Graduate Creative Writing: Trauma & Witness

BROAD PURPOSE OF COURSE
An investigation into the stylistic, theoretical, and technical elements of different creative genres, such as fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and/or writing for performance, through contemporary literature, literary theory, and writing exercises. This course is provided in both a seminar and a workshop format and concentrates on the analysis of contemporary literature as well as the production, critique, and revision of student writing.

COURSE OBJECTIVES
Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

    • Discover and design strategies for the composition and revision of poems, short stories, nonfiction essays, and/or writing for performance
    • Participate constructively in the workshop process by critiquing the works of fellow students
    • Integrate the terms, techniques, and theories of the craft within their own writing
    • Detect contemporary trends in the literature of witness and trauma theory
    • Analyze literary texts of witness from a variety of genres through the lens of contemporary trauma theory
    • Evaluate poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama from a writer’s perspective based on theories of the craft
    • Devise research techniques for creative projects.

REQUIRED TEXTS AND MATERIALS

      • Carolyn Forche (ed.) Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness
      • Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub (eds.), Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature,
      • Psychoanalysis, and HistoryCathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History
      • Margaret Edson, Wit
      • Toni Morrison, Beloved
      • Elie Wiesel, Night
      • Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

One or more craft books in the genre(s) of your choice.
Some suggested titles:

      • Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry
      • Tom Bailey (ed.) On Writing Short Stories
      • Josip Novakovich, Fiction Writer’s Workshop
      • Lajos Egri, The Art of Dramatic Writing
      • Alice LaPlante, The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Writing Fiction and Nonfiction
      • Philip Gerard (ed.) Writing Creative Nonfiction
      • Janet Burroway, Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft
      • Heather Sellers, The Practice of Creative Writing: A Guide for Students

GRADING POLICY

  • Portfolio of creative work 45%
  • Scholarly book reviews (2, 15% each) 30%
  • Presentation 15%
  • Weekly assignments 10%

IMPORTANT DETAILS

Final portfolio (50%): Over the course of the semester you will be expected to compose at least five creative projects in at least two genres (fiction, poetry, writing for performance, creative nonfiction) to submit to group and/or individual workshops. You will also turn in a final portfolio at the end of the semester containing the original drafts of your work and substantial revisions of four of the five projects. In addition to the creative projects, you will also perform an analysis of the writing and revision process you used to reach your final drafts based on the theories of craft and the theories of trauma and witness we have explored throughout the semester.

Scholarly book reviews (30%): You will complete a total of two reviews of books in different genres dealing with witness; a substantial list of works for you to choose from will be provided for you, or you can choose a text of your own with my permission. Each review will be 4 to 6 pages in length and will explore the text at hand in a scholarly manner that examines issues of craft and places the work within the context of contemporary literature of witness and trauma theory. You will also introduce each text briefly to the class in an informal presentation.

Presentation (10%): You will research, prepare, and present to the class a lesson plan based on your personal interests. Your lesson may consist of either an aspect of the theory and literature of witness/trauma or an aspect of the craft that introduces students to a particular element of creative writing.

Weekly assignments (10%): In addition to the formal creative assignments, you will also complete weekly exercise assignments designed to help generate material and explore new approaches to subject matter; you’ll be required to complete ten of these weekly exercises throughout the semester. Sometimes we will have time to work on these exercises in class. All exercises should be posted to Blackboard by 12 midnight on a Wednesday and cannot be turned in late. The exercises will be graded on the extent to which you are willing to pursue what the prompts ask of you.

Participation and attendance: Because this is a creative workshop, the success of this course is dependent upon every student’s presence and active participation. I expect you to be in class on time and prepared; class participation also includes reading and responding to your classmates’ work prior to each workshop. If you are not in class on the day your piece is scheduled to be work shopped, you will be responsible for seeking feedback and working on revising the piece on your own.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism occurs when a student submits someone else’s work as her own and includes copying from printed materials, from internet cheat-sites, or from any other source in any form without giving credit to the original author. This course focuses on your individual creative work, and I would much rather have your own, honest effort even if it falls short of excellent. If you use another person’s work or an outside source on your creative or critical work for this course and fail to acknowledge the original source, I WILL GIVE YOU A GRADE OF ZERO on the plagiarized assignment and submit the work to the Academic Integrity panel.

Late Work: Work that is late will be penalized one letter grade for each week it is late. Work more than two weeks late will not be accepted. If you’re unable to come to class the day an assignment is due, please email me the essay or assignment by the beginning of the class period in which the assignment is due so that I can give you credit for completing it on time. You should also give me a hard copy of the assignment as soon as you are able to make it to class. Weekly assignments will not be accepted late.

CLASS SCHEDULE

Week 1
Introductions; workshop nuts and bolts; imagery
What it means to witness, what it means to grieve
Exercises 1 & 2 posted to Blackboard by Wednesday midnight

Week 2
Voice; representing the trauma of war, death, and loss
Readings:   Poems from Against Forgetting: Trakl (79-81); Owen (81-84); Lorca (152-156); Kunitz (245-249); Levertov (329-333); Simic (349-355); Ritsos (509-513); Elytis (513-519)
Writing to witness, writing to grieve: Kowit, Addonizzio, Laux (handout)
Due: A one-page experiment/ rough-rough draft in any genre
Exercises 3 & 4 posted to Blackboard by Wednesday midnight

Week 3
Dialogue; character; representing the trauma of illness
Readings:   “Writing as a Way of Healing,” Louise DeSalvo; Wit
Due: Creative project I
Exercise 5 posted to Blackboard by Wed. midnight

Week 4
Workshop; structure and story; representing the Holocaust
Readings:   “Education and Crisis” in Testimony
Night (first half)
Due: Exercise 6 posted to Blackboard by Wed. midnight

Week 5
Workshop; presentation(s)
Readings:   Night (second half)
“Introduction” and “Unclaimed Experience,” Unclaimed Experience
 Poems: Hecht (327-329); Radnoti (368-373); Levi (373-377); Celan (379-385)
Due:  Creative project II
Exercises 7 posted to Blackboard by Wed. midnight

Week 6
Workshop; book reviews
Readings:   Poems from Against Forgetting: Akhmatova (101-108); Mandelstam (121-124); Tsvetayeva (124-128); Brodsky (141-145); Milosz (437-433); Symborska (455-460); Herbert (460-4667); “Traumatic Departures” and “Traumatic Awakenings” in Unclaimed Experience
Due: Book Review I
Exercises 8 posted to Blackboard by Wed. midnight

Week 7
Workshop; presentation
Reading:     Beloved, Part I
Due: Creative Project III
Exercises 9 posted to Blackboard by Wed. midnight

Week 8
Workshop; presentation
Reading:     Beloved, Part II
“Bearing Witness” and “An Event Without a Witness,” Testimony
Due: Exercises 10 posted to Blackboard by Wed. midnight

Week 9
Workshop; presentation
Reading:     Beloved; Petar Ramadanovic, chapters on Beloved in Forgetting Futures: On Memory, Trauma, and Identity (handout)
Due: Creative Project IV
Exercises 11 posted to Blackboard by Wed.midnight

Week 10
Workshop; book reviews
Reading:    Plays, The Twisted State (handout)
Poetry from Latin America: Vallejo (570-573); Neruda (573-579);
Parra (579-587); Dorfman (613-629)
Due: Book Review II due
Exercises 12 posted to Blackboard by Wed.midnight
Individual conferences outside of class

Week 11
Workshop, presentation
Reading: From Vietnam: Komunyakaa (691-694); Weigl (703-707); Fenton (708-711); From The Things They Carried, Online
Due: Creative Project V
Exercises 14 posted to Blackboard
Individual conferences outside of class

Week 12
Workshop, presentations of book reviews
Reading: The Year of Magical Thinking     

Week 13
Final workshop, revision
Reading: The Year of Magical Thinking

Portfolio due and open class reading during our final exam period

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