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Advanced Non-Fiction Writing: Writing in Concert

ENGL 145.401
R 1:30-4:30

Writing in Concert comprises two parts: teaching a common text and writing about the experience using memoir, reportage, and criticism.


This year’s text will be Shale Loose My Skinor Like the Singing Coming off the Drums (1999), depending on availability, by poet Sonia Sanchez, author of 16 books, including poetry, short fiction, and children’s stories, as well as plays and essays.

A distinct, female voice in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s (BAM), Ms. Sanchez helped to found the Black Arts Repertoire Theater; the first black studies program in the U.S., at San Francisco State University in 1968; and the first course on the black woman, at the University of Pittsburgh. Other books include Shake Loose My Skin, Homecoming, Under a Soprano Sky, and Does Your House Have Lions? Full Moon of Sonia, her latest CD, features her poetry with jazz, R&B, gospel, blues, Afro-Cuban, and hip hop music. A journal, B’Ma, at, was created to focus exclusively on Sanchez’ work and the Black Arts Movement.


Students will learn the common text in close reading, discussion and preliminary essay exercises. The idea is to develop an intimate relationship with a text, learn about yourself as a writer from your responses to it, and then, by creating a mini-course syllabus and lesson plans, learn how to help readers at different stages in life and literacy find their own ways to enter the text. Learning the work takes three to four weeks; teaching requires four to six, with some overlap. Students teach in several urban learning sites, each with its own challenges and charisma: high school English classes, a church-based book group, adult education centers, a recovery house, and homeless shelters. In April students attend a reading by Sonia Sanchez at Art Sanctuary, a North Philadelphia arts organization at the Church of the Advocate (


The final essay will reflect each student’s experience with the text, teaching, and the Reading in Concert performance. It is likely that some of you will want to submit it somewhere for publication, or use it for inclusion in a longer work. Clearly, the emphasis during the term is on focus, practice, learning, relationships, revision, and language. It comes at you from all sides, a literary bum’s rush meant to dislodge comfortable writing habits and push you toward intense, carefully thought and deeply-felt nonfiction prose.


Because this course partners with Art Sanctuary, whose Full Year of Sonia presents Sanchez’ work in several kinds of programs, you will also see a video, music-and-poetry and panel discussion that will inform your understanding of Sanchez’ work, writers’ processes, and their relationships to culture.

fulfills requirements