Bard College Catalogue 2017-18
Dinaw Mengestu (director), Ian Buruma, Mary Caponegro, Teju Cole, Neil Gaiman, Rivka Galchen, Benjamin Hale, Michael Ives, Robert Kelly, Ann Lauterbach, Dawn Lundy Martin, Wyatt Mason, Daniel Mendelsohn, Chiori Miyagawa, Bradford Morrow, Joseph O’Neill, Philip Pardi, 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 writtenarts.bard.edu.
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
- “A Landscape of Days,” a collection of prose poems on observing movement and stillness
- “Sibling(s),” a novella
- “Trompe L’oeil” a collection of stories derived from art history
- “U.S. Route 9,” a collection of essays
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 descriptions below are a sampling of courses from the past four years.
Fiction Workshop I
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.
Nonfiction Workshop I
Written Arts 122
For students who want to write “creative” essays. Creative nonfiction is a flexible genre that includes memoir, the personal essay, collaged writings, portraits, and more. The essays can be lyrical or analytical, meditative or whimsical. Students read a range of works and then offer up their own creative experiments, paying particular attention to the relationship between language and ideas. Weekly writings and readings.
Poetry Workshop I
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.
The Arc of the Short Story: Conversations with Authors
Written Arts 125
This course critically engages with a vast range of short stories from a writer’s perspective. Discussions focus on the architecture of stories, with special attention paid to how authors have employed this narrative form to address their own moral, political, and aesthetic concerns. Also investigated is how writers across the globe—Chekhov, García Márquez, de Maupassant, and Danticat, among others—have subverted conventions in order to create texts that challenge our understanding of what constitutes a story.
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.
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.
Reading as Writing as Reading: Exploring the Contemporary
Written Arts 227
Students read a variety of contemporary poets, asking the questions: What kinds of forms are necessary to address the changing present? How do today’s poets draw on ideas and methods in disciplines other than poetics? Core texts include Conjunctions:35, American Poetry: States of the Art, and American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry. Course participants also write poems and prose in response to the readings.
Reading and Writing the Birds
Written Arts 231
Students become familiar with approximately one hundred local birds by ear and by sight, then write about the birds using both experience and research. To guide their writing, they read narratives of bird discovery and adventure from Alexander Wilson, John James Audubon, Olive Thorne Miller, Florence Merriam Bailey, Roger Tory Peterson, and Kenn Kaufman. A good pair of binoculars is suggested.
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 Dillard, Ehrlich, and Abbey. All students 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.
Written Arts 245
While we often divide literature into distinct categories and genres—poetry, nonfiction, fiction—writers have always strayed across these boundaries, borrowing from other forms and genres to create hybrid texts that are a product of multiple literary styles, techniques, and traditions. In this course, students read from a broad range of classical and contemporary writers whose work is a deliberate hybrid of form, style, and genre. They are also expected to write short, critical responses throughout the semester, as well as generate a substantial body of creative text.
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, and 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.
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.
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.
Poetics of Space: Language and Visuality
Written Arts 341
Poets, critics, novelists, and philosophers have long pondered the mystery of how writing conveys a sense of space, or place, and the objects found in it. Beginning with the grapheme and glyph, the class examines linguistic figures such as image, metaphor, simile, and metonymy; reads varieties of description and depiction; and inquires about mimesis and ekphrasis. The course also considers the difference between a blank page and a screen, and the possible connection between the aesthetics of the visual and the Western bourgeois culture of desire.
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.
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.