Course One: Hearing and Seeing
Proposed Texts: Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, The Literary Journalists, edited by Norman Sims, Literary Journalism, edited and with introductions by Norman Sims and Mark Kramer, The Great Plains by Ian Frazier, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell, and The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher.
Here is a tentative syllabus:
Week 1 -- January 26: Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Chapters 1-4; Chee "Annie Dillard and the Writing Life"
Write: Exercise 1 from Ursula Le Guin's Steering the Craft, "Being Gorgeous" -- Write a paragraph to a page (150-300 words) of narrative that's meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect -- any kind of sound effect you like -- but not rhyme or meter.
Week 2 -- February 2: Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Chapters 5-7; and from Literary Journalism, Norman Sims "The Art of Literary Journalism," Mark Kramer, "Breakable Rules for Literary Journalists," and Joseph Mitchell, "The Rivermen"
Write: Exercise 2 from Le Guin, "I am García Márquez" -- Write a paragraph to a page (150-300 words) of narrative with no punctuation and no paragraphs or other breaking devices
Week 3 -- February 9: Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Chapters 8-11; and from Literary Journalism, "First Family of Astoria" by Calvin Trillin, "The American Man at Age Ten" by Susan Orlean, and "The Mounains of Pi" by Richard Preston.
Write: Exercise 3 from Le Guin, "Short and Long" Part One: Write a paragraph of narrative, 100-150 words, in sentences of seven or fewer words. No sentence fragments! Each must have a subject and a verb. Part Two: Write a half-page to a page of narrative, up to 350 words, which is all one sentence.
Week 4 -- February 16: Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Chapters 12-15 (to the end of the book); and from Literary Journalism, "A Family Portrait in Black & White" by Walt Harrington, "Mr. Bellow's Planet," by Brent Staples, "Strawberries Under Ice" by David Quammen.
Write: Exercise 4 from Le Guin, "Verbal Repetition" -- Write a paragraph of narrative (150 words) that inclues at least three repetitions of a noun, verb or adjective (a noticeable word); "Syntactic Repetition -- Write a paragraph to a page of narrative (200-400 words) in which you deliberately repeat the syntactical construction, or the exact rhythm, of a phrase or sentence several times; "Structural Repetition (with Collins/Gilbert modifications)" -- Write a short narrative (750-1500 words), appropriate for a "Modern Love" column in the New York Times, in which something is said or done, and then something is said or done that echoes or repeats it, perhaps in a different context, or by different people, or on a different scale.
Week 5 -- February 23: Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking, whole book; and from Literary Journalism, "Trina and Trina" by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc and "The Ga-Ga Years" by Joseph Nocera.
Write: Exercise 5 from Le Guin, "Chastity" -- Write a paragraph to a page (200-350 words) of descriptive narrative prose without adjectives or adverbs. No dialogue. The point is to give a vivid description of a scene or action, using only verbs, nouns, pronouns or articles. Adverbs of time may be necessary, but be sparing. Be chaste.
Week 6 -- March 2: Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast, p. 1-104 (through the chapter "With Pascin at the Dome"); and from Literary Journalism, "Predilections" by Mark Singer, "The Road Is Very Unfair: Trucking Across Africa in the Age of AIDS" by Ted Conover, and "Access" by Mark Kramer.
Write: Turn in revisions of "Structural Repetition (with Collins/Gilbert modifications)" suitable for submitting for possible publication.
Week 7 -- March 9: Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast, p. 105-211 (to the end of the book); and from Literary Journalism, "Memory" by Tracy Kramer; "Fernande Pelletier" by Jane Kramer and "Atchafalaya" by John McPhee.
Write: Exercise 6 from Le Guin, "The Old Woman (with Collins/Gilbert modifications)." The subject is this: an old woman is washing the dishes, or gardening, or editing a Ph.D dissertation in mathematics (etc.) as she thinks about an event that happened in her youth. Give the scene a Dillard-style attention to observation of detail, utilizing what you know of memory, literary echo (Bible stories, poetry), and biology from the texts we have read thus far. Choose either first or third person; either all past, all present, or now/then in present/past tense. Once this is written, change the person and the tense and rewrite.
Week 8 -- March 9: MFK Fisher, The Gastronomical Me, first half; and from Literary Journalists, tbd/
Write: Turn in revisions of "The Old Woman (with Collins/Gilbert modifications)" suitable for submitting for possible publication.