Writing

In Sarah Lawrence College’s nationally recognized writing program, students work in close collaboration with faculty members who are active, successful writers. The program focuses on the art and craft of writing. Courses in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction are offered.

In workshops, students practice their writing and critique each other’s work. The program encourages students to explore an array of distinctive perspectives and techniques that will extend their own writing ability—whatever their preferred genre. Conferences provide students with close, continual mentoring and guidance and with opportunities to encounter personally their teachers’ professional experiences. Teachers critique their students’ writing and select readings specifically to augment or challenge each student’s work. In conferences, student and teacher chart a course of study that best allows individual students to pursue subjects and issues that interest them, to develop their own voice, to hone their techniques, and to grow more sophisticated as readers and critics.

The College offers a vibrant community of writers and probably the largest writing faculty available to undergraduates anywhere in the country. Visits from guest writers who give public readings and lectures are an important component of the curriculum throughout the year.

Sarah Lawrence College also takes full advantage of its proximity to the New York City literary scene, with its readings, literary agencies, publishing houses, and bookstores—as well as its wealth of arts and culture. The city provides fertile ground for internships in which students can use their writing training in educational programs, schools, publishing houses, small presses, journal productions, magazines, and nonprofit arts agencies.

2018-2019 Courses

Writing

First-Year Studies: Forms and Fictions

Open , FYS—Year

This class explores the gift of form as it comes to us from writers from around the world. We will read and then write our versions of folk and fairy tales, epics, short stories, short plays, and anything else we care to try. Second semester will involve writing seven episodes of a fiction. In other words, we will learn how to use a short form to write a long work. Class may involve a discussion of literature, a sharing of our writing, an exercise, a collaboration. While we are exploring the boundaries and premises of various forms, we will step over other boundaries—between the real and the imaginary, this world and another, text and picture, and one form and another. Students will be invited to add visual and sound components to their work, if they wish. In addition to classes, students will have an individual conference every other week and a half-group conference on alternating weeks.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: The House of Fiction: A Guided Tour

Open , FYS—Year

When I began teaching writing at Sarah Lawrence, I was of the write-what-you-know school and pushed my students to “mine their experience in search of hidden truths” (or something like that). But over time, I’ve come to see this as an insufficient way of thinking (and talking) about fiction writing. It cultivates a reverence for plot and character but ignores the aspects of fiction that seem especially vital to me: language, structure, voice, and ideas. That’s why this FYS workshop will emphasize the value of play and experimentation in the creation of short fiction. My goal, in fact, is to suggest that the world of fiction is like a gargantuan, twisted, labyrinthine house and not some little cottage on a grassy hill. I want to show my students around, explore secret rooms, open doors that lead nowhere, traverse long dark corridors, peer into dark and forgotten wells. Our weekly writing assignments will explore some of these spaces, and students will be asked to write in ways they may never have considered writing before. Our reading list will be dynamic and multifaceted, seeking to constantly expand our notions of what fiction is and can be. The list will include a number of short novels (Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy, Kamby Bolongo Mean River by Robert Lopez, The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, and Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino are all possibilities), as well as dozens of short stories by writers who often defy convention. These may include Robert Coover, Dawn Raffel, Joy Williams, Stacey Richter, David Foster Wallace, Shelley Jackson, Roxane Gay, Donald Barthelme, and Harlan Ellison. Students will be writing all the time, as we constantly expand and update our imagined blueprint of the House. Our goal is to create a community that values and supports risk-taking and innovation. I want my writers to leave this first year of college with a better understanding of how big and deep and funny and meaningful fiction can be. If this sounds interesting, you can find me behind the “Welcome” mat burning in front of the old iron door teetering from its rusted hinges.

Faculty
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First-Year Studies: Fake News, Real News, News That Stays News

Open , FYS—Year

This combination literary survey and writing course will introduce students to the rhetoric and reality of factual writing and to the dilemmas of truth that obtain when we take complex, fragmentary human experience—whether personal or social—and transform that experience into stories. Students will be asked to write their own stories and to research stories about the world along the spectrum of nonfiction from journalism to essays to oral histories to case studies. They will also be asked to think about the underlying epistemic problems that come with representing facts in language—from blunt-force manipulations of truth for the sake of political gain to more subtle distortions that arise from the techniques of creation, representation, and persuasion. We will read a broad variety of writers, ranging from Aristotle, Longinus, and St. Augustine to Basho, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, and Marshall McLuhan to a legion of contemporary writers writing about race, gender, sex, art, technology, the environment, sports, and themselves. We will think long and fruitfully about how the ephemeral facticity of the world is fashioned into, on the one hand, propaganda and polemic and, on the other, great art.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: Forming Poetry/Poetic Form

Open , FYS—Year

Radial, bilateral, transverse: symmetries that change over a life; radical asymmetries. Sea shells unfurl by Fibonacci. Horn, bark, petal: hydrocarbon chains arrange in every conceivable strut, winch, and pylon, ranging over the visible spectrum and beyond into ultraviolet and infrared. Horseshoe crab, butterfly, barnacle, and millipede all belong to the same phylum. Earthworms with seven hearts, ruminants with multiple stomachs, scallops with a line of eyes rimming their shell like party lanterns, animals with two brains, many brains, none. —from The Gold Bug Variations, by Richard Powers

This FYS course is part workshop and part an exploration of reading and writing in established, evolving, and invented forms. We will use An Exaltation of Forms, edited by Annie Finch and Katherine Varnes (featuring essays on form by contemporary poets), alongside books by a wide array of poets and visual artists to facilitate and further these discussions. You will direct language through the sieves and sleeves of the haiku, sonnet, prose poem, ghazal, haibun, etc. Expect to move fluidly between iambic pentameter, erasures, comic poems, and the lipogram (in which you are not allowed to use a particular letter of the alphabet in your poem). Expect to complicate your notion of what “a poem in form” is. We will utliize in-class writing exercises and prompts.

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Our World, Other Worlds

Open , Seminar—Year

This course explores prose writing, with an emphasis on the creation of a world. The writing can be fiction or nonfiction and can take place in this world, another, or several. We will explore ideas about this world and writing about this world and others and work on our writing to make it livelier and more real no matter how imaginary our world is. This course runs in two parts, one semester each. You can take one or both parts. One part will involve writing episodes to build a world that, revised, will become a conference project; the other part will work on craft and content exercises of all kinds, with the conference project distinct from the exercises. Readings include folk tales, religious writing, philosophy, fiction, and newspaper items.

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First the Basics, Then On to Stranger Fiction

Open , Seminar—Year

In this yearlong fiction-writing workshop, you will acquaint yourselves with basic elements of fiction such as point of view, character, plot and structure, dialogue and exposition, detail and scene, as well as other more sophisticated concepts related to the craft and imaginative process of fiction. Principals such as counterpoint characterization, defamiliariazation, and the sublime, among others, are explored through lessons, writing exercises, and assigned readings, as well as authors’ works that you wish to share with the class. We attend readings and craft talks by the guest writers in our reading series. We form small groups to more closely study various aspects of fiction and to help each other draft your stories. We move on in the second semester to explore the unconscious, dream narratives, the absurd, and speculative fiction. We study two democratically chosen novels and a film. Some of the authors we will be studying and, at times, modeling are Flannery O’Connor, James Agee, James Baldwin, Tobais Wolff, ZZ Packer, Marquez, Kafka, Borges, Nabokov, Carmen Marchado, George Saunders, and Octavia Butler. The core of the course is the students’ own development as fiction writers. We have a lot of fun trying numerous exercises and approaches to stories. We work closely in conference on your writing, and each of you will present at least one final developed story for our workshop each semester.

Faculty

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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Related Disciplines

Fiction Workshop

Open , Seminar—Year

All great stories are built with good sentences. In this workshop, students will create short stories or continue works-in-progress that will be read and discussed by their peers. Class sessions will focus on constructive criticism of the writer’s work, and students will be encouraged to ask the questions with which all writers grapple: What makes a good story? Have I fully developed my characters? And does my language convey the ideas that I want? We will talk about the writer’s craft in this class—how people tell stories to each other, how to find a plot, and how to make a sentence come to life. This workshop should be seen as a place where students can share their thoughts and ideas in order to then return to their pages and create a completed imaginary work. There will also be some short stories and essays on the art of writing that will set the tone and provide literary fodder for the class.

Faculty

Realms of the Unreal: Speculative Fiction Workshop

Open , Seminar—Year

Although every work of fiction is a fantasy, fiction writers often strive to portray a cohesive reality. In this workshop, we will focus on writing and reading fiction that embraces fantastic, splintered, and speculative realities. We will focus on creating worlds from our dreams, daydreams, collective myths, and imagined technologies. We'll treat our stories as laboratories that accommodate daring and complex experiments. We’ll talk about subjectivity and the scope of human perception—and explore how much of what we agree to call reality is itself a fantasy. We will also examine the precedents set in science fiction, fantasy, and other areas of literature that deal with the realms of the unreal. Authors whose work you may be assigned for class or conference include Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Philip K. Dick, William Burroughs, Octavia Butler, Judy Budnitz, Helen Oyeyemi, Karin Tidbeck, Cathy Park Hong, William Gibson, Paul LaFarge, Shelly Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin, David Ohle, Samuel Delaney, Yasunari Kawabata, Angela Carter, and Dolan Morgan—along with theorists and philosophers such as Jean Baudrillard and Markus Gabriel. We’ll identify and discuss conventions within genres, both working within them and pushing against them.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop

Open , Seminar—Fall

Some people think that all classes-especially writing classes-should be “safe.” I don’t. I prefer danger. Only by risking failure can anyone learn. I want students to care about what they write and how they write; and if the consequences of caring include anxiety, trepidation, and night sweats, so be it. Oh, class should also be fun. As for the content: You write, I read, we talk. Using student work as examples, we talk about what makes one story dynamic and another dull; what makes one character believable and another implausible; and, mostly, what makes one sentence sing and another croak.

Faculty

Before and After

Open , Seminar—Fall

This class will be run as a traditional workshop, with students exchanging their own stories for discussion and completing weekly reading assignments; but the focus of our reading will be on two or more works by a particular author in order to try and understand that author’s trajectory. We will, for example, explore the development of voice and subject matter, as well as characterization, plot, point of view, and form. These writers will be our teachers. By reading their work, we hope to come to a clearer understanding of what makes a story live and breathe. Some authors whom we may consider include Tobias Wolff, Junot Diaz, Dan Chaon, Alice Munro, Lynda Barry, and Roxane Gay. Students will be expected to attend at least two readings on campus, hand in writing assignments every other week, and complete a set of readings for conference.

Faculty

No, Really, Where Do Ideas Come From? A Fiction Workshop/Creative Boot Camp

Open , Seminar—Fall

It’s not a stupid question. We’ll seek to answer it by spending the first third of the semester engaging in writing exercises, thought experiments, intelligence gathering, and craft discussions designed to get your own ideas flowing and to provide seeds for the stories that you’ll be writing. The rest of the semester will be devoted to workshopping what you’ve written, with the class coming together to create a constructive community of readers with the kindness, toughness, honesty, and sensitivity that can make a workshop a unique and valuable writing tool. Ambition and risk-taking will be encouraged, as we address a slew of other not-stupid questions such as: What makes a plot strong? Does a character have to be likable? How much fact goes into fiction? Outside reading will be designed to take you in and out of your comfort zones, running the gamut from realism to fabulism and featuring a multitude of rulemakers and rule breakers for you to admire and inspire, love and loathe—sometimes simultaneously.

Faculty

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Writing and Production Audio Fiction Podcasts

Open , Seminar—Fall

The goal of this class is to start a revolution. Over the past few years, we have entered into a time of what is being called “The Second Golden Age of Audio.” But there is a problem. This Golden Age is almost primarily nonfiction. This class will change that. Students will learn to write and produce groundbreaking contemporary audio dramas for radio and podcast. We will listen to emerging works from podcasts such as Welcome to Night Vale, The Truth, Wiretap, and Lore, as well as by authors who have played in this field: Miranda July, Rick Moody, Gregory Whitehead, Joe Frank, and others. We will also create our own critical discourse for contemporary audio drama—analyzing writings and essays from the fields of screenwriting, sound art, contemporary music, and literature—to help understand and analyze the works that we are creating. The creators of Limetown, The Truth, and other audio fiction makers will visit the class to talk about their stories and production processes. The class will also contribute to the Sarah Lawrence College International Audio Fiction Award (aka, The Sarahs)—the first international audio fiction award in the United States. Students will make works for The Very, Very, Short, Short Stories Contest and help curate works for the award-show podcast. In the fall, we will collaborate with master’s degree students from the drama department at the Royal Conservatoire in Antwerp to create original works that will be featured at a European festival. At the end of the semester, students will take over WGXC radio station in the Hudson Valley and broadcast their final conference projects.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop

Open , Seminar—Fall

Nabokov stated that there are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. We will consider all three, but it is with the art of enchantment that this workshop is most dedicated. We will walk through the process of writing a story. Where does the story come from? How do we know when we are ready to begin? How do we avoid succumbing to safe and unoriginal decisions and learn to recognize and trust our more mysterious and promising impulses? How do our characters guide the work? How do we come to know an ending, and how do we earn that ending? And finally, how do we create the enchantment necessary to involve, persuade, and move the reader in the ways that fiction is most capable. We will investigate these questions through a series of exercises meant to generate and sustain your visions of a story, as well as to put into practice the various elements of fiction: plot, character, setting, detail, dialogue, and exposition. We will learn how these seemingly practical conventions of story writing can be used to virtuosic effect by authors such as Donald Barthelme, Jamaica Kinkaid, James Baldwin, Flannery O’Connor, Tobias Wolff, ZZ Packer, George Saunders, and others. You will generate your conference work from your readings and exercises, develop it through close critique in our classes and conferences, present it in preliminary workshops, and, finally, submit your best work in a series of formal workshops at the end of the semester.

Faculty

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.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Writing Toward Truth: A Fiction Writing Course

Open , Seminar—Spring

To be an artist means never to avert your eyes. —Akira Kurosawa

I used to believe that my main task as a teacher of writing was to give you craft knowledge: narrative arch, characterization, setting, scenes with lively dialogue, conflict/drama, and all the other great pillars of storytelling expertise. But compelling, urgent, brilliant writing comes from the bubbling hot center of you and me and not the seat of knowledge, our brain. To reach the deep truths that we carry inside ourselves, we must cultivate a connection to the unconscious. And we do that through writing. In this course, we will still cover craft essentials. (They do provide a common writing vocabulary.) You will read fiction, as well as essays on writing, but mostly you will write. You will write to find out how you feel, to know what is important and crucial, to connect with what you love and what you hate. Then you will turn this material into fiction and story. In class and at home, I will challenge you to write your way into truth and reveal the world that you see through your unaverted eyes.

Faculty

Memory and Fiction

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

The poet Ranier Maria Rilke wrote about shaping art: “You must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighborhoods, to unexpected encounters, and to partings you had long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn’t pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quiet restrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, but it is still not enough to be able to think of all that.” In this class, we will explore the uses of childhood and memory as springboards for short fiction. How do writers move from the kernel of experience to the making of fiction? How do we use our past to develop stories that are not the retelling of what happened but, rather, an opportunity to develop a fiction with its own integrity and truth? How do we work with what we have half-known or half-observed to shape story and create characters? We will work from writing experiments and readings of short fictions and novels.

Faculty

The Unconscious, the Absurd, the Sublime, and the Impossibly Probable

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Spring

This one-semester workshop will venture into more unlikely fictional territories: dream narratives, preposterous situations served up matter-of-factly, unscary ghost stories, speculative fiction, and virtuosic works that elude comprehension but deliver you to the profound and pleasurable edges of apprehension. To jar us from our more prosaic and safe forms of fiction, we will begin the semester with a series of exercises inspired by the stories of authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Borges, Nabokov, George Saunders, Carmen Maria Machado, and Olivia Butler, as well as essays by Carl Jung, Immanuel Kant, and Charles Baxter. You will generate your conference work from the readings and exercises, develop it through close critique in our classes and conferences, present it in preliminary workshops, and, finally, submit your best work in a series of formal workshops at the end of the semester.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Nonfiction Writing as Literature

Open , Seminar—Year

This is a course for students who have taken a creative writing class and are interested in exploring how nonfiction can be literary and artful. The first semester will focus on reading and interpreting outside work—essays, articles, and journalism by some of our best writers—in order to understand what good nonfiction is and how it is created. Writing will include mostly exercises and short pieces aimed at putting into practice what is being illuminated in the readings. We will look at fiction and poetry to better understand language and image and at documentary films to study narrative structure, and we will write in class and outside class. During the second semester, students will create longer, formal essays to be presented in workshop.

Faculty

Wrongfully Accused

Open , Seminar—Year

Long-form investigative journalism has opened many doors, perhaps most literally in America’s penal system where journalists have regularly revealed—and freed—the wrongfully convicted. This class will set out to expose the innocence (or confirm the guilt) of a man or woman convicted of a controversial murder or other serious felony. Working collectively and using all of the tools and traditions of investigative journalism, the class will attempt to pull out all known and unknown threads of the story to reveal the truth. Was our subject wrongfully accused? Or are his or her claims of innocence an attempt to game the system? The class will interview police, prosecutors, and witnesses, as well as the friends and family of the victim and of the accused. The case file will be examined in depth. A long-form investigative piece will be produced, complete with multimedia accompaniment.

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Nonfiction Workshop: To Tell the Truth

Open , Seminar—Fall

This class will explore the mysteries of writing what has been called “nonfiction,” focusing particularly on questions around what has been called lying and what has been called telling the truth. Was Toni Morrison right when she said our minds have an “antipathy to fraud”? Does lying have a syntax? What are the cultural contexts, nourishments, and manipulations that may affect what happens between a writer and a drafted or published sentence? What's the difference between a lie that illuminates the truth and a lie that obfuscates or tries to extinguish it? Are famous writers good? Can popular writing lie? Is it possible to “tell the truth”? Our readings may include the work of James Baldwin, Anne Carson, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Dionne Brand, Aimé Césaire, Edward Said, Fred Moten, Hannah Arendt, and Virginia Woolf, as well as that of Wallace Stegner, William F. Buckley, Jr., Charlotte Beers, Henry Kissinger, and the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture. In conference, we’ll discuss drafts of student work; in class, we’ll discuss readings, in light of the questions above, as a way of guiding our own makings. You’ll be expected to attend class, engage with assigned and suggested readings, participate in discussions, and, by the end of the class, produce 20 pages of publishable nonfiction. The only prerequisites are a passion for reading that equals your passion for writing and a willingness to undertake whatever might be necessary to read and write better on our last day of class than on our first.

Faculty
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What’s the Story? A Radio Journalism Class

Open , Seminar—Fall

Almost two years into a politically divisive presidency that has fractured the country—and with the proliferation of fake news—journalism is more important than ever. And so are the skills required to do the job. The landscape of radio is exploding, and new podcasts are being launched almost faster than listeners can decide which episode to download next. These outlets, shows, and storymaking machines are hungry—both for stories and for the producers with the skills to know how to tell stories. In this class, we’ll learn the fundamentals of making radio news—both writing and production, for short stories and long. We’ll cover editing, software, interviewing skills, and, of course, how to hold your microphone. We’ll learn what makes a story, how to get good tape, and how to write for the ear (very different than for the eye—just try comparing an article from The New York Times with a transcript from NPR). We’ll also cover the skills critical for all nonfiction narrative storytelling, print or audio, from “Morning Edition” to “This American Life.” We’ll talk research, ethics, fact checking, how to find sources, and how to get them to talk. Finally, we’ll cover the art of the pitch. That’s industry lingo for selling your story. It’s no good getting the scoop if you don’t know how to sell your stuff. News is new. Come and learn something new.

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Nonfiction Workshop: The World and You

Open , Seminar—Fall

This workshop will be divided into three units, each of which will involve reading published essays and writing our own. In the first, called PLACE, we will read and write essays about authors’ relationships to particular places—less travelogues than investigations of the dynamic between the person and the place. Examples of published essays that we will read for this unit are “Stranger in the Village” by James Baldwin and Seymour Krim’s writing on London. The second unit, DEMONS, will focus on writers’ personal challenges—from depression, as in William Stryon’s very short book, Darkness Visible, to migraines, the subject of Joan Didion’s essay “In Bed.” For the final unit, CRITICAL SURVEY, we will read and write critical takes on works or figures in particular fields; examples: James Agee’s essay, “Comedy’s Greatest Era,” about silent films; Toni Morrison’s very short book, Playing in the Dark, about the influence of blacks on early white American literature; and Norman Mailer’s Superman Comes to the Supermarket, about John F. Kennedy and other politicians present at the 1960 Democratic National Convention.

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Notebooks and Other Experiments

Open , Seminar—Fall

There is a marvelously alive quality to reading a writer’s notebook—a laboratory of interrupted and ongoing consciousness, whose very irregularities or imperfections give it a wildness unmatched by more plotted or studied works. In this workshop, we will read and think through first-person or documentary texts that are inspired by or take on some quality of the notebook, scrapbook, sketchbook, or diary—these forms enthralled to the fragment, the list, the aphorism, the rhythms of the daily, the problem of the person in time and space, and the process of creation. We will read artists’ notebooks and writers’ notebooks and other strange and less easily categorizable forms that borrow from the notebook but exist as essay, novel, meditation, poem, or pillow book. The syllabus might include notebooks and other experiments from Sei Shonagon, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Bhanu Kapil, David Wojnarowicz, Franz Kafka, Renee Gladman, Albert Camus, Walter Benjamin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Hervé Guibert, Claudia Rankine, Suzanne Scanlon, Durga Chew-Bose, Clarice Lispector, Roland Barthes, Moyra Davey, and Chantal Akerman. Writers will keep a public notebook over the course of the semester and which they will submit weekly. Students are also expected to bring into conference writing inspired by the class, as well as work on a longer conference project. This is a prose workshop, meaning that we’ll be reading inside and outside of genres. The class is open to anyone willing to read and write wildly and seriously.

Faculty

Writing Our Moment

Open , Seminar—Spring

It would be safe to say that journalism and nonfiction writing are currently undergoing a transformation. Our most storied publications are in a state of crisis. Big-city newspapers are failing by the day. Magazines are imperiled. Book publishers face encroaching competition from handheld electronic devices and online search engines that do not recognize copyright laws. What is an ambitious, intuitive writer to do going forward? Quite simply: Harness all of the strengths of the storytelling past to a new world of few space restrictions; more flexible tones; the ready presence of video, audio, and animation—which can either enrich or encroach upon text; and comprehend the role of writer in such a way as to include and exploit new media. We will examine the relationship between literary nonfiction, which has always been cinematic in focus and flexible in tone, and the once and future practice of journalism. Masters of 20th-century nonfiction such as V. S. Naipaul, Truman Capote, Joseph Mitchell, and Roger Angell—steeped as they are in the journalistic practice of their time—can serve as guideposts to our uncertain future. We will examine, through reading and writing, the ways in which the formulas of journalism are transformed into literature. We will emphasize the importance of factuality and fact-checking and explore adapting modern storytelling to video, photography, and sound. As the semester progresses, literary nonfiction will be both discovered and reinvented to fit our new world.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Narrative Journalism in the Age of S-Town and other Serialized Podcasts

Open , Seminar—Spring

Ann Heppermann, the professor, is a Peabody award-winning radio reporter and United States Artists Fellow who has been working in the field for 15 years. Her work has aired on shows around the world, including: This American Life, Radiolab, Studio360, Marketplace, 99% Invisible, and Snap Judgment. She is a senior producer at Pineapple Street Media and also produced the Heaven’s Gate podcast.

We are living in “The Golden Age of Narrative Audio.” Shows like This American Life, Radiolab, More Perfect, and numerous other story-driven shows not only dominate podcasts and airwaves but also have created the paradigm for emerging shows like 99% Invisible, Love + Radio, and many others. We’ve also entered the age of the serialized podcast with limited-run series like Missing Richard Simmons, Heaven’s Gate, S-Town, and others put out by podcast companies like Gimlet, Panoply, First Look Media, Pineapple Street Media, and WNYC Studios. This class will teach students the practicalities of how narrative radio journalism in the age of serialized podcasting works, while we explore what this narrative movement means for the future of audio journalism. Students will learn practicalities—e.g.,. pitching both multipart and narrative pitches by using actual “call for stories" from studios and shows like This American Life, Radiolab, Nancy, and from podcasting companies like Pineapple Street Media and Gimlet; the fundamentals of how to record and mix stories using the latest digital editing technology; what narrative editors expect in a series; the skills necessary for a podcast internship. We will also reflect on the theoretical and ethical considerations for this “Golden Age of Narrative Audio.” We will ask questions like: How does imposing narrative structures affect nonfiction storytelling? How do narrative shows deal with ethical missteps? What does it mean to have “a voice”? Does it matter who gets to tell the story? (Answer on the last question, “Yes.” We’ll discuss why.) Producers, editors, and freelancers for This American Life, Radiolab, and Pineapple Street Media will visit the class to provide insight into their shows and answer student questions. The class will also take a field trip to Gimlet or Pineapple Street Media to see podcasting in action.

Faculty

Nonfiction Laboratory

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course is for students who want to break free of the conventions of the traditional essay and memoir and discover a broader range of narrative and stylistic possibilities available to nonfiction writers. During the first half of the semester, students will read and discuss examples of formally innovative nonfiction that will serve as the inspiration for brief assignments. Completed assignments will also be read aloud and discussed each week. During the second half of the semester, students will workshop longer pieces that they will have written in consultation with the instructor as a part of their conference work. Most readings will be found in The Next American Essay, edited by John D’Agata, or in the photocopied handout. But we will also read and discuss Alejandro Zambra’s short, brilliant book, Multiple Choice.

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Workshop in Personal Essay

Open , Seminar—Spring

We write personal essays to learn about ourselves, to face our demons, to understand what entangles us, to expose the lies that we have allowed ourselves to believe, to recognize what we are running away from, to find insight, and/or to tell the truth. This workshop is designed for students interested in doing that work and learning to craft what they have written so that their readers can share in their learning. We will learn to read as writers, write as readers, and, where relevant, draw connections between writing and other creative fields such as music and film.

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A Question of Character: The Art of the Profile

Open , Seminar—Spring

Any writer who tries to capture the likeness of another—whether in biography, history, journalism, or art criticism—must face certain questions. What makes a good profile? What is the power dynamic between subject and writer? How does a subject’s place in the world determine the parameters of what may be written about him or her? To what extent is any portrait also a self-portrait? And how can the complexities of a personality be captured in several thousand—or even several hundred—words? In this course, we will tackle the various challenges of profile writing such as choosing a good subject, interviewing, plotting, obtaining and telescoping biographical information, and defining the role of place in the portrait. Students will be expected to share their own work, identify what they admire or despise in other writers’ characterizations, and learn to read closely many masters of the genre: Daphne Merkin, Malcolm Gladwell, Gay Talese, and Janet Malcolm. We will also turn to shorter forms of writing—personal sketches, brief reported pieces—to further illuminate what we mean when we talk about “identity” and “character.” The goal of this course is less to teach the art of profile writing than to make us all more alert to the subtleties of the form.

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Eco-Poetry

Open , Seminar—Year

In this poetry class—a yearlong school of poetry and the Earth—we will consider the great organism Gaia, of which we are a part. We will read the long and rich tradition of poetry addressing itself to this subject, from the early indigenous peoples through the Zen monks and Wordsworth and right up through Gary Snyder and to utterly contemporary poets such as Brenda Hillman and Chase Twitchell. We will also read books and articles that teach us about the physical world. We will wonder how eco-poetry is different from nature poetry. We will practice one and then the other. Each student will research an aspect of the natural world and incorporate that knowledge into documentary poems. Each student will present his/her knowledge and poems to the class community as a conference project each semester. We will read books of poems but also watch films, take field trips, and meet with each other outside of class. By the end of the class, my hope is that each of us will have a greater understanding of the great organism that we call Earth and will create a collection of poems that engage the questions that our class raises: What is time? What is death? What is Eden? Where is the garden now? Who are the other organisms? How have we, as a species, affected the other organisms? How have we affected the oceans, the earth, the air? How can poetry address the ecological crisis? Required for this class: intellectual curiosity, empathy, and a willingness to observe the world—to pay attention and to write poetry that matters—beyond the individual self. This is a class for experienced writers, as well as for those who want to give writing poetry a try. All are welcome.

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Poetry Workshop: Rebels, Wizards, Sirens, Outlaws

Open , Seminar—Fall

Poetry is oftentimes driven by a mysterious force that prompts the imaginative writer to rebel, disobey, lie, tell fantastic truths, subvert, make new, or forge an entirely new path in ways that feel both expansive and combustible. We will ground the student by delving into individual books that will help the writer become more knowledgeable about the history in which they are a part. We will concentrate on in-class writing and critique, poetic experiments, wild meanderings, and manifestos. A book a week will be read, followed by in-depth discussions on craft, style, voice, vision, structure, and song. Poets we will read include Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, Amiri Baraka, Jose Garcia Villa, Patricia Smith, James Dickey, Lucie Brock-Broido, Shane McCrae, John Berryman, Danez Smith, and others. Students are expected to write and read consistently, experiment, and be passionate about creation. Take-home assignments will accompany readings. A revision portfolio and final chapbook will be due during the semester. Students will have the opportunity to meet and converse with established poets whose work we will be studying.

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Masks, Personas, and The Literal I: A Poetry Workshop

Open , Seminar—Fall

In this writing workshop, we will read books by poets who utilize masks and personas to explore depths of honesty, thought, and feeling that might otherwise be off-limits. We will consider the different ways in which a character may be created and inhabited via syntax, diction, emotional crescendos and deflations, associative leaps, metaphors, and tonal shifts. We will also read books by poets who collapse the space between poetic speaker and author, employing a more literal I. We will strive to come to a richer understanding of the possibilities of the first person. Students will be asked to create their own mask, a constructed first person to breathe and speak through, and also to write poems in the mind/throat/heart of a more literal I. The reading class will be roughly a book of poetry a week. There will be a number of short response essays to the reading. Students will be expected to write and rewrite with passion and vigor, turning in a new first draft each week and a final manuscript of six to 10 poems. Class time will be split evenly between discussing outside reading and student work. This class will be good for both workshop veterans and those who have been harboring an urge to give poetry a try.

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Hybrids of Poetry and Prose: A Multigenre Creative Workshop

Open , Seminar—Fall

One of the exciting literary developments in recent years is the plethora of work that refuses easy categorization created by authors such as Maggie Nelson, Jenny Offill, and Eula Biss. Our syllabus will be composed of texts that blur the lines of genre. We will consider architecture, diction, association, metaphor, and other issues of craft. Students will be required to write critical responses to the reading and to bring in a new piece of writing each week. For workshop, students can submit poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or anything in between. We will aim to locate a piece’s heat—its linguistic, figurative, and musical energy—and consider how that energy might be developed, or maximized, in subsequent drafts and to what effect. Half of each class will be devoted to discussing the weekly reading; the other half will be spent discussing student work. Occasionally, we will do in-class writing exercises that emphasize intuition and chance and steer students toward a place of hybridity. In the spring semester, students will work on hybrid projects of their own. A background in creative writing is not essential to taking this class; a willingness to read and write and take creative risks is.

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A Kind of Haunting: A Poetry Workshop

Open , Seminar—Spring

In James E. Young’s essay, “Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin: The Uncanny Arts of Memorial Architecture,” Young describes Libeskind’s designing of the Jewish Museum in Berlin and how essential to its design was the folding in of fragment, void, interruption, and other iterations of rupture. Of Libeskind’s project, Young writes “His drawings for the museum thus look more like the sketches of the museum’s ruins, a house whose wings have been scrambled and reshaped by the jolt of genocide. It is a devastated site that would now enshrine its broken forms.” In this poetry workshop, we will examine the different ways in which poetry can allow for what cannot be articulated—either because there are simply no words to convey what must be said or because the speaker cannot utter what must be said—and how allowing space for the unspeakable can result in a kind of haunting in a poem. Each class will begin with the discussion of an outside text and then move on to the workshopping of students’ poems. Texts we will be reading and examining include James E. Young’s essay, as well as writings by Jacques Derrida, Mark Fisher, Darian Leader, excerpts from Laura Oldfield Ford’s ‘zines Savage Messiah, excerpts from films, contemporary artwork, and, of course, poetry. Readings from poetry may include work by Cathy Song, Fred Moten, Dionne Brand, Denise Riley, Helene Dunmore, Sean Bonney, Novalis, and the fragments of Hölderlin.

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Poetry: What Holds The Unsayable

Open , Seminar—Spring

Poems are not merely feelings, the poet Ranier Maria Rilke has written, but experiences. What is the difference between a feeling and an experience? How can a poem become an experience? How can a poem, originating from the personal, transcend the personal? How can writing the poem transform the writer? Every poem holds the unsayable. How does a poem do that? How can we attempt to do that—using words? If you are interested in these questions, take this course. The course is open to experienced writers, as well as to absolute beginners. If you are interested in these questions, you are welcome. This is a reading/writing course. We will spend time every week reading poems that have already been published (by dead poets and living poets) to see how they were made: music, syntax, line, sound, and image. We might spend time generating new work in class through exercises and experiments. And we will spend time looking closely at one another’s work, encouraging each other to take risks and to move even closer to the mystery of the poem. Each writer in the class will meet with another class member once a week on a “poetry date.” Each writer will be responsible for reading the assigned work and for bringing to class one written offering each week. We will work hard, learn a great deal about poetry and about our own poems, and have a wonderful time.

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Poetry: The Creative Process

Open , Seminar—Spring

The novelist Willa Cather stated that real “artistic growth” is a continuing refinement of our own approach toward “truth-telling.” Emily Dickinson wrote: “Tell all the Truth, but Tell it Slant.” In this poetry workshop, we will read and write, bearing in mind questions about the creative process, metaphor, truth, and truthfulness. Is a fact the truth? Is metaphor a lie? How does telling it “slant” help our poems evoke or enact rather than state (a poem is never reportage) how and why? We will read and discuss essays on creative approaches to writing; on poetics, prosody, memory (metaphor?), and revision—also reading a variety of poems across traditions, cultures, and contemporary poets of different styles and aesthetics. To read IS to write! If you are not reading, you are not writing! A workshop is the best place for risk-taking and mistake-making. We are here to help one another become better readers and writers, each in our own voice, with passion and compassion. Requirements: class participation, attendance, conference meetings, a “chapbook” of revised poems (no fewer than eight poems per semester), and an annotated book log due each semester.

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Paris, City of Light and Violence

Open , Seminar—Fall

So they had begun to walk about in a fabulous Paris, letting themselves be guided by the nighttime signs, following routes born of a clochard phrase…. —Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch

For centuries now, the city of Paris, France, has held an actual and imaginary intensity in the lives of many. In this seminar in cultural anthropology, we will explore a number of themes and forces that have shaped the cultural and political contexts of life in Paris through the 19th and 20th centuries and on into the 21st—from great works of art to transformations in urban design to the politics of colonialism, migration, racism, marginalization, and police surveillance, as well as critical events of state and collective violence. In walking (conceptually) about a Paris at once fabulous and haunted, we will come to know various signs of being and power in this renowned city. In attending to key events in the recent history of Paris—in 1942, 1961, 1968, 1995, and 2015, for instance—we will work toward developing a comprehensive sense of the many social, cultural, and political dimensions of urban experience in la ville lumière, the “city of light,” in both its central arrondissements and its peripheral banlieues. Along the way, we will consider a number of important literary writings (Hugo, Balzac, Baudelaire, Breton, Modiano, Cortázar, Perec, Sebbar, and Bouraoui), films (Godard, Truffaut, Marker, Varda, Tati, Kassovitz, Haneke, and Sciamma), and scholarship (Benjamin, Dubord, Harvey, Kofman, Fanon, Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, and Latour). Students will be encouraged to undertake conference work on artists, writers, and thinkers associated with Paris or to develop their own anthropological reflections on Paris or another intensive city known to them.

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Writing India: Transnational Narratives

Open , Seminar—Fall

The global visibility of South Asian writers has changed the face of contemporary English literature. Many writers from the Indian subcontinent continue to narrate tumultuous events surrounding the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan that occurred with independence from British rule. Their writings narrate legacies and utopian imaginings of the past in light of current dystopic visions and optimistic aspirations. The seminar addresses themes of identity, fragmentation, hybridity, memory, and alienation that link South Asian literary production to postcolonial writing from varied cultures of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Accounts of South Asian communal violence reflect global urgencies. The cultural space of India has been repeatedly transformed and redeployed according to varied cultural projects, political interests, and economic agendas. After briefly considering representations of India in early chronicles of Chinese, Greek, and Persian travelers, we explore modern constructions of India in excerpts from writers of the British Raj. Our major focus is on India as remembered and imagined in selected works of writers, including Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy. Film adaptations are included. We apply interdisciplinary critical inquiry as we pursue a literature that shifts increasingly from narrating the nation to narrating its diasporic fragments in transnational contexts.

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Images of India: Text/Photo/Film

Open , Seminar—Spring

This seminar addresses colonial and postcolonial representations of India. For centuries, India has been imagined and imaged through the lens of orientalism. In recent decades, writers and visual artists from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have been actively engaged in reinterpreting the British colonial impact on South Asia. Their work presents sensibilities of the colonized in counter narration to images previously established during the Raj. Highlighting previously unexposed impressions, such works inevitably supplement, usually challenge, and frequently undermine traditional accounts underwritten by imperialist interests. Colonial and orientalist discourses depicted peoples of the Indian subcontinent both in terms of degradation and in terms of a romance of empire, thereby rationalizing various economic, political, and psychological agendas. The external invention and deployment of the term “Indian” is emblematic of the epoch, with colonial designation presuming to reframe indigenous identity. Postcolonial writers and artists are, consequently, renegotiating identities. What does it mean to be seen as an Indian? What historical claims are implicit in allegories of ethnicity, linguistic region, and nation? How do such claims inform events taking place today, given the resurgence of Hindu fundamentalism? For this seminar on the semiotics and politics of culture, sources include works by influential South Asian writers, photographers, and filmmakers.

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Pilgrimage and Tourism: South Asian Practices

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

Among global cultures of travel, pilgrimage is prevalent in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Sufi Islamic traditions of South Asia. At temples and shrines throughout the subcontinent, pilgrims perform sacraments, rites of initiation, sacrifices, and other acts of renunciation. Pilgrim fairs and festivals serve multiple functions, providing venues not only for religious expression but also for arts performance, social negotiation, and economic exchange. This seminar explores the proposition that pilgrimage and tourism are functionally indistinguishable. If categories of travel are to be defined, what role, if any, do travelers’ intentions play in such an analysis? Is a spiritually inscribed journey qualitatively different from tourism with a recreational, cultural, or service agenda? How does the transitional process of a journey from home relate to the experience of arrival at a destination? Through a study of travel memoirs, we explore themes of quest, discovery, and personal transformation. Postcolonial writings on spiritually inscribed journeys raise issues of dislocation, exile, memory, and identity. We inquire critically into traditional mappings of “sacred geographies” and the commercial promotion of competing destinations. We analyze travel industries and the specialists who service the many spectacles and attractions found along pilgrim and tourist routes. Films and photographic sources are used extensively. Readings are drawn from cultural studies, history of religions, anthropology, and personal narrative.

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Bulletproof Screenwriting

Open , Seminar—Fall

Pursuing the fundamentals of developing and writing narrative, fiction, motion-picture screenplays, the course starts with a focus on the atomic element of a screenplay: the scene. We’ll explore the nature of writing screen stories for film, television (and its many iterations these days), and the Web. The approach views screenwriting as having less of a connection to literature and playwriting and more of a connection to the oral tradition of storytelling. We will dissect the nature and construct of the screenplay to reveal that the document—the script—is actually the manifestation of the process of “telling your film” (or movie, or Web series, or TV show, et al). In Bulletproof Screenwriting, the emerging screenwriter will be encouraged to think of and approach the work as a director—because, until someone else appears to take the reins (if it is not the screenwriter), the writer is the director, albeit (for now) on the page. Indeed, the course will explore filmmaking from a director’s point of view—yet in the hands of a screenwriter. With the class structured as a combination of seminar and workshop-style exchanges, students will read selected texts and produced screenplays, write detailed script analyses, view films and clips, and, naturally, write short narrative fiction screenplays. While students will be writing scenes and scripts starting in the first class, they will also be introduced to the concept of “talking their stories,” as well, in order to explore character and plot while gaining a solid foundation in screen storytelling, visual writing, and screenplay evolution. We will migrate from initial ideas through research techniques, character development, story generation, outlining, the rough draft, and rewrites. Students will be immersed in the fundamentals of character, story, universe and setting, dramatic action, tension, conflict, sequence structure, acts, and style. In-class analysis of peer work within the context of a safe and productive environment will help students have a critical eye and develop skills to apply to the troubleshooting of one’s own work. Overall, the student builds a screenwriter’s toolkit to use as various projects emerge in the future. The aim of the class is for students to complete a series of short-form screenplays and a final written project. In conference, students may research and develop a long-form screenplay or teleplay, develop a TV series concept and “bible,” initiate and develop a Web-series concept, craft a series of short screenplays for production courses or independent production, rewrite a previously written script, adapt original material from another form, and so forth. Research and screen storytelling skills developed through the course may be applied to other writing forms.

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Documentary Filmmaking: Truth, Freedom, and Bearing Witness

Open , Seminar—Year

Nonfiction is our search for the truth; it is an exploration in humanity—our beauty, complexities, and the often unimaginable. This class is designed for students who, through filmmaking, hope to move humanity one step closer to understanding who we are and how connected our life experiences may be. In this yearlong course, students produce one 15- to 30-minute documentary on the subject of their own choosing. Students will develop treatments, pitch their projects, create production schedules, and work in small teams to create their films. Each week, students must demonstrate clear progress on their projects, including outlined shoot dates, updates on production needs, screening of unedited material, assembly cuts, rough cuts, and the eventual final delivery of their conference films. During class, we will screen short- and long-form documentary films from around the world, complemented by hands-on production techniques and experience. Although this is an open class, students must be prepared to learn camera operation, sound recording, and lighting with diligence and professionalism. Each student will direct his/her own project; however, the crew will be made up of the student’s peers, who will be entrusted with delivering strong technical material. This course will challenge students to think beyond the beautiful gates of Sarah Lawrence and take on subjects and opportunities that are new spaces both emotionally and physically. Nonfiction requires passion for storytelling and, ultimately, a passion for people. We hope to finish the year with a lens on the world that’s evolved to new heights of understanding and compassion.

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Less is More: On Camera Performance

Open , Seminar—Year

This course will focus on both the natural and technical aspects of camera performance. The student will learn how to create living, breathing characters constructed and crafted with an emotional inner life that is supported through organic impulses and analytical comprehension of text. The student will learn to create characters drawn from one’s own life experience, emotional substitution, and the limitless possibility of the imagination. The work will require a concentrated attention and expansion of emotional perceptions. The student will develop the ability to actively listen and see and not to anticipate or expect. The scene work will be taken from published screenplays, both contemporary and historical. Period work will require a richly detailed and historically accurate character study, paying attention to both the social and historical demands and the language. The scenes will be memorized, rehearsed, further explored with improvisational exercises, and reviewed with monitor playback. The scenes will then be camera blocked and shot in a workshop atmosphere that concentrates on performance rather than production value. Students will learn how much physicality is required for the master shot and for the two shot and how to harness the physical and emotional focus for extreme close-up work. There is the required movement aspect to this workshop, as well. Each session will begin with physical and emotional exercises that will allow the performers to move, to breathe, and to play. Students will be offered the opportunity to step behind the camera and observe what the DP sees in order to better comprehend the framing of a shoot. They will learn how to maintain and match continuity while using props and physical movement. Voice-over and ADR skills will also be explored. In the spring semester, the students will work on final scenes that will be either original or published. Those scenes will be costumed, with props and production value. Conference work will be discussed individually with each student. The course will include short writing assignments, weekly performance journals, short reactions to the required texts, and perhaps writing original monologues to be performed. This course of study is equally valuable to the emerging performer, director, and screenwriter seeking to understand the alchemy of performance for the camera.

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Creating the Web Series

Open , Seminar—Year

Each student, without exception, must interview with the instructor.

During the fall semester, the students will develop a community that supports a judgment-free working environment, where the goal is to collectively create the best original work possible. This class is not about competition but, rather, about creating collectively. During our Monday sessions, the students will conceive and develop 3- to 5-page film scenes that thematically capture a specific moment in time. The concept and materials to be developed will be revised and finalized for shooting by the end of the fall semester. (These scenes can also be the genesis of a larger script to be worked on later.) During our Thursday sessions, we will begin with warmup exercises developed to get outside of our passive selves and play like children. These exercises will expand our vocal and physical creative base. We will work on intimacy and trust exercises that address issues such as blocking, negating, and posturing. We will read both published and original scenes that will be memorized for the following week. We will break down the scenes dramatically to demonstrate what works and what does not. The students will work on improvisational exercises—taken from beats within the script—that will explore and expand the complexities of a character’s inner life. For our conference work, we will view and discuss feature films and documentaries that primarily focus on the Central American revolutions—such as El Norte, Finding Oscar, Under Fire, and Salvador—but will also include the historical origins of religious and cultural conflicts with films such as The Mission, Apocalypto, and Where the River Runs Black. The fall semester conference work will involve writing about a specific aspect of the films viewed and discussed in class. The spring conference work will be shooting the vignettes. The students will be required to experience all production areas, (editing, lighting, sound, camera, and directing) and to keep a weekly journal of the journey throughout the year. The goal is to make the class self-sufficient, in that students will write, direct, film, and edit their own material. We will have tech-lab workshops that help students better facilitate skills in lighting, cameras, sound, and editing. This class is open to writers, actors, and directors interested in creating through collaboration.

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Advanced Projects In Writing for the Screen

Advanced , Seminar—Fall

This one-semester class is for the serious, advanced screenwriter. Consideration for the course requires a writer’s statement about the project you wish to pursue, a list of courses taken, and screenwriting experience, as well as a five-page screenwriting sample that must be emailed in advance of any fall interview to fstrype@sarahlawrence.edu. Once the materials are received, an interview will be scheduled between instructor and student. The seminar will be devoted to reconceptualizing, redeveloping, and restructuring your project-in-process, naturally depending upon your starting point. We will then pursue a rigorous schedule of weekly workshops and diagnostic trouble-shooting critiques. By semester’s end, you will be expected to have a polished draft.

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Television Writing: Writing the Spec Script

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Permission of the instructor is required.

The fundamental skill of successful television writers is the ability to craft entertaining and compelling stories for characters, worlds, and situations created by others. Though dozens of writers may work on a show over the course of its run, the “voice” of the show is unified and singular. The best way to learn to write for television—and a mandatory component of your portfolio for agents, managers, show runners, and producers—is to draft a sample episode of a pre-existing show, known as a “spec script.” Developing, pitching, writing, and rewriting stories hundreds of times, extremely quickly, in collaboration, and on tight deadlines is what TV writers on staff do every day, fitting each episode seamlessly into the series as a whole in tone, concept, and execution. This workshop will introduce students to these fundamental skills by taking them, step-by-step, through writing their own spec (sample) script for an ongoing dramatic television series. The semester will take students from premise lines, through the outline/beat sheet, to writing a complete draft of a full one-hour or half-hour teleplay for a currently airing show. No original pilots will be pursued in this semester. In conference, students may wish to develop another spec script and/or begin to develop characters and a series "bible" for an original show in preparation for more advanced classes in original pilot writing. Prospective students are expected to have an extensive working knowledge across many genres of TV shows that have aired domestically during the past 25-30 years.

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Writing for Television: Advanced Projects

Advanced , Seminar—Fall

Permission of the instructor is required.

This class builds on fundamentals learned in Writing the Spec and Writing the Pilot, with the focus on creating new work: original TV pilots. Students will be expected to enter the class with a completed 8- to 12-page beat sheet. That beat sheet will be revised and turned into an original one-hour or half-hour show (no sitcoms). Focusing on engineering story machines, we power characters and situations with enough conflict to generate episodes over many years. During the second half of the semester, you will generate a second original beat sheet within one week and write the pages for that script for the rest of the semester. This will mean that you will complete first drafts of two original shows within the semester. Having taken all three classes in the series—spec, pilot, and advanced—you will have the majority of material, in first-draft form, that you will need for a professional portfolio. In conference, students will do rewrites and begin to develop character descriptions and a series “bible” for their original show. Prospective students are expected to have an extensive working knowledge across many genres of TV shows that have aired domestically during the past 25-30 years.

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Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

Where does the food we eat come from? Why do some people have enough food to eat and others do not? Are there too many people for the world to feed? Who controls the world’s food? Will global food prices continue their recent rapid rise? And, if so, what will be the consequences? What are the environmental impacts of our food production systems? How do answers to these questions differ by place or by the person asking the question? How have they changed over time? This course will explore the following fundamental issue: the relationship between development and the environment, focusing in particular on agriculture and the production and consumption of food. The questions above often hinge on the contentious debate concerning population, natural resources, and the environment. Thus, we will begin by critically assessing the fundamental ideological positions and philosophical paradigms of “modernization,” as well as critical counterpoints that lie at the heart of this debate. Within this context of competing sets of philosophical assumptions concerning the population-resource debate, we will investigate the concept of “poverty” and the making of the “Third World,” access to food, hunger, grain production and food aid, agricultural productivity (The Green and Gene Revolutions), biofuels, the role of transnational corporations (TNCs), the international division of labor, migration, globalization and global commodity chains, and the different strategies adopted by nation-states to “develop” natural resources and agricultural production. Through a historical investigation of environmental change and the biogeography of plant domestication and dispersal, we will look at the creation of indigenous, subsistence, peasant, plantation, collective, and commercial forms of agriculture. We will analyze the physical environment and ecology that help shape but rarely determine the organization of resource use and agriculture. Rather, through the dialectical rise of various political-economic systems such as feudalism, slavery, mercantilism, colonialism, capitalism, and socialism, we will study how humans have transformed the world’s environments. We will follow with studies of specific issues: technological change in food production; commercialization and industrialization of agriculture and the decline of the family farm; food and public health, culture, and family; land grabbing and food security; the role of markets and transnational corporations in transforming the environment; and the global environmental changes stemming from modern agriculture, dams, deforestation, grassland destruction, desertification, biodiversity loss, and the interrelationship with climate change. Case studies of particular regions and issues will be drawn from Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the United States. The final part of the course examines the restructuring of the global economy and its relation to emergent international laws and institutions regulating trade, the environment, agriculture, resource extraction treaties, the changing role of the state, and competing conceptualizations of territoriality and control. We will end with discussions of emergent local, regional, and transnational coalitions for food self-reliance and food sovereignty, alternative and community supported agriculture, community-based resource management systems, sustainable development, and grassroots movements for social and environmental justice. Films, multimedia materials, and distinguished guests will be interspersed throughout the course. One farm field trip is possible, if funding permits. The seminar participants may also take a leading role in a campus-wide event on “food and agriculture,” tentatively planned for the spring. Please mark your calendars when the dates are announced, as attendance for all of the above is required. Attendance and participation is also required at special guest lectures and film viewings in the Geography Lecture and Film Series—approximately once per month in the evening from 6-8 pm. The Web board is an important part of the course. Regular postings of assignments will be made there, along with follow-up commentaries. There will be in-class essays, debates, and small group discussions. Conferences will focus on in-depth analyses of course topics. You will be required to prepare a poster project and paper on a topic of your choice related to the course, which will be presented at the end of each semester in a special session.

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Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Year

Experience in the social sciences is desired but not required.

In this yearlong seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to acquaint us with and to analyze the historical origins and evolution of a world political-economy of which the “Third World” is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial {development” to understand the evolving meaning of this term. These case studies will help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and its associated institutions and the role that they have played in the post-World War II global political-economy—one marked by persistent and intensifying socioeconomic inequalities, as well as frequent outbreaks of political violence across the globe. By examining the development institutions that have emerged and evolved since 1945, we will attempt to unravel the paradoxes of development in different eras. We will deconstruct the measures of development through a thematic exploration of population, resource use, poverty, access to food, the environment, agricultural productivity, and different development strategies adopted by Third World nation-states. We will then examine globalization and its relation to emergent international institutions and their policies; for example, the IMF, World Bank, AIIB, and WTO. We will then turn to contemporary development debates and controversies that increasingly find space in the headlines: widespread land grabbing by sovereign wealth funds, China, and hedge funds; the “global food crisis”; and the perils of climate change. Throughout the course, our investigations of international institutions, transnational corporations, the role of the state, and civil society will provide the backdrop for the final focus of the class: the emergence of regional coalitions for self-reliance, environmental and social justice, and sustainable development. Our analysis of development in practice will draw upon case studies primarily from Africa but also from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the United States. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage substantive research project beginning in the fall semester and completed in the spring. Project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Where possible and feasible, students will be encouraged to do primary research during fall study days and winter and spring breaks.

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First-Year Studies: (Making) World Literature

Open , FYS—Year

Translation is the lifeblood of literary culture. Translation can also have extraordinary political significance, especially in historical moments when worldviews narrow, borders expand, and difference is treated as a threat. In this seminar, we will read canonical works and celebrated contemporary novels from around the world by writers—including Jorge Luis Borges, Yoko Tawada, Gustave Flaubert, Ananda Devi, Franz Kafka, Samanta Schweblin, Roberto Bolaño, Valeria Luiselli, and many more—reflecting on the literary dimensions of these texts as we also think about questions of translation, circulation, creativity, and consecration. In the process, students will not only learn how to analyze literature, identifying tone or style and building arguments around plot elements or imagery but will also develop frameworks for thinking about which texts make their way into English and how they do so. The course will combine one-on-one conference work with group activities and exercises designed to introduce students to the resources available to them on campus, take advantage of New York City’s cultural offerings, and improve their analytic and expository writing skills with workshops.

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The Bible and Literature

Open , Lecture—Year

The Bible: the story of all things, an epic of human liberation and imaginative inspiration; a riven and riveting family saga that tops all others in its depiction of romance, intrigue, deception, seduction, betrayal, existential dread, love, reconciliation, and redemption; an account, as one commentator described it, of God’s ongoing “lover’s quarrel” with humanity; a primary source book for major literature across the planet, still powerful in its influence on the style and subject matter of both prose and poetry. In the first term, this course will provide close readings of major biblical narratives and poetry in Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Lectures will explore and interpret a number of patterns and literary types: the major historical narratives of both scriptures; the poetics and speech acts of creation, blessing, promise, covenant, curse, and redemption; the visionary prophetic tradition from Moses to John, the writer of the Apocalypse; the self-reflective theological interpretations of history by Hebrew chroniclers and the New Testament letters of Paul; the sublime poetry of the Psalms, the Song of Songs, and the Apocalypse of John; and the dark wisdom of the Book of Job and of Ecclesiastes. The second term will study the work of major writers who have grounded their own work in biblical themes, narrative patterns, characters, and images and who have so transformed their biblical sources as to challenge their readers to rethink what scripture is and how it works. Selections will be drawn from the work of Dante Alighieri, John Milton, John Bunyan, William Blake, Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, and Toni Morrison. If there is enough interest in the class, there will be a “Bible Blockbusters” film series on Sunday evenings during the spring term.

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17th-Century British Literature

Open , Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: At least one year of a college-level class in the humanities or a strong AP course in literature.

In England during the 17th century, the great ordering coherences of medieval and earlier Renaissance thinking seemed to disintegrate under the warring impulses of individualism and authority, empiricism and faith, and revolutionary transformation and reinforcement of tradition. Yet, even as monarchy and established church were challenged and torn apart, the 17th century produced an extraordinary flowering of drama, poetry, and prose that expressed the contradictory energies of the period. This course will study English writing of the 17th century in a roughly chronological sequence. The first semester will explore the aesthetics and ideology of the Stuart court and the robust and bawdy urban center of London through a reading of masques and plays by Jonson and Shakespeare and their contemporaries; dramatic and meditative experiments in “metaphysical” and moral verse by John Donne, Ben Jonson, Aemilia Lanyer, George Herbert, and other poets; various developments in scientific, philosophical, and meditative prose by Francis Bacon, Richard Burton, and Thomas Browne; and the early poetry of John Milton. The second semester will study major writing in the period of the English Revolution and Restoration. Our focus will be on Milton, but we will also study the poetry of the Cavaliers, Katherine Philips, Andrew Marvell, and John Dryden and the prose of Thomas Hobbes, John Bunyan, Aphra Behn, and Margaret Cavendish.

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The Literature of Fact: Journalism and Beyond

Open , Seminar—Year

The last 60 years have been boom times for nonfiction writing. From investigative reporting to memoirs, the literature of fact has thrived. Writers have found that, as the late Tom Wolfe observed, it is possible to turn out nonfiction as lively as fiction and, in the process, capture the history of one’s own times. The aim of this course is to explore nonfiction in a variety of forms and for students to write nonfiction of their own. The course will focus on basic reporting, memoirs, op-eds, reviews, profiles, and long-form journalism. Students will do writing of their own that matches the kind of writing being studied at the time. The course will begin by emphasizing writing technique and move on to longer assignments in which research, interviews, and legwork play an increasingly important role. The writers studied will range from James Baldwin and George Orwell to Joan Didion and Gay Talese. This course is not for students with remedial writing problems or with difficulty meeting deadlines. At the time of their interviews, students must bring with them short samples of their written work.

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Eight American Poets (Whitman to Ashbery)

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

American poetry has multiple origins and a vast array of modes and variations. In this course, we will focus our attention on the trajectories of eight major American poetic careers. We will begin with Whitman and Dickinson, the fountainheads of a visionary strain in the American poetic tradition, before turning to Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Ashbery. Some of the poems that we will be reading are accessible on a superficial level and present challenges to interpretation only on closer inspection; other poems—most notably, the poems of Dickinson, Stevens, Eliot, and Crane—present significant challenges at the most basic level of interpretation. The major prerequisite for this course is, therefore, a willingness to grapple with literary difficulty with passages of poetry that are, at times, wholly baffling or highly resistant to paraphrase. We will seek to paraphrase them anyway or account, as best we can, for the meanings that they create out of the meanings that they evade. Our central task will be to appreciate and articulate the unique strengths of each of the poems (and poets) that we encounter through close, imaginative reading and informed speculation.

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First-Year Studies: The Senses: Art and Science

Open , FYS—Year

The perceiving mind is an incarnated mind. —Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 1964

Sensory perception is a vital component of the creation and experience of artistic works of all types. In psychology and neuroscience, the investigation of sensory systems has been foundational for our developing understanding of brains, minds, and bodies. Recent work in brain science has moved us beyond the Aristotelian notion of five discrete senses to a view of the senses as more various and interconnected—with each other and with the fundamental psychological processes of perception, attention, emotion, memory, imagination, and judgment. What we call “taste” is a multisensory construction of “flavor” that relies heavily on smell, vision, and touch (mouth feel); “vision” refers to a set of semi-independent streams that specialize in the processing of color, object identity, or spatial layout and movement; “touch” encompasses a complex system of responses to different types of contact with the largest sensory organ—the skin; and “hearing” includes aspects of perception that are thought to be quintessentially human—music and language. Many other sensations are not covered by the standard five: the sense of balance, of body position (proprioception), feelings of pain arising from within the body, and feelings of heat or cold. Perceptual psychologists have suggested that the total count is closer to 17 than to five. We will investigate all of these senses, their interactions with each other, and their intimate relationships with human emotion, memory, and imagination. Some of the questions we will address are: Why are smells such potent memory triggers? What can visual art tell us about how the brain works, and vice versa? Why is a caregiver’s touch so vital for psychological development? Why do foods that taste sublime to some people evoke feelings of disgust in others? Do humans have a poor sense of smell? Why does the word “feeling” refer to both bodily sensations and emotions? What makes a song “catchy” or “sticky”? Can humans learn to echolocate like bats? What is the role of body perception in mindfulness meditation? This is a good course for artists who like to think about science and for scientists with a feeling for art. This is a collaborative course. The main small-group collaborative activity is a sensory lab where students will have the opportunity to explore their own sensory perceptions in a systematic way, investigating how they relate to language, memory, and emotion. The other group activities include some museum visits: The American Museum of Natural History has a current exhibit devoted to the senses, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has an encyclopedic collection that will be the focus of a group curation assignment, and MOMA holds a wealth of abstract perceptual possibilities that we will investigate together.

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Narrative in Contemporary Painting

Open , Seminar—Spring

Taking inspiration from the history of art, literature, and cinema, students will be introduced to a variety of approaches on how to construct narratives in the language of contemporary painting. What is narrative, and can it be expressed abstractly as well as literally? How can color, value, and mark-making be used in painting to create a narrative progression and a passage of time? Students will explore various narrative themes, sourcing from autobiography, political events, literature, films, mediated images, and other personally relevant content. Observational painting will be used as a point of departure to examine various strategies to construct a visual world. Students will proceed to develop technical and conceptual skills that are crucial to the painting process. The work will fluctuate between in-class projects and homework assignments. The curriculum will be supplemented with Power Point® presentations, film screenings, selected readings, field trips, and group critiques.

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First-Year Studies: The New Narrative Photography

Open , FYS—Year

A photograph presented alone and without a descriptive caption is like a simple utterance: “ooh!” or “aah!” or “huh?” When pictures are presented in groups with accompanying text and perhaps in conjunction with political or poetic conceptual strategies, however, any statement becomes possible. Collectively, photographs can begin to function as a sentence, a paragraph, or a larger discourse. Whether working in fiction or nonfiction, artists such as Alan Sekula, Robert Frank, Susan Meiselas, Taryn Simon, Jim Goldberg, Roni Horn, and others have transformed the reach of the photograph. Collectively, they have created a medium: The New Narrative Photography. In this course, students will study the work of artists and others and will create their own bodies of work. If you have a story to tell or a statement to make, this course is open to you. No previous photographic experience is necessary nor is any special equipment. The opportunity to forge a new medium is rare. This course aims to create the forum and the conditions necessary for all to do so in a critical and supportive workshop environment.

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