“It is what we think we know already that prevents us from learning.” Claude Bernard
People often talk about poverty, hunger, racism and homelessness as though “it”—whatever it is—is an “issue” or an “idea,” not a reality lived by millions of people. In this course, we will experience the creative and scholarly process of many things we do not know. Students will gather information from primary and secondary sources, learn from people within the community, and organize and write about the effects of poverty, discrimination, and homelessness on children and adults. As a community of writers, we will examine the challenges faced by low-income families and individuals who are trying to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.
As a writer in the community, you will have experience of working every week as a volunteer participant in a program for adults who work as vendors in Philadelphia’s One Step Away program. This academically based community service course (ABCS) will combine an anthropological approach in field work with developing your skills as a writer, thinker, and observer. Throughout the semester, you will learn how to gather research, conduct interviews, and use primary and secondary resources – mastering in the process the literary forms of memoir, oral history, investigative journalism, and creative non-fiction.
While this seminar requires an extra time commitment outside of class, it also allows you to gain an intimate knowledge of contemporary social issues and learn to write in unexpected ways. You will have the opportunity, as Writers in the Community, to draw upon your own experience as you work in programs dedicated to transformation within our communities. Students must be active contributors and engaged learners throughout the entire semester. This work relies heavily on the class becoming a community of writers and researchers who share ideas and information. As “engaged scholars,” you will need to be present at every class for group discussions about our readings, collective reflection about our experiences, and discussing issues related to working with our partners in the community. Once we go into “the field,” be prepared to spend about nine hours a week on this course, including class, site, reading and writing time.
The writing you’ll do will include ethnographic field notes, reflective narratives, profiles, commentary, and a final essay. Our writing workshops will provide feedback and opportunities for revision. Your fluidity as a writer will also be improved by free-writing ten minutes a day and responding to the different ways other writers communicate their own experiences. You’ll have readings by a variety of authors, including Michelle Alexander and Jonathan Kozol. In the process of our work, you will also have the opportunity for publication in the homeless newspaper, One Step Away, shadow vendors for a day, and access the impact of the program’s efforts. Your final paper will include a persuasive journalistic commentary/ essay about the realities and needs this program tackles and the challenges it faces within the larger community.
See the English Department's website at www.english.upenn.edu for a
description of the current offerings.