Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Writing in Concert

ENGL 145.401

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 A Soldier's Play by essayist, fiction writer, and Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Charles Fuller.

The son of a printer, Fuller acted as a youthful proofreader for his father, and decided to become a writer when he learned that his high school library had not one book by a black author. He discovered drama after visiting a Yiddish theater. Fuller first wrote short stories, then one-acts, then longer plays. Zooman and the Sign, produced in New York City at the Negro Ensemble Company in 1979, won Fuller an Obie. His four-year army stint in Japan and South Korea inform A Soldier’s Play, which opened in New York in 1981 and won, in addition to the Pulitzer, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play, and an Obie for Distinguished Ensemble Performance. The original cast included Adolph Caesar as Sergeant Waters, Denzel Washington as Private Peterson, and Samuel L. Jackson as Private Louis Henson. Set in an Army base in Fort Neal, Louisiana, in 1944, A Soldier’s Play opens with a murder, and unfolds through the investigation, revealing racial, class, and temperamental fissures among the company of men and officers. Fuller adapted the play for the 1984 film, A Soldier's Story, which won an Edgar Award. It was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Writers Guild of America Award. For several years, Fuller switched his focus to movies, saying "I always wanted to reach the most people with my work. Not enough people go to the theater.”

In this course students will develop an intimate relationship with the play and learn about themselves as writers as they respond to it. Students create lesson plans and then teach the play in West Philadelphia Partnership schools. We will work to help high school students find their own ways into the text.

On Wednesday, April 7th, at 10 a.m., readers from the various sites will come together to attend a discussion with Charles Fuller, co-sponsored by Art Sanctuary and the Center for Community Partnerships.

Our emphasis during the term is on focus, practice, learning, relationships, revision, and language. We work to create a safe, but challenging, classroom camaraderie to dislodge comfortable writing habits and urge writers toward hard-earned prose in their own true voices. The final essay will reflect students’ experience with reading, teaching, memory, community, and the Reading in Concert performance. Students will submit essays, or an excerpt, for publication and post on the Art Sanctuary website.

Here's a taste of what some Reading in Concert students have written:

Community grows me. This is the point I must make here. If I don't start by saying it I'll try to convince myself otherwise. The praise of community is a painful admission for me. I don't want to have to need people. I don't want to admit that community is far more powerful than my own devices. I cannot harvest myself. I cannot truly grow without other people. Every point of my life affirms this need for others. I have never thrived on my own. Yet I can't shake the notion that maybe, if I just give solitude enough time, a break through will come. For some reason I keep my expectations of the future separate from my experiences of the past. I expect to be able to accomplish great things on my own but it has never happened that way. I expect to be disappointed or misunderstood by others yet this has rarely been the case. I expect that teaching Sonia Sanchez will require an outpouring of my intellect and wisdom, yet my most profound moments of learning have come through community experiences --Josh Macha

As the class dissected Sanchez's words, I realized that I hadn't truly appreciated "Poem No. 8" until that moment. I was more engaged with the text then than I had been at any earlier point in the semester. Sitting at my desk and pulling out my hair while trying to memorize a passage or write a haiku, I had wasted my time battling my inner demons. But there was no time for my inhibitions at this moment; I needed to be present for my students and inhabit the literature with them. For the first time, I let go of my fears, and rose to the occasion. --Rebecca Sherman

fulfills requirements