Bard College Catalogue

The Bard College Catalogue contains detailed descriptions of the College's undergraduate programs and courses, curriculum, admission and financial aid procedures, student activities and services, history, campus facilities, affiliated institutions including graduate programs, and faculty and administration.

Bard College Catalogue 2016-17

Bard College Catalogue 2016-17

Written Arts


Dinaw Mengestu (director), Ian Buruma, Mary Caponegro, Teju Cole, Neil Gaiman, Benjamin Hale, Michael Ives, Robert Kelly, Porochista Khakpour, Ann Lauterbach, Norman Manea, Wyatt Mason, Daniel Mendelsohn, Chiori Miyagawa, Bradford Morrow, Joseph O’Neill, Francine Prose, Susan Fox Rogers, Luc Sante, Mona Simpson


Bard’s Written Arts Program encourages students to experiment with their own writing in a context sensitive to intellectual, historical, and social realities, and the past and current literary landscapes. Writing so pursued then becomes part of a humanist education, in which the private effort of the writer addresses and becomes part of the world’s discourse. It is expected that Written Arts students are also passionate readers. The program is staffed exclusively by distinguished writers of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction who emphasize both innovative, experimental work and work that foregrounds the conventions of writing. Intellectual stress is placed on literary theory and literary history, making students aware of conscious and unconscious influences on their writing, and the reception their work is likely to find in the world.

Writing workshops in genres such as fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and translation are offered every semester at several levels. Nonmajors and majors are encouraged to apply. Entry to workshops is typically by submission of writing samples to the relevant professor. Application deadlines are announced each semester via e-mail and at


For Moderation, students must have excelled in at least one writing workshop; demonstrated a reading knowledge of a foreign language, typically through completion of a language-acquisition class; and completed five courses in the Division of Languages and Literature, including Literature 103, Introduction to Literary Studies, and one course in the British, U.S., or comparative literature sequences. A portfolio of original writing in the genre in which the student anticipates composing the Senior Project must be submitted, along with a revised version of an analytical paper composed in a past or present literature course. Students who have moderated into Written Arts must apply for permission to complete a creative Senior Project, generally in the second semester of the junior year; the program then evaluates whether recent work is of sufficiently high quality and whether the project seems appropriate; if those criteria are met, the student is assigned a Senior Project adviser.

Recent Senior Projects in Written Arts

  • “Beautiful Young Female Maniac,” a collection of essays on celebrity, female suffering, and art
  • "Find a Woman You Loathe and Give Her Your House,” three short stories
  • “Kitab,” a fantasy journal whose narrator can record observations with touch
  • “The Nappy Lords of Uptown,” a novel about coming of age in the Chicago projects


In addition to the courses listed below, students may find that other programs offer ­writing courses and workshops specific to their subjects (e.g., Film 256, Writing the Film; Theater 107, Introduction to Playwriting: The Theatrical Voice).

The descriptions below are a sampling of courses from the past four years.

First Fiction Workshop
Written Arts 121
Intended for students who have made prior forays into the writing of narrative, this course involves intensive reading and writing of the short story.

Introduction to Nonfiction
Written Arts 122
This course presents the breadth of formal possibilities available to writers of short nonfiction. Students workshop published pieces by Montaigne, De Quincey, Hazlitt, Baudelaire, Poe, Dreiser, Twain, Woolf, Lawrence, Orwell, Didion, McPhee, Updike, Ozick, and Winterson, among others, in order to learn what a piece of nonfiction writing is as well as how to workshop something. Short writing exercises build to a final substantive piece of nonfiction writing.

First Poetry Workshop
Written Arts 123
This workshop focuses on the student’s own writing, along with the articulation of responses to the writing of others. Readings develop familiarity with poetic form, movement, and energy. Attendance at poetry readings and lectures is required. Open by permission of the instructor; writing sample required.

Text in Performance
Written Arts  220 
Participants explore sound/text composition, the border territory where sound meets poetry meets music meets drama. Among the historical materials investigated: glossolalia, Russian avant-garde Zaum and allied notions of transrational and imaginary language; Sprechstimme; European and American sound/text composition; sound poetry (from Kurt Schwitters to Christian Bök); experimental radio (Beckett, Cage, Nordine, Firesign Theatre); the jazz poetry movement; field recording and found materials; and experimental performance poetry.

Fiction Workshop II
Written Arts  221
This workshop is open to any thoughtful mode of making fiction, whether traditional or experimental or somewhere in between. Students are expected to produce and revise three or four carefully developed stories, provide written critiques of their peers’ work, and read and respond to published fiction.

Intermediate Poetry Workshop
Written Arts  222
Working under the assumption that the “condition of music” to which poetry aspires answers to no single criterion, participants investigate a variety of textual and performance practices, ranging from traditional prosody to assorted treatments of glossolalia, jazz poetry, and text/sound compositions involving multiple and simultaneous speakers. Admission by portfolio.

Literary Journalism
Written Arts  224
What constitutes literary journalism, as opposed to other forms of comment or reporting? This course looks at famous polemics, such as Émile Zola’s J’Accuse, literary and arts criticism, and political reportage. Texts include Cyril Connolly on literature, Lester Bangs on rock music, Mary McCarthy on Vietnam, Alma Guillermoprieto on killings in Mexico, H. L. Mencken on the Monkey Trial, and Hunter S. Thompson on the Hell’s Angels. The fine line between factual reportage and fictional imagination is explored in the work of Ryszard Kapuscinski and Curzio Malaparte.

Materials and Techniques of Poetry
Written Arts  230
It is the unique capacity of poetry to capture the movement of mind and body in a resonant verbal architecture. This course examines, from the ground up, the elements of that architecture by asking what, in the most concrete terms, makes a poem a dynamic, saturated language event. Other aspects of poetic form are addressed, including patterns of repetition; the infinite varieties of ­syntax, punctuation, meter, and typography; the “color” of vowels; and the rhythmic implications of word choice and sentence structure. Admission by portfolio.

“The Eye is the First Circle:” Nonfiction Prose
Written Arts 232
“. . . the horizon which it forms is the second,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end. It is the highest emblem in the cipher of the world.” In this workshop, students learn how to see closely and write closely: to train their eyes to cipher the world as keenly as they can, and write it down. The focus is less on personal memoir and more on observation.

Reading and Writing Contemporary Mythology
Written Arts  234
This course examines mythologies in the contemporary world—professional wrestling, striptease, Hollywood blockbusters, fast food, video games, tourism—through texts by Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Jorge Luis Borges, Zadie Smith, David Foster, Rebecca Solnit, Tom Bissell, and Will Self, among others. Writing assignments are in dialogue with the readings.

Writing the Natural World
Written Arts  236
Students write narratives that use the natural world as both subject and source of inspiration. Extensive readings help identify what makes nature writing compelling (or not) and the challenges of the genre. Works by Emerson, Thoreau, and Muir are studied, as are contemporary texts from writers such as Annie Dillard, Gretel Ehrlich, and Edward Abbey. All students must also keep a nature journal.

The Song of a Page: Short Prose Forms for Poets
Written Arts  238
Nietzsche, perhaps anticipating Twitter or Snapchat, thought it possible to say in 10 sentences what many say in a whole book. A master of the aphorism, he believed condensation could penetrate rather than just abbreviate. Students in this course take up the challenge, and practice compression by writing prose that begins and ends on a single page. Admission by portfolio.

The Poetics of Space, Language, and Visuality
Written Arts 240
Writers and philosophers have long pondered the mystery of how writing conveys a sense of space (place) and the objects found in it. Words do not resemble things, so writers must conjure material presences in the mind’s eye. The class considers image, metaphor, and metonymy; ideas of description and depiction; and mimesis and ekphrasis. Also explored are the ways in which the digital age has altered our sense of near and far, the tactile, and the corporeal.

Writing the Film
Written Arts 256 / Film 256
See Film 256 for a full course description.

The Personal Essay
Written Arts 318
This course involves equal parts reading and ­writing and is for students who want to develop their creative writing—and their analytic thinking. Readings are taken from Phillip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay, which traces the genre from Seneca, through Montaigne, to contemporary stylists such as Richard Rodriguez and Joan Didion. The focus is on the craft of the work: how scenes and characters are developed, how dialogue can be used, how the form can fracture from linear narrative to the collage.

The Dying Animal: Literary Criticism as an Endangered Journalistic Form
Written Arts 320
How does one write on deadline about new works of literary enterprise for an audience outside of the academy? How does one, when given 5,000 words, write an essay that offers an opinion of a work’s merits that is as fair to the ambitions of the author as it is to the larger endeavor of literary enterprise? Students read examples of literary criticism from Samuel Johnson to David Foster Wallace, and ultimately write a piece of long-form literary criticism of their own.

Advanced Poetry Workshop
Written Arts 322
Students present their work to the group for analysis and response, and complete suggested readings of contemporary poets. Optional ­writing assignments are given for those poets who may find this useful. The course is open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

Fiction Workshop III
Written Arts 324
A workshop in prose fiction for advanced students. Participants are expected to submit at least two works of fiction to the workshop and critique their peers’ writings.

Translating “Illuminations,” Illuminating Translations
Written Arts 325 
Students translate a series of prose poems by Arthur Rimbaud that have come to be called “Illuminations.” The goal is that discussions and independent research into the meanings of words inform the class enough about both French and English to be able to arrive at individual translations of the poems. Learning to translate from a foreign language into English involves learning how to write resourcefully and powerfully, and knowing the weight and weft of words.

Hunting Human Beings: An Exploration of “The Profile” as a Journalistic Form
Written Arts  333
The magazine or newspaper profile dates back to Daniel Defoe’s pioneering efforts, which ran parallel to the emergence of the English novel. This workshop attempts to understand how a written portrait of a living person—Defoe’s profile of the criminal Jack Sheppard, for example—differs in nature and form from a written portrait of an invented person, such as Robinson Crusoe. Texts by Defoe, De Quincey, Hazlitt, Wharton, Twain, Orwell, Didion, Malcolm, Talese, Agee, Mailer, Boo, and others.

Poetry Practicum: How Forms Become Contents
Written Arts 335
Practicum is a Latin word meaning the practice of something as one moves from learning about it to doing it. This course has the spirit of experiment, in the sense of testing things, and a sense of inquiry, as the class looks closely at how specific choices—words, punctuation, syntax—inform how meanings are made. Readings include examples from Sappho to Stevens to Silliman, along with critical writings that help align students’ intentions to their writing practice.

Prose Studio
Written Arts 336
Just as the visual arts employ studios to stretch muscles, refine technique, and launch ideas, so this class functions for writers of fiction and nonfiction. Weekly paired reading and writing exercises concerning, among other things, voice, stance, texture, rhythm, recall, palette, focus, compression, word choice, rhetoric, and timing. For serious writers only.

Affinities and Discoveries: How to Sustain a Literary Life during and after Bard
Written Arts 340
This course engages with a broad range of literary magazines, in print and online, from samizdat to Condé Nast. Students are guided to recognize and identify literary sensibilities, develop their own affinities, and eventually engage in a more concrete way with the particular periodicals they most admire. Also discussed are the mechanics of literary community building, from submitting, interning, blogging, and tweeting, to forming ­literary chat rooms and real-life book clubs.

Imagining Nonhuman Consciousness
Written Arts 3500
Philosopher Thomas Nagel asked, “What is it like to be a bat?” Ultimately, he determined that a bat’s experience of the world is so alien to our own that it remains inaccessible to human cognitive empathy. But a bat’s experience is not inaccessible to human imagination. This course considers texts that approach nonhuman consciousness through literature, philosophy, and science, from authors such as Descartes, Kafka, Rilke, Gardner, Collodi, Grandin, Asimov, Agamben, Sims, and Wallace. Students also incorporate these ideas into their own writing.

Advanced Fiction: The Novella
Written Arts 3500
Students read novellas by Henry James, Gustave Flaubert, Anton Chekhov, Flannery O’Connor, Allan Gurganus, Amy Hempel, and Philip Roth. Using these primary texts for reference, the class discusses technical aspects of fiction writing, such as the use of time, narrative voice, openings, endings, dialogue, circularity, and editing, from the point of view of writers, focusing closely on the student’s own work. In addition to writing weekly responses to assigned reading, students write and revise a novella.

Senior Colloquium: Written Arts
Written Arts 405
This required yearlong colloquium provides Written Arts majors with an opportunity to share working methods, knowledge, skills, and resources. The course also explicitly addresses challenges arising from research and writing on this scale.

Writing Workshop for Nonmajors
Written Arts 422
Every craft, science, skill, and discipline can be articulated, and anyone who can do real work in science or scholarship or art can learn to write “creatively”—to make personal concerns interesting to other people by means of language. This workshop, for juniors and seniors who are not writing majors but wish to learn about the world through the act of writing, provides the chance to experiment with all kinds of writing.