EN 408 Topics - Spring 2018

 
001 YA Fiction 
MWF 11-11:50
 
This course will focus on young adult fiction, with particular attention to how young adult texts treat the “reality” of being a contemporary young adult—or how they build narrative without vampires or wizards at their disposal. We’ll examine how “realism” itself is often a loose term, especially in the y.a. genre, and how that what’s “real” may vary greatly from narrator to narrator. Of course, we’ll take our own shots at capturing the “real” in the young adult genre. Lastly, this does not exclude—for our reading or our writing—the fantastic or the speculative, even if for the purposes of contrast.
 
002 Humor in Poetry
MW 3-4:15
 
Ours is an age in which Aristotle’s ranking of tragedy as superior to comedy becomes more and more suspect. Like other contemporary artists, comic poets use humor as a device ideally suited to capture “the absurdities, enormities, and pathos of modern life,” says humorous poet Charles Harper Webb. This workshop will explore the presence of humor in contemporary poetry, supplementing and enriching our poetic models and exercises with recent critical texts. Topics will include basic humor techniques; the concept of dark humor, which reminds us of the pain and misery often underlying what we laugh at; humor as subversion—as method for expressing anger and rage; humor as method for opening discourse on taboo subjects; the similarities between poetry and stand-up comedy; humor as strategy in the live poetry reading. Students will produce original poems and occasional reading responses. Writers of all genres are welcome—your serious memoirs and fictions can become seriously funny poems. No joke! 
 
003 Advanced Fiction Writing
MW 3-4:15
 
Students in this class will comprise a close-knit and supportive workshop that functions to provide specific and constructive feedback on short stories we'll work on together, from inception to revision to editing stages. We'll explore craft issues such as point of view, narrative voice, structure, and ways to innovate and develop our skills as fiction writers.
 
004 Advanced Non-Fiction: Immersion Writing
TR 9:30-10:45
 
During the emergence of “The New Journalism” in the 1960s and ‘70s, with writers such as Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Truman Capote, Joan Didion, and University of Alabama alumnus Gay Talese, straight nonfiction reportage began adopting the techniques of fiction––dialogue, scene-setting, intimate personal details, the use of interior monologue, metaphorical depth, etc.––and abandoned the sterile objective perspective of “newsworthy subjects” in favor of turning the lens toward less traditional subjects, even the journalists themselves, and a whole new genre of immersion writing evolved. We will look at the evolution of this trend from the 1960s and earlier, following it to the contemporary explosion of immersion project literature in magazines, books, radio, podcasts, documentaries, and blogs. As writers, we will immerse ourselves in our own communities and lives to find subjects and produce essays, blogs, audio pieces, and/or short documentaries. We will be what Gay Talese calls “nonfiction writer[s] pursuing the literature of reality.”
 
005 The Graphic Novel
TR 11-12:15
 
Comics artist Lynda Barry says that “pictures can help us find words to help us find images.” This class will explore that dynamic relationship of the visual and the verbal via the rapidly growing and increasingly influential world of graphic novels. Beginning with the literary and historic precedents of the genre, we will move through a series of works that show the range of artistic and storytelling approaches to such common cultural themes as sexuality, class, race, violence, religion and politics. Texts will include classic nonfiction graphic novels like Maus and Persepolis, as well as newer graphic fictions like Emil Ferris’ My Favorite Thing Is Monsters and Richard McGuire’s Here. We will explore examples from the various subgenres within the comics world: manga, fantasy/sci fi, superhero, as well as the burgeoning field of web comics. With all these resources at hand, we will seek the best expressions of madness and happiness that writing + illustration may hold for the individual writers enrolled. Come as you are, whatever your level of drawing skill, whatever your prior knowledge of comics. This class will be a place to experiment with the form, from weekly visual exercises ranging from collage to self-portraiture, to the eventual collaborative creation of a graphic novel/comic of your own.
 
006 Advanced Poetry Writing: [Re]Marks of the Beast
TR 12:30-1:45
 
Wild, dark times are rumbling toward us, and the prophet who wishes to write a new apocalypse will have to invent entirely new beasts, and beasts so terrible that the ancient animal symbols of Saint John will seem like cooing doves and cupids in comparison. –Heinrich Hein
 
In this course, we will asking questions like: How do writers query the beast as a cultural trope with political implications? What forms, styles, and practices might emerge from the position of beast? What does it mean invent a new beast? What does it mean to write our inner beast? Prompts inviting collage, syntactical disruption, documentary poetics, nonlinear narrativity, fairytale retellings, and other strategies will help writers track the beast across genres. Readings may include Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Kaveh Akbar; The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter; Bestiary, Lily Hoang; Humanimal, Bhanu Kapil; In The Language of My Captor, Shane McCrae; and Whereas, Layli Long Solider, as well as excerpts from Dante’s Inferno and Season in Hell, Arthur Rimbaud.  # rrrrrrTiderrrrrrrr
 
007. Exploding Forms (Poetry)
TR 3:30-4:15
 
An advanced poetry workshop. Students will engage with and explode a number of traditional forms (such as the sestina, the terza rima, and the decima) as well as found poetry and neo-forms invented by the students themselves. The class demands: fearless writing, close attention to conventions (before breaking them), a desire for poetic community, and a willingness to support (through helpful critique) the work of others. Some outside activities likely.
 
 
008 FAMILY TIES: Writing the Queer Family (Multi-genre) 
T 5-7:30
 
Queer folks have long been creating their own family structures, so in this class we’ll read and watch recent texts in which authors create, imagine, and analyze their chosen families. Some questions we’ll consider: what happens to a family when one (or several) of its members comes out; how do race, socioeconomic class, ability and geography influence an LGBTQ+ person’s ability to openly move through the world; are queer families providing models for how the larger human family might evolve? You’ll be expected to write three essays, with the understanding that by the end of the semester you’ll produce at least 20 pages of polished prose. Our range of texts will be wide, including fiction, nonfiction, graphic memoir/novels, YA, and at least one film. Possible texts include: The Essential Dykes to Watch Out for, The Narrow Door, Intolerable, Since I Laid My Burden Down, Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties, Jam on the Vine, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
 
 
Applied Creative Writing Courses
 
310-002 Writers in the School
TR 12:30-1:15
Michelle Meyers
 
This class will explore best practices in relation to teaching creative writing through in-schools and afterschool programs. Students will learn to generate innovative lesson plans for a variety of teaching settings and will gain practical experience by volunteering at one of Tuscaloosa WITS' afterschool programs. Ideal for students interested in community engagement and/or considering careers in teaching and arts nonprofits. 
 
 
310-320 Techniques of Audio Storytelling
M 5-7:30
Nathan Blanchard
 
In this coures we will examine the fundamentals of audio forms of narrative. We will develop basic theories upon which production skills can be built, and we will develop an understanding of the techniques and technology used in a variety of audio storytelling environments. Assignments will be production-oriented—each student will produce their own short podcasts—but the crux of student work will emphasize the underlying creative writing existent in audio forms. Students will get hands-on experience designed to develop the abilities needed to write and produce audio stories from conception to publication. Topics include, but are not limited to: script-writing, podcast structures, the host as narrator, literary techniques in podcasts, editing for character, timing/pacing, timbre = mood, microphone techniques, recording protocols, incorporation of musical elements and sound fx, rough mixing (stereo), sound stage and ear-training, equalization/compression/reverb, components of digital audio workstations, and the characteristics of spoken word. We will listen to This American Life, Serial, Radio Lab, Two Dope Queens, The Moth, Snap Judgement, Mystery Show, among others. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Fall 2017 Courses
 
002 Writing For Children (playwriting, multi-genre)
MW 3-4:15
 
The early 21st century has been called a golden age of children’s literature, and there has never been a time with more opportunities for writers able to appeal to young people. Not to mention, writing for kids is itself a joy: their capacity for wonder, their love of play and pleasure, coupled with their innate curiosity and ability to grasp complex material gives writers an amazing range of possibilities. In this course you will study how to reach and engage children through story and image and in addition will produce work intended for an audience of very real local children. The first part of the semester will be devoted to writing three short plays (aimed at elementary-aged kids) based on events from Tuscaloosa and Alabama state history. This collaboration with the Department of Theater & Dance will culminate in campus and community performances in the Spring of 2018. The balance of the semester will be spent exploring other forms of writing for children such as picture and chapter books, film, and television.
 
 
003 Advanced Fiction Writing: The Novel
MW 3-4:15
 
In this class we will deconstruct the novel-writing process, and move from brainstorming ideas all the way to workshopping books-in-progress. No matter the genre you’re looking to write, you’ll find this course an invaluable aid to developing a new or existing project. We will read and discuss a couple of novels in order to help inspire the writing process, and discuss the many challenges of writing longform narrative and strategies for overcoming them. Workshops will occur throughout the semester and novel sections will be turned in regularly. The goal of this course is not to write a perfect, complete text, but rather to learn how to forgive yourself for bad sentences and to do a lot of writing. You can expect to end the semester with a partial or completed draft of a novel, to have a plan for revising or finishing it in hand, and to know how the publishing process works for the particular market niche your book occupies.
 
 
004 Comedy Writing (Prose)
TR 2-3:15
 
For Plato, comedy was a contaminant that belonged to the “lower orders” and therefore worked against the production of an ideal citizen in an ideal state. In Aristotle’s Poetics, he establishes an opposition between tragedy and comedy and conceives of the latter as a “low art” associated with error, inferiority and failure to hold up moral virtues. Yet from ancient agrarian rituals and fertility rites, to Shakespeare’s fools, to the Restoration’s comedy of manners, to Charlie Chaplin and Lucille Ball, to “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show,” comedy has persisted, changed and thrived. This course will focus specifically on comedy and contemporary writing. We will explore a variety of comic genres and modes and consider the many functions of comedy, from entertainment to political and cultural critique. In the process, we will experiment with a variety of comic writing techniques and styles. Everyone will tell a joke or two.
 
 
005 Writing Climate Change (Multi-Genre)
TR 11-12:15
 
According to Rebecca Solnit, “Climate change…will mean being prepared to sift truth from rumour, and being prepared to adjust our worldview.” Our contemporary predicament demands that we’re at once precise and imaginative thinkers, and in this course, we’ll realize together how writing can help us meet these challenges with heart, vision, and even, somehow, humor. Assignments will range from writing a unique speculative apocalypse narrative to a nonfiction oral presentation to a poem in 12 lines that has the entire world in it. Course texts may include 10:04 (Ben Lerner), The Stone Gods (Jeannette Winterson), and the anthology Big Energy Poets: Ecopoetry Thinks Climate Change.  
 
 
006 Chaos Aesthetics (Multi-Genre)
TR 3:30-4:45
 
This advanced course in creative writing will focus on the aesthetics and forms of chaos, from the astounding structures of fractals and strange attractors to the tipping points of complex systems. We will read popular science explanations of chaos theory and literary texts that exemplify chaotic turbulence. Students will engage chaos as a subject of their writing and also seek out new forms of poetry and prose that model chaotic structures, deploy randomness as a path to order, and break open systems of composition. In addition to in-class exercises and responses to assigned readings, students will produce four major pieces of creative work: (1) a long poem or series of poems; (2) a short story; (3) a lyric essay or memoir; and (4) a piece incorporating four dimensions.
 
 
007 Advanced Poetry Writing: The Sonnet Sequence
T 2-4:30
 
Is the sonnet sequence dead? Heavens no! After spending time with Shakespeare, Petrarch, and Spenser, we’ll see what writers of the last century—among them, Rilke, cummings, Brooks, Lowell, Heaney, Berryman, and Dove—and those publishing today have done with this classic form. Among recent works we’ll study are Marilyn Nelson’s A Wreath for Emmett Till (2005) and sequences in Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard (2007) and Samiya Bashir’s forthcoming Field Studies (2017). Essayist-scholar Anne Fadiman once posited: “A sonnet might look dinky, but it was somehow big enough to accommodate love, war, death, and O.J. Simpson. You could fit the whole world in there if you shoved hard enough.” Not only are these linked little songs not too hard to master, they just may be the music we need in times like these, with so many uncertainties and myriad subtleties to mine. 
 
 
008 Advanced Creative Nonfiction Writing
TR 9:30-10:45
 
The burgeoning of creative nonfiction has spawned several sub-genres including memoir, the personal essay, the journalistic essay, and the lyric essay. This class is an experiment in these sub-genres of creative nonfiction. This class is a course in contemporary literature, approached from a creative writer’s perspective. In order to learn a form, you must read widely in that form, to get a sense for at least some of its various possibilities. You will be reading quite a bit of challenging work, nonfiction that works in ways with which you may not be familiar. You will also write work that challenges your own preconceptions of prose. You are invited to play: the word "essay" means "to attempt", so consider this course a whirlwind tour in telling the stories of ourselves and others. We will seek to create our own definitions of nonfiction by reading various writers in the genre, modeling our own writing efforts on their work, and reading and critiquing each others' pieces in a workshop setting.
 
320 Advanced Creative Nonfiction Writing
T 5-7:30
 
Writing well, like pitching well or drumming well, requires practice; this semester you’ll work at practicing five things: reading, thinking, researching, talking about your work, and revising. These five skills will provide the framework around which this course will be built, a framework that you’ll use to learn more about your writing process. During the first few weeks of class you’ll read and respond to examples of exemplary published nonfiction. The rest of the course will be devoted to workshopping student writing. Please note that this is a nonfiction course; you’ll be expected to turn in 20 polished pages of nonfiction prose by the end of the term. 
 
 
2017 Summer and Interim Courses
 
Interim - May 8-26
ENG 408-001: Screenplay Writing: Short Forms
M-F 9 a.m.-noon
 
The beauty of the short film is in its flexibility and variety, its lyric possibilities and the ways in which it’s unconstrained by traditional narrative structure. Add animation to the mix, and the imagination truly has no limits. Students in this course will study a variety of short form film and screenplays, following both conventional and experimental structures. We will work individually but also collaborate as a Writers Room in when devising and executing more commercial-oriented projects. Using Aristotle’s Poetics as a reference, we will study the foundations of storytelling and play with how and when those rules can be broken. In collaboration with students from ART 408, we will script animated shorts which art students will then illustrate and produce. This course will require the purchase and use of Final Draft, film industry standard software used for screenwriting and production.
 
ENG 408-002: Where the Wild Things Are: Writing Alabama’s Biodiversity (multi-genre)
M-F 10-1 (when not adventure traveling)
 
This course is dedicated to the imaginative significance of Alabama’s wild areas at a time when the state wants in environmental regulation and research demonstrates the role of the wild in our quests for well-being, joy, and meaning. 
 
In this distinctive domestic travel interim offering, we will use creative writing as a tool through which to imaginatively inquire into the concept of wilderness. The course will begin with an intensive first week of coursework on the UA campus, followed by a sequence of field trips into the unique Alabama wild lands. The concept of the wilderness includes rigorous debates doubting its existence as a place apart, as well as enriching expressions arising from within its bounds. In this course, we will research the wild both academically and experientially, familiarizing ourselves with the Mobile-Bay Watershed, a place of global significance for biodiversity—as well as conventional and avant-garde ecowriting techniques in memoir and poetry.
 
During our field work, we will stay in cabins on Lookout Mountain as participants in the four day Birmingham Audobon Mountain Workshop, a series of naturalist workshops led by regional experts. This trip will include the options to go bird watching, hikin’ for lichen, gathering edible plants, canoeing; to study local butterflies, mushrooms, snakes, amphibians; to make pottery using native techniques or textiles applying natural materials.  We will read and write together throughout this weekend, culminating in a mid-course reading in the outdoor amphitheater overlooking the Little River. After the Workshop, we will continue with a week of field writing on day trips of hiking, including a visit with the animals and a silent hike to the overlook on Ruffner and a tree-top obstacle course (all-levels welcome) at Hugh Kaul Beanstalk Forest on Red Mountain. We will close our course with an overnight camp out, including a reading of student work and clean-up at Hurricane Creek, as well as a presentation led by our local Creekeeper and internationally renound environmental activitist John Wathen.
 
 
 
Summer I -  May 30-June 27
EN 408: Advanced Poetry Writing
M-F 2-3:15
 
Marianne Moore once famously said that poetry has "imaginary gardens with real toads in them." In this course, we will adventure with each other into our imaginative landscapes, cultivating singular literary creations through conversation with other writers, both living and dead. Texts will include an anthology of contemporary poetry and several related full-length collections by established and emerging writers. #toadilyadvanced
 
Summer II - July 5-August 2
EN 408: Form and Figure - The Mystery (multi-genre)
M-F 10-11:45
 
In this multi-genre class we will study the nature and power of mystery and mysteriousness: as a story structure, as a character trait, and as lyric ambience or tone. As readers, we want to be kept guessing, kept in the dark, brought into contact with possibility. We will study films, stories, poems, and nonfiction texts whose writers manage to imbue the work with a sense of the unseen and unknown, the surreal and the surprising, which are able to suggest as much if not more than they show. Students will propose a single project and work on it throughout the session. So whether you want to pen a whodunnit, create a hero with a murky past, generate suspense in your longform journalism, or write poems and stories laden with atmosphere and subtext, this course will provide you models and an occasion to get serious about an idea you’d like to realize.  
 
 
 
Spring 2017 Courses
 
001 Science & Nature Writing (Creative Non-Fiction)
MW 4:30-5:45 
 
Many think of creative non-fiction as predominantly personal writing (memoir), but in this course we are going to focus on a more investigative, fact-based non-fiction rooted in an exploration of the natural world. As author (and UA faculty member) Hali Felt says, “There is an audience in the United States that wishes to be scientifically educated. These people want science information, but need it processed into a form that is easy to understand.” We will examine writers’ attempts to translate the scientific and natural worlds into essays that are accessible to—and enjoyable for—a general readership, while undertaking our own observations and research in preparation to write in this form. You will immerse yourself in scientific literature as well as nature itself, learn to combine and synthesize information and translate data—and the experience of discovery—into storytelling. For models we’ll look to writers such as Henry David Thoreau, Michael Pollan, Marelene Zuk, E.O. Wilson, and the authors in this year’s edition of Best American Science and Nature Writing.
 
 
002 Advanced Fiction Writing
TR 11-12:15
 
In this class we’ll take a look at the agency of place as it relates to reading and writing short stories. Dorothy Allison says of place, “I grew up among truck drivers and waitresses, and, for me, the place where most stories take place is the place that is no place for most other people. But for me those places are real places, with a population I recognize and can describe, a people I love even if they do not always love me.”  This is what she writes. We’ll read a wide selection of short stories set in landscapes both familiar and foreign, and examine how land shapes character, how place drives plot, how place builds people and wears them down, and how place informs desire and facilities change. We’ll not only pay particular attention to the shape of the place, but the language of that place. We will ask of one another what Allison asks of those writers she likes to read: Can you take me somewhere I’ve never been before? 
 
 
003 Advanced Poetry Writing
TR 2-3:15
 
Marianne Moore once famously said that poetry has "imaginary gardens with real toads in them." In this course, we will adventure with each other into our imaginative landscapes, cultivating singular literary creations through conversation with other writers, both living and dead. Texts will include an anthology of contemporary poetry and several related full-length collections by established and emerging writers. #toadilyadvanced
 
004 Treasure Hunting (multi-genre, hybrid)
TR 12:30-1:45
 
Annie Dillard captured the essence of the writer’s vocation when she wrote "I've got great plans. I've been thinking about seeing." While one way to write is by thinking deeply behind closed doors, another way is to get out and find a long-abandoned empty pool and see what God, or the people who used to swim there, might have left for you. In this class we will explore the relationship between seeing and writing by going out into the street, finding things lost, abandoned, or ignored, and experimenting with ways of transforming those objects in our work—be it through poetry, prose, or something in-between. In addition to Dillard, we'll study other visionary writers like John Ashbery, Samuel Beckett, and Vladimir Nabokov to see how the wolf-tooth in the abandoned pool, or the baby blue socks clinging to the sewer grate, can become—with the help of an attuned eye and applied mind—works of art.
 
005 Writing Fantasy Literature (fiction)
TR 11-12:15
 
If you like to hang out in, explore, and create fantastical realms of gold (as Keats called Homer’s mythical landscape) this course is for you, whether you enjoy the old-school lands of Faerie that fueled the imagination JRR Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the magic-infused worlds typified by JK Rowling or Lev Grossman, or whether you prefer the more dystopian vision of writers like Neil Gaiman and Veronica Roth. Students will explore ways that speculative elements enter a text, methods of world building, and elements of social, political, and environmental consciousness that find their ways into fantasy writing. The final project will guide students through researching a suitable journal and preparing a submission to that publication.
 
006 Advanced Creative Non-Fiction Writing
MW 3-4:15
Writing well, like pitching well or drumming well, requires practice; this semester you’ll work at practicing five things: reading, thinking, researching, talking about your work, and revising. These five skills will provide the framework around which this course will be built, a framework that you’ll use to learn more about your writing process. During the first few weeks of class you’ll read and respond to examples of exemplary published nonfiction. The rest of the course will be devoted to workshopping student writing.
 
 
 
007 Exploding Forms (poetry writing/workshop)
TR 3:30-4:45
 
Students will engage with and explode a number of traditional forms (such as the sestina, the terza rima, and the decima) as well as found poetry and neo-forms invented by the students themselves. The class demands: fearless writing, close attention to conventions (before breaking them), a desire for poetic community, and a willingness to support (through helpful critique) the work of others. Some outside activities likely.
 
008 Slash Pine Press (Editing, Book Arts, Event Management)
TR 12:30-1:45
 
Slash Pine not only offers undergraduates at The University of Alabama an experience of immersion and experiential learning, but provides practical skills in editing, publishing, book design, book arts, and event planning that serve the writing community as a whole. This semester, Slash Pine Interns will create and plan events for the Slash Pine Writers Festival, which will be held over the course of two days at the end of April. Students will also be responsible for the PR of the festival, which includes the designing of posters, marketing the festival through both digital and print forms, as well as documenting the festival for our various social streams. The interns will also assist in the creation of the Slash Pine Writers Anthology, where students will learn the basics of book design, and have a chance to serve as editors for the anthology.
 
320 Peak TV (screenplay writing)
T 5-7:30
 
With the debut of The Sopranos in 1999, the television landscape changed forever, sparking a renaissance in serialized television drama that over 15 years later is still hitting its stride. From the The Wire to The Americans, from Mad Men to Breaking Bad, from Sherlock to Orange Is The New Black, prestige dramas have set a high bar—both in terms of writing quality and cinematic production values—that has hundreds of original programs chasing after similar critical acclaim and viewer devotion. In this class you will play the showrunner, responsible for conceiving, writing, and planning a new series. We will study the form and business of writing drama for television, and examine in depth the structure and arc of how an entire season is constructed across a number of episodes. You will end this course with the Story Bible of an entire new show in hand as well as a polished and storyboarded pilot episode. This course will require the purchase and use of Final Draft, film industry standard software used for screenwriting and production.