Spring 2020 MFA Course Descriptions


I. WORKSHOPS

 

English 751: Fiction Workshop

Class no. 27026

Professor John Weir

Tuesday 6:40-8:30pm, KY-173

 

In this course, we will banish the “silent workshop” in which a writer sits mute while their work is diagnosed as if it were a disease.  Instead, each writer who submits work will be asked to outline for their classmates the specific writerly or technical/strategic narrative problems or challenges they have set for themselves.  “I wanted to write a first-person story where the narrator doesn’t know the whole story but the reader somehow does.”  “I wanted to write a story in which I never used the letter ‘e.’”  And so forth.  Writers will submit three new stories over the course of the semester, and we will read and consider a number of craft essays that highlight certain aspects of craft; and that argue against the fetishizing of “craft” – Matt Salesses’s “Pure Craft is a Lie,” for instance.  Throughout, the writer’s voice will be central to class discussion.

 

 

English 753: Poetry Workshop: First Books

Professor Nicole Cooley

Class no. 27028

Wednesday 6:40-8:30pm, KP-708

 

In this poetry workshop, we will read a range of recent first books of poems as we workshop our own poems, exploring what we can learn from some of the most inventive and startling debut collections of the past several years.  We will discuss the intersection of current poetry with critical race theory, disability studies, and new work on gender and sexuality.  We will investigate how these debut books are in conversation with contemporary political and social issues and how they are inflected by the theoretical genealogies of contemporary poetry.

 

 In addition, we will focus on a variety of formal issues raised by these collections, such as book structure and architecture, juxtaposition, arrangement, notes and epigraphs. And finally, we will talk about the world of poetry publication and how first books come into print.

 

Class time will be spent on in-class writing generative exercises, workshops of your poems, and discussion of the assigned texts and their poetic practices.

 

Books to be assigned include Shira Erlichman’s Odes to Lithium; Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother was an Aztec; Solmaz Sharif’s Look; Eduardo Corral’s Slow Lightning; Stacy Waite’s Butch Geography and Molly McCully Brown’s The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, among other texts.

 

English 755: Playwriting Workshop

Professor Ira Hauptman

Class no. 27083

Thursdays 6:40-8:30pm, KY-325

 

It's been said that playwriting can't be taught, but it can be learned. This class will focus on close examination of students’ plays-in-progress as the first stage of a development process that will help create a producible script. The class's main objective is to help the student tell the story that he or she wants to tell.

 

Undergraduate acting students will be available during class to read from your plays.

 

Topics covered along the way will include: traditional play structure; deviations from traditional play structure; the nature of character; the role of theme; how to give directors, actors and designers what they need to find in a script; and  the most effective and respectful ways to criticize the work of other playwrights.

 

You will also be able to more fully understand what you've written—and what needs to be rewritten—by having one of your plays performed at Queens Theatre in Flushing.  The class will also read contemporary plays and attend an Off-Broadway theatre performance.​

 

 

 

English 757: Comics Craft: Unpacking the World of Graphic Narratives

Professor Josh Neufeld

Class no. 27084

Mon 6:30pm-8:20pm, KY-148

 

In his seminal work Understanding Comics, cartoonist Scott McCloud writes, “The art form — the medium — known as comics is a vessel which can hold any number of ideas and images.” This craft class will explore the dynamic realm of sequential art, and the ways that comics can produce powerful moments of frisson. We will discuss showing vs. telling vs. implying, and encapsulation, as well as McCloud’s theories of closure, word/picture combinations, and transitions — all through the lens of the graphic narratives we’ll be reading throughout the semester. Equally important in comics is a sense of play: we’ll unpack the “comics process” and devote class time to various brainstorming and collaborative exercises that have been proven useful in producing strong comics work. Early in the semester you will formulate a short comics project of your own, which you will work on throughout the term according to an individual plan. Please bring writing and drawing materials — whichever ones you’re most comfortable with.

 

Texts for the course include McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Making Comics; Matt Madden’s 99 Ways to Tell a Story, Ivan Brunetti’s Cartooning: Philosophy & Practice, Alison Bechdel, Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, Harvey Pekar, Lynda Barry, Tom Hart, G.B. Tran, Craig Thompson, Seth, David B., Gabrielle Bell, and others.

II. CRAFT CLASSES

 

English 760:  Hybridity: a multi-genre craft class on hybrid texts

Professor Kimiko Hahn

Class no. 27086

Mon 6:40 pm-8:30 pm, KY-325

 

When pulling together a hybrid text, what kinds of choices are there? How to even make choices? And, when there is more than one genre or medium, how to revise, say, juxtaposition?

 

The hybrid text is not new: the word and our regard for the multi-genre approach is relatively new. We will begin by exploring a number of classics then move into the contemporary.  The goal is to consider these texts as approaches and models for our own work.

 

For the hands-on dimension of the class, we will mix up various texts, genres, and media. Students should expect to write new material, literally rip up your old stuff, and research in areas that may be alien to you (such as Scarabaeidae or sex trafficking or origins of canals). Eventually, everyone will lay everything out on the floor to get a picture of progression and cohesion.

 

If you are experiencing more than one genre in our MFA Program (especially those in creative non-fiction and translation), you may wish to consider a hybrid thesis. I will point you in the direction of several by alum.

 

And, by the way, many of the MFA profs have been working cross-genre, and the results can be dazzling..

 

 

 

English 761: Creative Nonfiction in Theory and Practice: Voice

Professor Jason Tougaw

Class no. 27087

Tuesday 4:40-6:30pm, KP-708


Voice is a metaphor. We borrow qualities of speech, song, screams, whispers, grunts, and yelps to describe a sustained pattern of language that enables readers to perceive the presence of a writer’s personality, self, or sensibility. Many—and maybe all—the elements of craft involved in creative nonfiction depend on voice: Scene, dialogue, narration, observation, imagery, commentary, structure. The same goes for the ethics and epistemology of creative nonfiction: truth, subjectivity, memory, commitment, responsibility, sources. Voice is fundamentally related to self, but not identical to it. It’s a partial and mutable expression of a writer’s personal and public identities, of consciousness and persona.

In this course, we’ll explore the variety of tools and conventions writers use to build, establish, and assert their voices depending on the forms they’re writing: Investigative journalism, lyric essays, graphic narratives, listicles, and memoirs. We’ll read a variety of creative nonfiction, commentary on the genre, and theories of voice. Long readings will likely include: James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Joe Brainard’s I Remember, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Ellen Forney’s Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me, Antjie Krog, Nosisi Mpolweni, and Kapano Ratele’s There Was This Goat: Investigating the Truth Commission Testimony of Notrose Nobomvu Konile; shorter readings will likely include writing by Elizabeth Kolbert, Mira Jacob, Michele de Montaigne, Eve Babitz, Tracey Thorn, Peter Elbow, and Charles Bernstein. Through, weekly writing exercises and a semester project, students will practice techniques for crafting voice that emerge from our readings.

 

ENG 763: Craft of Translation

Professor Roger Sedarat

Class no. 27088

Monday 4:40-6:30pm, KP-708 

 

“Reading a translation,” wrote Cervantes, “is like looking at a tapestry on the wrong side.”  This craft class attempts to unweave the creative process of translation, exposing threads of meaning and style in English literary renderings. A series of low-stakes exercises—some based on our semester-long projects and others that require experiments outside the usual genre in which we translate—hone various rhetorical skills required to successfully bring literature into another language. Special concerns include that which notoriously gets “lost in translation,” such as the rendering of tone and musicality. Interrogating our respective source and translated texts along a spectrum from strict equivalence to creative interpretation, we develop individual and project-specific translation aesthetics informed by relevant criticism and theory.

 

Though some knowledge of at least one foreign language proves helpful, fluency is not a requirement. Operating from the premise that better writers make better translators, MFA students in poetry, fiction, and drama will also greatly benefit from this craft course.