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First-Year Seminar: First Person Storytelling

ENGL 016.301
instructor(s):
M 2-5:00

This interactive, collaborative nonfiction workshop will focus on the way a writer constructs characters in personal essays and other modes of creative nonfiction writing and how readers engage with these characters. Students will examine—through their own work and others’—how nonfiction writers must shape information to render people on the page in a way that is honest and engaging.

Much of this workshop will be spent on the “I” character, the first-person perspective. How do we portray ourselves, both when we’re at the center of our stories and when we’re on the edges looking in? How do we decide what to include and how do we justify what we exclude? We will think about how to integrate what we know—and, just as importantly, what we don’t know—about ourselves and the world now into stories that happened in the past. We will look to the writers Joan Didion, Phillip Lopate, Mary Karr, M.K. Asante and others for help when we need it.

We will also consider the difference between written and oral storytelling in this class, which will incorporate field trips to story slams hosted by the Moth and First Person Arts here in Philadelphia. There will definitely be extra credit for those brave enough to get up on stage at these events! (But don’t worry, introverts: public performance is not required.) Additionally, we will explore community-based storytelling projects such as the Six-Word Memoir, StoryCorps, Storiez, and other literary programming based at the Kelly Writers House. We will host organizers of these collaborations in class for conversations about how the projects came to be. The class will be responsible for planning and executing its own community-based storytelling project that will culminate in April with an event/exhibition, either on campus or elsewhere in Philadelphia.

A significant amount of our class time will be spent discussing student work. Revision will be essential. In addition to writing assignments throughout the semester, students will complete a final portfolio of revised work, along with a critical commentary on the community-based project.