Spring 2020 MFA Course Descriptions
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
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.