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Writer as Reader Workshops

Information and Imagination: A Reading of Andrea Barrett's Ship Fever

November 1, 2013

Literary fiction and scientific texts offer different perspectives on the world and its inhabitants, even as they present the reader with different kinds of information. In our classrooms, in our reading habits, and in our work as teachers we often keep imaginative and informational texts apart; study scientific papers and articles, and literary fiction in different classes. In the Common Core, readings that are informational and those that are literary or narrative are placed in different columns. Literary and scientific texts ask different questions about matter and human life. The language of science revolves around experiment, evidence, and proof; literature speaks of structure, characters, plot, or lack thereof. This workshop asks, “What can we learn from putting items in the two columns in conversation with each other?”

Literary and scientific texts contain “information.” What can happen, though, when we look at both together, exploring how each discipline makes sense of the world? Even though they use completely different languages, what can we learn from considering where fiction and science intersect? How they take notice of the environment, make use of details, and convey knowledge? This workshop focuses on a close reading of Andrea Barrett’s Ship Fever, a collection of short stories, (including the novella that gives the collection its title). A student of biology in her earlier life, Barrett’s language as well as her stories are subtly connected to the theory of evolution. In an interview published in the 2005 Paris Review, Barrett explained: “I’m trying to make a very quiet point. I’m trying to make the reader feel the effects of genetic linkage, feel the molecules of DNA tumbling across time and space and continents, combining and recombining.”

Workshop participants learn how to apply Institute writing-to-read practices to Barrett’s stories as well as to science writing—and to explore connections between the two.

Texts: Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett (Norton, 1996), with selections from Darwin’s On Natural Selection and David Quammen’s The Reluctant Mr. Darwin.

Workshop fee: $200 (includes morning coffee, lunch, and 
workshop materials)