Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

The Site of Memory: A Writing Workshop

ENGL 435.941
instructor(s):
TR 5:30-8:40

This title of this writing workshop was inspired by Toni Morrison’s essay by the same name. She says: “…..All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.  Writers are like that; remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place.  It is emotional memory—what the nerves and the skin remember as well as how it appeared. And a rush of imagination is ‘our’ flooding.”

During this first summer session, we will examine the dynamics of memory as it lives in us, as well as in the stories we read, the stories we love and the stories we want to tell.  We will learn what neuroscientists say about memory, examine the reliability of it, and explore how it shapes and informs characters in fiction as well as nonfiction. This workshop will be an improvisational journey that blends memory and imagination with fantasy, fact with fiction, imitation and revision into the creation of an extended story or personal essay.  Students will read and respond to literature, free-write on a daily basis and build your skills as a writer from one assignment, exercise, experience and visualization to the next. We’ll examine how to provide context and history to deepen characters; how to draw in readers with leads, and add dialogue that brings a story to life.

We will use in-class breathing exercises, meditation, music, movement, guided visualization, and a mindful practice of listening to find new ways of being in the moment, going within to access the stories you want to communicate, and writing out of that space. By practicing intensive daily writing, you’ll develop fresh skills to shape and polish the stories you want to tell. Requirements include: attendance; daily free-writes (10 minutes a day, seven days a week); close-readings; oral presentations; class participation; critique writing workshops with feedback, and one progressive story (or, three short chapters) as well as one radical revision of that story/work/chapter.