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Travel Writing: Preparing for Your Journey

ENGL 016.302
TR 9-10:30

"Travel Writing" is a kind of writing uniquely suited to undergraduates: for the vivid accounts of young travelers, seeing a new place for the first time, can often not be matched by the old (who have seen so many places already). You will remember the sharpness of your perceptions when you first came to Penn: every day brought new discoveries, new challenges, new routines. Now, perhaps, you are more settled into your habits and less easily surprised. To recover the vividness of first impressions you need to travel, preferably somewhere new.

In the first part of the semester we will be reading short pieces by a range of writers, in order to understand some of the secrets of good travel writing. Selections will be short, and there will be much discussion. Some travel writers prepare intensively for their trip, learning about the new place that they will visit. Other writers prefer to learn little in advance, and to follow an impulse. Some writers tell of life-changing experiences. We will read fine, short pieces by writers such as Jane Smiley, Dave Eggers, Bill Bryson. Some writers travel somewhere adventurous-- such as the North Korean Film festival. Others travel back home, trying to see it as an objective reporter, as if for the first time. Everything that happens on a trip can feed into the writing, so no experience is wasted: travel delays and mishaps, strange meetings, odd airBnb experiences.

Travel is now a huge business, world wide; rather than acquiring stuff (refrigerators, new cars, lawn mowers), young people increasingly prefer to seek new experiences. There are business, ecological, and others aspects to all this: airBnb is now bigger than any corporate hotel chain (with over $2bn in annual turnover); the Artic is melting and the Inuit people can no longer live on the ice.  

This course also offers the opportunity for you to polish and perfect your writing.

Assignment 1: you will be asked to answer the question "how I got to this place," in 500 words. You may answer this question any way you like; there is no wrong answer. This assignment is Pass/Pass and will give me the opportunity to spot and address any writing glitches before formal assessment begins.

Assignment 2: a critical evaluation of a specific travel writing essay (4 pages). Please be concrete and specific, referring to the text, rather than giving general impressions. What works well? What is problematic? Is the title well chosen? Does the final sentence or paragraph work? Etc. The specific travel text for analysis will be assigned later, but will come from one of your two anthologies of writing.

Assignment 3: "Crossing Walnut Street Bridge." A brief outing or adventure into the world beyond the Penn campus. This is best done alone. We will prepare for this in class, and suggestions for possible destinations can be made (e.g. Reading Terminal Market, the Mutter Museum, the Mummer's Museum ...). This will be your first effort at "travel writing" (5 pages).

Assignment 4: "Plans for Spring break travel." An outline of your plans, with details of itinerary, possible places to visit, possible challenges and obstacles-- all to receive feedback.  Useful websites may be referenced. Pass/ Pass. No minimum/ maximum page limit.

Assignment 5: "Travel Writing." Your major piece of writing, to be drafted and workshopped in class, then edited and finally submitted at the end of the semester. About 8-12 pages, although length is not crucial: as you will see, some of the very best essays we will read are short, and economy of expression is crucial. Most of your "revision" will be cutting and compressing an excess of material. And seeking to absolutely nail that final paragraph, that last sentence.

Assessment: Assignment 1, Pass/Pass; assignment 2, 20% of grade; assignment 3, 20% of grade; assignment 4, Pass/ Pass; assignment 5, 50% of grade; class participation, 10%. No incompletes. No midterm or final.

fulfills requirements
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major