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.

2020-2021 Courses

Writing

First-Year Studies: Subject Matter, Voice, Form, and Purpose

Open, FYS—Year

What does it mean to be a writer today? How do we find our subject matter, our voices, our forms? The writer Paula Whyman observed, “Art in its many forms can give voice to our concerns, hopes, fears, anxieties—and joys. Art can provide solace. It can spur engagement. It can increase understanding. It can help us feel less alone.” Through weekly reading and writing assignments, we will begin the journey into understanding who we can be as fiction writers. We’ll explore questions of craft: What makes a story a story? How does one go from word to sentence to paragraph to scene? Does there always need to be transformation? What is the role of setting? And how does structure help create voice? The workshop will be divided between discussions of student stories and of published fiction writers, including Carmen Maria Machado, George Saunders, Dan Chaon, Claudia Rankine, and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. We will also read from other genres, including essays on craft by authors such as Richard Russo, Roxane Gay, and Robin Hemley. Students are required to do additional conference reading, as well as to attend at least two campus readings per semester. From the start, we will work on developing our constructive criticism; when developed in a supportive atmosphere, our critiques should help us better grasp the workings of our stories and see what those stories can be in the world.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Writing and Reading Fiction

Open, FYS—Year

A novelist once began a lecture by asking how many people in the audience wanted to be writers. When almost everyone raised a hand, he said, “So why the hell aren’t you home writing?” The novelist was asking the right question. The only way to improve as a writer is to write a lot. You might have all the talent in the world. You might have had a thousand fascinating experiences. But talent and experience won’t get you very far unless you have the ability to sit down, day after day, and write. Accordingly, my main goal is to encourage you to develop or sustain the habit of steady writing. You’ll be expected to produce a short story every two weeks, which we’ll discuss in detail during our one-on-one conferences. In class, we’ll be talking about novels, short stories, and essays—learning from writers who have come before us. We’ll read a mix of classic and contemporary writers, including James Baldwin, Anton Chekhov, Jennifer Egan, Percival Everett, Henry James, Toni Morrison, Sigrid Nunez, Philip Roth, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Virginia Woolf. We’ll meet in conference every week during the fall semester and every other week in the spring.

Faculty

First-Year Studies in Fiction

Open, FYS—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 developed my characters fully? 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

First-Year Studies: Is Journalism What We Think It Is?

Open, FYS—Year

This class will both investigate journalism as a social, cultural, and historical phenomenon and employ journalism as a practice by which to encounter the world. We will immerse ourselves in journalism’s intricacies and complexities, its strengths and faults, and come to understand it not only as a working trade and history’s first draft but also as a literary art in its own right—one with as many deep imperatives and as rich a tradition as poetry or fiction. We will survey the best (and a little bit of the worst) of short- and long-form journalism and, over the course of the year, craft everything from brief profiles to ambitious investigative pieces. How does a writer know which details to highlight and which to subordinate? What is the nature of good interviewing technique? How does one interview a willing source as opposed to a resistant one? When should one write concisely, and when is it appropriate to expatiate? What are the ways in which a journalist interacts with—and runs the danger of contaminating—his or her subject? We will ask and answer these and many other questions and spend significant time puzzling out the ways in which fundamental journalistic practice leaps from print to television to new media. Prominent journalists will be invited to talk to us and tell us what they do. Readings will range from H. L. Mencken, George Orwell, Janet Malcolm, Joseph Mitchell, and Truman Capote to Joseph Roth.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Reading and Writing Poetry Workshop

Open, FYS—Year

We will read, roughly, a book of poetry each week and discuss the reading in detail. We will look at American poets from the 19th century (Dickinson and Whitman), the 20th century (Hayden, Bishop, Lowell), and the 21st century (Terrance Hayes, D. A. Powell, and others). There will be critical response assignments, in-class exercises, small group meetings, and writing prompts to generate new material. As the fall semester progresses, we will begin to workshop student writing in class in addition to discussing published work. Students will be expected to write (and rewrite) with passion and vigor, turning in a new first draft each week. At the end of each semester, students will turn in a portfolio of poems, as well as a packet of revisions, so that we can chart the evolution of each poem. Students will also write a five-page paper each semester, comparing two poets from the syllabus. If you want to read (and think about) poetry, be part of a community of writers, and write (and rewrite) your own poems and grow, then this will be a good class for you. This class will alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small group activities, including writing workshops, screenings, and field trips.

Faculty

The Enemies of Fiction: A Fiction-Writing Workshop

Open, Seminar—Year

The late novelist John Hawkes said that he began writing fiction with the assumption that its “true enemies” were “plot, character, setting, and theme.” This same quartet seems to dominate the conversation in writing workshops. We like to “vote” on the plot’s efficiency, the theme’s effectiveness, the characters’ foibles. If we are not careful, our discussions can descend to the level of a corporate focus group, a highly effective forum for marketing laundry detergents but maybe not for making art. This yearlong workshop will attempt, in its own small way, to see the fiction of both published masters and participating students through a wider lens. In the first semester, we will read a wide range of styles and aesthetics and will write in response to weekly prompts designed to encourage play. Issues of language, structure, and vision will be honored right alongside Hawkes’ imagined enemies. In the second semester—provided all goes well—each student will workshop two stories. Our reading list will include several short and unorthodox novels (possibilities include Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, Concrete by Thomas Bernhard, and The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector) and weekly short stories by writers both well-known or ignored. These writers may include Robert Coover, Dawn Raffel, Etgar Keret, Julio Cortazar, Ottessa Moshfegh, Donald Barthelme, Harlan Ellison, and Carmen Maria Machado. We will also regularly read essays that challenge us to think about what art is and why anyone would want to make it. I am looking for generous students interested in fiction-as-play. The model here is counterpoint; so it may help if you have already taken a fiction-writing workshop, though the course is offered (generously) to writers of all backgrounds.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop: From the Basics to the Sublime

Open, Seminar—Year

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. In this yearlong workshop, 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. Our course will investigate the craft of fiction through readings, discussion, and numerous exercises. In the second semester, we move on to explore dream narratives, the sublime, the absurd, and the fantastic. We study a democratically chosen novel and, possibly, graphic fiction and a film. Our objective is for you to write, revise, and workshop at least one fully developed story each semester.

Faculty

Fiction Workshop: The Short Story

Open, Seminar—Year

Frank O’Connor claims that the short story is a form characterized not by its length but by its subject matter—by its habitual interest in 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. In this yearlong course, we will begin with O’Connor’s description and then move on to examine canonical, as well as contemporary, examples of the form in the hopes of generating a portfolio of stories about a “submerged population group” of our own. Our readings may include Edward P. Jones, Raymond Carver, James Alan Macpherson, Grace Paley, Alice Munro, Denis Johnson, Junot Diaz, George Saunders, Lydia Davis, Sherman Alexie, and Charles Baxter, among many others. We will divide our time between reading published works and examining each other’s efforts through workshops, critical and generative writing exercises, and one-on-one conferences. The fall semester’s reading will be taken from an anthology, so as to give students a survey of the form’s depth and breadth; in the spring semester, we will examine single-author short-story collections. Throughout, we will ask questions not only about craft and technique in short-story writing but also larger questions about the form itself and the traditions in which short-story writers are all necessarily enmeshed.

Faculty

The Rules—and How to Break Them

Open, Seminar—Fall

The first part of this class will be modeled after a graduate-level Craft of Fiction class. How do we create embodied characters? What is at stake in our stories? What makes dialogue believable? What makes an ending resonate? How do we build cohesive worlds? And how do we build literary vernaculars that reflect our visions? We will examine and discuss generally accepted, contemporary rules for writing fiction. Then, we’ll look at how some writers explode those rules—and see how we can exploit them in our own writing. The craft class will segue into a workshop in which we will discuss student work each week, using what we’ve learned about craft rules and rule-breaking. We’ll be reading work by authors such as Katherine Anne Porter, Anton Chekhov, Octavia Butler, Raymond Carver, Robert Lopez, D. Foy, Peter Markus, Samuel Beckett, Maurice Kilwein Guevara, Joy Williams, Barry Hannah, Denis Johnson, Renee Gladman, Elizabeth Crane, Shelly Jackson, Gary Lutz, and others.​

Faculty

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

Open, Seminar—Fall

The goal of this class is to start a revolution. We are currently in a robust audio industry, one that continues to do well even during this time of COVID-19. Even as audio thrives, however, there is a problem: The field is dominated by nonfiction. Our goal is to change that. In this class, students will learn to write and produce groundbreaking contemporary audio dramas and, eventually, attempt to sell them to a network. We will listen to works from venerable podcasts, such as Welcome to Night Vale, The Truth, Homecoming, Black Tapes, and Bright Sessions. We will also listen to audio fiction from collectives like Mermaid Palace that explicitly address identity and sexuality to challenge the status quo. And we will 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. Creators from Welcome to Night Vale, Mermaid Palace, Gimlet, Neon Hum, and Audible will join our discussions to talk about their stories and production processes. The class will also act as judges for The Best New Artist category for the 2020 Sarah Awards—the first international audio-fiction award in the United States. Throughout the semester, students will make works and create their own podcasts. At the end of the semester, students will pitch their fiction ideas to audio executives at Audible—and who knows, maybe land a deal!

Faculty

Fiction Workshop: The Kids Are All Right

Open, Seminar—Fall

This workshop will focus on developing and sharpening stories with adolescent protagonists. The course will strive to answer the questions: How does one write teenage characters with an authentic voice? How do we channel the angst of our youth to craft honest, true-to-life narratives? And how can we capture on the page the sheer bigness of first experiences without pandering? The texts to which we will return in this course will vary across disciplines in order for us to better understand the nature of stories about young people and the ways in which they manifest themselves based on era, medium, and intended audience. This workshop will be grounded in empathy; and all critiques, discussions, and feedback will reflect that ethos. Readings for workshop and conference will include: Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Shatter Me by Taherah Mafi, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid, and “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere” by ZZ Packer, among others.

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. In this semester-long workshop, 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

Reading and Writing Fiction

Open, Seminar—Fall

This semester-long course in writing fiction and the practice of learning to read as a writer will be a class that demands serious daily attention to the practice of writing and revision. Full attention will be given to the short story in all of its possibilities. Weekly writing experiments and weekly close reading of published short stories will be assigned, as well as occasional craft essays. We will break down the writing process of a single short story so that, week by week, students move from what makes a strong first sentence to first paragraph and onward to a workshopped first draft, revision, and final revision. In our reading, we will feature the work of writers who have taught, currently teach, or have emerged from the Sarah Lawrence writing program. Included among them will be the work of Grace Paley, A. M Holmes, Nicole Dennis Benn, Allan Gurganus, Ann Patchett, Clay Mcleod Chapman, and Carolyn Ferrell, as well as many others.

Faculty

Writing Workshop

Open, Seminar—Spring

Teachers run workshops, but students determine the content of the workshops and the tenor of their discourse. That’s because stories can pursue either personal concerns or public issues. Stories may be psychological or philosophical. A few emerge from history, others from science. Though nearly every academic discipline can be represented within fiction, M. H. Abrams famously divided the arts into two categories: those that aim to replicate the world by using a mirror and those that aim to illuminate the world by using a lamp. So amidst a complex range of subjects and perspectives, how is fiction approached in this class? It’s simple. You write. I read. We talk.

Faculty

The Transformation Process: Memoir and Fiction

Open, Seminar—Spring

How do we, as writers, take our lived experiences and transform them into fiction? The novelist Janet Frame observed that “putting it all down as it happens is not fiction; there must be the journey by oneself, the changing of the light focused upon the material, the willingness of the author herself to live within that light…the real shape, the first shape, is always a circle formed, only to be broken and reformed, again and again.” The purpose of this course is to explore the ways in which memoir and fiction work together to tell the most deeply felt, emotionally honest, and resonant story possible. We’ll look at both the fiction and the nonfiction of writers that may include Andre Dubus III, Tobias Wolff, Lynda Barry, Edward P. Jones, and Sandra Cisneros. The class will be led as a fiction workshop, although there will be some opportunity to explore biography through occasional writing exercises. The workshop will be divided between the discussion of student stories and the discussion of published literature (which will include essays on writing craft). Students are required to do additional conference reading, as well as to attend at least two campus readings per semester. From the start, we will work on developing our constructive criticism which, when developed in a supportive atmosphere, should help us better understand our own creative writing.

Faculty

The Episode: A Course in Connections

Open, Seminar—Spring

This will be a course in the episode, a flexible way of putting together content—fictional or nonfictional—in this world or another. The episodes that we know best are streamed online. We also read them, often without noticing their form. They are different from chapters or short stories. We will start by introducing each other to our favorites. Then we will do enough exercises to catch ourselves doing something right and continue until we have six episodes that connect, not necessarily conventionally. These will be supported and critiqued in small groups, while weekly exercises get presented to everyone. This course is a sneaky way to get people to write and revise something long over time. Students can write fiction or nonfiction, for adults or children, and include poetry, songs, or drawings in their work. 

Faculty

Fiction Workshop: Native Speakers: The Art of Voice in Fiction

Open, Seminar—Spring

This workshop examines the art of voice in fiction. We will begin with a proposition: that the measure of any fictional voice’s power has little to do with who the writer is but more to do with what a writer does on the page and that the power of a “voice” begins and ends in language. What do we mean when we talk about a convincing “voice” in fiction? What are its hallmarks? Whose voice (or voices) do we hear? In what ways might all writing be said to be in possession of a voice—not just those we typically associate with the term? And how might these questions be complicated or enriched by other questions about identity, authority, and “authenticity”? Students will not be expected to “find their voice”; rather, students will be asked to think about “voice” as something crafted through language in order to tell a story. We will examine some classic and contemporary “voices” in fiction in order to try to understand how they work. Through a series of short writing exercises, students will experiment with “voice” in their own writing. And finally, students will produce two works of short fiction—developed through one-on-one conferences—to present to the class for workshop and to revise for their final portfolio as their conference project.

Faculty

The Source of Stories: Writing From Your Own Experience and Beyond

Open, Seminar—Spring

The novelist John Berger once said that writers draw their material from three sources: experience, witness, and imagination. The goal of this mixed-genre workshop, which will focus on the short story, personal essay, and memoir, is for the emerging writer to find and develop his or her own subject matter. Students will be asked to explore the raw material of their lives, adding the mix of witness (what we have seen or been told) and what we invent. We begin with an assignment, based on Joe Brainard’s book, I Remember. Students make their own lists of memories of childhood and adolescence. We will turn these lists into anecdotes and scenes and eventually into stories. Students will also begin a list called “I Imagine” and, in this assignment, we will explore family lore and stories they have heard from others or perhaps even drawing from newspaper accounts. We will look at writers who have delved into their own subject matter in both fiction and nonfiction—such as James Baldwin, Sandra Cisneros, Tim O’Brien, Virginia Woolf, Paul Auster, and Lorrie Moore—and discuss the various issues posed in each form. Students will be given assignments intended to evoke subject matter in both genres; for example, a piece of family lore might become a short essay or a work of fiction. Students will write short stories, essays, and memoir and learn to move freely from one genre to the next, attempting to reimagine their material in different forms. The emphasis will be on voice and narrative, both of which are essential for good fiction and nonfiction. We will also spend a good deal of time learning what it means to write a scene. This is a class for any student who wants to explore the material that becomes the subject matter of stories.

Faculty

Intensive Semester in Yonkers: From the Known to the Unknown: Getting to Know the World Through Writing

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Students may take this course individually or apply to participate in the Intensive Semester in Yonkers.

This course is open for interviews and registration. Please visit Intensive Semester in Yonkers on MySLC for program information and application.

We will begin the semester by writing about the familiar—how it becomes beloved, despised, forgotten, lived within. We will explore how we experience the familiar at different ages while we take notes on the new, using words, photographs and sketches at our sites, on bus rides and walks, and in restaurants, parks, and churches. We will move from writing about the known to writing about how we get familiar with the new. We will pick five or more pieces to finish, revise, and edit for conference work and make chapbooks, using sketches and photographs to illuminate the world of our words. We will read other people’s explorations of their worlds, known and new, in an anthology that includes these writers, graphic novelists, and oral tale tellers: Dominican-American Junot Diaz, Iranian Marjane Satrapi, Malaysian Lat, Russian Isaac Babel, Italian Natalia Ginsberg, The Arabian Nights, African American folk tales, and poems from three languages—both ancient and modern.

Faculty

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

Intermediate, 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 Octavia 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

After Nature: On Writing the Environment

Open, Seminar—Year

In 2005, the philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term “solastalgia,” or melancholy and anxiety caused by climate change, a word that’s broken up into three elements: “solas” comes from the English “solace,” which comes from the Latin “solari,” meaning comfort in the face of distress. But the term also references “desolation,” from the Latin solus and desolare, connoting abandonment and loneliness. Then there is “algia,” from the Greek root -algia, meaning suffering or pain. In this yearlong writing seminar and workshop, we will read beautiful and devastating meditations on history and nature in an attempt to write through our melancholy, loneliness, and distress with climate change. These essays about ecology will be, in many ways, elegies to the pastoral and will think through the specificities of landscape, time, and our relationships and kinships with the nonhuman. Students will keep specific notebooks and conduct fieldwork about paying attention to plants, animals, weather, and place, culminating in their own essays, memoirs, and experimental prose pieces. The project is for our reading and writing to somehow counter, but also work through, despair with radical hope and imagination.

Faculty

Nonfiction Workshop: To Tell the Truth

Open, Seminar—Fall

This class will explore the mysteries of reading and writing what has been called “nonfiction,” focusing 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 or a reader and a drafted or published sentence? Is it possible to identify a lie in print? When you write, is it possible to lie less? What does a writer’s voice sound like when it’s lying? Is it possible to “tell the truth”? In conference, we’ll discuss your reading, your research, and your drafts; in class, we’ll discuss readings—likely to include the work of James Baldwin, Teju Cole, Dionne Brand, James Bamford, June Jordan, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alexander Chee—in light of the questions above as a way of guiding our own makings. You will be expected to attend class, engage with assigned and suggested readings, participate in discussions (maybe more actively than usual; see note, below), and write 15 pages of publishable nonfiction. The only prerequisites are a passion for reading that equals your passion for writing, the courage to give up spectatorhood for active participation, and a willingness to undertake whatever might be necessary to read and write better on our last day of class than on our first. NOTE re spectatorhood: In our world of screens, it can be easy to think of an education as something you watch vs. something you do. To try to avoid this, I’ve decided to decrease the number of pages I’m asking you to read and increase the number of minutes I expect you to discuss them. In most classes, I’ll ask you to talk with me for 10 minutes or so, with classmates chipping in or not, about your thinking in relation to what we’ve all read. This will mean substantially more than throwing in a brief comment or listening attentively, although both of those are still important. This will be done with respect and care; but if you know that it will be excrusiating or impossible to talk for 10 minutes in a row about what you think, this class may not be the right one for you.

Faculty

Writing About the Arts

Open, Seminar—Fall

This class will examine and produce a range of work—from the journalistic to the critical, from the practical to the mystical—in the vast landscape of arts writing. We will write liner notes, catalogue copy for gallery shows, short reviews, long reviews, critical essays, and deep and subjective interior meditations on our experience of artists and their work. We will read broadly across time—possibly including, but not limited to, Samuel Johnson on Richard Savage, Wordsworth and Coleridge on themselves, Nietzsche on Wagner, Amiri Baraka on Billie Holiday, Virginia Woolf on Thomas Hardy, Thomas De Quincey on Shakespeare, James Baldwin on Richard Wright, Glenn Gould on Barbra Streisand. Mark Strand on Edward Hopper, Jean-Luc Godard on Nicholas Ray, Pauline Kael on Sam Peckinpah. Students should feel confident in their familiarity with one or two art forms, broadly understood, and should expect, along with the reading, to write several small and two large (8-12 pages) pieces. Conference work will comprise research projects on those artists or works of art, or both, that class members, in consultation with the instructor, decide are their special province.

Faculty

Nonfiction Workshop: Reading and Writing Personal Essays

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course will be divided into three units, each of which will involve reading published essays and writing our own. In the first unit, People You Know, students will write personal narratives involving people in their lives and will read, as models, published examples of such works; e.g., Phillip Lopate’s portrait of his family in the essay “Willy.” In the second unit, 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 James Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village” and Annie Dillard’s “Aces and Eights.” The third unit, The Personal in the Critical/Journalistic, or PCJ, involves work that combines personal reflection with consideration of an outside subject; e.g., a favorite movie or an event like 9/11. The interaction of the personal and the outside subject yields a third element, an insight that would not be possible without the first two elements; e.g., Jonathan Lethem’s personal essay about the movie The Searchers.

Faculty

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

Open, Seminar—Spring

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 stories, using the actual “call for stories” from studios and shows like This American Life, Radiolab, and 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; and 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, such as: 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 is “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 from 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 part of their conference work. Most readings will be found in The Next American Essay, edited by John D’Agata, and in a photocopied handout; but students will also read and discuss Alejandro Zambra’s genre-defying Multiple Choice.

Faculty

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 that 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.

Faculty

Experiments With Truth

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Spring

Nonfiction writing is defined not by what it is but by what it is not. It is not fiction. But what it is not comprehends a vast territory. We will spend the semester looking at the more unusual, experimental, and lyrical inhabitants of this territory: personal essays masquerading as anthropological studies or paleontological meditations or political screeds, blog posts from medieval Japan and Renaissance France, diaries, poems in the form of diary entries, essays masquerading as poems, micro nonfictions, feuilletons, prose poems passing themselves off as travelogues, koans, sermons, speeches, prayers. We will read a variety of writers from the past (among, but not limited to, Sei Shonagon, Montaigne, Sir Thomas Browne, Wilde, Pessoa, Gandhi, Mandelstam, Elizabeth Bishop, V. S. Naipaul, and the unknown genius who wrote the Book of Job) and from the present (John D’Agata, Bhanu Kapil, Anne Carson, Jonathan Franzen). After the first few weeks, we will alternate week-by-week sessions discussing reading with sessions discussing student work. Conference work will comprise discussion of reading tailored to individual students and the equivalent of two large pieces of writing in whatever form student and instructor agree upon.

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Ecopoetry

Open, Seminar—Year

In this poetry class—a yearlong school of poetry and the living world—we will consider the great organism Gaia, of which we are a part. We will read and write poems every week. We will ask questions: When did we begin to think of nature as apart from us? Why did we begin to speak of the animals as if we are not also animals? What are the stories and myths that have determined our attitude toward what we are and what we believe? We will read some of these stories and myths (myths of creation; Eden, the lost garden). 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 to utterly contemporary poets writing right now. We will read books and articles that teach us about the other animals and living entities that we call plants and trees and planets and galaxies. Each student will research an aspect of the living world and teach the rest of us what they have learned. And we will write poems that incorporate that knowledge. We will read books of poems but also watch films, take field trips, and meet with each other outside of class in weekly poetry dates. 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 planetary emergency? Required for this class: intellectual curiosity, empathy, and a willingness to observe the world, to pay attention, and to write poetry that matters. 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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Hybrids of Poetry and Prose: A Multi-Genre Workshop

Open, Seminar—Fall

One of the exciting literary developments in recent years is the plethora of work that disrupts the notion of genre—writers such as Eula Biss, Jenny Offill, and Ben Lerner. In this workshop, we will read a book each week and consider architecture, diction, association, metaphor, and other issues of craft. Students will be required to bring in a new piece of writing each week and to occasionally write critical responses to the reading. This class will be a good fit for students who are comfortable reading 100-200 pages a week in addition to generating their own creative writing. For workshop, students may 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. 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. There will be some take-home writing prompts. For conference, students will work on their own hybrid projects. At the end of the semester, students will turn in a revised, final portfolio with at least two earlier drafts for each piece, as well as their hybrid project.

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Explorations in the Poetic Voice

Open, Seminar—Fall

Contemporary poets face a dazzling range of stylistic options. This course is designed to give you a grounding in the practice of modern poetics and to encourage you to innovate. We’ll look at imagery, point of view, tone of voice, meter, pacing, the poetic line, and stanza form. We’ll examine the artistic thinking behind free verse, the sonnet, the ghazal, haiku, and postmodern experimental idioms. We’ll study foundational masters like Gwendolyn Brooks and Elizabeth Bishop, contemporaries like Yusuf Komunyakaa and Terrance Hayes, and writers from radically different cultures. We’ll explore The Vintage Book of African American Poetry and The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, prose poems, fables, and song lyrics. We’ll discuss how to read poetry as practitioners, how to see and hear what’s on the page. The strong consistent focus will be on students’ own poems. Class members will be encouraged to find their own paths; reading assignments will be mainly individual. The class will be part humanistic workshop, part artistic community, part critical inquiry. Expect to write freely and read voraciously.

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Poetry Workshop: The Zuihitsu

Open, Seminar—Spring

“There is nothing like a zuihitsu,” Italo Calvino wrote, in Six Memos for the Following Millenium, “and its definition slips through our fingers. [Zuihitsu] is a classical Japanese genre that allows a series of styles, and everything can be constantly reshuffled and reordered in every conceivable way.” The name is derived from two Kanji: “at will” and “pen.” In this class, we’ll explore the zuihitsu as readers via three required texts—The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon and two versions of Narrow Road to the Interior, one by Basho and one by Kimiko Hahn—and as writers, using the materials of haiku, lists, interviews, dialogues, travelogues, monologues, maps, and poems of all varieties. Participants will be required to make an individual zuihitsu and to contribute to the making of a collective one. The only prerequisites are a desire to be challenged, a thirst for reading that equals your thirst for writing, and a willingness to undertake whatever labors might be necessary to read and write better on our last day of class than on our first.

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Poetry Workshop: Wearing a Mask: Persona Poems

Open, Seminar—Spring

When I state myself, as the representative of the verse, it does not mean me, but a supposed person.—Emily Dickinson, in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

For centuries, poets have spoken in the voices of other people. From the early Greeks to Shakespeare, from Walt Whitman to Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Robert Hayden, Lucille Clifton, Louise Gluck, Patricia Smith, Nick Flynn, Jorie Graham, Tyehimba Jess, etc. What is made possible when one speaks in the voice of a character that is not oneself? What is made possible when speaking through a character in an ancient story or myth? What is made possible when one gives voice to a character nothing like oneself? Who dares to speak in the voice of a flower? Of a bee? Of a storm? Of a star? What if one gives voice to the fragments of voices within one’s consciousness? In this class, we will read poems where the poet has spoken in a different tongue or worn the mask of someone else or of something else. Each participant will be expected to deeply read assigned collections each week, to meet with another student in a weekly poetry date, and to bring in one new persona poem each week. I hope we will find that outside the limits of the personal story is a cosmos of possibilities for empathy, revision, wonder, instruction, and finding another way in: slant.

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Poetry: On and Off the Page

Open, Seminar—Spring

We will read a book of poetry each week, a mix of work from the late 20th century as well as more recent texts. We will spend half of each class discussing the weekly reading and the other half of each class discussing student work. At the end of the semester, students will turn in a portfolio of poems—with at least two earlier drafts for each poem. In addition to the reading and writing for class, students will have two major conference projects. Before spring break, each student will theatrically present a poem by a dead poet. This is more than just memorizing and reciting a poem; this is knowing a poem so well that you can speak it—as if the words are springing from you. Later in the term, students will pick a location on campus and, then, theatrically present one of their own poems in that specific location. Both of these conference projects will require additional rehearsal time beyond class time.

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Composition

—Spring

Composition literally means placing materials (i.e., beings, both animate and inanimate), movements, actions, sounds, words, light, etc. with one another. Composition is the process of creating relationships, both between materials and within time and space. Various faculty members bring distinct approaches to the contemporary practice of artistic creation and composition. This course is taught in and through an embodied practice of dance, but the principles are universally applicable to any art form. Students will be asked to create and perform studies, direct one another, and share and discuss ideas and solutions with peers. Students are not required to make finished products but, rather, to involve themselves in the challenges and joys of rigorous play. This course is most appropriate for students who have already completed Beginning Improvisation.

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TBA

Time-Based Art

Open, Seminar—Year

This course is open to students with a broad range of interests and can function either as a component of a Performing Arts Third (in dance, music, or theatre) or as a two-credit stand-alone course.​

In this class, graduates and upperclass undergraduates with a special interest and experience in the creation of time-based artworks across various disciplines will design and develop individual creative projects. Students and faculty will meet weekly to view works-in-progress and discuss relevant artistic and practical problems, both in class and in conferences taking place the following afternoon. Attributes of the work across multiple disciplines of artistic endeavor will be discussed as integral and interdependent elements in the work. Participation in mentored, critical-response feedback sessions with your peers is a key aspect of the course. The engagement with the medium of time will be the sole constraint imposed on the students’ artistic proposals. While, typically, many of these works might include embodied action that could fall under the discipline of dance, this course is open to any student who is interested in cultivating discourse across traditional disciplinary artistic boundaries, both in the process of developing the works and in the context of presentation to the public. As such, the inclusion of live performers is not a requirement. If students plan on making works including dance and are living on or near campus, they will have access to the dance studios by booking time in advance and following social distancing and PPE requirements. At the completion of the fall 2020 semester, all student works will be exhibited virtually in screenings and/or postings in an online platform.​

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Landscapes in Translation

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Spring

This course investigates the multiple ways in which landscapes have been imagined, interpreted, physically shaped, and controlled in a variety of historical and contemporary sites. The literatures of environmental humanities, landscape design, and political ecology provide theory and cases. The first section, Cartographies, explores ideas of landscape in Euro-America, Southeast Asia, and colonial-era Africa. We examine how landscapes on a variety of scales, from “bioregions” to nations, are imagined, codified, and transformed through representational processes and material moves ranging from mapping to making walls. The second section, Visions, investigates how landscapes are imagined and embodied in fine arts and literature, as well as in garden and urban design. Readings draw on examples of landscape making and design in colonial New England, Indonesia, and other sites. We examine contemporary examples of landscape design in response to climate change, especially sea-level rise in the Netherlands, United States, Indonesia, and China. We also study reworkings of the urban landscape to integrate more productive, biologically diverse “fringes,” as well as rooftop farms and apiaries. The third section, Security-Scapes: Landscape Imaginaries and Embodiments, investigates the rise of “security-scapes” or “surveillance-scapes,” dating from slavery in the United States to the Department of Homeland Security in the post-9/11 era. Contemporary urban-design imaginaries and plans for “resilience” and “smart cities” are investigated. We draw upon websites, advertisements, and new scholarship in security studies, landscape design, and critical political theory. This course is open to students with developed skills in critical thinking and the analysis of texts and other representational forms.

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Film and Television: Screen Story Narrative Structure

Open, Lecture—Spring

This lecture will explore and demystify screenwriting for contemporary feature films, television series, and hybrids, which are indeed the blueprints for the ubiquitous programming that has exploded across the myriad platforms and venues in the world of screened entertainment. Through screenings of films and TV shows—coupled with the reading and analysis of attendant screenplays, teleplays, and television pilots—as well as assigned readings on structural theory for the screen, we will delve into the divergence and convergence of screenwriting across a variety of media. We will ask: What is a feature film? What is a feature-quality movie that is premiered on one of the ubiquitous streaming platforms (that seem to proliferate daily)? Is it a TV film? Or a feature on TV? Rather than a TV series, is this material really a nine-hour movie? Or is it a three-hour TV series? How does story structure unfold in the feature-film realm and the television realm? How do the structures in film and TV differ—or do they? How does character intersect with structure? Cinema language, dramatic theory, screen dramaturgy, practical screenplay style/format, and cinematic and TV story structures will be plumbed, including sequencing, episodic, three-act, four-act, seven-act, teleplay, and the so-called character-driven form. This course is for students who love film and television and wish to understand the varied elements that create the narratives to which we are drawn. It is useful for emerging screenwriters, directors, storytellers, fiction writers and playwrights, and anyone who finds themselves laser-focused on a screen—be it a 70mm film image on an Imax® theatre screen or a digital video image on a 136mm iPhone®. The course format will include a combined weekly screening with a lecture, as well as biweekly group conferences.

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Advanced Projects in Writing for the Screen

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

This class is for the serious, advanced screenwriter. Consideration for entry requires a writer’s statement about the project(s) you wish to pursue, a list of courses taken, and screenwriting experience, as well as a five-page screenwriting sample. The class will be devoted to conceptualizing/reconceptualizing, developing/redeveloping and structuring/restructuring your project, naturally depending upon your starting point. The class will then be devoted to completing a first draft and polishing the project. For those choosing to focus exclusively on short-form work, the expectation may include an additional short screenplay or an outline for another future script. The seminar, workshop, and conference structure will be devoted to this overall process. The candidate’s writer’s statement, list of courses taken, and experience, as well as the five-page screenwriting sample, must be emailed in advance of any interview to fstrype@sarahlawrence.edu, at which point an interview will be scheduled between instructor and student.

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Introduction to Television Writing: Writing the Spec Script

Open, Seminar—Spring

The fundamental skill of 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 traditional component of your application for important career development fellowships and for your portfolio for agents, managers, show runners, and producers—is to draft a sample episode of a preexisting 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 those skills by taking them, step-by-step, through writing their own spec (sample) script for a currently airing American television series. The course will take students from premise lines through the beat sheet, then outline, to writing a complete draft of a full teleplay for a currently airing show (no original pilots). The class collectively decides a handful of shows on which to work. All work will be based on that handful of shows, which will include comedies, dramas, and animated shows originating on broadcast, cable, and streaming platforms. If this course is held remotely, it will be taught live, synchronous, via Zoom or similar platform.

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Screenwriting Within the Lines

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Previous study in screenwriting is expected.

The landscape for the screenwriter has dramatically changed during the past several years with new opportunities to write producible short films, YouTube® sketches, and web series seen by millions of viewers, as well as long-form “films” or “movies” initially conceived for, and destined for, the “silver screen”—a screen that is seemingly changing in color, size, and setting on a daily basis. The disarray of the current film and television industry has created both confusion and opportunity. Nevertheless, the baseline expectation in the contemporary narrative “screen form” of storytelling still remains: It is the expression of a character or characters progressing through a structured journey or series thereof. Elemental to this process is having your audience believe your characters, believe the universe that they inhabit, and find “truth” in the screen story that you’ve created. In life and in film, we laugh, we cry, we cringe, we shield our eyes, and we stare in wonder when we see and feel the truth. It’s ironic that in our quest to create dramatic fiction, we must actually “tell the truth.” Designed for the emerging contemporary screenwriter and director, this course includes opportunities for those creating a new idea; adapting original material into the screenplay form; rewriting a screenplay, teleplay or web series; or finishing a screenplay-in-progress destined for whatever screen or screens the writer aims to assail. A review of screenwriting fundamentals during the first few weeks, as well as a discussion of the state of each project, will be followed by an intense online screenwriting workshop experience. Published screenplays, several useful texts, and clips of films, television series and web series will form a body of examples to help concretize aspects of the art and craft. There will also be individual, one-on-one, on-line conferences with the professor. Students must have access to a reliable internet connection, a computer with a web-cam, and the ability to use a designated online learning management system (TBA).

 

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Beginning German

Open, Seminar—Year

This course concentrates on the study of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation in order to secure the basic tools of the German language. In addition to offering an introduction, classroom activities and the production of short compositions promote oral and written communication. This class will meet three times (90 minutes) per week, twice with Dr. Dollinger and once with Ms. Mizelle, who will also meet with students individually or in small groups for an extra conference. Course materials include the textbook, Neue Horizonte (8th edition), along with the workbook and a graded German reader. We will cover about 10 chapters from the textbook—all of the basic grammar and vocabulary that students will need to know in order to advance to the next level. There will be short written tests at the end of each chapter. Students will also be introduced to contemporary German culture through authentic materials from newspapers, television, radio, or the internet.

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Beginning Italian: Viaggio in Italia

Open, Seminar—Year

This course, for students with no previous knowledge of Italian, aims at giving the student a complete foundation in the Italian language with particular attention to oral and written communication and to all aspects of Italian culture. The course will be conducted in Italian after the first month and will involve the study of all basic structures of the language—phonological, grammatical, and syntactical—with practice in conversation, reading, composition, and translation. In addition to material covering basic Italian grammar, students will be exposed to fiction, poetry, songs, articles, recipe books, and films. Group conference (held once a week) aims at enriching the students’ knowledge of Italian culture and developing their ability to communicate, which will be achieved through readings that deal with current events and topics relative to today’s Italian culture. Activities in pairs or groups, along with short written assignments, will be part of the group conference. In addition to class and group conference, the course has a conversation component in regular workshops with the language assistant. Conversation classes are held twice a week (in small groups) and will center on the concept of viaggio in Italia, a journey through the regions of Italy through cuisine, cinema, art, opera, and dialects. The Italian program organizes trips to the Metropolitan Opera and to relevant exhibits in New York, as well as offering the possibility to experience firsthand Italian cuisine as a group. By the end of this yearlong course, students will attain a basic competence in all aspects of the language.

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Intermediate Italian: Modern Italian Culture and Literature

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This intermediate-level course aims at improving and perfecting the students’ speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills, as well as their knowledge of Italy’s contemporary culture and literature. In order to acquire the necessary knowledge of Italian grammar, idiomatic expressions, and vocabulary, a review of all grammar will be carried out throughout the year. As an introduction to modern Italian culture and literature, students will be introduced to a selection of short stories, poems, and passages from novels, as well as specific newspaper articles, music, and films in the original language. Some of the literary works will include selections from Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, Natalia Ginzburg, Gianni Rodari, Marcello D’Orta, Clara Sereni, Dino Buzzati, Stefano Benni, Antonio Tabucchi, Alberto Moravia, Achille Campanile, and Elena Ferrante. In order to address the students’ writing skills, written compositions will be required as an integral part of the course. All material is accessible on MySLC. Conferences are held on a biweekly basis; topics might include the study of a particular author, literary text, film, or any other aspect of Italian society and culture that might be of interest to the student. Conversation classes (in small groups) will be held twice a week with the language assistant, during which students will have the opportunity to reinforce what they have learned in class and hone their ability to communicate in Italian. When appropriate, students will be directed to specific internship opportunities in the New York area centered on Italian language and culture.

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Beginning Latin

Open, Seminar—Year

This course provides an intensive introduction to Latin grammar, syntax, and vocabulary with a view toward reading the language as soon as possible. Close reading of Vergil’s Aeneid in English will accompany intensive language study in the fall. By mid-semester, students will be translating authentic excerpts of Latin poetry and prose. During the spring semester, while continuing to develop and refine their knowledge of Latin grammar and vocabulary, students will read selections from the Aeneid in Latin.

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First-Year Studies: Mythology in Literature

Open, FYS—Year

In this course, we will define myths, broadly, as recurring narrative energy fields of great intensity and durability that supply cultures and persons with universal patterns by which to reflect on their origins and destinies. We will consider ways in which writers, primarily in Western literary traditions, have used certain mythic patterns—odysseys in the first term and metamorphoses in the second term—to explore their questions and concerns about the operations of the cosmos and the psyche, history, and morality. Those patterns provide both archetypal structures for the articulation of plot and tropes for the implication of meaning in literary texts. We will proceed chronologically through texts from ancient, through medieval and Renaissance, to Romantic and contemporary periods. Tracking the same narrative pattern through this sequence of literary periods will provide us with insights into the way in which literature represents changing understandings of the way the world is structured and the way that the human mind and human culture engage with it. 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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Shakespeare and the Semiotics of Performance

Open, Lecture—Year

The performance of a play is a complex cultural event that involves far more than the literary text upon which it is grounded. First, there is the theatre itself, a building of a certain shape and utility within a certain neighborhood of a certain city. On stage, we have actors and their training, gesture, staging, music, dance, costumes, possibly scenery and lighting. Offstage, we have the audience, its makeup, and its reactions; the people who run the theatre and the reasons why they do it; and finally the social milieu in which the theatre exists. In this course, we study all of these elements as a system of signs that convey meaning (semiotics)—a world of meaning whose lifespan is a few hours but whose significances are ageless. The plays of Shakespeare are our texts. Reconstructing the performances of those plays in the England of Elizabeth I and James I is our starting place. Seeing how those plays have been approached and re-envisioned over the centuries is our journey. Tracing their elusive meanings—from within Shakespeare’s Wooden O to their adaptation in contemporary film—is our work.

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Reading High Romantic Poetry (Blake to Keats)

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

This course focuses on the interpretation and appreciation of the most influential lyric poetry written in English in the tumultuous decades between the French Revolution and the Great Reform Bill of 1832. Over the course of two generations, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats invented a new kind of autobiographical poem that largely internalized the myths that they had inherited from literary and religious traditions. The poet’s inward, subjective experience became the inescapable subject of the poem—a legacy that continues to this day. We will be exploring ways in which the English Romantic poets responded to the political impasse of their historical moment and created poems out of their arguments with themselves, as well as their arguments with one another. Our preeminent goal will be to appreciate each poem’s unique contribution to the language.

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Japanese Literature: Translations, Adaptations, and Visual Storytelling

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

No previous background in Japanese studies, literature, art history, or film history is required for this course.

This lecture course is an introduction to Japanese literature from the 10th century to contemporary fiction, and we will explore the connections between and among literary texts, translations, and visual adaptations—paintings, hand scrolls, performing arts, film, and manga. We will read selected works of Japanese literature in English translation(s), including early Japanese tales such as The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, The Tale of Genji, Life of an Amorous Woman, and modern novels and short stories by writers such as Shimazaki Toson, Hayashi Fumiko, Ota Yoko, Nakagami Kenji, and Murakami Haruki. With each text, we will examine other texts that are in conversation with these literary works and explore the content and forms of those conversations. In addition to the lectures, there will be weekly group conferences and regularly scheduled film screenings throughout the semester.

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Epic Vision and Tradition

Open, Seminar—Year

The epic is a monumental literary form that is an index to the depth and richness of a culture and the ultimate test of a tale-teller’s creative power. Encyclopedic in its inclusiveness, epic reflects a culture’s origins and projects its destiny, giving definitive form to its vital mythology and problematically asserting and questioning its formative values. This course on the emergence and development of the epic genre, from its oral origins to its modern and postmodern manifestations, will be organized around four central purposes. First, we will study the major structural, stylistic, and thematic features of each epic. Second, we will consider the cultural significance of the epic as the collective or heroic memory of a people. Third, we will examine how each bard weaves an inspired, yet troubled, image of visionary selfhood into the cultural and historical themes of the poem. Fourth, we will notice how the epic form changes shape under changing cultural and historical circumstances and measure the degree to which the influence of epic tradition becomes a resource for literary and cultural power.

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Literature in Translation: 20th-Century Italian Literature and Culture

Open, Seminar—Year

The course will explore 20th-century Italian literature, focusing on important intellectuals, works, and movements that helped shape it and their connection with the arts, cinema, and society at large. Italy had become a unified nation by 1860, and its literature addressed issues such as (national and personal) identity, tradition, innovation and modernity, the role of literature and of the writer, and the changing role of women in Italian society. We will also explore the interrelation between Italian literature and crucial historical events such as the Great War, the rise and fall of fascism, World War II, the Resistance, the birth of the republic, the postwar economic boom, the students’ and women’s movements of the 1960s and ’70s, and the terrorism of the “Anni di Piombo.” Among the authors and intellectuals we will explore are: Sibilla Aleramo for her literary treatment of the issue of female emancipation at the beginning of the century; Luigi Pirandello and his work as a novelist and playwright; Gabriele D’Annunzio as a poet, playwright, and novelist but also a war hero and politician; F. T. Marinetti, whose futurist manifestos and literary works reflected his desire to renew Italian art, literature, and culture in general; B. Mussolini’s fascist regime, its dictates, and their influence on propaganda literature and cinema; Ignazio Silone’s novels on the fascist era; Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist cinema; Italo Calvino’s, Beppe Fenoglio’s, and Elio Vittorini’s literature of the Resistance; Primo Levi’s depiction of the Holocaust; and influential women writers such as Anna Banti, Natalia Ginzburg, Elsa Morante, and Dacia Maraini. Readings will be supplemented by secondary source material that will help outline the social, historical, and political context in which these authors lived and wrote, as well as provide a relevant critical framework for the study of their works. On occasion, we will watch films that are relevant to the topics and period in question. No previous knowledge of Italian is required. Students proficient in Italian may opt to read sources in the original language and write their conference projects in Italian. Conference topics may include the study of a particular author, literary text, or topic relevant to the course and that might be of interest to the student.

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Bardo of Everyday Life: Decolonizing Travel Writing

Open, Seminar—Fall

Travel writing has an inglorious past that traverses the history of European colonialism yet continues to be reinvented anew as our ways of traveling (both physically and in mediated ways) evolve and proliferate. At the heart of the question of travel may lie a more fundamental question about how we conceptualize the relationship of here and there. In this course, we will explore our relationship to home, place, thresholds, borders, unknown parts. How do we map our worlds? How do we experience proximity and distance? What are the pathways that we take in a day, a month, a year, or over longer durations? How do our inner compass, our bodily configurations, and external milieus align or misalign at different points of our lives? How do we measure safety, intimacy, belonging, exclusion? What is shared experience, and what is fantasy? How do our own individual temperaments meet local social parameters and global spectacles of dwelling? And how do we endure the no-man’s land of the bardo as it appears in countless uncertain, liminal, in-between moments of everyday life? Through a series of writing projects, we will explore these kinds of questions in our diverse individual environments and, perhaps, discover our own unique ways of renouncing territory for the vividness of bardo experience.

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Interrogating God: Tragedy and Divinity

Open, Seminar—Fall

The Greek gods attended the performances at the ancient theater of Dionysos, which both recognized and challenged their participation in human affairs. The immediacy of divine presence enabled a civic body, the city, to enter into conversation with a cosmic one, a conversation whose subject was a shared story about the nature of experience and its possible significance: tragedy. Divinity is less congenial about playgoing in later periods, but it seems to have lent tragedy both a power to be reborn and a determination to address the universe even as Christianity, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Industrial Age reimagine it. In this course, we shall read essential Western texts in which the constant of human suffering is confronted and the gods are called into question even as they shift their shape. Among our authors are Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Goethe, Byron, Ibsen, Beckett, Susan Glaspell, and August Wilson.

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The World According to Ariyoshi Sawako

Open, Seminar—Fall

No previous background in Japanese studies or literature is required for this course.

In this seminar, we will read a variety of works by Ariyoshi Sawako (1931-1984), one of Japan’s most talented storytellers in the last century. Ariyoshi’s novels vividly portray the lives of women in different historical moments, such as the dancer Okuni, the originator of kabuki theatre, in Kabuki Dancer; the wife and mother of Hanako Seishu, the first surgeon to perform surgery using general anesthesia, in The Doctor’s Wife; and a mother, daughter, and granddaughter whose lives reflect changes in modern Japan in The River Ki. Many of Ariyoshi’s works also expose social issues, such as The Twilight Years, her immensely popular novel on the challenges of caring for aging parents, and Compound Pollution, her environmental novel that brought greater public attention to the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers and insecticides. Early in her writing career, Ariyoshi received a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to study at Sarah Lawrence College, and we will also consider how her experiences at Sarah Lawrence may have influenced the directions she took in her subsequent writing. Ariyoshi’s literature will provide us with a lens to consider various topics, such as Japanese performing arts, history, gender, social issues, and translation. In addition to these readings, we will view some film adaptations of Ariyoshi’s literary works.

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Theory for Reading

Open, Large seminar—Fall

In this introductory class, we will deepen our understanding of how the acts of writing and reading have been understood in the Western tradition since antiquity and what they mean for us today. Each week, we will pair a piece of fiction or poetry with a philosophical or theoretical commentary. We will thus read Homer in the context of Plato and Aristotle’s understanding of poetry and fiction but with also in mind Nietzsche’s criticism of Platonism in The Birth of Tragedy. In the same spirit, Walter Benjamin’s use of Marxist theory will help us read E. A. Poe’s fiction and Baudelaire’s poetry in the context of mid-19th century Paris. We will also discuss Shakespeare’s Hamlet in light of its psychoanalytical readings by Freud and Lacan and analyze Kafka’s Metamorphosis alongside Deleuze and Guattari’s theorization of marginal forms of writing. Feminist and gender theory with Beauvoir and Butler, linguistics with Barthes, works by Foucault and Baldwin will also be discussed. Students will be encouraged to apply the material of this course to other texts of their choice. There are no conferences associated with this seminar, but students will have the option of developing a small personal research project.

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Wilde and Shaw

Open, Seminar—Spring

Toward the end of the 19th century, Oscar Wilde stated repeatedly that he was “an Irishman”—and, therefore, beyond good and evil as defined by gentlemanly codes—while George Bernard Shaw deemed nationalistic allegiances absurd and (prophetically, given the wars of the 20th century) lethal. In their stances, we can begin to see how the complexities and paradoxes of Irish identity—ethnic marginalization, religious zeal (secularized), linguistic play, knowing laughter—informed their ultimate self-definition as citizens of the world and thereby enabled them to fashion distinctively challenging art. It is also no exaggeration to say that each left the English language not as he found it. Wilde’s life was short, and we shall read a good deal of his oeuvre: his fairy tales, his plays, his novel, much of his poetry, many of his essays. Shaw’s life was long, and we shall focus on his plays written before World War I, along with two brilliantly painful postwar works: Heartbreak House and Saint Joan. And, in both, we shall see how revolution can come disguised in conventional forms, as both playwrights transform drawing-room comedy into political commentary whose implications have yet to be resolved.

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Poetry and the Book

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Fall

Putting a book of poetry together is a difficult and complex task. The poet must consider not only the order of the poems but also the internal narrative of the book as a whole: how its constituent parts “speak” to each other; how key themes and patterns are developed and articulated; how to begin the book; and, even harder, how to end it. Yet, students often encounter poetry primarily through anthologies, with the result that first affiliations are fragmented and obscured. In this class, we take the opposite tack and explore the book of poetry as an event in itself. We read and discuss books by English-language poets across two centuries, from William Blake’s artisanal, hand-tinted works to Frank O’Hara’s portable “lunch poems.” How have individual writers sought to shape readers’ experiences through the patterning of content? What kinds of creative decisions—from cover to typeface—affect the appearance of a poetry book? What happens when a poet’s work is edited posthumously? Or when a book appears in multiple, evolving versions? How has the work of some poets intersected with visual art? Possible authors: Tonya Foster, William Blake, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, W.B. Yeats, Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, Frank O’Hara, Anne Carson, Harryette Mullen, and others.

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Archive of the Senses: Evoking Communities Through Perception

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Spring

This course is designed for students with some familiarity with working in a variety of media and who wish to explore them further in relationship to our local communities. Progressing through a series of projects involving all of the five sense perceptions and a variety of material and media, students will explore what it means to use everyday technologies today. Each project will ask students to explore the nature of sensation and of mediated experience. What happens to us when we capture our sensory perceptions? How do media technologies influence our perceptions of the world? How do other kinds of diverse knowledge, techniques, or know-how that exist in communities come into play in relation to digital apparatuses? During the course of the semester, students will have the opportunity to work with writing, sound, image, and procedural rhetoric as a way to experience public environments, as well as to represent individual and collective stories about them. Additionally, we will study a selection of media theories relating to a wider range of technological apparatuses inaccessible to our actual use (such as the electron scanning microscope or fiber-optic cable landing sites) in order to situate our projects within a larger, global framework. For qualified and dedicated students, course work may include volunteer work with a local community partnership.

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Emersonian Quartet: Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Stevens

Sophomore and above, Seminar—Spring

In an 1842 lecture, titled “The Poet,” Emerson complained that no American had yet emerged who could answer the legacy of Western literary tradition with original energy and native genius. Whitman would later remark that he had been “simmering, simmering, simmering” until Emerson’s injunctions brought him “to a boil.” The outcome was his sublime, democratic, homoerotic poetic sequence, “Song of Myself” (the “greatest piece of wit and wisdom yet produced by an American,” as Emerson immediately recognized). In unique but related ways, Dickinson, Frost, and Stevens also answered Emerson’s call. Like Whitman at the end of “Song of Myself,” their most inventive poems seem always out in front of us, waiting for us to arrive. We will do our best to catch up: to conceptualize and paraphrase their tropes while acknowledging the inevitable failure of merely discursive language to transmit a poem. Our central task will be to interpret and appreciate the poetry we encounter through close, imaginative reading, informed speculation, and an understanding of historical contexts.

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Nietzsche: The Philosophical Personality

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

What is my personality? What kind of personality is it? Do I have control over my personality? Is it something I am, or is it something I do? We will reflect on these questions with philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche as our guide. In one of his aphorisms, Nietzsche argued that the most important thing one can do is “give style” to his/her character. But what is “style” in this sense, and how does one “give” or develop it? In this course, Nietzsche will be our guide not only in terms of his ideas but also in terms of his example: his own “personality.” This does not simply mean his biography but, rather, his personality as it comes across and develops through his writing and his art. The course is, therefore, titled “philosophical personality”—the personality of a thinker and author. To this end, we will begin from Nietzsche’s earliest forays as a writer: his studies of Homer and Pre-Socratic philosophy and his groundbreaking theses on Greek tragedy. We will conclude by reading one of Nietzsche’s latest texts, his intellectual autobiography, Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is. Conference work should engage the guiding question of the course—What is personality, and how does it develop?—through a prism of the student’s choice: work/s of literature, art, psychology, or philosophy.

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Forms of Culture in the Information Age: Spanish for Advanced Beginners

Open, Seminar—Year

Course taught entirely in Spanish. All students should take the placement test prior to registration.

This course is designed for students who have taken Spanish before but need to review the essentials of grammar and develop effective communicative skills at a post-elementary level. The course will start with a thorough review of the basics of Spanish morphology and syntax. Vocabulary building will take place through an intensive program of readings that will include the study and analysis of poems, lyrics of songs, newspaper articles, short stories, and adapted novellas. The linguistic exploration of those materials will be complemented by the active exploitation of musical compositions, excerpts of scripts, and the viewing of films, as well as selected episodes of TV series. All forms and manifestations of culture originated all over the Spanish–speaking world—fashion, art, film, music, photography, theatre, science, politics, comics, video games, gastronomy, etc.—will be the objects of our attention. These and other forms of cultural expression will be incorporated into the course of study, as long as Spanish is their vehicle of expression. The syllabus will be complemented by contributions from students, who will be encouraged to locate materials suitable to be jointly exploited by the class as a whole. Weekly conversation sessions with the language assistant are a fundamental part of this course. Students will complete guided conference projects in small groups and also have access to individual meetings to address specific grammar topics.

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Literatures From the Spanish-Speaking World: The Novella

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

This seminar will focus on the analysis of some of the fundamental narrative works from the Spanish-speaking world, with a special emphasis on the novella and other forms of short fiction. In our approach, we will explore the multiple cultural and historical connections that have always linked the literary traditions of Latin America and Spain. Chronologically, the works under study will belong to several time periods. Our journey will start with the extraordinary explosion of narrative modes brought about by the authors of the so-called “boom” in the middle of the 20th century, when the contours of magical realism began to take shape and consolidate. Once we finish studying a number of masterpieces written in that mode, we will proceed to the next phase when new forms of expression emerged, studying the multiple connections of Spanish-language authors with world literature and culminating with the revolution brought about by women writers, whose transformation of the canon has crystallized in fascinating new forms of expression. We will finish the semester with an in-depth examination of the current state of affairs in the Spanish-language novel and its complex relationship with other literary traditions in a context of intense transnational, transatlantic, and transcontinental exchange. Works under study will include novellas and other forms of short fiction by María Luisa Bombal, Alejandra Pizarnik, Gabriel García Márquez, Juan Rulfo, Julio Cortázar, Roberto Bolaño, César Aira, Alejandro Zambra, Guadalupe Nettel, Cristina Rivera Garza, Roberto Artl, Horacio Quiroga, and Felisberto Hernández, among others.

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Advanced Interdisciplinary Studio: Our Nine Senses

Advanced, Seminar—Year

This course is intended for advanced visual-arts students interested in working across disciplines and in more deeply pursuing their own artmaking processes. Students making work in and across painting, drawing, sculpture, video, photography, sound, new genres, and performance are supported. Students will maintain their own studio spaces and will be expected to work independently and creatively and to challenge themselves and their peers to explore new ways of thinking and making. During the fall semester, students will be given open-ended, exploratory prompts based on nine human senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, balance, temperature, proprioception, and pain) from which they will be asked to experiment with how they make work and will be encouraged to work within new mediums. In the spring semester, students will focus exclusively on their own interests and will be expected to develop a sophisticated, cohesive body of independent work accompanied by two group exhibitions. We will have regular critiques, readings, image discussions, and trips to galleries and artists’ studios and will participate integrally within the Visual Arts Lecture Series. This will be an immersive studio course for disciplined art students interested in making work in an interdisciplinary environment.

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