words) reporting-dependent story that, in the judgment of the instructors, would make sense as a publishable magazine story.  There will be readings of exemplary and instructive magazine articles, field trips, and discussions, all geared to a real-world understanding of the long-form journalism business as it exists now and, as much as can be divined, as it is likely to exist in the future.  Students should regard the teachers as editors, and expect a good deal of rewriting.  It’s our hope that the insights and practical experience gained in this class will result in work that might ultimately be publishable in Texas Monthly or other paying markets.

Spring 2012

Poetry Workshop

Brigit Pegeen Kelly
WRT 380W #64590
FDH, Wednesdays, 10:oo am – 1:00 pm

A writing workshop provides, among other things, structure for writers, an impetus to write, an immediate audience, exposure to new work, critical feedback, and a community.  But I think that the most important thing it offers is the rare opportunity to learn how to read work in progress in practical ways.  This is a paradoxical practice, involving, as it does, the need to make exacting observations and raise incisive questions about the material at hand while simultaneously getting oneself out of the way of the poem and the poem’s author.  If done well the practice demands that the reader pay as much attention to the way he/she reads, sees, and makes judgments, as to the way poems operate.  I don’t think a workshop should be an editing venue, a repair shop, or a critical combat zone.  I like to think of it as studio space—-a place to work, revise, observe, think, exchange ideas, and improvise.  We will read and discuss in a leisurely fashion four books during the semester, two collected volumes and two books of criticism.  Weekly you will write one poem and critical comments on peer work.  You will also occasionally be asked to complete various exercises, reflections, and revisions.
Texts:

Cavafy’s Alexandria
, Edmund Keeley
The Collected Poems of Cavafy, translated by Rae Dalven, with an introduction by W.H. Auden
The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath: A Critical Study, Tim Kendall

Fiction Workshop

Elizabeth McCracken
WRT 380W  #64585
FDH, Mondays, 9:00 am – Noon

The good news and the bad news is: there are no rules. When it comes to writing, a piece of fiction succeeds or fails only depending on how it obeys its own rules, when it teaches the reader how to read and enter the particular fictional world. In our workshop, students will read each other’s work with generosity and optimism and rigor, to understand each piece’s best intentions and try to help the author to fulfill them-to learn, in other words, not only how to be critics, but how to read our own work critically. We will discuss in class and in conference both the smallest details of writing fiction as well as its loftiest aims.

Playwriting Workshop:  Magical Objects (crosslisted with TD 387P)

Sherry Kramer
WRT 380W #64600
WIN, Wednesdays, 4:00 – 7:00 pm

There is a great difference between a prop and an object on stage that is built or filled with the dramatic forces of a play.  Such objects become metaphors, they become fresh comprehensions of the world. In the theatre, we believe in magic.  Our gaze is focused on ordinary objects…a glass figurine, a pair of shoes, a wedding dress…and then our attention is shaped, and charged, and we watch the everyday grow in meaning and power.  Most of our greatest plays, written by our most poetic playwrights, contain a visual metaphor, an object with metaphorical weight that we can see on stage, not just in our mind’s eye.

How do we make the ordinary into the extraordinary?  How do we create something that can carry meaning across the stage, into the audience and then out of the theatre, all the way home, and into the lives of these strangers who come to sit together in the dark?  How do we generate a magical object on stage?

There will be some reading, some exercises, some exploration, and playwrights will write a full-length play with a magical object.

Poetics of the Novel

Brigit Pegeen Kelly
WRT 380S  #64575
FDH, Mondays, 1:00-4:00 pm

In this class we’re going to read a number of novels that can safely be described as “poetic,” and approach these novels as if they were poetic texts.  This practice should help us to identify more fully the different types of poetic activity operating in the texts, and to gain by the end of the semester some understanding of why the novel form is such a fruitful venue for poetic engagement and rigor.  To ground our readings, we’ll take a look at both the history of narrative and the history of poetry, paying particular attention to poetry’s slow disengagement from myth, narrative, drama, and metaphysics, and its current isolation in the lyric.  The novels (and one story collection) on the table are varied, vivid, and short, and hopefully they will take us on a journey that is pleasurable and instructive.   You will be expected to complete weekly response papers and writing exercises, to occasionally lead class discussions, and to write one 15-20 page paper on one or more of the assigned novels.

Required Texts:

Criticism: Twenty Major Statements, by Charles  Kaplan
The Nature of the Narrative
, Robert Scholes, James Phelan, and Robert Kellogg

Novels :
The Woman in the Dunes, Kobo Abe
The Lover, Marguerite Duras
Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban
Mr. Potter, Jamaica Kincaid
The Dwarf, Par Lagerkvist
An Imaginery Life, David Malouf
Wittgenstein’s Mistress, David Markson
The Outer Dark, Cormac McCarthy
The Time of the Doves, Merce Rodoreda
All The Names, Jose Saramago
The Golden Apples, Eudora Welty

The Perception Shift:  A Play Takes Place in the Audience

Sherry Kramer
WRT 380S  #64580
FDH, Tuesdays 11:00 am – 2:00 pm

A play should not mean but be.  It happens inside us.  In our apprehension it comes alive and complete. It does not impose any context except the context of our own perceptions.  In the end, the place where a play happens is not on stage, but in the eye and heart and mind of the spectator.

There are no rules except the rules that are created by each play, and every play is a unique, self organizing process which generates new states of order spontaneously out of nothing.  It uses this order to create a perception shift in the audience.  A play exists only in terms of itself and it literally creates those terms whole, from the ground up, as it creates itself.  The concepts and vocabulary used in this class are designed to provide playwrights with a working template for the way every play creates its own unique structure, whether the play is by Shakespeare, Beckett, Pinter, Kushner, Kane. The perception shift collects the way we understand structure fresh and whole with every play we read.  Once we understand how that structure makes a play coherent and available to the audience, how it creates patterns and paths of significance, how these paths lead the audience forward, and how the place the audience then finds itself at the inevitable end reveals itself as a destination with the power to illuminate a large or small but somehow meaningful part of each audience member’s life…well. Then we know how a play works.  And then we can better identify the patterns which blossom organically in our own plays.

Work for the class will range from short assignments to class presentations to critical papers.  We will read one to two plays a week.  These plays are chosen for the way they demonstrate key concepts in the class, and some of them are just plain amazing.  I look forward to sharing your experience of them.

Potential reading list:
Eugene O’Neill, Long Days Journey into Night
Sam Shepard, True West
John Guare, Bosoms and Neglect
John Guare, House of Blue Leaves
Harold Pinter, Betrayal
Sarah Ruhl, The Clean House
Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
Joe Orton, Loot
Margaret Edson, Wit
Paula Vogel, The Baltimore Waltz
Ionesco, The Chairs
Caryl Churchill, Cloud Nine
Martin McDonagh, The Beauty Queen of Leenane
Tennessee Williams, Streetcar Named Desire
Jean Paul Satre, No Exit
John Patrick Shanley, Doubt
David Lindsay Abaire, Rabbit Hole

History’s Greatest Hits (crosslisted with HIS 381)

H.W. Brands
WRT 380S  #64595
GAR, Monday 6:00-9:00 pm

A workshop for graduate students devoted to the craft of writing history. Students will read selections from some of the greatest writers of history (Herodotus, Plutarch, Gibbon, Carlyle, Parkman, Strachey, Tuchman, and many others), and will assess what makes for compelling historical writing. Students will meanwhile develop writing projects of their own. Some students will bring drafts to the workshop and polish these. Other students will commence drafts during the semester. All will present their works-in-progress to the seminar, with the ultimate goal of writing history in the most riveting manner possible.

Fall 2011

First-Year Seminar

Naomi Shihab Nye
WRT 380
FDH, Mondays, 9:00 am-noon

Restricted to entering MCW class of Fall 2011.

A dynamic, rollicking, multi-genre, reading and writing marathon.  In this course, we’ll consider fiction, nonfiction, poetry and plays, writing responsively to each, discussing all texts, creating an interweave of pleasure and possibility.  First/second draft parallel form responses to readings will be due every week.

Texts will include: Present Tense of the World:Poems 2000-2009 by Amina Said, translated by Marilyn Hacker,  The Memory of Water, (new poems, published posthumously) by Jack Myers,  The Tricky Part (memoir), by Martin Moran,   Unless (novel) by Carol Shields, Kitchen (novel) by Banana Yoshimoto, translated by Megan Backus,  The Glen Rock Book of the Dead (nonfiction portraits) by Marion Winik,  The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Michael Simms (second edition),  plays and other texts TBA.

Grading:  Group Discussions: 40%, Weekly writings: 40%, Final Presentation of Selected Revised work: 20%

Fiction Workshop

Joseph Skibell
WRT 380W
FDH, Mondays, 2:00-5:00 pm

This graduate-level fiction workshop will cover the writing and critical reading of short fiction. Elements of storytelling will be emphasized: the so-called “tools for textual healing.” Each student will write three stories and workshop two of them in roundtable discussions.
Text:  40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology, Beverly Lawn

Heaven & Its Discontents

Joseph Skibell
WRT 380S
FDH, Tuesdays, 2:00-5:00 pm

The textual foundation of Rabbinic Judaism, the Talmud is filled with amazing, wonderful, and wild stories. Little known, underappreciated, these legends, tall tales, and eye-opening spiritual dramas are often as complex and meaningful as the Greek tragedies. In this class, we will learn and examine the aggaditah, or the narratives of the Talmud, in English translation, reading and confronting them in open, round-table discussions, examining the Biblical tradition upon which they draw and against which they assert themselves, and creating narratives of our own.  Students will participate in and eventually lead interpretative discussions and will conclude with a creative project involving the stories. No prior knowledge or experience with the Talmud is necessary.

Texts:
The Hebrew/English TANAKH, Jewish Publication Society
Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth, Robert A. Johnson

Long Form Journalism

Stephen Harrigan
WRT 380S
FDH, Wednesdays, 2:00-5:00 pm

The course will be taught in collaboration with Jake Silverstein, the editor of Texas Monthly and graduate of the Michener Center for Writers, and with the participation of journalist and author Sam Tanenhaus, who is currently the editor of the New York Times Book Review.  The semester’s work will center on the writing of narrative non-fiction, with a strong focus on reporting.  Straight-out memoir is discouraged, but we’ll welcome any personal dimension to a story that makes a case for itself.   Students will be expected to complete two writing assignments: a shorter piece of between 1000 and 2000 words that might be a work of criticism, observation, or argument; and a longer (5-6,000 words) reporting-dependent story that, in the judgment of the instructors, would make sense as a publishable magazine story.  There will be readings of exemplary and instructive magazine articles, field trips, and discussions, all geared to a real-world understanding of the long-form journalism business as it exists now and, as much as can be divined, as it is likely to exist in the future.  Students should regard the teachers as editors, and expect a good deal of rewriting.  It’s our hope that some of the work done in this class will be published by Texas Monthly or other magazines.

Poetry Workshop

Dean Young
WRT 380W
FDH Wednesdays 10:00 am-1:00 pm

Students will be expected to turn in one new poem a week, an impossible goal perhaps, but our aims will be primarily generative, our discussions pointing forward. Of course the paint will be wet so our focus in the close examination of this work will be descriptive rather than evaluative, with suggestions towards exploration rather than correction. Poetry can be usefully thought of as a craft, as a series of devices and perfectable techniques that can be learned, but it is also an art, a product of the imagination and, while the imagination can be made more sophisticated (one of our main goals), it does so through liberation, experimentation, recklessness. What may initially seem like an error may in fact be the crucial point at which the poet is trying to discover new territory. A mistake may be a great opportunity; the Liberty Bell is better for the crack. Poetry often verges on the debacle of itself. It ain’t math. But it must also actively assert itself as poetry through resistences to and/or identifications with aspects of pre-existent poetry (and there’s sure a lot of it.) We’ll do our best to honor the forward trajectory of the imagination while still working towards revision and polishing, towards making finished poems.

Spring 2011

Poetry Workshop

Tomaz Salamun
WRT 380W
FDH, Monday 2:00 pm -5:00 pm

Students will be expected to turn in one or two poems a week and actively participate in the critique of their colleagues’ poems.  In the interest of an ongoing conversation among the poets, we will workshop 2-4 poems from 3-4 students each week.  Students are also expected to meet on a one-on-one basis with me periodically after workshop.  In addition to the suggested reading list, reading assignments will come in the form of weekly packets handed out in class for discussion the following week.

General/common readings will be chosen based on previous students’ work and class discussions and what I see as texts that will seize opportunities to further illuminate their works and these discussions.  I will encourage each student to pursue readings which I find are tailored to their own work.  I will attempt, in these suggestions/supplements, to create a constellation of poems/poets that inform each student’s work from a variety of angles – by way of similarity, yes, but also by way of opposition to, complication of and expansion upon the student’s unique poetics.

Suggested reading list:
Verse, The Second Decade, Vol. 21 No. 1-3
John Ashbery, Three Poems
Fernando Pessoa: Selected Poems, Edited and translated by Richard Zenith, paperback, April 1999
Ariana Reines, Coeur de Lion
Graham Foust, As in Every Deafness

20th Century European Poetry

Tomaz Salamun
WRT 380s
FDH, Wednesday 2:00 pm -5:00 pm

This will be a discussion-based course centered on twentieth-century European poetry and poetics.  American culture is the “culture of the Now,” mostly free from defining influences of European or Asian perceptions of life.  One of the strongest bonds between America and Europe is created by the poetry they share.  For the young American student, it is important to enter this dialogue.  Students in this course will articulate their response to this relationship in the form of essays, reviews, poems and other texts.  Authors we will read and discuss will include Fernando Pessoa, Velimir Khlebnikov, Osip Mandelstam, Francis Ponge, Paul Celan, Edvard Kocbek, Marina Tsvetajeva, Srecko Kosovel, Czeslaw Milosz, Attila Jószef, and Daniil Kharms.  A course packet will be provided in addition to weekly supplementary handouts

Dialogues on Latino Drama in America

Octavio Solis
WRT 380s
FDH, Thursday 11-2 pm

This course will examine the works and contributions of current Latino playwrights to American theatre. Every week a play by a Latino playwright will studied and discussed. We will cover everyone in the canon from the works of Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino to the seminal works of writers like Eduardo Machado and Maria Irene Fornes to the contemporary plays of Jose Rivera and Sherrie Moraga to the gender bending works of Enrique Urueta and Luis Alfaro. There will be in-class readings of excerpts and critical papers addressing themes by these writers will be written and turned in. A final research paper on a chosen writer from our studies will be written for the end of term.

Reading list and course requirements to be posted later.

Playwriting Workshop:  Writing it Out

Octavio Solis
WRT 380W/TD 387P
WIN 2.136, Wednesday 4-7 pm

This is a playwriting workshop intended to motivate writing by the students. I conduct most of my exercises in class and read them aloud on the same day or the day after. I believe all the real work that matters to a writer is already inside him or her and my job is to get the writer to tap into those moments, voices, scenarios, actions etc. My approach requires meditation, visualization and trust in the images that most urgently and eloquently speak to the consciousness of the writer. I also believe that every play is its own organic beast and will take the shape it requires; the writer’s task to identify what that structure is in order to honor it as she or see develops the work. By end of term, each student will have written a complete play.

Fiction Workshop

Elizabeth McCracken
WRT 380W
FDH Tuesdays 10:00 am -1:00 pm

The good news and the bad news is: there are no rules. When it comes to writing, a piece of fiction succeeds or fails only depending on how it obeys its own rules, when it teaches the reader how to read and enter the particular fictional world. In our workshop, students will read each other’s work with generosity and optimism and rigor, to understand each piece’s best intentions and try to help the author to fulfill them-to learn, in other words, not only how to be critics, but how to read our own work critically. We will discuss in class and in conference both the smallest details of writing fiction as well as its loftiest aims.

History’s Greatest Hits (crosslisted with HIS 381)

H.W. Brands
WRT 380S
GAR 1.122 Wednesday 6:00-9:00 pm

A workshop for graduate students devoted to the craft of writing history. Students will read selections from some of the greatest writers of history (Herodotus, Plutarch, Gibbon, Carlyle, Parkman, Strachey, Tuchman, and many others), and will assess what makes for compelling historical writing. Students will meanwhile develop writing projects of their own. Some students will bring drafts to the workshop and polish these. Other students will commence drafts during the semester. All will present their works-in-progress to the seminar, with the ultimate goal of writing history in the most riveting manner possible.

Fall 2010

First-Year Seminar for MFAs
Illuminating History: The Personal and Political in Literature

Cristina García
WRT 380
FDH, Wednesday 9:00 am -12:00 noon

In this course, we’ll be discussing narratives in which personal history is inextricably linked to larger, charged political histories.  We’ll analyze the role of research in contextualizing these texts and films, and the use of individual, anecdotal material to illuminate history. The reading will consist of a mixture of novels (both traditional and graphic), poetry, memoir, theater, as well as feature and documentary films. Creative responses and a final oral presentation of student fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or other mixed media/performance art are required.

The reading list includes: Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov;  Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi; Maus by Art Spiegelman; Hotel Splendid by Lavonne Muller (copies provided), Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi; Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski; Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas; The President by Miguel Angel Asturias; Against Forgetting by Carolyn Forché; and M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang. In addition, we’ll be watching the films Persepolis, Before Night Falls, The Man of Two Havanas, and The Official Story.

Class requirements & grading:
Group discussions: 30%; Creative responses/presentations: 50%; Final project: 20%

CALENDAR
Aug. 30: Introduction to course and texts.
Sept. 6:  Labor Day. No Class.
Sept. 13:  The Russian Revolution: Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov; selected poems from Against Forgetting.
Sept. 20: The Spanish Civil War: selected poems from Against Forgetting
Sept. 27: World War II : Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi; selected poems from Against Forgetting
Oct. 4: Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spieglman.
Oct. 11:  Hotel Splendid by Lavonne Mueller (play)
Oct. 18: The Iranian Revolution: Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski.
Oct. 25: Persepolis by Marjane Sartrapi. Graphic novel & film adaptation.
Nov. 1: The Cuban Revolution: Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas. Novel & film adaptation
Nov. 8: The Man of Two Havanas, a documentary by Vivien Lesnick
Nov. 15: Repression in Latin America: The President by Miguel Angel Asturias.
Nov. 22: The Official Story (film). Selected poems from Against Forgetting
Nov. 29: The Cold War: M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang (play).

Fiction Workshop

Cristina Garcia
WRT 380W
FDH Mon 2:00-5:00 pm

Our priority in this workshop will be reading and critiquing each other’s works-in-progress. Each writer will have the opportunity to have two to three stories, or excerpts of longer works (up to seventy pages total), discussed in class. In addition, we’ll be reading five strikingly different novels—one every couple of weeks—and studying, in-depth, the various narrative strategies employed by their authors. We’ll focus on issues of voice, structure, characterization, stylistic techniques, and the roles of research and historical context. Creative responses to texts and other brief writing assignments, both in-class and out, will supplement our reading and critiquing. Occasional short stories may also be assigned.

The required books for this class are: The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald, and The Periodic Table by Primo Levi. We’ll choose a fifth novel collectively.

Your participation in all aspects of the workshop is essential. Please read the assigned novels and your fellow writers’ work with the care and attention you would want for your own. Come prepared for class discussions.

CALENDAR

8/30:  Introduction
9/6:  Labor Day. NO CLASS.
9/13: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RED
9/20: Workshop
9/27: PEDRO PARAMO
10/4:  Workshop
10/11: THE EMIGRANTS
10/18: Workshop
10/25: THE PERIODIC TABLE
11/1:  Workshop
11/15: Workshop
11/16: FIFTH NOVEL TBA
11/22: Workshop
11/29: Workshop

Fairytales

Edward Carey
WRT 380S
FDH Mon 10:00 am-1:00 pm

“It is hardly too much to say that these stories rank next to the Bible in importance,’” W.H. Auden on the Brothers Grimm.

This seminar will examine the form of fairytales, why such stories have survived, what makes them so indelible, what inspiration they are to writers. Tracking the history of fairytales, the imagination of people for centuries stored in wonderful tales, the course will study the collection of the social historians the Brothers Grimm to the more personal, miserable autobiographical narratives of the tall, lonely and desperate Hans Christian Andersen, and to more modern practitioners, among them, Leonora Carrington, Angela Carter and Richard Kennedy. We shall also spend some time on three very isolated European figures of literature, Robert Walser, Bruno Schulz and Daniil Kharms, whose own painfully personal versions of fairytales are as shocking and original today as they were when they were when first published; astounding and unlikely works featuring schools for servants, fathers who turn into stuffed and moth-eaten condors, and many old women who tumble out of windows.

We shall examine the simplicity of the form—it has been said that there is no fat on a fairy tale—its vibrancy, its sheer imagination, its cruelty and what lies beneath its seeming nonsense, often messages of a more sober and alarming content. We shall wonder over ugly sisters, evil stepmothers, simple brothers, hapless tailors, little red caps, decaying houses, depressed Christmas Trees, bluebeards, flying trunks, many thieves, mutilated bodies, a porcelain husband, and a flea who lived with a louse.  We shall learn the lessons of economy and plot that such tales have to teach writers of any sort of any genre.

Please note: participants will be required to write short fairytales of their own or a critical essay.

COURSE BOOKS:  THE COMPLETE GRIMM’S FAIRYTALES, introduced by Padraic Colum, commentary by Joseph Cambell.  FAIRY TALES by Hans Christian Andersen, translated by Tiina Nunnally.  Additional readings TBA

Poetry Workshop

Dean Young
WRT 380W
FDH Tuesday, 2:00-5:00 pm

Students will be expected to turn in one new poem a week, an impossible goal perhaps, but our aims will be primarily generative, our discussions pointing forward. Of course the paint will be wet so our focus in the close examination of this work will be descriptive rather than evaluative, with suggestions towards exploration rather than correction. Poetry can be usefully thought of as a craft, as a series of devices and perfectable techniques that can be learned, but it is also an art, a product of the imagination and, while the imagination can be made more sophisticated (one of our main goals), it does so through liberation, experimentation, recklessness. What may initially seem like an error may in fact be the crucial point at which the poet is trying to discover new territory. A mistake may be a great opportunity; the Liberty Bell is better for the crack. Poetry often verges on the debacle of itself. It ain’t math. But it must also actively assert itself as poetry through resistences to and/or identifications with aspects of pre-existent poetry (and there’s sure a lot of it.) We’ll do our best to honor the forward trajectory of the imagination while still working towards revision and polishing, towards making finished poems.

Spring 2010

Poetry Workshop

Brigit Pegeen Kelly
WRT 380 (64620)
FDH Wed 2:00pm – 5:00 pm

Obviously a workshop provides structure for writers, an impetus to write, an immediate audience, exposure to new work, critical feedback, and a community. But I think the most important thing it offers is the rare opportunity to learn how to read in practical ways work in process. This is a paradoxical practice, involving, as it does, making exacting observations and raising incisive questions about the material at hand while simultaneously getting out of the way of the poem and the poem’s author. If done well, the practice requires the reader to pay as much attention to the way he/she reads, sees, and makes judgments as to the way poems operate. I definitely don’t think a workshop should be an editing venue, a repair shop, or a critical combat zone. I like to think of it as studio space-a place to work, revise, observe, think, exchange ideas, and play. You’ll be writing a poem, some exercises, and observational/critical pieces weekly. No books will be assigned, but we will look at the work of various authors throughout the semester.

The New York School of Poets

Brigit Pegeen Kelly
WRT 380 (64615)
FDH Mondays 2-5

This class is designed to help us develop a sound basis for thinking about the relationship between the New York School of Poets and the contemporary “institutional” avant-garde. To do this, we’ll first put the New York School into a larger historical and critical context by looking briefly at Rimbaud, Stein, Eliot, Ginsberg and Lowell through the lens of Perloff’s The Poetics of Indeterminacyand Breslin’s From Modern to Contemporary: American Poetry 1945-1965. Then, using Lehman’s The Last Avant-Garde, Cage’s Silence, and Perloff’sFrank O’Hara as sounding boards, we’ll focus closely on the work and lives of Ashberry, Koch, O’Hara, Notley, and Asekoff. You’ll be required to write one five page paper that will form the basis for a craft lecture you will present to the class, and one 10-15 page paper that will look closely at the work/life/thought of one of the writers central to this class.

Reading List:

  • Asekoff, The Gate of Horn
  • Ashberry, The Collected Poems
  • Breslin, From Modern to Contemporary: American Poetry 1945-1965
  • Cage, Silence: lectures and writings
  • Eliot, The Wasteland
  • Koch, The Collected Poems
  • Lehman, The Last Avant-Garde
  • Lowell, Life Studies
  • Ginsberg, Howl
  • Notley, The Selected Poems
  • O’Hara, The Collected Poems
  • Perloff, The Poetics of Indeterminacy
  • Perloff, Frank O’Hara: Poet Among Painters
  • Rimbaud, The Illuminations
  • Stein, Tender Buttons

Recommended:

  • Berger, Theory of the Avant-Garde
  • Pogioli, The Theory or the Avant-Garde

Screenwriting Workshop (crosslisted with RTF 380N)

Kathleen Orillion
WRT 380 (64610)
FDH Wed 10:00 am – 1:00 pm

“It is the character’s personality that creates the action of the story.” –Flannery O’Connor

This course will be a workshop for students who want to write an original, full-length feature screenplay. Over the course of the semester, students will create a step outline for their project and regularly submit script pages for class discussion. Students will also read one another’s work and provide thoughtful and detailed feedback. Although we will be considering issues of plot, structure, and momentum, this workshop will, for the most part, emphasize character-driven screenplays—that is, stories that develop organically from the character(s) that you create. No textbook or packet will be required, though some outside reading and/or viewing may be assigned.

History’s Greatest Hits (crosslisted with HIS 381)

H.W. Brands
WRT 380 (64605)
GAR 1.122 Mondays 6:00-9:00 pm

A workshop for graduate students devoted to the craft of writing history. Students will read selections from some of the greatest writers of history (Herodotus, Plutarch, Gibbon, Carlyle, Parkman, Strachey, Tuchman, and many others), and will assess what makes for compelling historical writing. Students will meanwhile develop writing projects of their own. Some students will bring drafts to the workshop and polish these. Other students will commence drafts during the semester. All will present their works-in-progress to the seminar, with the ultimate goal of writing history in the most riveting manner possible.

Fiction Workshop

Elizabeth McCracken
WRT 380 (64600)
FDH Tuesdays 10:00 am -1:00 pm

The good news and the bad news is: there are no rules. When it comes to writing, a piece of fiction succeeds or fails only depending on how it obeys its own rules, when it teaches the reader how to read and enter the particular fictional world. In our workshop, students will read each other’s work with generosity and optimism and rigor, to understand each piece’s best intentions and try to help the author to fulfill them-to learn, in other words, not only how to be critics, but how to read our own work critically. We will discuss in class and in conference both the smallest details of writing fiction as well as its loftiest aims.

Fall 2009

First Year Seminar: Writers and Their Obsessions

Tony Giardina
WRT 380 (66450)
Wednesdays, 9 am-Noon
J. Frank Dobie House

In this class, we are going to explore the work of a group of novelists, poets, playwrights and screenwriters did when they either stepped out of their customary genres to write about their interests and obsessions in other forms, or when they attempted to incorporate those obsessions into their own work. What happens when writers set out to explore their seemingly non-literary interests? How do they manage to make those interests “literary,” and how did they have to bend and expand the scope of their work in order to do it?

Writing assignments will take the form of short pieces  exploring the topics the writers in question explored: sports, music, nature, movies. Then we will conclude with one longer work based on your own obsessional interests.

Readings to be chosen from among the following:
Poetry
The Wild Iris, Louise Gluck
February in Sydney, Yusef Komunyakaa

Fiction
Nosferatu, Jim Shepard
A Fan’s Notes, Frederick Exley
City of God, E.L. Doctorow
The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop., Robert Coover

Playwriting
Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg
Via Dolorosa, David Hare

Screenplays
The Third Man, Graham Greene

Nonfiction
Joyce Carol Oates, On Boxing
Graham Greene, The Pleasure Dome
“Standards,” E. L. Doctorow

Fiction Workshop: The Writing Life

Jim Crace
WRT 380 (66460)
Tuesdays, 2:00-5:00 pm
J. Frank Dobie House

The main purpose of this class is to workshop student manuscripts and to provide encouragement for fiction projects. It will be a meeting of friendly professionals doing their best to be generous and helpful.

It is presumed that any writer accepted by the Michener program will be gifted and industrious. However, group sessions will start from the premise that raw talent is rarely enough to produce the best work or to forge a writing career. The course will, therefore, investigate the challenges and rigours of a professional writing life and hope to provide relevant skills and strategies. As well as receiving and offering painstaking and supportive reactions to colleagues’ manuscripts, students will explore the possible responses of critics, publishers, line editors, publicists and readers to their work.

We will address some of the following issues:

  • Have students identified and developed their strongest and most natural writing voices?
  • Are they working on  the right novel or story collection for their skill sets?
    How to deal with setbacks and surmount obstacles – everything from writers’ block and rescuing a failed narrative to knowing when to abandon a project?
  • Is the manuscript ready yet? Has it been appropriately edited? (There will a focus on editing techniques).
  • What is the book’s strongest pitch? Who are its readers, what is its constituency?
  • What strategies will help writers cope with the rare successes and the common disappointments of seeking an agent or editor and then making a work public?

The course will comprise approximately eight manuscript workshops. Students will need to find the courage to bring their problems rather than their achievements to the table. Writers need to pay more attention to their weaknesses than to their strengths.

A further four sessions will be role-play encounters in which students (with their own manuscripts under scrutiny) respond both to project proposals and to finished work as a publisher’s panel might, fillet the prose as a line editor would, and offer the kind of critical and commercial responses that mark the publication of any book.

The remaining sessions will look pragmatically at the Writing Life, its rewards and its dilemmas.

There are no required texts, but there will be required reading throughout the course – not only the submitted work of colleagues, but also short pieces which highlight some of the technical decisions to be made before embarking on a story or a novel – tense, voice, tone, point of view, etcetera.

To summarise, the course aims to strengthen the writers’ resolve by facing up to rather than dismissing the personal and professional problems they will inevitably encounter.

[The instructor expects to be available to all students for private meetings during his semester in Austin.]

Play into Film Workshop

Tony Giardina
WRT 380 (66465)
Thursdays, 2-5 pm
J. Frank Dobie House

In this course, we will begin by examining a number of very different plays that have been turned into films, then watching their film versions, looking at the choices made by writers and directors in translating the theatrical into the cinematic.  In doing so, we’ll examine instances where the transfer has been successful, as well as instances where it hasn’t, in each case asking the question, when the transfer worked, why did it work? (and when it didn’t work, why didn’t it?)  Does a theatrical work always have to be fully reimagined for the screen, and if not, what aspects of a theater piece allow for a natural transfer? How does language differ in the two mediums?

Some examples of the kinds of films we’ll be looking at:
Lewis Milestone’s earlie talkie version of Hecht and MacArthur’s The Front Page
William Wyler’s films of  Elmer Rice’s Counsellor at Law (with John Barrymore) and Sidney Kingsley’s Detective Story (with Kirk Douglas)
Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (directed by Mike Nichols)
The film versions of Peter Shaffer’s two most theatrical plays, Equus and The Royal Hunt of the Sun
David Mamet’s film of Terence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy
Robert Altman’s film of David Rabe’s Streamers
Richard Linklater’s films of Stephen Belber’s Tape and Eric Bogosian’s SubUrbia.

In the later part of the course, students will write and workshop either a screen adaptation of one of their own plays, or if no play exists, adapt an existing play that’s never been made into a movie.

Poetry Workshop

Dean Young
WRT 380 (66455)
Monday, Noon-3 pm
J. Frank Dobie House

Students will be expected to turn in one new poem a week, an impossible goal perhaps, but our aims will be primarily generative, our discussions pointing forward. Of course the paint will be wet so our focus in the close examination of this work will be descriptive rather than evaluative, with suggestions towards exploration rather than correction. Poetry can be usefully thought of as a craft, as a series of devices and perfectable techniques that can be learned, but it is also an art, a product of the imagination and, while the imagination can be made more sophisticated (one of our main goals), it does so through liberation, experimentation, recklessness. What may initially seem like an error may in fact be the crucial point at which the poet is trying to discover new territory. A mistake may be a great opportunity; the Liberty Bell is better for the crack. Poetry often verges on the debacle of itself. It ain’t math. But it must also actively assert itself as poetry through resistences to and/or identifications with aspects of pre-existent poetry (and there’s sure a lot of it.) We’ll do our best to honor the forward trajectory of the imagination while still working towards revision and polishing, towards making finished poems.

Spring 2009

Metaphysical Messages

Peter LaSalle
WRT 380 (64425)
Wednesday, 2:00-5:00
Frank Dobie House

This is a course for graduate creative writing students, MFA or MA. It will examine the metaphysical element in a selection of modern and contemporary literature (prose, poetry, and drama) as well as in some painting. For our purposes, the metaphysical element will basically mean the creative imagination exploring, questioning, and ultimately—and very daringly—going beyond standard assumptions about time and space, reality and unreality, etc., as perhaps true knowledge begins. The works themselves may be seen as the “messages” of the course’s title.

The Reading:
I. Symbolism, Surrealism, etc.
The Flowers of Evil, poems, Charles Baudelaire
Nadja, a novel, André Breton
Paris Peasant, a book-length personal meditation, Louis Aragon
Nightwood, a novel, Djuna Barnes

II. Borges and Bombal: The Buenos Aires Connection
Labyrinths, stories and essays, Jorge Luis Borges
New Islands, stories, María Luisa Bombal

III. An Interlude with Painters
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Giorgio de Chirico, and René Magritte
(paintings viewed on Web sites).

IV. Contemporary Messages
Transparent Things, a novel, Vladimir Nabokov
Collected Shorter Plays, Samuel Beckett
The Lime Twig, a novel, John Hawkes
Best American Fantasy 2007, stories by Elizabeth Hand, Kelly Link, Ramola D., and others in (more or less) the New Weird movement
Selected Poems, Mark Strand

The student will write two papers. The first will be a personal essay on thinking about the metaphysical element in relation to the student’s own creative writing. In the second paper, longer, the student will select a writer whose work seems metaphysical and examine that work according to ideas developed in the course, for the sort of engaging and even stylistically innovative original essay about literature written by a creative writer and found in a literary magazine (rather than something simply functional and done by a scholar as a research article for an academic journal).

Fall 2008

Fiction Workshop

ZZ Packer
WRT 380 (67965)
Tuesday, 2:00-5:00
Frank Dobie House

In this course we will critique student fiction in a seminar-style discussion method known as a “workshop.” We will also discuss the craft of fiction, emphasizing the elements of scene, structure, characterization, dialogue, imagery, point of view and voice. Each student will be asked to draw upon these lessons in craft to strengthen his/her own fiction as well as that of his or her classmates.

Students will be expected to: complete and be prepared to discuss all reading assignments; type and double-space any take-home writing assignments; carefully read each workshop story, submitting constructive, written criticism to its author. Each student will also write and revise at least two stories submitting the stories to the class for workshop.

POETRY WORKSHOP

Dean Young
WRT 380 (67960)
Monday, 9:00 am -noon
J. Frank Dobie House

Students will be expected to turn in one new poem a week, an impossible goal perhaps, but our aims will be primarily generative, our discussions pointing forward. Of course the paint will be wet so our focus in the close examination of this work will be descriptive rather than evaluative, with suggestions towards exploration rather than correction. Poetry can be usefully thought of as a craft, as a series of devices and perfectable techniques that can be learned, but it is also an art, a product of the imagination and, while the imagination can be made more sophisticated (one of our main goals), it does so through liberation, experimentation, recklessness. What may initially seem like an error may in fact be the crucial point at which the poet is trying to discover new territory. A mistake may be a great opportunity; the Liberty Bell is better for the crack. Poetry often verges on the debacle of itself. It ain’t math. But it must also actively assert itself as poetry through resistences to and/or identifications with aspects of pre-existent poetry (and there’s sure a lot of it.) We’ll do our best to honor the forward trajectory of the imagination while still working towards revision and polishing, towards making finished poems. Somehow all this will get done starting at nine on Monday mornings so get to bed early, or not at all.

FIRST YEAR SEMINAR

ZZ Packer
WRT 380 (67955)
Wednesday, 9:00 am – noon
J. Frank Dobie House

As movements, Modernism and Postmodernism grapple with time, order, chaos, history and sense of self in wildly varying ways, from existential angst (modernism) to playful abandon and surrender (postmodernism). Both movements are fertile ground for the sort of literary cross-pollination we’ll be engaging in during the semester.

Though the class reading list will feature some weighty books-don’t let Ulysses scare you off-and some works that are delightfully heady and dizzyingly (and sometimes annoyingly) self-conscious and self-referential, we’ll be reading as “readers” rather than academics. The goal will be to survey a certain mode of thought that influences our present literary climate (sometimes visibly but often subliminally), and to unearth writers and who take tessellated, labyrinthine approaches to addressing identity, memory, time and existence.

Novel-length Fiction:
James Joyce’s Ulysses
(Optional, but recommended: Harry Blamire’s The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide Through Ulysses)

Short Stories:
You’ve Got to Read This, edited by Ron Hansen;
The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, edited by Ben Marcus.
Postmodern American Fiction: a Norton Anthology edited by Paula Geyh, Fred G. Leebron and Andrew Levy

Plays and Screenplays:
Susan Lori Park’s Topdog/Underdog
Edward Albee’s Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Films:
Robert Altman’s Nashville.
Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction
David Mamet’s Glengary Glen Ross.

Creative non-fiction:
Joan Didion’s We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Non-fiction

Poetry:
Legitimate Dangers, edited by Michael Dumanis and Cate Marvin.
Excerpts from the Heath Anthology of American Literature, Volume D, Modern Period: 1910-1945, edited by Paul Lauter.

Spring 2008

The American Poet — A Reading Course for Writers

Marie Howe
WRT 380 (66350)
Monday, 2:00-5:00
Frank Dobie House

What does it mean to us to be writing poetry within the American Culture? Cultures? Empire? What is the chamber? ( by whom is it haunted? ) To where goes the open road? What is the song? Who sang it before this? To whom does it sing? And to what world? ( This world now? ) How does it approach the Unspeakable? How does it mean what it says? Might the How be the What as well? How can we hear it with so many voices talking? And what does it matter?
Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Hart Crane, Lucille Clifton, Jorie Graham, Brenda Hillman, Tony Hoagland, Kenneth Koch, Jane Kenyon, Yusef Komunyakaa ,Li-Young Li, Larry Levis, Alice Notley, Paisley Rekdal, Jean Valentine, Kevin Young may be be among the authors we’ll read closely. You can expect to come to every class, to read a book a week ( often with additional essays), to meet with another member of our class each week, and to write creative and critical responses. We might expect some guest appearences. I ask for your passionate participation.

POETRY WORKSHOPBreaking Through

Marie Howe
WRT 380 (66355)
Tuesday, 4:00-7:00 p.m.
J. Frank Dobie House

We’ll meet in a workshop each week where we’ll generate poems, and read and critique each other’s work. Each week you’ll bring in a freshly written poem, closely read the poems written by others , and meet with another member of our class in a “poetry date”. We’ll encourage each other to write beyond where we would end – to break through boundaries of thought, feeling, syntax, diction, rhythm, image, forms – to write poems that astonish us. Each member of our class will meet with me within the first three weeks — bring to that meeting a half dozen poems. And bring to our first class meeting, a poem by someone else you wish you had been able to write – 15 copies. We’ll work hard, help each other, and have a wonderful time.

Playwriting Workshop

Sharon Kramer
WRT 380 (66360)
Wednesday, 2:00-5:00
WIN 1.130

VISUAL METAPHOR
A writing workshop
How it blossoms inside the spectator.  What it does when it gets there.  Why we passionately need it and go to the theatre to get it.  Why nothing else quite does it.  How we go about filling it up and letting it spill out into our work and audiences.  How it has everything and nothing to do with the word “image.”  .

Playwriting Studies Course

Sharon Kramer
WRT 380 (66345)
T TH, 11:00-12:30
Frank Dobie House

THE PERCEPTION SHIFT
A play happens inside us. In our apprehension it comes alive and vital and complete. It does not impose any context except the context of our own perceptions–the bare minimum necessary for any investigation. A play exists only in terms of itself and it literally creates those terms whole, from the ground up, as it creates itself. The rules which govern a universe are only available to us after that universe is created.

In the end, the place where a play happens is not on stage, but in the eye and heart and mind of the spectator, in that space or in that energy or as the relationship that is created between the audience and the play.
“Just the ordering of our perceptions is capable of carrying the form and essence of art.  Dramatic action is our sense that something significant has happened, and what has happened is our own mental activity.  Dramatic action is a metaphorical term for the effect which is our subjective experience.”
Okkie Brownstein

We’ll be investigating a text almost every class period, mostly plays, but also essays, poems, and perhaps a screenplay and novel.  The question of how art is and is not a moral instrument will be asked often.  Work for the class will range from short assignments to class presentations.

Fall 2007

FIRST YEAR SEMINAR

Antonya Nelson
WRT 380 (68260)
Wednesday, 9:00-noon
Frank Dobie House

This class will trace the creative linkage among a variety of genres and historical time periods, focusing on how one piece of art (or history) inspires another, and thereby reinvents artistic expression. As a group, we will begin with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, researching its origins (in Latin American conquest history) and pursuing it through the creative responses it has engendered over the years, including Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and the documentary on the making of that film, Hearts of Darkness.

Students will then be required to pursue individual projects, locating chains of influence among genres and time periods, presenting their findings to the class at large, and, finally, making a creative contribution to that chain with their own work, be it poetry, screenplay, fiction, etc.

Some sample linkages might be:
Anne Carson’s The Glass Essay, with its attendant background material of Emily Bronte and Alzheimers’ research

Ray Carver’s updating of Anton Chekhov, whose background material included Plato’s Symposium

Shakespeare’s Lear, which led to Kurosawa’s Ran, as well as Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres (not to mention that Lear was based on a verison of Cinderella)

Susan Orleans The Orchid Thief, a research project and book then reinvented for film in Adaptation

Cornelius Eady’s Brutal Imagination, with its feet in all manner of black history and myth

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, and the subsequent film, not to mention Woolf’s diaries and sad biography

And any other linking chains that students uncover that include at least two genres and that span time in a sufficiently deep way.

FICTION WORKSHOP

Antonya Nelson
WRT 380 (68270)
Tuesday, 2:00-5:00 p.m.
J. Frank Dobie House

This class is a workshop, the primary texts of which are student manuscripts. These manuscripts are to be handed out in hard copy no later than one week in advance of discussion – with longer lead time for pieces over 25 pages in length – and must be typed and double-spaced. Three submissions are required during the semester, only two of which are for public consumption. Genre work is not permitted. No revisions of previously workshopped material unless the revisions are substantial.

Students interested in working on novels are encouraged to claim their workshop time in a single, longer session for which they submit no more than 70 (yet no fewer than 50) pages of material. This workshop will do its best to accommodate writers working in either short or long form, keeping in mind that those are different writerly temperaments.

Active participation is mandatory. Margin and endnotes on manuscripts are essential, as is a meaty discussion of the work during class meetings. A study of secondary texts will be used to amplify points on technique and structure and unity of purpose.

Required texts:
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
Symptomatic by Danzy Senna
Collected Stories by William Trevor
Collected Stories by Eudora Welty
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, in addition to individual pieces referenced in this text (Chekhov, Joyce, O’Connor, Carver, Kafka, etc.)

LONE STAR LIT

Don Graham
WRT 380 (68265)
Monday, 2:00-5:00
J. Frank Dobie House

Beyond the borders of the second largest state in the Union, Texas writing is often mischaracterized in the same way that much else about the Lone Star State is. Here, for example, is a description of Southwestern & Texas writers that appeared in a mass-market paperback anthology from the 1980s: “Some were born among the sagebrush and the mesquite trees. Others traveled here from the soot choked cities of the East. But all write with their feet dusty from the mesas or with fingers greasy from chicken-fried steak.” If authors of the Southwest are such uncouth rubes, what of their home-grown audience? A comment from a 1998 article in the British magazine The Economist tells us that “Even educated Texans have often preferred insubstantial humour books and western pulp fiction to ‘highfalutin’ writing.” This course will set everything right by taking a close look at significant literary efforts to depict Texas in truer terms than those afforded by uninformed outsiders. We will read Katherine Anne Porter, J. Frank Dobie, Larry McMurtry, Cormac McCarthy, Américo Paredes, Sandra Cisneros, and a host of other writers who have made Texas their literary field of dreams. Requirements will include one essay—a site visit to a nearby literary place associated with a particular author—and a longer essay.

SCRIPT TO SCREEN

Alex Smith
WRT 380 (99989)
Time TBA
J. Frank Dobie House

This is the first part of an advanced two-semester screenwriting and production practicum.  The practicum is designed to provide students the opportunity to develop potential feature film projects from the script stage through full-fledged pre-production. This two-semester practicum will generate feature film projects to be made as part of UT Film Institute’s new Feature Film Lab, a five-semester program that takes a project from script through pre-production, production, post-production, and marketing.
Students are expected to gain a deep understanding of the complicated, collaborative work required to turn a feature-length script into an actual film. Although we will focus on improving the chosen projects and preparing them for production, the emphasis of this class will be on process, not product.

The fall 2007 semester, sponsored by The Michener Center for Writers, will be an in-depth exploration of the chosen scripts, with the emphasis being on finding the movie within the script. Extensive script work-shopping and revision will be required, with a focus on carving out story/character elements that are working, and shedding the rest. Students will also examine other crucial practical considerations-such as identifying the audience for their scripts, and potential methods of financing their projects. The semester will culminate with fully cast and rehearsed professional readings of the selected scripts. All scripts from the fall semester will be considered for inclusion in the spring semester production lab –where a core group of filmmaking talent (directors, actors, editors, cinematographers, designers, composers, et al.) collaborate with one another to “pre-produce” the projects.

The instructor is UTFI Creative Director Alex Smith, an RTF faculty member (and Michener Center graduate) with professional experience as a writer-director, who also has experience with the Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program.

This is an organized course that is open to graduate and undergraduate students; undergraduate students may enroll for either undergraduate or graduate credit. In order to submit, ALL screenplay submissions must:

1) Be Feature Length (we won’t take treatments, first acts, etc.)
2) Be Low-Budget (or be willing to be rewritten with a low budget in mind.)
Low-Budget means 1 million or, preferably, much less.
3) Be able to be shot in Texas. (Or be willing to be rewritten with Texas as
the shooting location).

Spring 2006

THE WORKING SCREENWRITER

Stephen Harrigan
WRT 380 (65240)
Frank Dobie House
Mondays 11:00 AM-2:00 PM

This course will focus on the practical problems of screenwriting, examining in an intimate way issues of plot and character development, dialogue, structure, etc. At the same time we will take a look at the external realities of the movie and (to some extent) television business through conversations with a series of prominent visitors from the industry. Among those who have agreed to speak to the class, pending availability, are William Broyles, Jr. , the screenwriter of Apollo 13 , Cast Away, Unfaithful and, most recently, Flags of Our Fathers; John Lee Hancock, writer-director of The Rookie and The Alamo; Lawrence Wright, screenwriter of The Siege and Noriega: God’s Favorite; and Elliot Webb, a founding partner of the Broder Webb Chervin Silberman agency, which recently merged with International Creative Management.

During the course, students will be expected to complete three writing assignments: a brief scene whose characters and situation will be dictated by the instructor; an essay dealing with the strengths and weaknesses of a feature film screenplay of the student’s choice, and a brief outline for a feature-length screenplay. Because students in the class will have varying levels of experience in screenwriting, some accommodation will be made in the nature of these assignments if the instructor thinks it advisable. There is no required reading list as such, but the visitors will each propose a particular screenplay as a point of departure for the discussion. Copies of these screenplays will be made available, and the students are expected to read them carefully.

Fall 2006

First Year Seminar (required and open to first-year Michener Fellows only)

WRT 380 (67150)
Instructor: Tony Giardina
Wednesday, 9:00 am-12:00 pm
Frank Dobie House

I am calling this class “Extracurricular Activities” because in it we are going to explore the work a group of novelists, poets, playwrights and screenwriters did when they either stepped out of their conventional genres to write about their interests and obsessions in other forms, or when they attempted to incorporate “extracurricular” obsessions in theirown work. In other words, what happens when writers set out to explore their seemingly non-literary interests? How do they manage to make those interests “literary,” and how did they have to bend and expand their work in order to do it.

Writing assignments will take the form of short pieces for most of the semester, with one longer work based on your own “extracurricular” interests to come later in the semester.

The reading list below may change, so don’t buy any of the books yet.

Poetry:
The Wild Iris, Louise Gluck
Selections from February in Sydney, Yusef Komunyakaa

Fiction:
Nosferatu, Jim Shepard
A Fan’s Notes, Frederick Exley
Selections from City of God, E.L. Doctorow
Selections from Rumble, Young Man, Rumble, Benjamin Cavell

Playwriting:
Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg
Via Dolorosa, David Hare

Screenplays:
“The Third Man” and “The Fallen Idol”, Graham Greene

Non-fiction:
Fathers Playing Catch with Sons, Donald Hall
On Boxing, Joyce Carol Oates
Selections from All What Jazz, Philip Larkin
Selections from Blue Notes, Yusef Komunyakaa
My Garden (Book), Jamaica Kincaid
The Pleasure Dome, Graham Greene

Writing About Movies

WRT 380 (67155)
Instructor: Tony Giardina
Tuesday, 2:00-5:00
Frank Dobie House

Texts (a partial list): Movie Love in the 50’s, James Harvey: Writers at the Movies: Twenty Six Contemporary Authors Celebrate Twenty Six Memorable Movies, Shepard,ed.; Nosferatu, Jim Shepard; “The Films of Richard Egan”, Giardina

Films (again, a partial list): Psycho, Touch of Evil, I Know Where I’m Going, Nosferatu, Night of the Hunter, A Summer Place

In the first half of the course, we will look at essays written by writers like James Harvey, Margot Livesey, and Charles Baxter, who have explored creative ways of writing about movies outside of the mold of reviews and straight journalism. We will also watch the movies that correspond to the writing: at least two Hitchcock movies that go along with Harvey’s essay “Hitchcock’s Blondes”, Michael Powell’s I Know Where I’m Going and Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter to correspond with Livesey’s and Baxter’s essays. This half will culminate in the writing of a longish essay about a movie, one chosen individually by each member of the class.

In the second half, we will read fiction ( Nosferatu by Shepard, “The Films of Richard Egan” by Giardina) that uses film as the basis for an exploration of fictional form. This half will culminate in the writing of a story or poem (or play or screenplay) about the movies.

Fiction Workshop: “Voice”

WRT 380 (67160)
Instructor: Colm Toibin
Mondays, 2:00-5:-00 pm
Frank Dobie House

The course will use classical Greek theatre as the basis for discussion, especially Medea, Antigone and Electra, and also Greek myth. These works will be used as a diving board only, a way of showing how voice can be used. Before our initial class meeting, students are asked to find any easily available text of the three plays and read them beforehand, so we won’t waste time.

In the course of the semester, students will complete either a long work of fiction (which they can draft and redraft as the course proceeds) or a collection of short fiction (the individual stories being completed throughout the semester). Whether long or short work, I’d like to see at least 2000 new words from every student every week. Students are free to use or consider the plays and the myths under discussion, or ignore them.

Each student should also pick a writer and write a short biography using diaries or letters and a long biography already written. The biographical essay will be a way of finding style to enter into the spirit of another writer. I am not looking for critical insight as much as, for example, ways of opening and ending paragraphs and sections, finding a prose style to deliver and ponder complex information—ending with something as satisfying and well-written as fiction, but using fact only. This essay should be between 5,000 and 10,000 words.

On Plenitude and Politics: The Implications and Influence of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda

WRT 380 (67165)
Intructor: Colm Toibin
Tuesday, 11-2:00
Frank Dobie House

The class will look at this Eliot novel and then other books which have similar themes. For example:

1. A passionate and intelligent woman who marries a bully: Phinneas Finn by Trollope; Portrait of a Lady by James; the section on Dorothea’s marriage in Middlemarch; John McGahern’s Amongst Women.

2. Destitute in a city: Ester Waters by George Moore; Chapter One of Baldwin’s Another Country; The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

3. Politics: Age of Iron by J.M. Coetzee; The Late Bourgeois World by Gordimer; On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Students will write a book review of at least 5000 words of two of the books under consideration, taking the rest of the author’s work into account.

Spring 2006

Poetry Workshop

WRT 380 (64215)
August Kleinzahler
Thursday 2:00-5:00
FDH

The objective of the course is to disabuse the students of the nonsense visited upon them by the assorted ninnies who teach poetry workshops in America these days and to investigate the fundamental ways that poetry, as an art, works. Along these lines, we will dwell at length on the ways in which the poetic line functions and how to generate and sustain poetic music, chiefly rhythm, in the service of whatever emotional information a given poem is seeking to convey. There will be a good deal of studying assorted poetic models, almost all of which, if not all, will be unfamiliar to the student.

There will be exercises, chiefly imitation of assorted models. The students will be asked to bring in a poem by a contemporary poet (b. 1925 or later) and a well-dead poet for each class. The students will be prepared to read both in a fashion that suggests they understand what they’re reading. The students will be required to have a poem of their own ready to read aloud for each class. The students will learn to read poetry aloud, their own poetry and the poetry of strangers. Psychodramas and prima donna behavior will be verboten and punished by torture or execution. The students will be expected to participate in discussions in an intelligent fashion (fake it, if necessary). Evaluation will be based on demonstrating, however primitively, that somewhere in the course of the semester the nickel managed to drop. It would be pleasing to have every student produce at least one poem that he or she might not be ashamed of twenty years later.

We shall have fun, damnit.

Short Non-Fiction Prose Forms

WRT 380 (64205)
August Kleinzahler
Tuesday 2:00-5:00
FDH

This course will be primarily a reading course but include a number of assignments involving imitation of various writers and genres. Short non-fiction prose includes the essay, dictionary or encyclopedia entry, newspaper column, letter, diary, review, memoir, biography, pensee, scientific tract. among others. Those writers we shall be having a look at will include, depending on availability, are: Joseph Mitchell, Whitney Balliett, Aldo Buzzi, David Thomson, Ivor Cutler, Red Smith, Kennedy Fraser, John Aubrey, Nicholas Slonimsky, Kennth Cox, George Bernard Shaw and J. Henri Fabre, among others. Much of the world’s best writing exists in what is customarily dismissed as minor or ephemeral forms.

Books to be bought and have on hand will be David Thomson’s New Biographical Dictionary of Film and Philip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay, Kenneth Cox’s Collected Studies In The Use Of English, and, if it’s available in the U.S., The Assassin’s Cloak: An Anthology of the World’s Greatest Diarists. The emphasis will be on how an author establishes assorted tonalities and voice in a relatively short time. We shall examine diction, sentence structure, punctuation along with broader stylistic elements. The requirements will include a twenty minute presentation on relevant author of one’s choice, along with various aforementioned written assignments. There will be much reading and some discussion of that reading. Evaluation will be based on class participation, assignments, and demonstration that the student has broadened his knowledge in the area of short non-fiction forms and become a more informed and critical reader in the process.

Reading List:

1) The New Biographical Dictionary of Film by David Thomson It’s published by Knopf and available in paperback.

2) Up In The Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell, probably still available in paper from Vintage

3) American Musicians by Whitney Balliett, probably (hopefully) available in paper from Oxford U. Press

4) Anything you can find by Aldo Buzzo or J. Henri Fabre

5) John Aubrey’s Brief Lives

Physical Presence In The Narrative

WRT 380 (64210)
Lars Gustafsson
Wednesday, 2:00-5:00
FDH

In order for a narrative to become more than two-dimensional the protagonists, the actors and the sufferers of their actions have to become more than names and more than place-holders. The physical presence of a person in a narrative can be achieved in many different ways and is very much connected with the physical presence of the entire situations.

From the very expressive and fascinatingly simple descriptions of persons in the Icelandic saga, represented in our course by Nials Saga to the highly refined and detailed face and body descriptions in the great French realists we will follow a tradition.

We will also see how this tradition changes and to some extent gets diluted in the run of the Twentieth Century. The faceless figures in Gibson’s novels, characterized more by their clothing than by their bodies, will serve as an example.

The course will involve reading from the artisan’s point of view rather than from the literary historian’s, by the anonymous author of Niala, by Cervantes, Goethe, Zola, Flaubert, Thomas Mann and Gibson. Like in my earlier course, the reading will be interfoliated with regular writing exercises, where the participants are given opportunity to try out their own hand—in the following with or in opposition to the techiques which have been encountered and discussed.

Fall 2005

Screenwriting Workshop

WRT 380 (unique #65812)
Instructor: Kathleen Orillion
Time: Thursdays 930am-1230pm
Place: J. Frank Dobie House

“It is the character’s personality that creates the action of the story.”
–Flannery O’Connor

Students will write an original, full-length feature screenplay. Over the course of the semester, each student will have 3-4 opportunities to submit script pages for class discussion, and everyone is required to read one another’s work and provide thoughtful and detailed feedback. Students should come to the first class meeting with at least one, preferably two, project ideas. Although you will be producing a step outline or treatment (your choice) and we will be considering issues of plot, structure, and momentum, this workshop will, for the most part, emphasize character-driven screenplays — that is, stories that develop organically from the character(s) that you create (see Flannery O’Connor quote above). No textbook or packet required, though some outside reading and/or viewing may be assigned.

Fiction Workshop

WRT 380 (65808)
Instructor: John Dufresne
Place: J. Frank Dobie House
Time: Tuesday 2-5

Richard Hugo: “A creative writing course may be the one of the last places you can go where your life still matters.”

This is a graduate level course designed, obviously, for those who are interested in exploring the art and craft of fiction. In part, a large part, the course will function as a workshop in which student works-in-progress will be read and discussed. Students will revise their work and submit a final portfolio, a minimum of two stories of publishable quality, at the end of the semester. The class will also read essays concerning the theory and practice of fiction and will discuss issues raised by the essays during the class. Students will also read and discuss works of published fiction from time to time and use those works to help define what exactly fiction is, or what it has been, or what it can be. Critical reading is as important as creative writing in a workshop. One cannot be a writer without first being a reader. The aim of the workshop discussions is to enable the writer to improve his or her work with the editorial and critical assistance of the readers. Our goal is to help the story in question to be the best story it can be.

Some thoughts on the workshop process:

In order to develop as a writer, you have to be able to take what you need from this class to nourish your writing and to disregard what you don’t need or what, in fact, might be detrimental to your writing. (Of course, don’t be too hasty in determining what it is you don’t need.)

We’re here, I trust, and will assume, because we love stories and want to know what makes them work and not work. We’re not here because we enjoy making pronouncements on literature. We simply want to find out what the story in question wants to do and determine if it achieves its desires. Our ultimate hope is that in so doing, we might be able to avoid the pitfalls of composition ourselves and learn the techniques that will enable us to write breathtaking stories.

Our discussions and possible disagreements will be aesthetic and technical, not personal. You don’t have to like each other, but you do have to respect each other. Respect means this: to be generous as a reader, to be a specific as a critic, to be honest as a writer. Don’t write remarks on the author’s paper that you would not say to the writer in front of us all.

Hearing criticism gracefully and utilizing criticism intelligently are valuable skills to cultivate. The writer has the power and control over her story. The bottom line for a writer is that she does not have to accept any criticism she is offered. We might think she’s foolish, but that’s her right and perhaps her responsibility. A workshop such as this one should strive to be a community of writers trying to help one another accomplish their best writing. Discussions of the stories and poems take place primarily for the benefit of the author and for the other writers to the extent that we can all learn from each other’s mistakes and successes, and not so that critics can show off. Reading the stories closely will help each of us understand the nature of fiction and poetry. Discussions take place so that the readers can communicate to the author how his or her work has affected them and what possibilities they see in the work.

The most important relationship in workshop is the one between you and your writing. You ought to feel good about it, respect it, be proud of what you’ve done. Sometimes the rest of us can help you do that. Writing is its own reward. It has to be because it’s so hard. Write for the good of the work. Write so much that you miss it if you don’t do it.

First-Year Seminar

(Open to first-year Michener Center fellows only)
WRT 380 (65810)
Instructor: John Dufresne
Place: J. Frank Dobie House
Time: Wednesday 9-12
Maybe we’ll call the class “The Varieties of Literary Experience.” We’ll focus on the creative impulse, the creative act, and the creative process. We’ll spread our literary wings and attempt to write in several genres, some of them perhaps new to us, doing so in our weekly responses to the readings. We’ll read short and long fiction, poetry, plays, screenplays, and creative nonfiction in its various guises–memoir, literary journalism, nature and food writing, examples of what I consider to be compelling and significant works of art. I’ll also suggest essays on writing by writers for you to read. You’ll also be asked to examine your motivation for writing, to explore, develop, and articulate a personal aesthetic, and to cultivate the habit of your literary art. Your beliefs and values–aesthetic and moral–are the light by which you see. You’ll be expected to formulate answers to questions like “Why do I write?” “Why do I write what I write?” “How do I write?” “What is the purpose of my art?” “What do I have to say that can only be said in a novel? a prose poem? an essay? and so on. A final paper, twenty pages or so, of publishable prose, will be a manifesto of your personal aesthetic. Here’s my start at compiling a list of what we’ll read. I may decide that we’ll read selections rather than entire books from some of the writers so that we can expand our list without overwhelming ourselves. I’ll revise and update it later.

Short Stories:

Anton Chekhov: “The Lady with the Dog,” “Misery”
James Joyce, “The Dead”
Jorge Luis Borges, “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”
William Trevor, “The Ballroom of Romance”
Alice Munro, “Carried Away”
Lorrie Moore: “How to Become a Writer”

Novels:

Debra Monroe: Newfangled
Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man

Poetry:

B. H. Fairchild: Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest
Denise Duhamel: Two and Two
Elizabeth Bishop: Geography III
Philip Larkin: High Windows

Creative Nonfiction:

Vladimir Nabokov: Speak, Memory
John Krakauer: Under the Banner of Heaven
The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon
Gretel Ehrlich: The Solace of Open Spaces
Laurie Colwin: Home Cooking

Plays:

David Ives: All in the Timing: Fourteen One-Act Plays
Tom Stoppard: Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Screenplay:

Billy Bob Thornton: Sling Blade