Graduate Course Seminars - Spring 2019
Seminar in Creative Writing
Graduate Fiction Workshop
This seminar, primarily for MFA fiction writers, will focus on the workshopping of student-produced works of fiction, with a goal of producing publishable, high quality literary work. Students will write, submit, and revise 2 original works of fiction, either stories or excerpts from longer works. In addition, students will write, and be expected to discuss, rigorous critiques of their classmates' works, as well as complete other smaller assignments that enable them to practice self-assessment. We will also read and analyze a variety of published fiction, as well as texts on fictional craft and, if possible, will interview published authors. (Non-MFAs may enroll, but should email Professor Coake at email@example.com to discuss the class, and their experience writing fiction, before doing so.)
Topics and Problems in Creative Writing
In this seminar, we will focus our inquiry into the "problems" associated with writing intimacy and earning honest sentiment from our readers. Texts required of all participants will serve as models for our journey, and each participant will also choose a text(s) to present to the group. We will begin by trying to define those topics that sometimes intimidate us, both as writers and readers, noting that these topics are not just explorations of physical/romantic intimacy. They are often those topics that make us uncomfortable in other ways-disease, issues of class/gender/identity, religion, shame...
Participants are expected to actively contribute to discussions, bringing their own world views and concerns to the table. A significant part of the seminar will focus on creative work generated by these discussions; some of this work will come from prompts, but all will be encouraged to make work that they consider challenging and important to their growth as literary artists.
Poetry Writing Workshop
Poetry's Topics, Poetry's Audiences
In this graduate poetry seminar, our main focus will be on generating, writing, offering constructive critique of, and revising poems. We will do so in the context of a semester-long inquiry into questions of audience, accessibility, and the relation between lived experience and larger public and political issues. Throughout the semester, we will read collections of post-1950s North American poetry that engage with these issues, with a focus on how these collections can inform our own writing. We will consider the relation between (and validity of distinctions between) personal and public poems, accessibility and difficulty, and questions of voice and form. Midway through the semester, students will write an 8-10 page essay on a topic related to course readings in relation to their own work. Toward and the end of the semester, they will be encouraged to write a longer poem or poem-in-parts involving research and/or publicly available source materials. Readings may include volumes by Robert Lowell, Frank O'Hara, W.S. Merwin, Lucille Clifton, Claudia Rankine, Natasha Tretheway, Juan Felipe Herrera, Carl Phillips, Evie Shockley, Javier Zamora, Kaveh Akbar, and Tommy Pico.
Problems in Language (be sure to select 4 cr when registering)
Invented Words, Invented Worlds: The Art and Science of Constructed Languages
In this course, we will explore the history, art, and development of constructed languages, from Esperanto to Quenya to Dothraki. Students will have the opportunity to create and workshop their own languages and the milieus they occupy, informed by a purposeful discussion of the structure and typology of natural human languages. All welcome, including novelists, linguists, anthropologists, historians, and any others interested in exploring invented languages.
No previous linguistics experience is necessary.
Topics in Literature
Latinx Literary and Cultural Studies
This seminar will offer a panoramic view of literature and cultural production by U.S. Latinx subjects from the final decades of the 20th century continuing on to the present. Applying a historically-informed transamerican approach, we will explore dictatorship novels, performance art, nonfiction, and popular culture. We will also study critical issues related to dispossession, diaspora, illegalities, (cultural) citizenship, labor, education, and gender politics. Likely writers and artists include Junot Díaz, Julia Alvarez, Coco Fusco, Regina José Galindo, Héctor Tobar, and Reyna Grande. Films might include Born in East L.A., Selena, and Finding Oscar.
Problems in Contemporary Rhetoric and Composition
This course will focus on areas veins of contemporary rhetorical scholarship: publics theory; social movements; and, political economy. Each of these subfields uses both rhetorical and critical theories to understand and engage the most pressing problems of our contemporary moment. As the institutions, technologies, and social practices that dominate communication change, these theories have to be extended, revised, and/or repurposed to keep pace with the realities that inform our everyday and political experiences in the world. Consequently, this course will focus how sociopolitical, cultural, and economic issues require the invention of new theoretical modes, including but not limited to neo-Marxism, new materialism, posthumanism, and affect studies. In addition, we will explore how these theories challenge scholars to rethink classical rhetorical terms. This course does not require any background in rhetoric or critical theory-just an interest in exploring the relationships among power, discourse, and practices of engagement.
Problems in Writing
The Politics of Literacy
It has long been claimed that learning to read and write well leads to all kinds of advancement: you'll be smarter, more economically competitive, socially empowered-even happier. In this course, we'll examine to what extent these myriad claims hold up, asking, "What can literacy do-and not do-for whom, and in what contexts?"
Engaging with scholarship in literacy and composition studies, education, anthropology-even neuroscience-we will interrogate claims made for the consequences of literacy. We will read these theories alongside case studies from classrooms in present-day Detroit to slave quarters in the antebellum south, from a community center in the impoverished Tenderloin of San Francisco to the interior of a men's maximum-security prison in middle-America. In these diverse contexts, we will interrogate how the benefits of literacy are often unevenly distributed across lines of race, gender, disability, class, nationality, citizenship, and geography.
Throughout, we will grapple with debates about what literacy is, and the social and political factors affecting whose literac(ies) count. Our work, above all, will be not only to identify barriers to literacy learning, but to rethink how our scholarship, teaching, and community programs may promote more equitable access to literacy and its possibilities.
Problems in the Victorian Age
Topics in Anglophone Literature
Sounding the Anglophone Novel
We're used to thinking about reading as a unidirectional process involving eyes on paper. But throughout the twentieth century, the print book overlapped with, competed against, and was supplemented by other media forms that pose difficult questions. Does hearing an author read their work "count" as reading it? How do podcasts, audiobooks, and radio interviews shift our understanding of authorship? The text? The literary field? How does the presence of novelists on transnational broadcasting services challenge (or reinforce) national, imperial, or postcolonial rubrics?
These are pressing questions in part because novelists have tended to downplay their work in non-print media. For instance, V. S. Naipaul's Nobel Prize acceptance speech omits his start as a broadcaster on the Caribbean Service. Naipaul was hardly alone-a host of other novelists walked the halls of Broadcasting House as well. Yet writers and literary scholars alike have largely overlooked the effects of the financial support, transnational audience, and remediating influence of the BBC. Radio constitutes a textual unconscious of the global Anglophone novel, a form created, nurtured, and spread by the BBC-alongside efforts by publishers, schools, and the British Council-well before its recent institutionalization in the university. This course, then, offers an overview of what we now call the global Anglophone novel as modulated by the BBC.
Course texts are likely to include novels by Naipaul, E. M. Forster, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, C. L. R. James, Attia Hosain, Mulk Raj Anand, Amos Tutuola, Ahdaf Soueif, Elizabeth Bowen, and Samuel Selvon. We will pull together as a supportive community to read these works by the lights of globalization, the archive, postcolonialism, and global modernism, drawing on methods from sound studies, disability studies, radio studies, periodical studies, and-of course-theory of the novel. No experience in radio or the novel is expected or required; the course will be useful for literature graduate students and-given its attention to the publishing world and contemporary literature-MFA students interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the roots of contemporary fiction and their own place on the larger literary map.
Fulfills MA distribution requirement in Fiction or British Lit after 1800.
Topics in Writing
Writing the Novel
Do you have a great idea for a novel? Have you been thinking about writing one but aren't sure where to start? Have you begun writing one and found yourself bogged down in the middle? Have you written a first draft but aren't sure how to revise the manuscript? Are you curious about the process of publishing a novel? This class is for you! We will consider what defines the novel as a form, how writing one differs from writing the short story (it's not just length!), how to organize and structure the novel, how to approach revision, and the publication process for the novel. Students will study several published novels, outline their own novel, write and revise a partial manuscript, and research agents and publishing houses. Writers of all fiction genres (literary, fantasy, science fiction, young adult, mystery, thriller, horror, romance, etc.) are welcome!
Please note: While you will be writing a substantial amount of new fiction in this course, this is not a workshop. You may enroll in this course even if you are also applying for creative writing workshops.
Topic in Writing
Community Writing and Social Change
*this is a service-learning course*
Whose voices matter? This class explores 1) how alternative voices and perspectives are often excluded from public debate, and 2) how marginalized communities engage in self-publishing in order to gain access to public debate and to make their voices heard. But rather than explore this topic from afar, this course will focus on hands-on, community practice. Specifically, we will partner with local community organizations to foster oral history projects with Reno residents. Going beyond simply recording those voices, we will help "publish" these histories for wider audiences, in print, audio, and/or digital formats. This class provides students with the opportunity to connect their academic and writing skills to public life: you will gain experience working with diverse populations and designing and producing publications.
Topics in Professional Writing
Proposal writing provides students with the skills to write effective proposals and other persuasive documents for selected audiences. The course is broken roughly into two phases. During the first phase, students study several models of persuasion and learn the fundamentals of seeking funding and preparing grants; this phase is interwoven with the collaborative writing of a grant for a community organization. During the second phase of the workshop, students focus on writing individual proposals that meet their personal goals, such as community grants, graduate school applications, book proposals, and/or articles for mass media. Prerequisites: 303 or junior standing.
Advanced Nonfiction Writing
This team-based, project-based course will respond to community challenges via communication design thinking. Students will deploy nonfiction genres in contexts that can include a variety of communication modes and media, audiences, and purposes.
Advanced Nonfiction Writing
Finding Your Style
This workshop is an intensive exercise in honing individual style in non-fiction prose. By reading stylistics theory, doing grammar work, conducting style analysis, and putting principles into practice, students will develop an awareness of their writing "voices" and expand their style repertoires. They will create new documents for professional contexts and revise previously written documents for style. The final portfolio will include before-and-after versions of these documents as well as a capstone essay defining students' style. Prerequisites: 303 or junior standing.
Advanced Creative Writing: Fiction I/II
This course is a workshop on the craft of fiction writing, with emphasis on the short story. Students will write at least two new, complete short stories and will submit these stories to the class to be critiqued during workshop. Students will also carefully critique, both in writing and in class discussion, all other student stories submitted to the workshop. Students will substantially revise their stories for submission in a final portfolio. Students will read contemporary published works of fiction, respond to and analyze these readings, and complete a variety of writing exercises. A fiction workshop depends on the active participation of all its members; students will therefore be expected not only to attend class, but also to provide regular, thoughtful, constructive comments.
As this is a course for writers with some experience, seats are available by application only. Please fill out the application form included below. Submit it and a fiction writing sample (a complete short story, or an excerpt from a longer work, 7-10 double-spaced, numbered pages) to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Include both the application form and the writing sample in the same PDF. Your PDF attachment should be labeled with your last name and story title ("Last Name Title"), and the subject line of your email should read: "ENG 403/603 Application," followed by your last name.
For fullest consideration, you should submit your application by 5:00pm on November 5.
ENG 403/603 APPLICATION
E-mail Address (PRINT CLEARLY AND BE CASE-SPECIFIC):
Course you're applying for:
Special considerations (graduating senior, have applied before, etc.):
Have you taken 305 and/or 205? When?
Briefly list some of your favorite works of fiction, and why you admire them:
Briefly assess the strengths and weaknesses of your writing, and what you hope to gain from taking the fiction workshop:
Advanced Creative Writing: Poetry I/II
This is an advanced course in the craft of poetry writing. The class meets twice a week, with each week split between workshop days, where we read, discuss, and critique student writing, and studio days, where we will work on in-class writing exercises, discuss work by published authors, and refine elements of craft. We are living in the midst of an exciting time for poetry as a written and performative art; we will consider this contemporary energy in the context of poetic history. Interested students should complete the application form and submit a five-page writing sample to email@example.com. For fullest consideration you should submit your application by 5:00pm on November 5
[Insert link to application form.]
Principles of Modern Grammar
This course will provide an introduction to modern syntactic theory, with an emphasis on the Principles and Parameters approach to formal syntax. The course will cover parts of speech, constituency, structural relations, binding, and the X-bar model of representation. Functional categories, theta theory, and movement will also be considered. Data from a wide variety of languages will be considered in addition to English.
Principles of Modern Grammar
This course is an introduction to theories involving the structure of phrases, clauses, and sentences. We will explore two theoretical models that represent important yet distinct theoretical approaches in linguistics: Generative Syntax and Construction Grammar. In addition to learning the descriptive and explanatory tools of these models, we will explore the broader question of what it means to build a theoretical model of language. Among the topics to be covered are parts of speech, constituency, binding, constructions, and argument structure.
Language is one of the most fundamental of human capacities. We are able to speak even before we have mastered many of our basic skills, and well before we start any formal education. As we will explore in this class, such abilities and the creative capacity of human language suggests a specialized brain design containing the blueprint or universal grammar that generates all spoken language.
History of the English Language
Language is an intimate and essential part of our roles as students of literature and writing. The language we read and strive to make our own in our writing is the product of countless generations of speakers and writers, and it is the product of the cumulative impact of all these speakers. This course is an introduction to the history and development of the English language from its earliest roots up to the beginning of the modern period. In addition to learning about the history of our language, you will directly encounter the early stages of English through guided translation of brief passages of Old English and Middle English. These passages will serve as a starting point for our explorations of the successive Englishes we will encounter, and will directly demonstrate the gradual emergence of the language we use today.
Text: Text: Elly van Gelderen. A History of the English Language.
Literature of the American West
This special version of English 429C, which will be called "The American Film Western and its Troubled Legacy," focuses on American western films rather than western American literature. This approach to the course examines the culture, iconography, and landscape of the American West through the lens of one of the earliest and most durable of film genres: the western. To study the ways this perennial film genre has represented our region, we will adopt a multi-faceted critical approach, one that takes seriously the powerful and sometimes disturbing ways in which film westerns have engaged issues of gender, race, and ethnicity, and themes of violence, masculinity, nationalism, and individualism. The course will include study of a range of western or western-inspired films: early, silent film westerns such as The Great Train Robbery (Edwin S. Porter, 1903); classic studio-era westerns such as High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1952), Shane (George Stevens, 1953), or The Searchers (John Ford, 1956); revisionist westerns that radically challenge the genre's conventions, such as The Misfits (John Huston, 1961), The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969), Little Big Man (Arthur Penn, 1970), or Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992); radical extensions to the form, such as Thelma and Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991), The Ballad of Little Jo (Maggie Greenwald Mansfield, 1993), Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1996), The Big Lebowski (Coen Brothers, 1998), Smoke Signals (Chris Eyre, 1998), Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005), or Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012); and even parodies of the genre, such as Wild and Wooly (John Emerson, 1917), Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974), or A Million Ways to Die in the West (Seth MacFarlane, 2014). The course will engage cinematic works in terms of their historical, cultural, and technological contexts while also inviting close reading and careful analysis of the films as unique texts shaped by their director's distinctive styles. Although this course is designed to support the English Department's growing Minor in Cinema and Media Studies, everyone is welcome in the class, and no previous experience with film studies is required or expected.
Chaucer's Canterbury Tales present a microcosm of English Literature, and the experience of reading the tales can provide us with a model for reading literature as a whole. The Tales include a wide variety of genres, such as a romance, confessional prologues, a fairy tale or two, attack tales, a medieval equivalent of a modern "slice of life" short story, and, in particular, multiple fabliaux, a genre upon which Chaucer rings so many changes that some of the later ones threaten to explode the genre altogether. Because each tale is narrated by a different pilgrim, each one possesses its own voice and presents a distinct perspective on the comedy of human experience, and all of them are in dialogue with one or more of the other tales. Chaucer was writing at the beginning of the transition from the medieval world to our modern world, and his tales frequently combine a medieval aesthetic with a realistic eye for the telling detail. Although the Tales are written in Middle English, Chaucer's London dialect is the ancestor of the English we speak today, and his smoothly-flowing narratives are readily accessible to us with the aid of marginal glosses.
The tales are extraordinarily engaging, and each one opens up new vistas of possibilities in interpretation: they can be read and understood as individual tales, as the expression of the pilgrims narrating them, as part of the many conversations among the pilgrims, and also as integral parts of the greater whole, the series of tales told by the pilgrims as they journey from Southwerk to Canterbury. If you have previously encountered only a portion of the Tales, you will find that this portion has given you only a small sample of the rich literary fabric of the Tales as a whole.
Texts: Geoffrey Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales. Ed. Robert Boenig and Andrew Taylor.
Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Trans. Victor Watts.
Shakespeare: Comedies and Romances
Topics in Film Studies
This "Topics in Film" course will focus on the adaptation of literary works for the cinema. We will begin our semester with some theoretical readings that will provide an overview of the field of adaptation studies and give us some vocabulary with which to move beyond the questions of a film's "faithfulness" to its literary source material (such marital metaphors nearly always posit the original text as an exemplary spouse and its filmic version doomed to infidelity). From there, we will explore the processes of adapting novels, short stories, plays, and graphic novels for the screen, using rich examples to illustrate each. In some cases, we will read a text and watch more than one film adaptation of it, which will provide dazzling opportunities for comparing and contrasting the range of approaches filmmakers can take to the same literary works-Lolita and The Taming of the Shrew are probable candidates for this treatment. Other likely films (and their corresponding source materials) include The Color Purple, Memento, Brokeback Mountain, Persepolis, and Adaptation.
Contemporary British Literature
From Great Britain to Little England
This course traces the contradictions of post-war British literary culture, one of unparalleled expansion in the form of an increasingly multi-cultural Britain, a truly global publishing industry, and membership in the EU. At the same time, Britain significantly contracted thanks to decolonization, xenophobic nationalisms, and the 2016 vote for Brexit. This course offers an overview of British Literature since World War II, a period during which the terms "British" and "Literature" were continually reimagined as the class structure loosened, the empire was formally dismantled, and a generation of colonial subjects were lured to the UK to work, but then held at arm's length when they arrived. It was also a period that witnessed some downright quirky cultural productions: e.g. Monty Python, Yellow Submarine, and the Sex Pistols. To better understand the tumult, we'll consider poetry, film, and fiction from Seamus Heaney, Daljit Nagra, Louise Bennett, Danny Boyle, Hanif Kureishi, Zadie Smith, Jeanette Winterson, Seamus Deane, and Sam Selvon.
American Literature I
This course will survey nineteenth-century American literature, with a special emphasis on writers working during the American Romantic Period: the literary heyday that occurred between about 1820 and the start of the Civil War in 1861. Course readings will cover a range of literary genres: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, humor, essay, address, and nature writing. After a brief study of the early romantic writer Washington Irving, we will focus on a number of major authors of the American Renaissance: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Herman Melville. We will also read a constellation of texts associated with Native American removal and resistance, and we will also read the vitally important fugitive slave narratives written by Frederick Douglass and by Harriet Jacobs. The course concludes with a study of the poetry of the period. After brief consideration of the "Fireside" poets (William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes), we will focus on the poetry of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. The course offers a combination of short lecture, class discussion, and small-group work, and will approach literary works in terms of their historical and cultural contexts while also inviting close reading and careful analysis.
The British Novel II
Character, Culture, Conflict
We will read several masterpieces of British fiction from the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, beginning with Emily Brontë's darkly passionate Wuthering Heights and her sister Charlotte's haunting, gothic-romantic Jane Eyre, and moving toward the gender-bending, thoughtful but comic fantasy Orlando (Virginia Woolf) and Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, the nostalgic story of war, history, and cultural change. Along the way we will be reading stories of romances, pure and perverse; of forbidden love; of class wars and the distance between generations; of clashes between families, religions, and societies; of moral hypocrisy by such writers as Thomas Hardy, James Joyce, and D. H. Lawrence. Our authors explore the more disturbing aspects of human psychology and the logic and justice of social conventions, and offer insight into the anxieties and pressures that arise as an old way of living gives way to a new-as the past and present are shaken and transformed by different notions of "modernity." In the course of the semester we will encounter and explore huge changes in the ways novels were conceived, written, and narrated: the experimentation with and innovations in novelistic form are remarkable.
These stories are about conflict-within oneself, and between the individual and family, society, or some other community. Our authors ask big questions about competing commitments: at what point do we have the right to acknowledge and own values that are at odds with those around us? The protagonists we will follow in this course-hapless orphans, isolated bookworms, innocent maidens-are often coming of age, or otherwise grappling with who they are and what they might (or might not) become. Along the way, our authors also comment on a wide range of social problems, including gender biases, class inequity, and the persecution of the different.
This course, designed for English majors and minors, addresses issues that have special significance to the genres of autobiographical writing: truth and truth-telling, collaboration and ghostwriting, authenticity and ownership, ethical uses of sensitive material in memoir, the problems of memory, the "market" and reading public for memoirs. Although this is not a course in memoir-writing, the assignments will provide students an opportunity to experience autobiographical writing from the inside (with a personal narrative) as well as from outside (with critical analyses and a book review). Students completing the course will be able to read memoirs with reasonable expectations and critically evaluate contemporary discussions of life writing.
All the texts for the course are by American authors, and we will focus primarily on "literary" autobiography although we will also choose one celebrity memoir to read and discuss together. Although we will refer to excerpts from the autobiographies of Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass, we'll begin our course reading with two mid-twentieth-century classics: The Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Woman Warrior. Then we'll branch out into several more recent works (including Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun Home) that will spark our discussion of the questions of identity and belonging that American autobiographical writing addresses so frequently and poignantly. Finally, each student will choose one memoir to read independently and discuss with the class.
Critical readings will include Thomas Couser's Memoir: An Introduction, a helpful guide that, among other things, discusses interesting differences between fiction and autobiography. For further information about course goals and assignments-and for a complete list of readings-- please contact Kathy Boardman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Creative (or literary) nonfiction, sometimes referred to as "the fourth genre," rarely receives the same level of critical attention as fiction, poetry, and drama. Nevertheless, nonfiction continues to be popular among American readers, and the past several generations of nonfiction writers have produced superb work that not only informs but also delights and moves readers.
This course will help you develop the tools to discuss and evaluate key features of literary nonfiction, such as style, structure, purpose, narrative persona, research strategies, and the changing expectations of the genre. In addition to developing critical reading skill, you will practice writing essays in and about creative nonfiction: several brief style analyses as well as one critical essay and one piece of your own creative nonfiction.
We will begin with three important mid-twentieth-century collections: Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem, James Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son, and Loren Eiseley's The Immense Journey. These authors are often cited by later nonfiction writers for their style and their insightful discussions of culture, science, and personal identity. Then, turning to more recent authors (such as David Sedaris, Lauren Redniss, and Leslie Jamison), we will discuss how-and how successfully-they have adapted, developed, and extended this interesting genre.
Native American Literature
Contemporary Native American writers have inherited the rich storytelling legacy passed to them through their ancestral oral traditions. In English 494A we will explore the literary and cultural contributions of America's First Peoples.
Senior Research Project in Literature
This course will teach students how to perform original research on a topic of literary and/or cultural merit. Students will be introduced to a range of texts, including literature, secondary criticism, and archival resources, and they will learn how read, analyze, and discuss a number of intellectual topics. Students will gain knowledge in a variety of literary theories, such as feminism, Marxism, critical race theory, queer theory, cultural studies, and postcolonial theory, and they will learn how to employ these frameworks as methods for reading. Students will also be encouraged to work with digital humanities and new media as a way of connecting their work with larger social movements, academic conversations, or the public at large.