Dinaw Mengestu (director), Ian Buruma, Mary Caponegro, Teju Cole, Neil Gaiman, Benjamin Hale, Michael Ives, Robert Kelly, Ann Lauterbach, 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.
Students hoping to moderate into Written Arts are required to take five courses in the Division of Languages and Literature prior to Moderation. 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 must have excelled in their Written Arts courses in order to successfully moderate into the program. All students moderating into Written Arts are strongly encouraged to study a foreign language.
Fiction/Nonfiction: Students hoping to moderate into fiction or nonfiction must take the following classes: Literature 103, Introduction to Literary Studies; one course in the English, American, or comparative literature sequence; a Written Arts course in their discipline (fiction or nonfiction) at the 100–200 level; a Written Arts course in any discipline at the 200–300 level; and another course in the Division of Languages and Literature.
Poetry: Students hoping to moderate into poetry must take the following classes: Literature 103, Introduction to Literary Studies; one course in the English, American, or comparative literature sequence; a Written Arts poetry course at the 100–200 level; a course in the analysis of poetry at the 200–300 level; and another course in the Division of Languages and Literature.
Students who have moderated into fiction and nonfiction are strongly encouraged to take an upper-level writing seminar in Written Arts prior to the start of their Senior Project. Students who have successfully moderated into poetry are encouraged to take a second course at the 200–300 level in the writing or analysis of poetry. Students are allowed to take only one Written Arts course in any given semester, and are prohibited from taking a course in Written Arts the year of their Senior Project.
Recent Senior Projects in Written Arts
- “the even passage of the sun,” a collection of poems centered around being, technology, histories, and memories
- “Salvador Fellini Presents: A Most Unfortunate Combination”
- “Slack Tide and Other Stories”
- “Worldream,” a dystopian poem in 10 parts
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
Open to students who have never had a workshop in poetry. Attention is mainly on the student’s own production; the individual’s awareness of what sorts of activities, rhythms, and tellings are possible in poetry; and how poets go about learning from their own work. Readings are undertaken in contemporary and traditional poetry, in order to develop familiarity with poetic form, poetic movement, and poetic energy. Attendance at various evening poetry readings and lectures is required.
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.
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
Reading and writing are joined at the mind through the eye, ear, and heart; how we write is informed by what we read. The hope is that, by reading various writings, students explore the possibilities of form in relation to their chosen subject matter. Form, by definition, involves limits. The poetic line is one simple limit; tone and cadence and diction are aspects of formal limits. Then there are imposed limits, like the decision to use only nouns beginning with the letter “M.”
Mysteries of Narrative
Written Arts 231
Mystery once referred primarily to religious ideas, but in the 20th century, the word began to be used in reference to more prosaic things, like whodunits. Why and what is a reader tempted to know or expect to be revealed? When do the “tricks” of withholding information annoy, and when do they compel? Students read stories, novels, and case histories to see how writers have borrowed, avoided, or disguised the structures of mystery, and think about techniques they might integrate into their own work.
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) as well as the challenges of the genre. Works by Emerson, Thoreau, and Muir are studied, as are texts from contemporary 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.
Imagining Nonhuman Consciousness
Written Arts 244
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.
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.
Reading and Writing 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.
The Fictional Self
Written Arts 324
This writing-intensive seminar examines the ways writers have employed, manipulated, and distorted the authorial self. The class looks at contemporary and historical uses of the alter ego (or fictional self) in poetry, literary essays, and works of fiction. Authors studied include Jorge Luis Borges, Philip Roth, Lorrie Moore, David Foster Wallace, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, and James Joyce. Students generate a substantial body of literary fiction while also responding critically to the readings and the work of their peers.
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.
Writing and Resistance
Written Arts 326
CROSS-LISTED: HUMAN RIGHTS
Our current political reality demands that we return to the problematic relationship between literature and politics. With renewed awareness of the role language plays in constructing and reshaping our reality, the class reads a broad range of texts, asking: How can resistance, protest, ideological critique, and indoctrination inhabit a piece of fiction? How can the imagination take part in the events of the day? Students read works by Shelley, Swift, Ehrenreich, Baldwin, Kafka, Bolaño, Lessing, and Spark; and write “political” stories and essays of their own.
The Poetic Sequence
Written Arts 328
From T. S. Eliot’s canonical The Waste Land (1922) to Layli Long Soldier’s 2017 debut collection Whereas, modern and contemporary poets have found in the sequence or serial poem formal ways to shift tone and focus while maintaining common thematic elements. Students read some of these works—by Stein, H.D., Stevens, Rich, Ashbery, Scalapino, Waldrop, others—and discuss their narrative coherence and sonic impact, and how the use of fragment, repetition, and variation opens the possibilities of meaning.
Blown Deadlines: A Course in Journalistic Writing
Written Arts 330
The root of the word “journalism” suggests writing that is disposable; yet, in every era, writing that was supposed to serve only a passing moment has endured. This workshop explores great examples of deadline writing, from the old guard (Johnson, De Quincey, Baudelaire, Twain, Orwell) to the recent past and present (Didion, Mailer, Boo, Sullivan). Forms encountered—and attempted—include the personal essay, critical essay, narrative with argument, profile, and satire.
Advanced Contemporary Poetics
Written Arts 332
CROSS-LISTED: AFRICANA STUDIES
This course investigates the evolving fields of poetry and poetics through a critical and creative lens, with a particular eye to poetries, practices, and theories as they are put forth by writers of color. The class thinks and works across genres, mediums, and disciplines. Readings from Myung Mi Kim, Simone White, Susan Sontag, Douglas Kearney, Hoa Nguyen, John Cage, Ellen Gallagher, and Adrienne Kennedy.
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.
Writing the Roots
Written Arts 334
What can a word tell us about its thing? The poet Charles Olson used to talk about “running a word,” tracing it back to its sources. Etymology reveals social and physical conditions in history which in turn condition what words mean to us, how we think with them, how we use them. A small conference group investigates by writing from and through what the words can teach us.
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.
Reading and Writing the Hudson: Writing the Essay of Place
Written Arts 338
CROSS-LISTED: AMERICAN STUDIES, EUS
Students get to know the Hudson River in all of its complexity through readings and by writing personal essays of place. Each student undertakes independent research into some aspect of the river; this research, combined with personal experience of the Hudson Valley, is used to develop extended creative nonfiction essays, which are critiqued in a workshop format.
Location, Location, Location
Written Arts 339
The dimension of the setting—geophysical, cultural, atmospheric—is an essential and often neglected aspect of fiction writing, in part because of the difficulty of descriptive writing. In this workshop, students read a variety of short texts, fictional and nonfictional, by Capote, Dickens, O’Connor, Calvino, Davis, and others. They also create written work that explores the power of environment, be it the mountaintop, the boulevard, or the void.
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.
The Short Story
Written Arts 350
In this course, students read, reread, discuss, and respond in writing to a number of short stories, with a view to analyzing how they function and how students can adapt the writers’ forms, styles, and approaches in their own work. The class starts with works in translation by Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Flaubert; then moves to Hawthorne, Munro, Trevor, and Yiyun Li. Weekly essays are expected, as are long-term writing projects (short stories, personal or critical essays, etc.).
Senior Colloquium: Written Arts
Written Arts 405
The Senior Colloquium is an important supplement to the Senior Project. The primary purpose is to guide seniors, both practically and philosophically, in the daunting task of creating a coherent and inspired creative work of high quality within a single academic year. Emphasis is on demystifying the project process, including its bureaucratic hurdles; exploring the role of research in the creative realm; and helping students use each other as a critical and inspirational resource during this protracted, solitary endeavor.
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.