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First-Year Seminar: Writing the Outdoors

ENGL 016.304
W 2-5:00

As readers, writers, and scholars we spend much of our lives indoors behind glowing blue-lit screens. But to write well—and live well—we must also experience the full spectrum of the world beyond classroom and library walls. This first-year seminar is a generative creative writing workshop that brings us outdoors and into a variety of unexpected green landscapes, all within the city of Philadelphia. We’ll explore a contemplative 17th-century-style Japanese garden; a Victorian cemetery; an urban forest; a city farm; and the Morris Arboretum, Penn’s 92-acre garden in Northwest Philadelphia. During our visits we will do writing exercises designed to jumpstart the semester’s creative work. We will also engage with the landscape and interact with docents and stewards who will help us appreciate these environments in the context of the their individual missions as well as the culture, history, and politics of the city. Class visitors will include authors of literary works set in these and similar environments. Throughout the semester students will write continually in three different formats to help cultivate a sustained practice: 1) a journal of brief blog-style entries focused on daily experiences in the outdoor world; 2) short weekly response papers to readings from fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction thematically linked to the sites we visit; and 3) 4-5 creative writing projects, which we will workshop in class. The seminar will culminate in individual creative portfolios and a class reading at Kelly Writers House.