Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Rattawut  Lapcharoensap

Undergraduate Discipline

Writing

Graduate Program

MFA Writing Program

BA, Cornell University. MFA, University of Michigan. Fiction writer. Author of Sightseeing, a collection of short stories, which received the Asian American Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. His work has appeared in Granta, One Story, The Guardian, Zoetrope, Best New American Voices, and Best American Non-Required Reading, among others. He is a recipient of a Whiting Writer’s Award, a DAAD Artist-in-Berlin fellowship, a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honor, and an Abraham Woursell Prize through the University of Vienna; he was named by Granta magazine to its list of “Best of Young American Novelists.” SLC, 2018–

Undergraduate Courses 2019-2020

Writing

First-Year Studies: Writing and the Racial Imaginary

Open , FYS—Year

In what ways have American writers and artists rendered the felt experience of race and racial inequality? How might we understand race and racism not only as social forces but also as imaginative ones? And how might we, as writers and readers, productively grapple, contend, and engage with our own positions as artists and citizens within these historical and imaginative legacies? In other words, how might we fruitfully think about what Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda have recently called—in their anthology of the same name—“the racial imaginary”? Over the course of this yearlong creative-writing workshop, students will be asked to explore the American racial imaginary by examining writing in a variety of genres and disciplines—from short stories to personal essays and poetry, as well as academic criticism and historical scholarship—in the interest of producing and workshopping their own original writing. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on students’ needs and the progress of their conference projects.

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Fiction Workshop: Style

Open , Seminar—Fall

This fiction-writing workshop will focus specifically on the pleasures of “style.” What is style? How do we know when we are in the presence of one? What are the hallmarks of a successful or moving style? When does style feel meaningful? And, conversely, when does it feel empty or artificial? In other words, how does style make itself substantive in fiction? Through an exploration of both canonical and contemporary short fiction, students will be urged to find not so much their “own” style as to think about and explore the many styles available to them as writers. Our time in class will be divided between close readings of published work and workshopping of student writing. In addition, students should expect, by the end of the term, to produce numerous imitation exercises, critical reflections, and a portfolio of fiction.

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Previous Courses

The Short Story

Open , Seminar—Year

This short story writing workshop is also a survey of the form’s history. We will begin with Frank O’Connor’s definition of the short story as a form characterized not by its length so much as by its subject matter: the lives of what he calls “submerged population groups,” people for whom a “normal society” is the “exception” rather than the “rule”; in short, outsiders, losers, the marginalized, the dispossessed, the ignored, the powerless, the subcultural. In this yearlong course, students will test O’Connor’s description of the form by examining several short-story collections in the hopes of generating a portfolio of stories about a “submerged population group” of their own. Beginning with Nikolai Gogol’s The Overcoat, we will then move on to canonical examples, as well as more recent examples, from Edward P. Jones, Raymond Carver, James Alan Macpherson, Grace Paley, Alice Munro, Denis Johnson, James Kelman, Junot Diaz, George Saunders, Lydia Davis, Sherman Alexie, Julie Otsuka, and Charles Baxter, among many others. Our time will be equally divided among reading published works, tracing the evolution of the short-story form, and examining each other’s efforts through weekly workshops, critical and generative writing exercises, and one-on-one conferences. Throughout, we will ask questions not only about craft and technique in short-story writing—matters of plot, voice, character, structure, setting, language, and the like—but also larger questions about the form itself and the traditions in which short-story writers are all necessarily enmeshed.

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Portraiture

Open , Seminar—Spring

What is a character? How do you portray a person? And what does it mean to do so? The history of literature is full of eponymous works—Don Quixote, “Tristam Shandy,” David Copperfield, to name but a canonical few—works that often seek to examine a single character or consciousness over time. “Character studies,” or “portraiture,” might be another way of describing such writing, in which a writer brings all of his or her energies to bear upon the art of representing “other people”—and in which the machinations of “plot” take a relative back seat to questions of “character” (and all that such a character might reveal). In this course, we will look at examples of “literary portraiture” in the hopes of generating our own. Our readings will include classics of the form (Melville’s “Bartleby,” Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Saul Bellow’s Herzog, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior), as well as relatively contemporary examples (Evan Connell’s Mrs. Bridge, John Williams’ Stoner, Dorothy Baker’s Cassandra at the Wedding, Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Maggie Nelson’s Jane: A Murder, Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl, J. M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello, and W. G. Sebald’s The Emigrants). Throughout the course, we will be asking questions about what makes for a plausible character or interior life in writing, what tools are available at writers’ disposal in their attempts to portray “other people,” and what’s often at stake in such efforts. Through close readings of published work, individual conferences, generative writing exercises, and workshops of each other’s writing, students will work towards crafting and presenting their own work of portraiture by the end of the term.

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Fiction Workshop: Revision

Workshop—Fall

This course examines the art of revision.  “[O]ne’s plan, alas, is one thing and one’s result another,” Henry James says in the New York edition preface to The Wings of the Dove. We will try to think about what James calls, in that preface, “the gaps and the lapses” in our work, “the intentions that, with the best will in the world, were not to fructify,” “the absent values, the palpable voids, the missing links, the mocking shadows” that necessarily haunt any early draft, and our subsequent attempts to exorcise those specters. We will do this primarily by workshopping early drafts of student work alongside revisions of that work in the hopes of examining the concrete ways that each revision meets or fails to meet (or even re-conceptualizes entirely) the ambitions and requirements of its earlier incarnation. Our assumption will be that most drafts—especially early ones—are largely failures, pocked with the Jamesian voids and lacunae mentioned above. Anyone can fail in this manner, of course—anybody can produce a disastrous first draft—but few are capable of failing (to use Samuel Beckett’s oft-quoted injunction) better. This course aims to provide you with the tools and the strategies to do so. In addition to a selection from James’s New York edition prefaces, our supplemental readings may also include revisions of Evan Connell’s Mrs. Bridge, Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art, Joyce’s The Sisters, Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Grace Paley’s A Conversation with My Father, Edward P. Jones’s The First Day, and Flannery O’Connor’s The Geranium and Judgement Day, among many others.

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