Place in Fiction


Characters are not disembodied spirits. They need a place to live. With student stories serving as our basic text, and drawing also from a varied reading list, we will explore the multiple uses of place in fiction and how it can serve to define characters, advance story, and illuminate theme. We will consider questions such as why a story happens here rather than there—say, in Richard Yates’s suburbia, ZZ Packer’s Atlanta, Jose Donoso’s Buenos Aires or Chile, Nadine Gordimer’s South Africa, Katherine Anne Porter’s Texas, Junot Diaz’s inner city, or Denis Johnson’s highways and roads. Each region—its landscape, its history, its culture—has its own set of values and associations. Changes of scene—from country to country, even from room to room—can also reflect shifts in a character’s state of mind. What does it mean, for example, for a character to be—or feel—“out of place” or “at home”? What does it mean for a character to know—or, as is often the case, not know—his or her place? What, then, does exile mean? Or homelessness? Along with the supplementary readings, short exercises will be assigned. This course is for students who, along with writing, want to feel more at home with books—and for those who already do.