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Bard College Catalogue, 2019–20
Dinaw Mengestu (director), Ian Buruma, Mary Caponegro, Benjamin Hale, Michael Ives, Robert Kelly, Ann Lauterbach, Valeria Luiselli, Dawn Lundy Martin, Wyatt Mason, Daniel Mendelsohn, 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 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 201, Narrative/Poetics/Representation; 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 201, Narrative/Poetics/Representation; 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
- “Coney Island Caviar,” a time-traveling historical fiction novella
- “Lost Girls,” a story about love and faith, and refusing to sacrifice one for the other
- “The Psyche behind the Performance: Portraits of Classical Musicians”
- “Under Normal Circumstances,” a collection of short stories
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
Over the course of the semester, students read works that reflect a range of aesthetic approaches to fiction and participate in exercises designed to isolate particular aspects of story-making. Emphasis is on the evolution of narrative from causal elements as well as the development of technique. Student fiction is critiqued in a workshop format. For first-year students.
Principles of Prose
Written Arts 122
This course presents the breadth of formal possibilities available to writers of short nonfiction. Students read and comment on pieces by Montaigne, De Quincey, Hazlitt, Baudelaire, Poe, Dreiser, Twain, Woolf, Lawrence, Wilson, Orwell, Didion, McPhee, Ozick, and others. Workshopping these established writers allows the class to learn what a piece of nonfiction writing is as well as how to workshop something. Students also complete short writing exercises throughout the semester. Enrollment is limited to first-year students.
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.
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.
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. Students examine the elements of that architecture by asking what, in the most concrete terms, makes a poem a dynamic, saturated language event. The workshop introduces them to such aspects of poetic form as 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.
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.
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.
A Special Way of Being Alive: How and Why to Write Literary Criticism
Written Arts 239
How does one, when given 5,000 words of real estate in, say, the New Yorker or Harper’s, write an essay—on deadline—that engages a new work and offers an opinion of the 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, among others, Johnson, Hazlitt, Wolff, Wilson, McCarthy, Sontag, Updike, and Gay, and complete a long-form literary criticism of their own.
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.
Written Arts 315
Is the adventure an archaic form of writing, and of seeing? What space—psychological, political, cultural, geographic—remains for the adventure in hypermodern times? Readings embrace or refuse the idea of the thrilling yarn, and students write fiction that investigates this territory. Authors may include Borges, Portis, Cusk, Melville, Stevenson, Sarrazin, Wright, and Bunyan.
Reading and Writing the Personal Essay
Written Arts 318
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 collage.
American Revolutionary Poetics: Poetries and Movements that Changed the World
Written Arts 321
CROSS-LISTED: AFRICANA STUDIES
A studio course in which the craft of writing poems is at the center of students’ creative practice. Moving from the late 18th-century black poetry that claimed Negro subjectivity to the Harlem Renaissance, Beat poets, and beyond, the class considers how poetry, in its different way of knowing, can change belief systems and the world. Authors include Wheatley, Douglass, McKay, Hughes, Brooks, Clifton, Ginsberg, Waldman, Rankine, Myung Mi Kim, and others.
Fiction Workshop III
Written Arts 324
A workshop in prose fiction for advanced students, who are expected to submit at least two works of fiction and critique their peers’ writings. This course is restricted to students who have taken at least one previous Written Arts workshop (in fiction, poetry, or nonfiction).
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.
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.
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.
Language as Poetry
Written Arts 337
Ordinary speech is the well-spring of poetry in English, from Chaucer to our day. With a focus on the poetics of listening—to speech, text, silence—the course emphasizes writing as a way of knowing and writing as a daily practice.
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.
On Description: Writing the World
Written Arts 343
What do we mean by representation today, when so much of daily life is spent in relation to a dematerialized digital world? Students read passages from disparate sources, historical and contemporary, in which writers vividly convey persons, places, and things. How did Proust describe a landscape? How does Nathaniel Mackey capture the sound of jazz? They listen to music, look at pictures, walk through their surroundings, and write descriptions of what they experience, noting the ways that mood and memory affect what we perceive and how we write.
Imagining Nonhuman Consciousness
Written Arts 345
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.
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.