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.

Writing 2021-2022 Courses

First-Year Studies: Writing Workshop

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

Some people say, “Can writing be taught?”—but what they really mean is, “Can inspiration be taught?” The answer is, as the skeptics smugly assume, “No.” Yet habits that help serve inspiration are within our control. Frankly, those habits are pretty simple. Here’s one for free: Don’t touch the “send” button until a manuscript is as good as you can make it. After you write it, read it. After you read it, revise it. Then do that again. And again. Until you vomit. Easy to say. Not so easy to do. You have to build strong literary muscles. There are dozens of similar principles that are not a matter of abstract knowledge but of specific practice. That’s why I don’t believe that students are empty vessels to be filled. Instead, I think of them as lumps of wet clay to be molded and fired by themselves—with the help of faculty—into whatever shape vessel they wish. If you enjoy story and enjoy language and have a hide as tough as a petrified rhinoceros, you might wish to take this class. We will have weekly conferences until October, then biweekly.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Two Lenses on Writing

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

The first semester of this FYS course will be focused on words and pictures, with its central lens on stories: how to find them, tell them, and make your listener, viewer, or reader come along with you. The course includes adding a visual element, photography, drawing, paste-ups, collage, animations, anime. We will read and then make a few of the following: a collective graphic novel, some children's books, adult books with pictures, illuminated manuscripts, comics. Your conference work will be a finished version of a project of your choice. The second semester of the course will be a class in episodes: pieces of a continuing story that follow a thread but may have different leading characters in each episode; or a frame, with many peoples' stories inside; or movement from one time, place, and set of characters to another. We will bring in and discuss episodes that we love in books, TV, podcasts. We will do exercises until we come upon something that engages us and then start our conference work, which will involve six episodes, more or less. In both semesters, we will have an extra meeting every other week to discuss whatever comes up: paper writing, social issues, food, procrastination. These sessions may be led by the professor, outside speakers, or a rotating group of students.

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First-Year Studies: Poetic Form/Forming Poetry

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

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, 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, 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 utilize in-class writing exercises and prompts. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet every other week.

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First-Year Studies: Fiction: A User’s Guide

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

Many students enter college as avid readers and writers, but their understanding of what fiction is—its range and possibilities—will greatly expand during these undergraduate years. This FYS writing workshop is designed to both invite and fast-track that experience by exposing students to fiction’s aesthetic diversity and the myriad ways it can enchant, enlighten, and unsettle us—without privileging any single approach. To that end, we will read everything from the psychological realism of Anton Chekhov and Jhumpa Lahiri, to the eerie expressionism of Franz Kafka and Haruki Murakami, to the funhouse narratives of Donald Barthelme and Angela Carter, to the genre-bending work of Brian Evenson and Kelly Link. We will not only explore the logic behind stories but also analyze their construction: the way point-of-view decisions steer us through a work of fiction, the way meaningful patterns drive us deeper, and the way sentence-level choices engineer a story’s lasting effect. But the course—a “user’s guide,” after all—is as much about writing as it is about reading. Students will bring what they are learning to their own work, initially by responding to weekly writing prompts and later by sharing several longer pieces with their classmates during focused peer-critique sessions. Students are encouraged to play on the page, as we build a community determined to seek out the borders of fiction. The class will culminate in a final portfolio, giving students the opportunity to collect, arrange, and reflect upon the diverse work that they have created over the course of the year. 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.

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First-Year Studies: After Nature: On Writing the Environment

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

At the turn of the century, the philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term “solastalgia” to refer to the distress caused by climate change. In this yearlong FYS writing seminar and workshop, we will attempt, in a collective way, to write through our loneliness, anxiety, and melancholy with climate change. Students will submit regular, weekly, notebook-like responses about paying attention to plants, animals, weather, and place, culminating in writing through their encounters with the outside world. These responses will be catalyzed by reading ecological meditations that function, in many ways, as elegies that think through landscape, time, and our kinship with the nonhuman. The project is for our reading and writing to somehow counter, but also work through, despair with radical hope and imagination. The final conference project for each semester will be a finished piece of writing that has been critiqued in several drafts over conference, collaborative small groups, and a full-group workshop over the semester. The class will alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small-group activities, including writing workshops, screenings, and field trips.

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Writing Colloquium

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 2 credits

Each session of this multidisciplinary series of weekly craft talks and generative writing sessions will be taught by a different member of our writing faculty. For example, April Mosolino will talk about “How to Tell a Lie”; Marie Howe, about “The Art of the Sentence”; and Marek Fuchs, about “How to Get a Bead on Your Lead.” (See the complete list of talks in the syllabus, available on MYSLC.) This series is meant to familiarize you with various aspects of craft in our different disciplines of fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction, as well as to stimulate your own writing. Each writer will assign readings and exercises for their week. There will be a class board on MYSLC to post your assignments and for you to read and respond to each other’s writing.

Near to Life: The Art of the Short Story

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

After reading a story by an older writer, the young James Joyce wrote, “Is this as near as [he] can get to life, I wonder?” You could say that Joyce was pointing toward a goal that many great fiction writers strive for: the goal of bringing to the page one’s unique way of apprehending life rather than relying on formula and convention. Something like this striving lay behind Chekhov’s revolt against traditional plot, Woolf’s search for new ways to render the subtleties of consciousness, Stein’s experiments with language, Proust’s explorations of time and memory, and Garcia Marquez’s adventures in magical realism. In this lecture class, we’ll read short stories old and new, with the aim of learning both from those who’ve come before us and those who are working now. Writers we’re likely to encounter include Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Toni Cade Bambara, Anton Chekhov, Kate Chopin, Edwidge Danticat, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mary Gaitskill, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, D. H. Lawrence, Carmen Maria Machado, Katherine Mansfield, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Herman Melville, Lorrie Moore, ZZ Packer, George Saunders, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and Bryan Washington. We’ll also read criticism, letters, and a little bit of theory. Although the understanding that writers learn from other writers is inscribed in the very nature of the class, we’ll be guided above all by the idea that imaginative writing is a domain of freedom—that the history of fiction is the history of writers shaping their work in ways that previous generations couldn’t have imagined.

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Fiction

Fiction Writing Workshop

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

Nabokov stated that there are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: as a storyteller, as a teacher, or 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. 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.

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Fiction Workshop: The Short Story

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

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 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

Writing and Reading Fiction

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

If you're a young writer, these three habits are important to cultivate: the habit of writing a lot, the habit of reading a lot, and the habit of trusting your imagination. The aim of this class is to help with all three. We’ll meet once a week to talk about both published fiction and your own work in an atmosphere of encouragement and support. Students won’t be looking for weaknesses in one another’s work; instead, you’ll be helping one another identify your strengths and clarify your literary goals. We’ll also meet for one hour on each of the other four weekdays to write in one another’s company. Writers whose work we’ll discuss include Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Anton Chekhov, Percival Everett, F. Scott Fitzgerald, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, R. K. Narayan, Z. Z. Packer, Grace Paley, Delmore Schwartz, and Nafissa Thompson-Spires. The only prerequisites for the class are an interest in writing a lot, an eagerness to read the work of your peers in a genuinely supportive way, and a willingness to get up early. (The four weekly writing sessions will begin at 8:30 a.m.)

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Fiction Workshop: The Art of Writing

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

Ultimately, a piece of writing is judged by a single criterion: whether a reader finished it. This course is open to fiction writers who want to improve their writing by learning how to lead a reader from the beginning of a story through to the end. In this workshop, students will create short stories or continue works-in-progress to 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? Have I crafted good sentences that will lead me inexorably to a great story? 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 short stories and novels that will set the tone and provide literary fodder for the class.

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The Basics, Not Excluding the Virtuosic

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

In this one-semester, 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. We will study these elements as put into practice by a wide range of virtuosic writers: Jamaica Kincaid, Donald Barthelme, ZZ Packer, James Baldwin, Raymond Carver, and Gina Bierault, among others. We will also familiarize ourselves with concepts related to the craft and imaginative process of fiction, such as counterpoint characterization, defamiliarization, narrative urgency, etc. 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 to develop your crafting of scenes, at first, and then meet in small groups to workshop your first drafts. You are responsible for writing critiques of each other’s stories, as well as participating thoughtfully and actively in the workshop discussion. By the end of the semester, each of you will present at least one final developed story for our workshop discussion.

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Fiction Workshop: Portraiture

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

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 ShandyDavid 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, the Scrivener, 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’s 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 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 toward crafting and presenting their own work of portraiture by the end of the term.

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The Rules—and How to Break Them: A Prose Process Class

Open, Large seminar—Fall | 5 credits | Remote

In this class, we will interrogate and test the rules for writing fiction. We’ll look at how some writers explode those rules. And we’ll see how we can do the same in our own writing by asking questions. What does it mean when we ask what’s at stake in a story? What makes dialogue believable? How do we create embodied characters? What makes an ending resonate? How do we build cohesive worlds? What is a beginning? An end? With an eye toward playfully disrupting the rules of fiction, we’ll use lists, footnotes, erasures, numbering, and omissions; we’ll study verb mood, unexpected points of view, and tense; and we’ll collaborate on other formulae that can help us and our readers find new paths to our imaginations. Students will work with writing assignments, play writing games, and do in-class exercises to generate stories. Conference work will focus on expanding and fine-tuning what we have written; each student will finish the semester with several complete pieces of fiction. We will read work by authors such as Maurice Kilwein Guevara, Yasunari Kawabata, Gari Lutz, Philip K. Dick, Anton Chekhov, Elizabeth Crane, Robert Lopez, Matthew Sharpe, Renee Gladman, D. Foy, Stefanie Sobelle, and members of the Oulipo movement.

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The Short Story: Explorations

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits | Hybrid Remote/In-Person

What makes a story a story? What are the tools of fiction writers? How does one go from character to scene to story? When does a story make you want to keep reading—beyond its end? These are questions that we will explore in workshop. We’ll think about our stories from the first draft to the revision, exploring questions of craft through weekly writing and reading assignments. The various forms of the short story (including the short short, the frame story, the episodic story, and microfiction, among others) will guide us as we create. Our reading list includes writers such as Edward P. Jones, Steven Millhauser, Carmen Maria Machado, and Nana Adjei-Brenyah—writers whose use of point of view, character development, setting, voice, and structure will hopefully provide inspiration. Students are expected to attend at least two readings on campus, as well as to prepare a reading list for conference. Typed critiques of student stories are also required, as is participation in workshop. Last but not least: We’ll work on developing our constructive criticism—which, next to reading, is key to becoming a strong writer.

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

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

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

The Rules—and How to Break them: A Prose Process Class

Open, Large seminar—Spring | 5 credits | Hybrid Remote/In-Person

In this class, we will interrogate and test the rules for writing fiction. We’ll look at how some writers explode those rules—and we’ll see how we can do the same in our own writing by asking questions. What does it mean when we ask what’s at stake in a story? What makes dialogue believable? How do we create embodied characters? What makes an ending resonate? How do we build cohesive worlds? What is a beginning? An end? With an eye toward playfully disrupting the rules of fiction, we’ll use lists, footnotes, erasures, numbering, and omissions; we’ll study verb mood, unexpected points of view, and tense; and we’ll collaborate on other formulae that can help us and our readers find new paths to our imaginations. Students will work with writing assignments, play writing games, and do in-class exercises to generate stories. We will read work by authors such as Maurice Kilwein Guevara, Yasunari Kawabata, Gari Lutz, Philip K. Dick, Anton Chekhov, Elizabeth Crane, Robert Lopez, Matthew Sharpe, Renee Gladman, D. Foy, Stefanie Sobelle, and members of the Oulipo movement.

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Stories and...

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

This class involves reading stories, telling stories, writing or recording stories, illustrating stories with photos or drawings. It involves becoming collectors of the storytelling all around us and analyzing its form, uses and pleasures. It includes oral and written storytelling, formal and informal, short and long, fantasies, tales, and gossip. It also involves practice in being both a leader and a member of a story group at the Wartburg Elder Care Residence in nearby Pelham. The class will be scheduled for three hours, which includes a group trip to and from Wartburg, where we will gather with residents either to be given or to choose a prompt, prepare our stories, and share them. Homework will involve reading, working together as author/illustrator with a classmate, and calling on family and friends to tell their stories. Anyone interested in their own or other people’s lives, in leadership and followership, in teaching, and in stories should consider this course.

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

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

This one-semester workshop will venture into unexpected 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 first drafts in preliminary workshops, and, finally, submit your best work in a series of formal workshops at the end of the semester.

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Nonfiction

Wrongfully Accused

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

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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The Brief Encounter

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

In this class, we will focus first on close reading and then on close writing—developing small essays that encompass something very large. We will do much of our work on the microlevel, as opposed to the macrolevel, distilling ideas and language down to perfect sentences, one after another, until we have created concise, beautiful works of art. We’ll read and discuss short, powerful pieces by outside writers, studying their craft techniques in order to perfect our own styles and voices. Of our six conferences, four will be individual meetings and two will be group meetings held in the evening to watch and discuss documentary films.

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Nonfiction Workshop: Cultural Criticism

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. —Walter Benjamin

In this writing workshop, we will deepen our understanding of how to read, analyze, and articulate the world around us. Each week, we will read and discuss a text that locates and articulates ruptures and contradictions in the culture, works that provide new problems or solutions. Texts that we may read include the work of Walter Benjamin, Mark Fisher, Kristin Ross, Sigmund Freud (from Civilization and Its Discontents), and Alenka Zupancic. In addition, each week we will also workshop students’ drafts of works in progress. The final project for this course is a 10-12 page work of cultural criticism, a work of writing that may be focused on any aspect of contemporary society.

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Writing Our Moment

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

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, and 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.

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

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

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.

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Edgy Memoirs

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits | Hybrid Remote/In-Person

There are memoirs that people write when they’ve had a great acting career or been president of a large country. We read these for their historic/cultural value. Our interest is in the story of their lives. But another kind of memoir tries to tell another kind of truth. Those are more personal stories of dysfunction, addiction, oppression, and overcoming the odds. These stories may take us on alcoholic journeys or tales of abuse into scary families and scarier souls. They can also be funny, uplifting, and redemptive. In this workshop, we attempt to uncover that kind of truth; but this isn’t a class in autobiography; rather, it’s a class in telling a story. What differentiates these stories from other tales of grief and woe is that they are, quite simply, well-told. We will read memoirs by authors such as Michael Ondaatje, Kathryn Harrison, Garred Conley, Cathy Hong Park, David Sedaris, Nick Flynn, James McBride, and Jeanette Taylor, as well as memoirs by recent Sarah Lawrence graduates such as T Kira Madden and Anna Qu. And we will attempt to write one of our own. The emphasis will be on how to tell our stories. Exercises and prompts will be designed to help jumpstart you.

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Nonfiction Workshop: Reading and Writing Personal Essays

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

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 read, as models, published examples of such works; for instance, Phillip Lopate’s portrait of his family in the essay “Willy.” In the second unit, 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 we will read for this unit are “Stranger in the Village,” by James Baldwin, and Annie Dillard’s essay “Aces and Eights.” The third unit is called The Personal in the Critical/Journalistic (PCJ); a work in that genre combines personal reflection with consideration of an outside subject—for example, 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; an example: Jonathan Lethem’s personal essay about the movie, The Searchers

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Nonfiction Workshop: Writing the Essay of Opinion

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

This course is for students interested in writing essays about political and cultural questions. Each week in class, in addition to talking about your work, we’ll discuss two or three published pieces (some of them long, some not so long) that look at social questions from widely different points of view. Our aim will not be to arrive at a consensus as to which ideas have greater merit; rather, we’ll be examining the rhetorical strategies by which different writers seek to persuade. Writers we’re likely to read include James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Joan Didion, Ralph Ellison, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Jeannie Suk Gersen, Vivian Gornick, Irving Howe, Laura Kipnis, John McWhorter, Dwight Macdonald, George Orwell, Claudia Rankine, David Foster Wallace, and Zadie Smith, as well as a few earlier thinkers such as G. K. Chesterton, Frederick Douglass, William James, John Stuart Mill, and Virginia Woolf. Given the range of writers and opinions we’ll be reading, it’s safe to say that everyone in the class will be encountering many ideas they consider objectionable over the course of the semester. So, if you believe you can be harmed by exposure to points of view that differ starkly from your own, it would be best not to register for this class. Otherwise, it’s open to all interested students

Faculty

Nonfiction Laboratory

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

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 by writers such as Claudia Rankine, Nathalie Sarraute, and George W. S. Trow. These readings will serve as the inspiration for brief assignments that will be read aloud and discussed each week. During the second half of the semester, students will workshop longer pieces, which they will have written in consultation with the instructor as a part of their conference work. Required texts: The Next American Essay, edited by John D’Agata, and Multiple Choice, by Alejandro Zambra. All other readings are in the PDF packet.

Faculty

Experiments With Truth: Nonfiction Writing From the Edges

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

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.

Faculty

Workshop in Personal Essay

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

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

Nonfiction Workshop: The World and You

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

This course will be divided into three units, each of which will involve reading published essays and writing our own. The first unit, Demons, will focus on writers’ personal challenges, from mental illness (as in Suzanna Kaysen’s memoir, Girl, Interrupted) to migraines (the subject of Joan Didion’s essay “In Bed”). The second unit focuses on braided essays; the class will read essays whose authors juxtapose seemingly disparate topics in forming coherent works, such as Melissa Febos’s “All of Me,” which reveals how writing, singing, tattoos, and heroin addiction all relate to the need to deal with pain. For the final unit, Critical Survey, we will read and write critical takes on works or figures in particular fields; for example, James Agee’s essay, “Comedy’s Greatest Era,” about silent film comedians and Toni Morrison’s (very) short book, Playing in the Dark, about race as it pertains to early American literature.

Faculty

A Question of Character: The Art of the Profile

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

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.

Faculty

Poetry

Ecopoetry

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

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.

Faculty

Reading and Writing Poetry: A Workshop

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

We will read, roughly, a book of poetry each week and discuss the reading in detail. We will read, not chronologically, mostly American poets from the 19th (Dickinson and Whitman), 20th (Hayden, Bishop, Lowell), and 21st centuries (Terrance Hayes, D. A. Powell, and others). There will be critical response assignments, in-class exercises, small-group meetings, and writing prompts in order 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 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 a part of a community of writers, and write (and re-write) your own poems and grow, then this will be a good class for you.

Faculty

Hybrids of Poetry and Prose: A Multigenre Creative Writing Workshop

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

One of the exciting literary developments in recent years is the plethora of work that disrupts the notion of genre from 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 write critical responses to the reading. This class is 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 a separate hybrid project.

Faculty

Explorations in the Poetic Voice

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits | Remote

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 point of view, tone of voice, imagery, the poetic line, meter, and stanza form. We’ll examine the artistic thinking behind free verse, contemporary experimental idioms, the sonnet, the ghazal, and haiku. We’ll read widely—foundational masters like Elizabeth Bishop and Gwendolyn Brooks, contemporaries like Terrance Hayes and Yusuf Komunyakaa, and poets from radically different cultures. We’ll explore The Vintage Book of African American Poetry, The Penquin Anthology of 20th-Century American Poetry (Rita Dove), The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, prose poems, fables, proverbs, 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 often be individual. The class will be part humanistic workshop, part writing community, part critical inquiry. Expect to write freely and read voraciously. This course is open to anyone with a commitment to poetry.

Faculty

To Hold the Unsayable: A Poetry Workshop

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

A true poem can’t be paraphrased. In bright and interesting language, a poem seems to hold the unsayable. That’s the miracle of it. How do we do that? In this course, we will immerse ourselves in the practice of the art of poetry, focusing on a specific aspect of the art each week: image, metaphor, diction, syntax, musicality, tone, etc. We will write a poem every week and read poems that will instruct and inspire us. (Poet Spencer Reece calls books of poems “Sacred Suitcases”—you can take them anywhere.) We will read each other’s poems. We will read essays written by poets. We will write observations in our journals. We will look at visual art, listen to music, watch films. If you have never taken a poetry class before, this class is for you. If you have taken poetry classes before, this workshop is for you. I ask for generosity of spirit, curiosity, respect, and commitment. We form a community of artists and, within that community, find support and strength. We will have a wonderful time.

Faculty

Poetry: On and Off the Page

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

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 focus on poets with a strong sense of voice. We will spend half of each class discussing the weekly reading and the other half of 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; rather, it 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. Think of the additional effort to be like group conferences, every other week.

Faculty

Live Time-Based Art

Component—Year

In this class, graduates and upper-class undergraduates with a special interest and experience in the creation of time-based artworks that include live performance will design and direct individual projects. Students and faculty will meet weekly to view works-in-progress and discuss relevant artistic and practical problems, both in class on Tuesday evenings and in conferences taking place on Thursday afternoons. 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 in live performance, the constraints of presentation of the works both in works-in-progress and in a shared program of events, and the need to respect the classroom and presentation space of the dance studio will be the constraints imposed on the students’ artistic proposals. Students working within any number of live performance traditions are as welcome in this course as those seeking to transgress orthodox conventions. While all of the works will engage in some way with embodied action, student proposals need not fall neatly into a traditional notion of what constitutes dance. The cultivation of open discourse across traditional disciplinary artistic boundaries, both in the process of developing the works and in the context of presentation to the public, is a central goal of the course. The faculty members leading this course have roots in dance practice but also have practiced expansive definitions of dance within their own creative work. This course will culminate in performances of the works toward the end of the semester in a shared program with all enrolled students and within the context of winter and spring time-based art events. Performances of the works will take place in the Bessie Schönberg Dance Theatre or elsewhere on campus in the case of site-specific work.

Faculty

The Environmental Imagination: Perspectives From the Social Sciences, Environmental Humanities, and the Arts

Open, Seminar—Fall

“Climate change” covers a variety of hydrological, thermal, geological, and atmospheric crises that are intersecting and accelerating in scope and intensity. Inspired by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwOvBv8RLmo) performing her poem Earthrise, this course invites a conversation that draws together the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts: a journey through the global climate crisis on a variety of scales, in specific contexts, and through diverse media. Fiction and nonfiction writing, history, and film will be drawn upon to investigate understandings of an epoch controversially called “the Anthropocene.”  What do these different perspectives, methods, and insights bring to our perceptions of specific environments? How do different rhetorical formations, imaginaries, narratives, and visual images inform cognitive and affective responses to the Anthropocene?  What do they bring to our understanding of the global environmental emergency that is the signature of this moment in planetary history? How do interventions in the arts and humanities constitute acts of “world-making”—new ways of seeing, feeling, and imagining human ways of caring for this planet? In conjunction with the literatures of political ecology and cultural anthropology, we will read fiction by authors such as Amitav Ghosh and Stanislas Lem; nonfiction by Robert MacFarlane (Underlands), Ben Ehrenreich (Desert Notebooks), Joseph Masco (irradiated landscapes in the American West), Kate Brown (Plutopia), and Madeleine Watts (The Inland Sea).

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Media Sketchbooks

Open, FYS—Year

In this course, students will develop work that aims to challenge audience perceptions of traditional filmmaking while retaining “audience reading” of a film’s message, intention, and meaning. This is a production and research class, where the development of experimental fiction and nonfiction film is covered from the conception of an idea to the finished product. Students will have the opportunity to experiment with nonconventional techniques for image creation, either individually or in collaboration with their peers. We will explore technical, conceptual, and aesthetic approaches to constructing art films with directed shots, cinéma vérité, animation, performance art, and free-media montage. Emphasis will be placed on producing innovative and creative films in the experimental genre. This is a solid introductory course for students who are interested in film and want to get their “feet wet” in film during their first year at the College. Students will participate in technical production modules and exercises in which an exploration of modes of experimental film and video will be covered. Focus will be on an exploration of structure and format, as well as film’s relationship to story, poetry, and experimental text. We will review the work of professional artists’ films and read theoretical texts as they apply to artist film production. The class will also function as an editing workshop with critique and feedback. Visiting experimental filmmaker labs will be an important part of this year’s class.

Faculty

Writing the Feature Screenplay

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Spring

From pitching ideas, developing detailed outlines, and creating mood boards in order to develop cinematic storytelling skills, this course will take the student through the process of writing a feature-length screenplay. The screenplay may be based on an original idea or preexisting source, including historical incident, biography, true crime, etc. In an intimate workshop setting, the writing will be shared and critiqued in a safe and constructive atmosphere as students develop their craft. By the end of the semester, each student will have completed a first-draft feature screenplay. Participation is essential to the process, and attendance is mandatory.

Faculty

Writing the Short Film Adaptation

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Spring

Adaptation skills are a major plus for any screenwriter. Some of the world’s most popular films and television shows have been adapted from preexisting material. Novels, short stories, comics, plays, articles, bios, historical events, poems, and even paintings have been adapted for the screen. In this workshop/seminar, we will focus on screenplay adaptation for the short film. Students will learn how to break down a story/source material into its essential components for a compelling screenplay. We will read, view, and discuss various screenplays, shorts, features, and television series that are based on preexisting material. Students will learn an effective nuts-and-bolts process for screenplay adaptations. The first few weeks will be a review of basic screenwriting fundamentals (e.g., story structure, dialogue, character development, formatting), along with weekly writing exercises and viewing/reading assignments. Students will then find material to adapt. Students will pitch, outline, and write one short film adaptation (up to 15 pages) for class and one longer project (30 pages) for their conference project. Scripts will be read and discussed in class, using a structured feedback paradigm.

Faculty

Screenwriting: Tools of the Trade

Open, Seminar—Year

The screenplay is the starting point for nearly every film, television show, or web series. The majority of our favorite films and television shows begin with a writer and an idea. Aimed at the beginning screenwriter, this course will focus on the fundamentals of visual storytelling—story, structure, style, character development, dialogue, outlining, and formatting. During the fall semester, weekly writing prompts will be given. Assignments will then be read and discussed in class, using a structured feedback paradigm. In addition, students will be given weekly viewing and reading assignments as a way to strengthen their script-analysis skills. During the spring semester, students will pitch, outline, and then write one or two original shorts or begin writing a feature-length screenplay. Overall, the course is designed to help the beginning screenwriter build a screenwriter’s toolkit, as well as to assist the writer in finding his/her/their own artistic voice.

Faculty

Writing for Television: From Spec Script to Original TV Pilot

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

The fundamental skill of successful television writers is the ability to craft entertaining and compelling stories for characters, worlds, and situations that have been 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, showrunners, 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 fundamental skills by taking them, step-by-step, through the writing of their own spec (sample) script for an ongoing dramatic television series. The fall classes will take students through the spec-script process—from premise lines, through the outline/beat sheet, to writing a complete draft of a full teleplay for a currently airing show. No original pilots will be pursued in the fall. In conference, students will work, in depth, through additional drafts of their script pages. In this class, there will be very heavy TV viewing in the first third of the semester, as students “learn” the shows that are spec-ed in this class. In the spring, the class builds on fundamentals learned in the fall, with the focus on creating an original TV pilot. Students will hone concepts, develop characters, and generate beat sheets and pages to create and write an original one-hour or half-hour show (no multicamera sitcoms). Focusing on engineering story machines, we power characters and situations with enough conflict to generate episodes over many years. In conference, students may wish to further deepen their concept and revise pages, craft another spec script, begin to develop characters and a series pitch deck for their original show, or work on previously developed material. Prospective students are expected to have an extensive working knowledge across many genres of TV shows that have aired domestically during the past several decades.

Faculty

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 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 conferences (held once a week) aim at enriching the students’ knowledge of Italian culture and developing their ability to communicate. This will be achieved by 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 relevant exhibits in New York City, as well as offering the possibility of experiencing Italian cuisine first-hand as a group. The course is for a full year, by the end of which students will attain a basic competence in all aspects of the language.

Faculty

Intermediate Italian: Modern Italian Culture and Literature

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This 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 City area, centered on Italian language and culture.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Romanticism to Modernism in English-Language Poetry

Open, FYS—Year

In the first semester of this course, we will explore the work of major poets writing in English between the French Revolution and the American Civil War.  One of the goals of the course is to demonstrate the ways in which modern poetry originated in this period.  In the wake of the French Revolution, Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridge invented a new kind of poem that largely internalized the myths they had inherited from literary and religious traditions. To put it another way, the inner life of the poet became the inescapable subject of their poetry.  In the second semester, we will trace the impact of their work on subsequent generations of poets writing in English.  Our preeminent goal will be to appreciate each poet’s—indeed, each poem’s—unique contribution to the language. Our understanding of literary and historical trends will emerge from the close, imaginative reading of texts.  Authors will include: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, Whitman, Dickinson, Tennyson, Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti, Hardy, Frost, Yeats, and T. S. Eliot.  During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet every other week.

Faculty

Theatre and the City

Open, Large Lecture—Year

Athens, London, Paris, Berlin, New York...the history of Western theatre has always been associated with cities, their politics, their customs, their geography, their audiences. This course will track the story of theatre as it originates in the Athens of the fifth-century BCE and evolves into its different expressions and practices in cities of later periods, all of them seen as "capitals" of civilization. Does theatre civilize, or is it merely a reflection of any given civilization whose cultural assumptions inform its values and shape its styles? Given that ancient Greek democracy gave birth to tragedy and comedy in civic praise of the god Dionysos—from a special coupling of the worldly and the sacred—what happens when these genres recrudesce in the unsavory precincts of Elizabethan London, the polished court of Louis XIV, the beer halls of Weimar Berlin, and the neon “palaces” of Broadway? Sometimes the genres themselves are challenged by experiments in new forms or by performances deliberately situated in unaccustomed places. By tinkering with what audiences have come to expect or where they have come to assemble, do playwrights like Euripides, Brecht, and Sarah Kane destabilize civilized norms? Grounding our work in Greek theatre, we will address such questions in a series of chronological investigations of the theatre produced in each city: Athens and London in the first semester; Paris, Berlin, and New York in the second.

Faculty

Studies in Ecocriticism: The Idea of Nature in the Western Tradition

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

As the capitalistic and predatory model aggressively promoted by the United States continues to reveal itself as a major threat to biodiversity and the environment in general, it is vital to understand the cultural and literary history of the concept of “nature” that is at the core of the Western and Judeo-Christian tradition while also putting that concept in the context of gender, race, and ethnicity in America today. For example, comparing stories of world creation from indigenous nations, with narratives taken from the Bible and from Greek and Roman classical texts, will allow us to better grasp how language in the European tradition functions as a deep divider between humans and other living creatures. We will also follow the development of the genre of the pastoral as an idealized construction of nature that deeply influenced Europe from third-century BC to 19th-century English and American Romanticism. We will try to better understand how the conception of wilderness in America is in close relation to the presence of enslaved black bodies on its land. Going in a different direction, we will analyze how contemporary feminism and gender studies provide crucially important models to invent new ways for the West to relate to nature. Animals will also be a focus of our discussions, from classical representations of animals as machines to the use of models like the burrow or territoriality imported from the animal realm by Deleuze and Guattari, to the possibility of shifting from a humanist understanding of nature inherited from European Renaissance, to new forms of ecocentric expression. These are some of the themes that we will cover in this lecture, with the goal of reading texts of the past in order to better understand the complexities of today’s discussions and debates about how to invent new forms of relating to the living environment around us.

Faculty

Milton, Blake, and the Bible

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

John Milton in the 17th century and William Blake in the late-18th and early-19th centuries forged fiercely independent poetics of visionary resistance to the trends toward intellectual materialism, religious conformity, economic mercantilism, and political authoritarianism that dominated the England and Europe of their periods. Both represented themselves as visionary teachers and prophets in a line of prophetic succession that began with Moses and included Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jesus, and John, the writer of the Apocalypse. They founded their prophetic imaginations on what Blake called, “the sublime of the Bible,” the great epic of human liberation and imaginative inspiration. This course will provide readings of central biblical narratives and poetry and examine how Milton and Blake read, understood, and rewrote scripture in their major poetic texts in their prophetic expectation of changing the world and how we see it.

Faculty

Elective Affinities in Contemporary Poetry

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

The canonical status of contemporary literature is always up for grabs. In this seminar, we will spend roughly two-thirds of the academic year reading a sequence of the instructor’s favorite poets and those whose lives have overlapped with his own: Elizabeth Bishop, May Swenson, James Merrill, A. R. Ammons, John Ashbery, Jay Wright, Mark Strand, and Anne Carson, among them. The coincidences of another reader’s taste and judgment might generate a very different list of contemporaries; and this, too, will be our subject. In conference, each student will be asked to focus on a contemporary poet, or sequence of poets, not included in the syllabus. From the work of these poets, an ad hoc syllabus will be culled for the final sequence of class readings. As always, our preeminent goal will be to appreciate each poet’s—indeed, each poem’s—unique contribution to the language through close, imaginative readings of texts. 

Faculty

Toward a Theatre of Identity: Ibsen, Chekhov, and Wilson

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

Theatre emerges from social rituals; and as a communal exercise, theatre requires people to work together toward a common purpose in shared and demarcated physical space. Yet, the very notion of “character,” first expressed in the indelibly defining mask of the ancient Greek protagonist, points paradoxically toward the spirit, attraction, and trial of individuation. And so we have been given Medea, Hamlet, and Tartuffe, among the many dramatic characters whose unique faces we recognize and who speak to us not only of their own conflicts but also of something universal and timeless. In the 19th century, however, the Industrial Revolution, aggressive capitalism, imperialism, Darwinism, socialist revolution, feminism, the new science of psychology, and the decline of religious clarity about the nature of the human soul—all of these, among other social factors—force the question as to whether individual identity has point or meaning, even existence. Henrik Ibsen, a fiercely “objective” Norwegian self-exile, and Anton Chekhov, an agnostic Russian doctor, used theatre—that most social of arts—to challenge their time, examining assumptions about identity, its troubling reliance on social construction, and the mysteries of self-consciousness that elude resolution. The test will be to see how what we learn from them equips us—or fails to do so—in a study of August Wilson, an African-American autodidact of the 20th century, whose plays represent the impact, both outrageous and insidious, of American racism on “characters” denied identity by definition.

Faculty

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

Open, Seminar—Fall

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 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, the terrorism of the “Anni di Piombo”—until the recent contribution of migration literature to the Italian literary canon. Among the authors and intellectuals, we will explore 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 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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Conscience of the Nations: Classics of African Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall

One way to think of literature is as the conscience of a people, reflecting on their origins, their values, their losses, and their possibilities. This course will study major representative texts in which sub-Saharan African writers have taken up the challenge of cultural formation and criticism. Part of what gives the best writing of modern Africa its aesthetic power is the political urgency of its task: The past still bears on the present, the future is yet to be written, and what writers have to say matters enough for their work to be considered dangerous. Political issues and aesthetic issues are, thus, inseparable in their work. Creative tensions in the writing between indigenous languages and European languages, between traditional forms of orature and storytelling and self-consciously “literary” forms, register all of the pressures and conflicts of late colonial and postcolonial history. To discern the traditionalist sources of modern African writing, we will first read examples from epic, folk tale, and other forms of orature. Major fiction will be selected from the work of Tutuola, Achebe, Beti, Sembene, Ba, Head, Ngugi, La Guma, Dangaremgba, and Sarowiwa; drama from the work of Soyinka and Aidoo; poetry from the work of Senghor, Rabearivelo, Okigbo, Okot p’Bitek, Brutus, Mapanje, and others. Conference work may include further, deeper work on the writings, writers, and genres that we study together in class; aspects of literary theory, particularly aspects of postcolonial and womanist theory relevant to readings of African literature; or readings of more recent writers out of Africa whose work draws on and develops the “classical” works that will be the foundation of our work together.

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Racism and the Media in America

Open, Seminar—Spring

There was a reason why Edmund Burke famously called the press “the Fourth Estate” of government during a debate in Parliament in 1787 and why it remains true. For all of its self-proclaimed and often real independence, the press is as much a part of the power systems that run society, politics, and the economy as the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary; political and social organizations; churches and corporations. With that in mind, this course will examine the role of the press (now newspapers, radio, TV, and an endless array of digital outlets) in the creation and perpetuation of anti-Black racism in the United States. Even with the most well-meaning attempts to stay above the fray, the media is not merely a passive pipeline for events and data. It constructs the news and, in doing so, is as much a part of the institutions of racism as any other group with power and privilege in a racist society. We look at the flow of American history and its constant current of anti-Black racism, from the pre-Civil War to the present day, through the prism of the nation’s evolving news media. How does the media reflect the social, economic, and political currents of the day? And how, in turn, does the media influence them? This is not a practicum class in journalism; but we will ask questions about journalistic practices, institutions, and language structure to see how the language and agenda of racism were reflected in journalism. Did journalists, in turn, perpetuate that language and, in fact, foster it, whether wittingly or passively? Did the media help sustain overt and systemic racism, even as many covered—with obvious approval—things like the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the Black Lives Matter movement of today? Most American news organizations have stopped using the overt language of racism, although new descriptions are just as bad in some cases. But beyond that, is there an inherent racism of language? Has modern English, for our purposes as used in the media, been another lever of systemic racism? How do news reporters navigate the current world of propaganda and disinformation in which truth is said to have no value? Readings for this class will primarily be original news and opinion content from the late 19th century until today. We will analyze the structure and nature of media coverage using specific events: the racist massacre in Tulsa; lynching and Jim Crow; the police-instigated violence in Watts in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1990s; the FBI’s Cointelpro attack on the Black Panther Party; Black Lives Matter protests; the war in Vietnam; football players and other athletes demonstrating for equal rights; and others. The seminar will conclude with each student teaching his/her research project to the class, using the framework of our work together during the semester.

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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. Investigation of sensory systems has been foundational for psychologists and neuroscientists 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 categories 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: for example, the senses of balance, of body position (proprioception) and ownership, 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 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 that 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 (and have the effects of COVID-19 changed our views of its importance)? 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, with small-group meetings held weekly in addition to the individual conference meetings held every other week. 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. Other group activities include mindful movement and other meditation practices for stress relief and emotional regulation, as well as occasional museum visits if these can be done safely.

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Theories of the Creative Process

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

The creative process is paradoxical. It involves freedom and spontaneity yet requires expertise and hard work. The creative process is self-expressive yet tends to unfold most easily when the creator forgets about self. The creative process brings joy yet is fraught with fear, frustration, and even terror.The creative process is its own reward yet depends on social support and encouragement. In this class, we look at how various thinkers conceptualize the creative process—chiefly in the arts but in other domains, as well. We see how various psychological theorists describe the process, its source, its motivation, its roots in a particular domain or skill, its cultural context, and its developmental history in the life of the individual. Among the thinkers that we will consider are Freud, Jung, Arnheim, Franklin, and Gardner. Different theorists emphasize different aspects of the process. In particular, we see how some thinkers emphasize persistent work and expert knowledge as essential features while others emphasize the need for the psychic freedom to “let it happen” and speculate on what emerges when the creative person “lets go.” Still others identify cultural context or biological factors as critical. To concretize theoretical approaches, we look at how various ideas can contribute to understanding specific creative people and their work. In particular, we will consider works written by or about Picasso, Woolf, Welty, Darwin, and some contemporary artists and writers. Though creativity is most frequently explored in individuals, we also consider group improvisation in music and theatre. Some past conference projects have involved interviewing people engaged in creative work. Others consisted of library studies centering on the life and work of a particular creative person. Some students chose to do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center and focus on an aspect of creative activity in young children.

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The Sociology of Sports

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

This is a course about sports as practice, and practice is used here in a multiple sense. As an embodied activity, sporting practice is felt and experienced in and through the body, which is its primary but not sole “habitus”—a term that French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu popularized when elaborating on his notion of “cultural capital.” In this course, taking the sporting body and Bourdieu’s concept of habitus (taste, habits, skills, dispositions) as our point of departure, we will examine sports and its habitation of worlds that reach far beyond the individual (body) in both time and space. We will examine sports along multiple axes: as a collective and/or individuated activity; as a source of leisure and recreation; as a source of profitable employment; as a site of identity and nation-building projects; and as a space that engenders transnational mobilities and interconnections, as well as ruptures. In its commoditized contemporary form, sports is, more often than not, controlled by big money and/or the state and is part and parcel of what Debord refers to as the “society of the spectacle,” a site of production, consumption, and entertainment. The complex relationship between sports as experienced through the body and as a set of disciplinary practices will allow us to think through the relation of the individual, the collective, and institutionalized power, linking these to questions of body politics. Taking the internal dynamics and meaning of sports seriously, we will engage sports as a contradictory field—as both a productive space and a space of consumption. Our readings will include scholarly works, sports journalism, films, documentaries, and other primary sources. Possible conference topics include sports and politics; analysis of particular sports events (e.g., the Olympics, women’s basketball, the World Cup); (auto)biographies and/or oral histories of athletes; sports and protest; “fitness,” health, and the body; gender, race, sexuality, (dis)ability, and sports; nationalism(s), national “styles,” and sports; and the phenomenology of sports.

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Intermediate Spanish I: Latin American and Spanish Visual Culture

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course is intended for students who have had at least one year of college-level Spanish or the equivalent and who wish to review and expand the fundamentals of the Spanish language. With this, Latin American and Spanish comics, films, and TV shows—such as La casa de las Flores from Mexico, Paco Roca’s Los surcos del Azar, or Luis Ortega’s El Ángel—will provide the cultural and historical background for discussion in class. Films and TV shows work especially well for teaching language, because they can be used to quickly introduce or reinforce vocabulary or a grammatical point and also show their use, in context, by native speakers. Besides, space restrictions force comic-strip writers to get to the point, making comics a perfect source of useful vocabulary. The goal that most comic writers have of appealing to as many readers as possible also means that comics are a perfect source of basic, everyday terms and expressions. Students will gain key vocabulary for discussing cultural objects, write descriptive profiles, and even make their own comic book or record a podcast in Spanish. In addition, students will watch films, TV shows, and read comics outside the seminar meetings in order to reinforce the work that we do in class. Individual conference meetings will offer students an opportunity to complete independent research projects and to address individual language-acquisition needs. Weekly conversation sessions with a language assistant are also an integral part of the course.

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1,001 Drawings

Open, Seminar—Fall

This will be a highly rigorous drawing class that pushes young artists to develop a disciplined, sustainable, and experimental drawing practice with which to explore new ways of thinking, seeing, and making art. Each week, you will make 50 to 100 small works on paper, based on varied, open-ended, unpredictable prompts. These prompts are meant to destabilize your practice and encourage you to interrogate the relationship between a work’s subject and its material process. You will learn to work quickly and flexibly, continually experimenting with mediums and processes as you probe the many possible solutions to problems posed by each prompt. As you create these daily drawings, you will simultaneously work on one large, ambitious drawing that you revisit over the entire semester. This piece will evolve slowly, change incrementally, and reflect the passage of time in vastly different ways from your daily works. This dynamic exchange will allow you to develop different rhythms in your creative practice, bridging the space between an idea’s generation and its final aesthetic on paper. This course will challenge you to ambitiously redefine drawing and, in doing so, will dramatically transform your art-making practice.

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Senior Interdisciplinary Studio

Advanced, Seminar—Year

This course is intended for seniors interested in pursuing their own art-making practice more deeply, for a prolonged period of time, and culminating in a solo exhibition during the spring semester. Students making work in and across painting, drawing, sculpture, video, photography, sound, new genres, performance, and more 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. Over the course of the year, students will focus exclusively on their own art-making practice and will be expected to develop a rigorous body of independent work to be presented in their spring semester exhibition, accompanied by a printed book that documents the exhibition. We will have regular critiques with visiting artists and faculty across our visual-arts program, along with readings, image discussions, and trips to galleries and artist’s studios. We will participate in the Visual Arts Lecture Series. Your art-making practice will be supplemented with other aspects of presenting your work—writing an artist statement, interviewing fellow artists, and documenting your art—along with a range of professional-practices workshops. This will be an immersive studio course meant for disciplined art students interested in making work in an interdisciplinary environment.

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