Spring 2019 MFA Course Descriptions
English 751/Fiction Workshop: The Story. Revised
Class no. 1351; Tues. 6:40–8:30pm
Revision is the most significant aspect of a story. This semester, I want to focus on how you can begin to shape the story you've put down on paper so it matches the one in your head, the one that sparked that first urge to sit down and write it. I want all of you to come prepared with a completed story by the first class. Make this a story you WANT to spend time on, make this a story that confounds you enough that you want to get it right. This isn't a class about showing off what you can do, this is about showing yourself and the class how a story can be transformed into something you didn't even imagine possible. We'll move through this into writing new things, but first, bring in something that you want to look at in a new way.
English 753/ Poetry Workshop: Series, Cycle, Sequence
Class no. 1324; Wed. 6:40–8:30pm
Our focus in this MFA poetry workshop will be on poems that work in sequence. We will investigate cycles and series of poems, both fixed forms and free verse, and we will explore how these poems set poetic modes in tension with one another and how they ask us to think differently about our writing and reading practices.
We will read a range of poem cycles from twentieth and twenty-first century US Poetry. We will read elegies, sonnets, ballads and lunch poems. We will be writing many poems in this class—with weekly assignments as well as poems due for workshop—in order to generate a large body of material so that can think through ideas of sequencing. order, and resonances and connections. Readings will include texts by Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes, Muriel Rukeyser, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Terrance Hayes, Brenda Hillman, Danez Smith, Tiana Clark, Natalie Diaz and Joy Katz.
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. The final project will be a sustained experiment in series or cycle or sequence of poems, accompanied by a short process paper.
English 755/Playwriting Workshop
Class no. 1339; Tues. 6:40–8:30pm
It's been said that playwriting can't be taught, but it can be learned. This course 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; the most effective and respectful ways to criticize the work of other playwrights; if possible, how to more fully understand what you've written—and what needs to be rewritten—by watching and hearing your plays read in front of an audience.
The class will also read contemporary plays, consider playwriting theory, and attend theatre performances.
English 760/ Multi Genre Craft Class: Closure is Not the End
Class no. 1337; Mon. 6:40–8:30pm
As "the last word," closure is a concern for writers of all genres. It is the close of the writer’s relationship with writing and revising; for the reader, it is parting with the immediate experience of both the text and the writer. This parting can be (or should be) an emotional and physical experience. So why is it that texts often end with an easy or obvious—i.e., disappointing—ending? Many feel cliched, as if we’ve read this “poignant” end or punch line before. Or the end feels slapped on as if the writer was in a hurry to get it over (same is true of titles). In this craft class we will explore how various texts achieve closure and why; we will also look into what are our own options may be.
Our discussions will revolve Barbara Herrnstein Smith's text, Poetic Closure, where she presents this theory: “The conclusion of a [text] has a special status in the process, for it is only at that point that the total pattern—the structural principles which we have been testing—is revealed.” The theory presents a means to explore the dynamic play within a text and how all the components play out. It is an incredibly effective method for interpreting literature. For our revision purposes, it is also a tool to test the closure in drafts—no matter what genre and no matter whether the poem, say, is a sonnet or free verse. We will read short texts to acquire a practical understanding of this concept. Writing assignments will allow us to put this theory into practice. Your final project will be in the genre of your choice.
Speaking personally, Smith's theory of Poetic Closure has influenced the way I read, write, and revise.
English 761/Craft of Fiction: Experiments in Mimetic Prose
Class no. 40054; Wed. 6:40–8:30pm
This craft class in fiction will allow students to see new ways of reading and writing fiction by thinking deeply about T.S. Elliot’s quote, “Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.” Using as our foundation short stories and novel excerpts by writers as wide-ranging as Marilynne Robinson, Victor LaValle and Jamaica Kincaid, we will explore various craft issues in fiction from narrative voice and point of view to dialogue and plot through iterative experiments based on these writers’ work. Each class will allow students the opportunities to respond to the readings and peer writers’ work and generate their own writing. By the end of the course, students will have created a portfolio of new work, become familiar with a cadre of new writers, and honed their skills in giving and receiving constructive feedback. Final projects will be experiments inspired by one of the studied writers’ work.
English 763/Craft of Translation
Class no. 1329; Thur. 6:40–8:30pm
Through study and practice, we deepen our understanding of literary translation as an art. Our readings in the theory, history, and experience of translation accompany exercises centered in the languages and genres of special interest to us. How have translators named and defined the questions important to them, and how do we as practicing translators define the questions central to our own work? We explore issues such as the handling of sound in translation and the aural experience of reading; the question of formal equivalence across languages; and how our practice might be informed by – and how it might help us think beyond – the theoretical binaries of domestication/ foreignization and faithfulness/ freedom. While some knowledge of a foreign language is useful, fluency is by no means required. MFA students in fiction, poetry, and drama will also benefit from this craft course.