EN 408 Topics - Fall 2017

 
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.