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Creative Writing Graduate Courses for Winter 2020

The Department of English invites all TGS students to apply for the following courses by Monday, November 11. These courses are open to Northwestern graduate students outside the English Department by application.

Please email Jennifer Britton, assistant director, creative writing, with any questions.

English 403:Writers’ Studies in Literature

Instructor: Brian Bouldrey
Schedule: Wednesday, 6:00 - 9:00 PM
Application for English 403

Where does writing come from?  Previous topics in Writers Studies in Literature have considered writing and its roots in the body and the mind.  This class will move the conversation to its roots in speech.  By looking at examples of literature that were initially meant to be spoken aloud, we will explore how they were placed, elegantly and not, onto the page.  How does this happen?  The bardic boom, the pulpit pitch, the mad futurist with a megaphone—so many of the great works of literature were first delivered orally, then spelled out and called literature.  Speeches, psalms, slams, rants, anecdotes, manifestos, declarations, sermons, lectures, yarns, ballads, brags, jeremiads, prayers, incendiary instructions for the coming revolution—we’ll investigate as many as we can of these in the readings, considering, as writers, how we can get performative narratives of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction from the stage to the page.  We will discuss, too, the instructive aspect of art and literature, the difference between voice and style, and how oral culture differs from written culture, with a serious take on Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy.  We will consider formal prosody, rhetoric, and poetic forms, and original and amusing methods inventive writers come up with to interpret the sound of speech.   Readings may include sermons by John Donne, Toni Morrison, and Herman Melville; prayers and suras from Adam Zagejewski and the Koran, Brags from Beowulf, Beastie Boys, Sharon Olds, and Shmuel HaNagid, anecdotes from Ivan Turgenev, Tatyana Tolstaya, and Olga Tokarczuk, murder ballads from Cole Porter, Jake Adam York and Dolly Parton, speeches and declarations from Susan B Anthony and Frederick Douglass, and jeremiads by Jamaica Kincaid, Valerie Solanis, and Joy Williams, for starters.

English 496: MFA Poetry Workshop

Instructor: Averill Curdy
Mondays, 10:00 AM - 12:50 PM
Application for English 496

This creative writing and creative reading workshop will explore a particular fascination of American poets with the portrait. In addition to close readings of poems, we'll also look at portraits by artists, considering the ways in which poets adopt strategies from the visual arts. We'll consider ekphrastic and dramatic modes in poetry, as well as the relationship between the literary portrait and various stylistic revolutions and experiments in American poetry around questions of subjectivity and representation, all of which are intended to enrich the sources and materials for our own poems.

English 497: MFA Fiction Workshop

Instructor: Stuart Dybek
Tuesdays, 6:00-9:00 PM
Application for English 497

The primary text for English 497, the Fiction Workshop, is the work written by the people in the class.  Writing is the only art with an abstract medium: language. But like every other art, writing is about making something.  Musicians make music, potters make pots, painters make paintings, and writers make stories and novels.  One learns to make pots through the trial and error of making pots.  The analogy holds for writing; one learns to write by doing: writing and rewriting.  It is the craft of each art that can be learned, and it is craft that the artist relies on to make and improve a piece.  And so the writing workshop is craft oriented.  Because the medium, language, is an abstraction, the tools of writing stories--which are central to human thought--are not pens or typewriters or computers, but abstractions: scenic construction, dialogue, etc.  That’s what governs improving one’s in-process work and that is what we come together to discuss in each class.  The stories that people in the class are working on will organically lead to discussions about the craft of writing that will apply not just to that particular story, but to the art of writing in general--to all our stories.  In critiquing a fellow writer’s story, one is also, on the deepest level, engaged in articulating a personal aesthetic.  The idea of a workshop is to then harness the clarity of those personal articulations back into one’s own writing.

English 498: MFA Creative Nonfiction Workshop

Instructor: John Bresland
Schedule: Tuesdays, 6:00 - 9:00 PM
Application for English 498

Shortly after the invention of the telephone in 1876, the increasing concentration of electrical lines crisscrossing the American landscape caused a problem: audio quality was dropping everywhere. Electrical interference—noise—turned out to be the cause. Alexander Graham Bell found that when he bound two copper lines loosely together, the twisted pair greatly improved the ratio of signal-to-noise. That discovery led to the balanced circuits in place today, connecting billions of people to zettabytes of imbalanced data. Our nonfiction workshop takes inspiration from the twisted pair by reading essays that coil loosely and at times haphazardly around one another, as when Ginger Strand channels and ultimately furthers John Berger’s “Why Look at Animals?” (1977) with her essay “Why Look at Fish?” in 2005. When Teju Cole rereads and reconsiders James Baldwin’s “Stranger in the Village” (1953) with his own written attempt in 2014, a reader can’t help but feel as though one is eavesdropping on a master class. Another essay pair finds resonance in the use of extended metaphor, as in “The Last Vet” (2010) by Aminatta Forna and “Driving as Metaphor” (2019) by Rachel Cusk. Both “Stop Blaming Jaws” (2013) by Heather Havrilesky and “F/X Porn” (1998) by David Foster Wallace find congruence in the cinema as subject matter, each drilling down to one blockbuster in particular, one attacking as the other defends. Every week we will read some new pairing of essays that focuses our inquiry on the craft of essay-making. This being a workshop, we will take inspiration from these readings and filter them through our own biases and blind-spots, producing new written work intended for audiences of the literary essay. One of the main goals of this course will be to assemble a library of formal tools that can help us recognize and respond to varied aesthetic demands.

Categories: Broad Interest