Salvatore Pane

Tag: Tom Bissell

English Composition Syllabus or Comp So Hard The Registrar Wanna Fine Me

A new semester has begun, and I thought it might be interesting if I posted all my syllabi. I’ve done this before, but every semester I try to retool some things that aren’t working. I’ve just started work at the University of Indianapolis, and honestly, I can’t even imagine being happier than I am right now. My experience here has already gone above and beyond expectations, and they were pretty high to begin with. This fall I’m teaching two sections of English Composition, one section of Advanced Composition (the only course I haven’t taught before), and one section of Fiction Writing Workshop. I’ll be posting the syllabi separately over the next week. If you want to use these or take sections that work for you, please feel free to do so. I’ve cobbled these from syllabi I’ve photocopied and downloaded. Some of it comes from Cathy Day. Some of it comes from my friends back in Pennsylvania. Some of it was used as the standard comp syllabus at Pitt back in 2007. Most of the assignments and papers are my own inventions, but I really think syllabi are things to share and learn from. Let me know what you think of what I’m proposing here. Let me know what you’re doing in the classroom. Let’s collaborate.

ENGLISH COMPOSITION

MWF 8:00-8:50

University of Indianapolis
Assistant Professor Salvatore Pane
Office Hours: 10-11 MWF, 2-3 MW
Credits: 3.0

Public Connections: The Evolution of the Essay

 

Syllabus

 

 

Required Texts

 

The Best American Essays, Sixth College Edition, edited by Robert Atwan

Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White

 

 

Recommended Text

Writer’s Reference, Seventh Edition, by Diane Hacker

Welcome to English Composition

Somewhere along the way, you likely encountered the five-paragraph essay with its introductory paragraph and thesis statement, its three supporting examples and conclusion that re-states the central idea. Now, having arrived in a college Composition course, you may be expecting more of the same. But you will soon discover that English Composition—and writing in the university more broadly—demands more complex (and inventive) writing and thinking than this kind of essay allows. You might say this is a writing course that begins where the five-paragraph essay leaves off…

Course Description

This is a class in which we will write A LOT. We will write about the reading we do and write about the thinking we do and then write about the writing we do and just plain write. This description may sound exhausting or exciting, but either way, you can be sure that the course will be both challenging and rewarding. Keep in mind that writing is a skill, just like playing football or driving a car. That is, it is something that improves with diligence and practice. But in this class, unlike driving a car, you will never be asked to follow the same rote steps. The essay assignments and short exercises in this course are designed to help you approach writing from a variety of contexts, using a variety of techniques. We are trying to look beyond pat formulas (such as the five-paragraph essay) while still understanding the writely conventions specific to each piece and how they can be useful. At times, the prompts might ask you to employ a particular strategy or style of a published essayist, but always with the aim of exploring your own range of writing and voices.

Workshopping and revision will be key components of our work in this class. We will put essays from inside and outside of class onto the table to find out what is working or not working for us as readers and writers. The object is to take what we learn from workshop and apply it to our own writing in future drafts and revisions. I encourage you to look at every assignment that you complete as a draft that can be improved rather than a finished product.

Critical engagement and close reading will also be integral to this course. In fact, I hope that they will both become daily practices. A big part of this class is learning to complicate your thinking, to notice the details of language and composition on a micro and macro level. Throughout the term, we will do close reading exercises focusing on various literary and rhetorical devices with the aim of nuancing our own analyses and writing. Producing work that is fresh and insightful depends upon being able to draw out insightful readings of other texts, of ourselves, and of the world. English Composition will push you to ask not only the “how” of writing but also the “why” and the “so what.”

Things to Remember

Push yourself to be innovative and creative. Push yourself to take that extra step towards flushing out the complexity of an issue. This class is a safe place to take risks that may not always improve your writing in the short term but will help you better understand writing and the successful choices you can make as a writer over time. You will be given plenty of time to write during class. Use this to your advantage.

This small size of our class will help you get to know each other and each other’s work well. The goal is to forge a community of writers who participate in an ongoing and constructive conversation about the craft. English Composition illustrates quite literally how your writing is always part of a public conversation!

Turning in Your Writing

It’s important that you turn in your writing on time, as late work cannot become part of class discussion. Likewise, because the Essays and Exercises build upon one another, turning in late work means you miss out on comments that would help you with the upcoming assignment. Since you will regularly revise your work, make sure to keep electronic and paper copies. All papers must be written in Times New Roman 12 with one inch fonts. Failure to comply will result in a lowered grade. Also, please title your work. Do not generically title your papers, “Essay 2” or “Essay on Singer.”

Readings

All of the assigned readings are either in Best American Essays or on Ace. It is your responsibility to print out the readings we will focus on in any given class session. Everything you will need is explained in the Course Sequence. You only have to read essays marked “Homework.” If you do not bring print outs of the readings, I will take off participation points. If this becomes a consistent problem, I will start marking you absent.

Grading

You will receive provisional grades on each of the essays you turn in, but you will have a chance to revise those essays throughout the semester. At your mid-term conference you will receive a provisional grade, which is in no way final and is not factored into your final grade. Rather, this mid-term assessment is intended to give you a sense of how your writing is being evaluated and of your progress in the course. You are always welcome to stop by during office hours to talk about your writing or your grade. Keep in mind that your final portfolio will be comprised of three polished essays. Thus, you are encouraged to keep on reworking essays that you like throughout the semester.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Classroom participation will affect your grade. Lack of engagement or preparation will lower your grade. Regular comments and involvement with moving the ongoing conversation of the class forward will increase your grade.

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you turn in a paper late, you will lose an entire letter grade. If you turn in a paper more than 24 hours late, it is an automatic failure. Automatic failures WILL impact your final grade in the class. No excuses.

Essays & evaluations                                                                                                 70%

Exercises and class participation                                                                                30%

Course Objectives

1)    A successful student will add thoughtful and complex commentary to every class discussion.

2)    A successful student will hand in thoughtful and complex essays on time for each corresponding assignment.

3)    A successful student will complete all of the exercises with great attention to detail.

4)    A successful student will substantially revise and extend two of their essays.

Conferences

You will have at least one conference with me over the course of the semester at mid-term. This meeting takes place in my office. It will be brief and is designed to better gauge individual needs and interests as well as get feedback.

Attendance

I want to be as clear as I can on this. If you miss class five times, you will fail. There will be no make up assignments. Don’t come back to class. The ONLY excuses I will accept are a doctor’s excuse or some kind of family emergency. I am not going to make any exceptions on this front.

You should always be on time for class. If you are late, you will not get credit for attending an entire class.

If you are unprepared for discussion or workshop, I cannot give you credit for attendance that day.

Note

The syllabus is subject to change. I will only push assignments and readings back however. No assignment will ever be due earlier than it’s listed here.

Plagiarism

Intellectual theft, like any other kind of theft, is a crime, and is especially dangerous on a college campus. Plagiarism is defined as any use of another person’s thoughts or words as your own. I don’t expect to see plagiarism in this class, and if I do each case will be dealt with on an individual basis, but the MINIMUM penalty will be failure for the assignment in question. Failing the entire course is not out of the question. If you are doing research and are unsure how to incorporate someone else’s work into your own in a valid manner, please ask—I’ll be more than happy to help you out so that there’s no danger of confusion.

Week One

Monday August 27

Syllabus & Introductions
Azar Nafisi “Words of War”
In Class Writing

Wednesday August 29

Farhad Manjoo “Is Facebook a Fad?”
Exercise A

Friday August 31

Ben Percy “Keep Doing What You Are Doing, James Franco”
Exercise B
Homework: Read Peter Singer “The Singer Solution to World Poverty”

Week Two

Wednesday September 5

Exercise C
Discuss Peter Singer “The Singer Solution to World Poverty”
Homework: Read ANY five opening paragraphs from Best American Essays

Friday September 7

Discuss Essay 1
Exercise D

Week Three

Monday September 10

Examples of Essay 1

Wednesday September 12

Nate Jackson “The NFL’s Head Cases”
60 Minutes
Exercise E
Homework: Read Tom Bissell “Grand Thefts”

Friday September 14

Discuss Tom Bissell “Grand Thefts”
Homework: Read David Masello “My Friend Lodovico”

Week Four

Monday September 17

Essay 1 Due
Peer Review

Wednesday September 19

Discuss David Masello “My Friend Lodovico”
Exercise F

Friday September 21

Discuss Essay 2
xTx “We Have to Go Back”
Exercise G

Week Five

Monday September 24

Examples of Essay 2

Wednesday September 26

Student Workshops

Friday September 28

Essay 2 Due
Peer Review

Week Six

Monday October 1

Molly Lambert “The ‘Poor Jen’ Problem”
Exercise H

Wednesday October 3

Revision Pamphlet
Discuss Revision 1
Exercise I

Friday October 5

Roxane Gay “A Profound Sense of Absence”
Exercise J

Week Seven

Monday October 8

Student Conferences

Wednesday October 10

Student Conferences

Friday October 12

Student Conferences

Week Eight

Wednesday October 17

Revision 1 Due
Roger Ebert’s Twitter Feed
Kellee Santiago “Are Video Games Art?”
Homework: Read Roger Ebert “Video Games Can Never Be Art”

Friday October 19

Discuss Roger Ebert “Video Games Can Never Be Art”
Exercise K
Homework: Read Jason Wire “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?”

Week Nine

Monday October 22

Discuss Read Jason Wire “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?”
Exercise L

Wednesday October 24

The Simpsons “Marge vs. Itchy and Scratchy”
Exercise M

Friday October 26

Class Cancelled

Week Ten

Monday October 29

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Wednesday October 31

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Friday November 2

Discuss Essay 3
Exercise M

Week Eleven

Monday November 5

Examples of Essay 3

Wednesday November 7

Ray Fisman “Clean Out Your Desks”
Exercise N
Homework: Read Mike Rose “I Just Wanna Be Average”

Friday November 9

Discuss Mike Rose “I Just Wanna Be Average”
Exercise O

Week Twelve

Monday November 12

Essay 3 Due
Peer Review
Homework: Read Richard Rodriguez “Aria”

Wednesday November 14

Discuss Richard Rodriguez “Aria”
Exercise P
Homework: Read Hephzibah Roskelly “Redneck Daughter in the Academy”

Friday November 16

Discuss Hephzibah Roskelly “Redneck Daughter in the Academy”
Discuss Essay 4

Week Thirteen

Monday November 19

Examples of Essay 4

Week Fourteen

Monday November 26

Peer Review First Page of Essay 4

Wednesday November 28

Student Workshops

Friday November 30

Student Workshops

Week Fifteen

Monday December 3

Student Conferences

Wednesday December 5

Student Conferences

Friday December 7

Final Portfolios Due

In-Class Writing

For this first writing assignment, we would like you to discuss authority in Azar Nafisi’s “Words of War.”

At some point in your response, we would like you to focus in on specifics.  Which details capture your attention and why?  As you describe what you read—bombs over Iran, some strange book called Pride and Prejudice, allusions to the US War in Iraq—consider what gives Nafisi “authority.” Authority, on the page, is when readers believe what a writer writes. What makes you believe that Nafisi knows what she’s talking about? Is it because she is from Iran? Is it because she is a university professor? Is it because she uses big words? Or do you not believe her, and if so, why not?

While you may come to some interesting conclusions by the end of your response, you should not feel obligated to wrap things up neatly or to offer a definitive set of statements.  In fact, rather than driving toward a pre-determined conclusion, we want to encourage you to surprise yourself, to discover new interpretive territory.  Try writing without knowing quite where you will land.  You may even find that as your understanding deepens, a whole new set of questions arises.

You will have the rest of class to complete your response.

Essay #1 (3 pages)

DUE MONDAY SEPTEMBER 17th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment, and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.”

—Joyce Carol Oates

As readers, we are often drawn to voices we consider “conversational,” by which we usually mean friendly or non-threatening.  And yet there are many modes and styles of conversation.  Consider the differences in tone, diction, cadence, and syntax that characterize the dialogues in which you regularly engage, your varied motivations for speaking or listening.  Talks with your teachers no doubt differ markedly from those with your parents, your friends, your romantic partners, your cat, or that police officer who pulls you over for speeding.  Even chats between the same two speakers can vary considerably according to circumstances: arguments, heart-felt confessions, interventions, seductions, lies, denials, comic relief.

Write an essay in which you present your conversation with “The Singer Solution to World Poverty.” What do you notice about how Singer shapes and manipulates the relationship between writer and reader? Where, for example, does Singer anticipate your response?  How does he ask you to see yourself, and what strategies does he employ to get you to do so? What do you notice about your responses to Singer’s provocations, his anticipated counter-arguments, his questions and direct addresses? Where did you listen quietly, and where did you speak back? Do you agree or disagree with Singer? Why or why not?

Keep in mind that we are not asking you to summarize the essay, but rather to describe and reflect on your reading process. Unless you have a compelling reason for doing so, you should avoid the five-paragraph essay form.  Write as many paragraphs as you need, structuring your work according to the logic of what you have to say.

In your essay, make sure to use quotations from the text to illustrate your ideas or support your claims.

Essay #2 (3 Pages)

DUE FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 28th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“We must remove the mask.”

                      —Montaigne

“If you must preserve your secret, wrap it up in frankness.”

                                                                                 —Alexander Smith

One way the essayist fashions a persona is by choosing what to reveal to the reader, and what to conceal.  Personal history is offered piecemeal, often while the writer appears to be focused on another subject altogether.  In telling someone else’s story, the writer plays the part of looker-on, a lens trained on the essay’s real subject.  When such essayists turn to talk about themselves, their candor seems almost accidental, a slip of the tongue.

In Tom Bissell’s “Grand Thefts,” we learn about the writer’s Grand Theft Auto avatar Niko Bellic. We discover vital information about Niko’s world and personality, but at the same time, Bissell reveals his own faults and obsession with drugs. In David Masello’s “My Friend Lodovico,” we meet the author’s dear friend, Lodovico Capponi.  But we also get to know the author—his history of love affairs and lost friends, his changeable fashions and wandering eye.  For as much as David Masello looks at Lodovico, Lodovico (and we) look at David Masello.  One might say these essays are as much autobiographies as they are biographies, double-portraits of the subjects and the writers.

Try your hand at a double-portrait in the spirit of “My Friend Lodovico” and “Grand Thefts.”  Like Masello, your subject will be a friendship, an acquaintance with someone (or something) you have never actually met.  A figure from art, history, or popular culture.  A character in a book, film, or television show.  An image in a painting or photograph.  A celebrity.  An athlete. As you prepare to write, consider the persona you will shape on the page, the tidbits of personal history you will reveal.

Revision #1 (5 pages)

DUE WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 17TH IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“When you write,” Annie Dillard says, “you lay out a line of words . . . Soon you find yourself in new territory.  Is it a dead end or have you located your real subject?”  You write a first draft.  A few weeks pass and the terrain changes. You have some ideas for improvements.  Those comments in the margins are a good place to begin.  A few pointed questions, the occasional word of advice.  You have the voices of your classmates, a few new ideas about writing.  That’s a good start, you say to yourself.

For this assignment, you will substantially revise one of your essays and take it in a new direction.  Begin by reading over your writing, looking again at those lines of words you laid down.  Think about where you want them to go now.  How have your ideas about what you wanted to say, or how you wanted to speak, changed?  Where do you find yourself at a dead-end?  Are there questions in the margins that open up new routes, perhaps calling to mind stories you have yet to tell, ideas you would like to pursue further?

Once you have read through your writing and the comments, decide which essay you will revise.  Be sure to ask if you have questions about anything written on your draft.

Plan on spending at least as much time and effort revising as you did writing the original.  In some instances, you may write new paragraphs, entirely new pages.  In others cases, you will undoubtedly find yourself fine-tuning single sentences.  Highlight the revised and new material by using a different colored font.  Once you have completed your revision, the new essay should look quite different from the original.

If you scored an A on the first draft, cut 10% of your material. If you scored a B on the first draft, cut 25% of your material. If you received a C or lower on the first draft, cut 50% of your material.

Essay #3 (3 pages)

DUE MONDAY NOVEMBER 12TH IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“I remain convinced that in principle, video games cannot be art. Perhaps it is foolish of me to say ‘never,’ because never, as Rick Wakeman informs us, is a long, long time. Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.”

–Roger Ebert in “Video Games Can Never Be Art”

Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked a lot about what exactly constitutes art and who gets the right to proclaim that something isn’t art. Kellee Santiago claims in her YouTube video presentation that Roger Ebert is wrong, that video games can be art, and in fact, already are. Ebert’s response essay, “Video Games Can Never Be Art” very much defends his position. And of course, Jason Wire argues in “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?” that everything is now considered art, even demonstrations as bizarre as an orchestra sitting in silence for four-and-a-half minutes to the demented, a starving dog tied up just out of reach of food in a museum.

For this essay, you must come up with your own definition of art and argue for its validity using examples and logic just like Wire and Santiago and Ebert. In our society, what constitutes art? Do you take the hard-line view that only so-called “great works”—the classic novels and poems and paintings and operas—should be classified as art, or do you feel that everything—a sock, Transformers 2, the New York Knicks, a double cheeseburger—should be considered art? What is your stance? Prove it. Where do you draw the line?

Secondly, do you think that the specific people who have the ability to declare things art or not—Roger Ebert and other critics—in any way mimics the social power structure that governs our lives? Who in this society has power, and how do arguments about what and what is not art reflect that struggle? Remember Roxane Gay’s essay “A Profound Sense of Absence.” She makes a case that the art that is most often valued in our society focuses on upper-middle class white people from America. What does that say about us as a society?

NOTE: For this paper, include a works cited. You must use 3 of the essays/videos we’ve gone over in class during this unit (the Ebert, the Santiago, the Wire, the Simpsons episode or the Gay), and you must find 2 more CRITICAL sources on your own. I don’t want Wikipedia.

Essay #4 (7 pages)

DUE FRIDAY DECEMBER 7TH IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“Students will float to the mark you set. I and the others in the vocational classes were bobbing in pretty shallow water. Vocational education has aimed at increasing the economic opportunities of students who do not do well in our schools. Some serious programs succeed in doing that, and through exceptional teachers… students learn to develop hypotheses and troubleshoot, reason through a problem, and communicate effectively—the true job skills. The vocational track, however, is most often a place for those who are just not making it, a dumping ground for the disaffected. There were a few teachers who worked hard at education; young Brother Slattery, for example, combined a stern voice with weekly quizzes to try to pass along to us a skeletal outline of world history. But mostly the teachers had no idea of how to engage the imaginations of us kids who were scuttling along at the bottom of the pond.”

—Mike Rose in “I Just Wanna Be Average”

For Essay #4, you will produce an essay that combines personal inquiry and argument, an essay that not only reveals the writer’s life ala David Masello and Tom Bissell, but one that also strives to make a point ala Peter Singer and Roxane Gay.

The educational system is something every one of you has experienced on some level. Each person in this course has gone through high school, and now you’ve chosen to extend your education here at UIndy. Yet many of you feel there are a great many problems within the educational system. Richard Rodriguez tells a personal story about being forced to speak English instead of Spanish and how badly that damaged his relationship with his family. He then parlays that into an argument against widespread bilingual education. Mike Rose tells a personal story about being shuttled into the vocational track instead of the honors courses where he rightfully belonged. He then parlays that into an argument about students rising to what’s expected of them so that honors students act like honors students and vocational students act like vocational students. Hephzibah Roskelly tells stories about stories, referring to her days growing up on the farm and listening to her family’s tales. She parlays this into an argument about narrative as educational tool and the unjust stereotype most people think of when they hear the term “redneck.”

For this essay, you must write a personal story about education and parlay that into an argument about education. Pick something you care about. Be interested in your work. If you are bored with your topic, so will your readers. What links Rodriguez, Rose and Roskelly is that they have all chosen to write about deeply personal matters and use those feelings to write a coherent argument about education. You must critique the educational system. Nearly anything is fair game, everything from kindergarten to high school to college athletics to unfair distribution of scholarships. Secondly, like Roskelly, you must use sources. For this essay, we are requiring that you use two of the three education readings (Roskelly, Rodriguez or Rose) in addition to two outside sources on your own. Your sources must be integrated organically into the paper like in Roskelly’s, and you must provide a works cited. Search out people who agree with your argument. Search out people who disagree with your argument and “beat” them at their own game just like you “beat” Peter Singer. Like anything, the debate concerning education is an ongoing conversation. Your paper is not an island, but a mere dialogue in an endless series of conversations.

FINAL PORTFOLIO

DUE DECEMBER 7th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

In addition to Essay #4, you also must turn in Revision #1, and Revision #2. For Revision #2, you will revise Essay #3 just like you did for either Essay #1 or Essay #2. All the same rules apply. You must cut out either 50%, 25%, or 10% of your work depending on your grade. Then you must extend the paper to five FULL pages.

Course Sequences

Over the last month or so, I’ve tried really hard to blow up my workshop syllabus. Things were going really well, and I wasn’t motivated out of some fear that I wasn’t getting through to the students. I just wanted to keep things fresh for myself. I realize that you can’t let students graduate with a degree in creative writing without knowing about certain benchmark writers/stories/novels. But I think it’s healthy for teachers to switch up their course sequences so they don’t fall into the trap of making the same tired points about Tim O’Brien or Ray Carver or Joyce Carol Oates or whoever.

This semester, I’m teaching a multi-genre workshop for the first time which I’m really excited about. I’m pretty well versed in creative nonfiction, but I’ve never even taken a poetry class. I’m hoping to learn a lot as the semester goes on, much like last semester when I taught Written Professional Communications. I didn’t know much at the beginning about LinkedIn or CVs or resumes, but by the end I felt pretty comfortable.

Below are the two course sequences I’m using for my two workshop classes. The first is for Intro to Fiction at the University of Pittsburgh, and the second is Advanced Writing Workshop at Chatham University. Usually, I’d include the syllabi, but I’ve discussed them at length in earlier posts. I’ve made some modifications to my workshop syllabus this semester (most having to do with long form writing projects and genre fiction), but the core of the thing is intact. Let me know if you have any suggestions or if you’d like to share your own course sequences. I’m also interested in what other teachers are doing.

Course Sequence

Week One

Wed January 4
Syllabus
Introductions
Justin Taylor “Tetris” HANDOUT

Fri January 6
John Updike “A&P” 3X33
Lorrie Moore “How to Become a Writer” 3X33

Week Two

Mon January 9
Raymond Carver “Cathedral” 3X33
Alissa Nutting “Porn Star” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Wed January 11
Donald Barthelme “The School” 3X33
Etgar Keret “Fatso” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Roxane Gay “The Harder They Come” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Amelia Gray “Hair” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Fri January 13
Emma Straub “Pearls” COURSE DOCUMENTS
George Saunders “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” 3X33

Week Three

Mon January 16
Class Cancelled Martin Luther King Day

Wed January 18
Joyce Carol Oates “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” 3X33
Barry Hannah “Testimony of Pilot” 3X33

Friday January 20
Breece D’J Pancake “Trilobytes” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Patrick Somerville “The Universe in Miniature in Miniature” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Four

Monday January 23
Workshop 1
Workshop 2

Wed January 25
Workshop 3
Workshop 4

Fri January 27
Rick Moody “The Apocalyptic Commentary of Bob Paisner” 3X33

Week Five

Mon January 30
Workshop 5
Workshop 6

Wed February 1
Workshop 7
Workshop 8

Fri February 3
A.M. Homes “The Former First Lady and the Football Hero” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Six

Mon February 6
Workshop 9
Workshop 10

Wed February 8
Workshop 11
Workshop 12

Fri February 10
Ethan Canin “The Year of Getting to Know Us” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Seven

Mon February 13
Workshop 13
Workshop 14

Wed February 15
Workshop 15
Workshop 16

Fri February 17
Deborah Eisenberg “Twilight of the Superheroes” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Eight

Mon February 20
Workshop 17
Workshop 18

Wed February 22
Workshop 19
Brian Oliu “Gradius” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Brian Oliu “Punch-Out!!” COURSE DOCUMENTS
Brian Oliu “Wizards and Warriors” COURSE DOCUMENTS
xTx “Water is Thrown on the Witch” COURSE DOCUMENTS
xTx “Marci is Going to Shoot Up Meth With Her Friend” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Fri February 24
Matt Bell “His Last Great Gift” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Nine

Mon February 27
Richard Yates “The Best of Everything” 3X33
Tobias Wolff “Bullet in the Brain” 3X33

Wed February 29
Junot Diaz “Fiesta, 1980” 3X33
Andre Dubus “The Fat Girl” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Friday March 2
Don Lee “The Price of Eggs in China” COURSE DOCUMENTS
James Alan McPherson “Gold Coast” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Ten

Spring Break – No Classes

Week Eleven

Mon March 12
Workshop 1
Workshop 2

Wed March 14
Workshop 3
Workshop 4

Fri March 16
Seth Fried “Loeka Discovered” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Twelve

Mon March 19
Workshop 5
Workshop 6

Wed March 21
Workshop 7
Workshop 8

Fri March 23
Jonathan Lethem “Super Goat Man” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Thirteen

Mon March 26
Workshop 9
Workshop 10

Wed March 28
Workshop 11
Workshop 12

Fri March 30
Scott Snyder “Blue Yodel” COURSE DOCUMENTS

Week Fourteen

Mon April 2
Workshop 13
Workshop 14

Wed April 4
Workshop 15
Workshop 16

Fri April 6
Lorrie Moore “People Like That Are The Only People Here” 3X33

Week Fifteen

Mon April 9
Workshop 17
Workshop 18

Wed April 11
Workshop 19
TBA

Fri April 13
TBA

Week Sixteen

Monday April 16
Fiction Pod

Wednesday April 18
Fiction Pod

Friday April 20
Final Portfolios Due

Course Schedule

Week One

Wed January 4
Syllabus
Introductions
Justin Taylor “Tetris” HANDOUT
Nancy Krygowski “Heaven, As We Know It” The Autumn House Anthology
Writing Exercise (First Lines)

Week Two

Monday January 9
Kim Addonizio “Collapsing Poem/Onset/The Moment” The Autumn House Anthology
Lorrie Moore “How to Become a Writer” E-MAIL
Geoffrey Wolff from The Duke of Deception Modern American Memoirs

Wednesday January 11
Sheryl St. Germain “Addiction/Sestina for the Beloved/Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce” The Autumn House Anthology
John Updike “A&P” On Writing Short Stories
Sarah Vowell “Ike Was a Handsome Man” E-MAIL

Week Three

Monday January 16
Class Cancelled Martin Luther King Day

Wednesday January 18
Billy Collins “Consolation/Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes/Workshop” The Autumn House Anthology
Flash Fiction Tutorial Etgar Keret/Roxane Gay/xTx E-MAIL
Chuck Klosterman E-MAIL

Week Four

Monday January 23
Raymond Carver “Cathedral” On Writing Short Stories
Workshop 1

Wednesday January 25
Workshop 2
Workshop 3

Week Five

Monday January 30
Patrick Somerville “The Universe in Miniature in Miniature” E-MAIL
Workshop 4

Wednesday February 1
Workshop 5
Workshop 6

Week Six

Monday February 6
Tom Bissell “Grand Thefts” E-MAIL
Workshop 7

Wednesday February 8
Workshop 8
Workshop 9

Week Seven

Monday February 13
James Baldwin from Notes of a Native Son Modern American Memoirs
Workshop 10

Wednesday February 15
Workshop 11
Workshop 12

Week Eight

Monday February 20
Terrance Hayes “The Same City/Snow for Wallace Stevens/All the Way Live” The Autumn House Anthology
Workshop 13

Wednesday February 22
Workshop 14
Workshop 15

Week Nine

Monday February 27
Jim Daniels “Short-Order Cook/Where Else Can You Go” The Autumn House Anthology
A.M. Homes “The Former First Lady and the Football Hero” E-MAIL
Frank Conroy from Stop Time Modern American Memoirs

Wednesday February 29
Lynn Emmanuel “Dear Final Journey…/The Murder Writer/The Revolution” The Autumn House Anthology
Anton Chekhov “The Lady with the Pet Dog” On Writing Short Stories
Maxine Hong Kingston from The Warrior Woman Modern American Memoirs

Week Ten

Monday March 5
Toi Derricotte “Boy at the Patterson Falls/Bird/Not Forgotten” The Autumn House Anthology
Flannery O’Connor “Everything That Rises Must Converge” On Writing Short Stories
Zora Neale Hurston from Dust Tracks on a Road Modern American Memoirs

Wednesday March 7
Class Cancelled Spring Break

Week Eleven

Monday March 12
Class Cancelled Spring Break

Wednesday March 14
Workshop 1
Workshop 2

Week Twelve

Monday March 19
Alissa Nutting “Porn Star” E-MAIL
Workshop 3

Wednesday March 21
Workshop 4
Workshop 5

Week Thirteen

Monday March 26
Tobias Wolff “Bullet in the Brain” On Writing Short Stories
Workshop 6

Wednesday March 28
Workshop 7
Workshop 8

Week Fourteen

Monday April 2
Malcolm X from The Autobiography of Malcolm X Modern American Memoirs
Workshop 9

Wednesday April 4
Workshop 10
Workshop 11

Week Fifteen

Monday April 9
Workshop 12
Workshop 13

Wednesday April 11
Workshop 14
Workshop 15

Week Sixteen

Monday April 16
Writing Pod

Wednesday April 18
Writing Pod

Friday April 20
Final Portfolios Due

2011 Guide to AWP

I ran into Eugene Cross last year at AWP. We were waiting in line for coffee at about nine in the morning, and we both looked bleary-eyed and terribly hungover. I’d spent the first night of AWP getting blackout drunk with Cross, Chris Lee and Kirk Nesset at some random bar where I apparently told some woman that she looked just like the Doozers from Fraggle Rock. Eugene ordered his coffee and nodded toward the hallways of highfalutin literary panels. “I want to give a panel next year,” he said, “where I just stand up in front of everyone and say, ‘the first mistake of AWP is coming to a panel.'”

AWP TIP OF THE CENTURY: Telling someone they look like this is *NOT* a compliment.

Last year, I wrote about my experience at AWP Chicago and how I treated the conference like a party and how, in the future, I would not treat AWP like some kind of demon spring break for hyper nerds.

I was completely wrong.

AWP is a demon spring break for hyper nerds. The mistake I made in Chicago was drinking mostly off-site where I was happy just to be on a trip with my buddies away from Pittsburgh. In Denver, I hung out in the hotel bar and attended a lot of readings (in bars!) at night. This is the way to do it my friends. This is the way to get the full AWP experience (whatever the hell that means). So yes, I stand corrected on nearly every “tip” I doled out last year. I’m pulling a George Costanza here. Do the opposite of what I said last year, and you’ll be right as rain.

Below, you’ll find all the panels I’m interested in. Keep in mind, this list has a total fucking bias towards my own concerns. This isn’t a best of. This is a list of the crap I want to go to meaning it predominantly deals with fiction, career shit, and readings. I think there’s only one poetry panel listed.

Also, keep in mind that I’ll do another off-site list when it’s closer to the actual conference. And of course, I have to do what I do best: shameless self-promotion. You should all come to my panel on Thursday at noon.

R160. The Future of the Book Review: How to Break In. (Salvatore Pane, Roxane Gay, Irina Reyn, Emily Testa, Lena Valencia) The rise of the book blogger has forever altered the traditional book review. But what is the state of the book review moving forward in a digital culture, and how do interested parties actually go about becoming reviewers? Panelists including the editor of PANK, the book review editors of BOMB and Hot Metal Bridge, and published writers currently working in the field will answer these questions and more.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Ok. Enough about that. Let’s talk panels.

Thursday

9am-10:15am

R109. Short Story to Novel. (Alan Heathcock, Heidi Durrow, Alexi Zentner, Téa Obreht, Marie Mockett, Eugenia Kim) Debut novelists often publish excerpts of their finished works as short stories before tackling a full manuscript. Yet the way from short story to published novel is not always smooth. Four debut novelists, who did publish parts of their books as short stories, will discuss the journey from short story to novel, with an eye toward helping other emerging writers.

Thurgood Marshall North Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

According to this little zine I know about called The New Yorker, Téa Obreht is the new “it” woman of literary fiction. This one could prove interesting, and I’m especially interested as someone who has published excerpts of his novel as short stories.

R112. CLMP Panel—So You’ve Made an eBook… Now What? (Ira Silverberg, Gloria Jacobs, Julie Schaper, Andy Hunter) A marketing-focused symposium for publishers about how small presses and literary magazines can make the most out of paperless publishing.

Virginia A Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Andy Hunter of Electric Literature and a panel about the small presses and little magazines? Sign me up.

10:30am-11:45am

R131. What They Didn’t Tell Us, We Will Tell You: Four First-Time Authors Discuss the Nitty Gritty of Publishing. (Michael David Lukas, Siobhan Fallon, Nomi Stone, Kevin Haworth, Rebecca Rasmussen, Alan Heathcock) This panel will feature four first-time authors discussing the publishing process, from submission to publication and beyond. Drawing from a wide range of personal experience—working with large houses and university presses on poetry collections, novels, and collections of short stories—the panelists will address and attempt to demystify the publishing process, from phoners to author questionnaires, book jackets to blurbs, and the elusive book tour.

Thurgood Marshall North Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

I’ve got two manuscripts. I’m sending them out. Hoping this one might be useful.

R132. Things That Go Bump When You Write: Monsters, Myths and the Supernatural in Literary Fiction. (B.J. Hollars, Bryan Furuness, Hannah Tinti, Laura van den Berg, Scott Francis) What do Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and ghosts all have in common? For one, over the past year, they’ve all managed to stomp, swim and haunt their way onto the literary scene. Join writers as they discuss their experiences implementing supernatural elements into their fiction. Panelists will offer tips on how to add credibility to the incredible and humanity to the inhuman. They will also explore the evolving definitions of gothic and grotesque in the 21st century.

Thurgood Marshall South Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

I personally love a bunch of these writers and the insertion of genre elements into literary fiction has become something I’m increasingly growing obsessed with. While drunk at a bar with other writer pals, I made the declaration that literary fiction needs more “robots and space ships and ghosts”. I stand by that.

R138. Creative Writing Fulbright Fellowship Reading. (Katherine Arnoldi, Katrina Vandenberg, Erika M. Martinez, Gail M. Dottin, M. Thomas Gammarino, Josh Weil) The Fulbright Program funds undergraduate and graduate students to study, conduct research, or pursue creative activities abroad for a year. The Creative Writing Fulbright Fellowship Reading is composed of past Creative Writing Fulbright Fellows who will not only tell of the application process, the experience and the professional, creative and personal benefits of having received this prestigious award but also read some of the work that they created while in such places such as Japan, Panama, the Netherlands, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, and Argentina.

Wilson A, B, & C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

I put this one up mainly because of Josh Weil. His debut book is a must read, and I got the chance to see one of his panels last year. Really nice dude.

R139. Trends in Contemporary Flash Fiction: What Editors Are Looking For?. (Tom Hazuka, Todd James Pierce, Leah Rogin-Roper, Robert Shapard, Ryan G. Van Cleave) Flash fiction may be elusive to define (stories of 500 words? 750? 1000?), but there is no denying its widespread appeal to both writers and readers. What do editors want in the flash fiction stories they publish? Five editors of both recent and classic short short story anthologies (Flash Fiction, Flash Fiction Forward, You Have Time for This, etc.), who are also widely published writers, discuss trends in contemporary flash fiction and what they look for in stories for their anthologies.

Ambassador Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Flash fiction is a genre I absolutely love, so this one’s almost a must attend for me. Plus, I enjoyed Ryan G. Van Cleave’s memoir Unplugged.

R144. Beyond Print: Digital Directions in Literary Publishing. (H. Emerson Blake, Michael Archer, Jeffrey Thomson, Ram Devineni, Steven Lagerfeld) Digital media is often presented as a challenge for literary magazines and journals—an obstacle to be overcome. But digital media also presents dynamic opportunities for the world of good writing. This panel features the editors of five print, digital, or online-only publications—Guernica, Orion, From the Fishouse, Wilson Quarterly, and Rattapallax—that are using digital media to find new methods of expressing their missions and new ways of connecting with their audiences.

Palladian Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

One thing I noticed from this year’s events schedule was the dominance of digital-centric panels. While so many people are decrying the end of literature, I’m glad AWP and its attendees are recognizing this moment as one of historic opportunity to galvanize the reading public. Plus, Guernica!

Noon – 1:15PM

R160. The Future of the Book Review: How to Break In. (Salvatore Pane, Roxane Gay, Irina Reyn, Emily Testa, Lena Valencia) The rise of the book blogger has forever altered the traditional book review. But what is the state of the book review moving forward in a digital culture, and how do interested parties actually go about becoming reviewers? Panelists including the editor of PANK, the book review editors of BOMB and Hot Metal Bridge, and published writers currently working in the field will answer these questions and more.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

YOU BETTER FUCKING COME TO THIS SHIT!

1:30pm-2:45pm

R177. A Different Kind of Hybrid: Race, Lyric, and Innovation. (Ruth Ellen Kocher, Sarah Gambito, Dawn Lundy Martin, Wendy S. Walters, Soham Patel) Norton’s Hybrid Anthology reveals the intersection of Lyric and Innovative poetry, but only slimly represents many writers of color. Are writers of color less often “claimed” as innovative writers, or traditionally lyric writers, regardless of form because they often utilize a privileged “I” or an emerging “freedom narrative” in the midst of experiment? This reading by innovative writers of color means to begin a dialogue about different approaches to Lyric, Hybridity, and Innovation.

Virginia B Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Gotta rep Pitt MFA student Soham Patel and Pitt MFA prof Dawn Lundy Martin. What what.

R179. CLMP Keynote—Size Matters: Big Houses, Small Presses, and the Literary Ecology of American Publishing. (Gerald Howard) The board co-chair of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, and the Maxwell E. Perkins Award-winning Doubleday executive editor and vice-president, talks about the coexistence and cross-pollination of independent and commercial publishing in the US.

Wilson A, B, & C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Always willing to see a panel about the future of the houses given by folks from the inside.

R182. Agents & Editors: Best Practices for Securing Your Publishing Partners. (Mary Gannon, Julie Baer, Robert Lasner, Corrina Barsan, Greg Michalson) Agents and editors will give an overview of the literary market and their places within it, as well as providing a behind-the-scenes perspective on how they acquire clients or books and offering specific guidance to authors on the best practices for each step involved in partnering with publishing professionals.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Lots of great agents here with really interesting client lists–Kevin Wilson and Joshua Ferris just to name a few. Recommended.

3:00pm-4:15pm

R193. What’s Normal in Nonfiction?(Steven Church, Debra Marquart, Ander Monson, Bonnie J. Rough, Bob Shacochis, David Shields) Moderated by editors of The Normal School, the panel will feature a discussion of the polarizing questions concerning the ethics and aesthetics of nonfiction writing today. Is the nonfiction writer’s obligation to the art or to the subject? The audience? Can you conflate time, use composite or fictionalized characters, or borrow material from other sources without citing it? Panelists will consider what the role of the nonfiction writer is today and how that role is defined by ethical concerns for subject and audience, and/or aesthetic concerns for art, genre, form, and technique.

David Shields on what’s “normal” in nonfiction? Really? Ok. Let’s do this.

Maryland Suite Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

R195. Beyond Bagels and Lox: Jewish-American Fiction in the 21st Century. (Erika Dreifus, Andrew Furman, Kevin Haworth, Margot Singer, Anna Solomon) Jewish-American fiction has long been seen as a literature of emigration from the shtetl, assimilationist angst, and overprotective parents. But what’s nu? How do Americans born decades after the Holocaust and the birth of the State of Israel deal with those complex subjects in fiction? Who are the new Jewish immigrant characters? How does American Jewry’s more than 350-year history inspire plot/setting? And how are writers today influenced by Judaism’s rich multilingual and spiritual legacy?

Thurgood Marshall East Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

This one sounds great, plus it has Erika Dreifus of the awesome Practicing Writing blog. Check it.

R198. Honoring Robert Coover. (Maya Sonenberg, Robert Coover, Kate Bernheimer, Mary Caponegro, Brian Evenson, Ben Marcus) Through fiction and nonfiction, panelists will celebrate their continuing fascination with the ever changing and always challenging work of Robert Coover, meta-fictional master, myth-breaker and myth-maker, and one of the founders of hypertext. Coover, author of over 20 books, including The Origin of the Brunists, The Public Burning, Pricksongs and Descants, Ghost Town, and Noir, will close the panel with a reading.

Thurgood Marshall West Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Everybody loves Robert Coover, right?

R200. The Urban MFA: Why it Makes a Difference. (Michelle Y. Valladares, Linsey Abrams, Joseph Lease, Jan Heller Levi, Richard Schotter) There are a few MFA programs in the US located in the heart of cities and urban neighborhoods, where students and faculty commute, attend part time and at night. How do these programs represent a difference to the “more traditionally collegiate” programs on suburban or rural campuses? What are the benefits to attending an urban MFA program? Why would students choose such programs? How can urban environments benefit new writers and American writing?

Virginia B Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

This one immediately caught my eye. I did my MFA in Pittsburgh, and I guess I never thought about how different an experience that was compared to people who went to programs in more collegiate towns like Kansas City, Tuscaloosa, Iowa City, and so on. I’m curious as to what this group’s got to say about the matter.

4:30pm-5:45pm

R213. Understanding Comics as Creative Writing. (John Woods, Matt Madden, Gary Sullivan, Luca DiPierro, Joseph Young) While the critical study of comics has been fully embraced by English Literature departments, Creative Writing programs have been slower to create a place for the practice of comics in their own curricula. Similarly, independent literary presses rarely publish comics, leaving that work to comics-specific houses. This panel features teachers and practitioners of the medium who will discuss ways to open up the Creative Writing field to the practice of comics (and other image-text literature).

Hoover Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

YESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYES!!!!!!!!!!!!

R214. Ploughshares 40th Anniversary Celebration. (Ladette Randolph, Eleanor Wilner, Kathryn Harrison, Colm Toibin, Elizabeth Strout, Terrance Hayes) This roundtable features six recent guest editors of Ploughshares magazine and celebrates 40 years of the journal’s founding commitment to showcasing diverse literary voices with each issue. Former guest editors read and discuss how they made choices for their issues.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

I had the opportunity to catch Terrance Hayes read in the Hill District awhile back, and it was one of the best poetry readings I’ve ever gone to. Plus, it’s fucking Ploughshares, man.

R221. Fiction’s Future. (Tom Williams, Lance Olsen, M. Evelina Galang, Roy Kesey, Debra DiBlasi, Steve Tomasula) This panel invites five aesthetically diverse authors brave of foolish enough to respond to think aloud about fiction’s future. What might in fiction look like, read like, and why? What forms are we apt to see in the next five or fifteen years? What changes in publishing, distribution, media, and the sociohistorical landscape might impact what we mean when we say “fiction,” “journal,” “book,” “conventional,” and “innovative?” Should writers even concern themselves with such questions?

Virginia A Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

There are a lot of these future of the book type dealies at this year’s AWP, and I’m going to try and attend as many as I possibly can.

R224. A Screening and Discussion for The Times Were Never So Bad: The Life of Andre Dubus. (Edward Delaney) A screening of The Times Were Never So Bad: The Life of Andre Dubus with the filmmaker Edward Delaney, and others who participated In the fim. The documentary features interviews with Andre Dubus III, Tobias Wolff, Richard Russo, Christopher Tilghman and others, and has been an official selection the Rhode Island International Film Festival, the New England Film & Video Festival, among others, and has toured the country at many colleges and universities. The screening will be followed by a discussion and Q&A with the filmmaker and others who participated in the film. The film is 86 minutes long.

Wilson A, B, & C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

I wasn’t aware this movie existed, but I’m extremely excited about seeing it. Like many who write short stories, Dubus’ collected volume is a huge text in my writerly development.

R226. Creative Writing and the University: A Conversation with Mark McGurl. (Mary Stewart Atwell, Mark McGurl, Eileen Pollack, Tracy Daugherty, Dean Bakopoulos, Nathaniel Minton) This panel will analyze the effects of the institutionalization of creative writing on American literature through a conversation with Mark McGurl, author of The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing. Other participants, well-published fiction writers and teachers of writing, will join McGurl in assessing the particular ways in which MFA programs have influenced the content, structure, and style of postwar American novels and short stories.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Not only do I love Dean Bakopoulos, but I’m very invested in the back-and-forth battle that’s erupted online in the wake of The Program Era‘s publication. Looking forward to this one.

R227. Why Don’t They List Agents on Match.com? Demystifying the Author/Agent Relationship. (Britta Coleman, Matt Bondurant, Alex Glass, Marcy Posner, Jenny Bent, Ann Cummins) Finding the perfect agent takes more than a pithy profile or even a well-written query. Join literary agents Marcy Posner, Alex Glass, and Jenny Bent, with authors Britta Coleman, Matt Bondurant, and Ann Cummins, for a lively discussion about finding the right agent, snagging the right agent, and living happily ever after. Topics will include when to approach an agent, how to pitch your work, common pitfalls to avoid, the contract process, and where you can find agents in their natural habitat.

Empire Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

I once stupidly told a non-writer friend that tracking down an agent, giving them your manuscript, and getting a response would probably take “a  few weeks”. So basically, I’m a fucking moron. Teach me, o wise ones!

R230. PEN/Faulkner’s Writers in Schools: Building the Next Generation of Readers. (Richard Ford) Acclaimed author Richard Ford will lead a panel of teachers and students from DC public schools in a discussion of the PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools program, which brings contemporary literature and notable authors into public high school classrooms. Participants will highlight the ways direct author-student conversations make reading vibrant and relevant. The program is a wonderful resource for educators who seek to ensure that the next generation of readers connect to the written word. The success of the DC initiative can serve as a model for other literary communities that wish to provide these transformative experiences within their local schools.

Palladian Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

I’ve never had the chance to see Richard Ford in person. Will probably end up taking this one.

8:30pm-10:100pm

R232. Keynote Address by Jhumpa Lahiri, Sponsored by George Mason University. (Jhumpa Lahiri) Jhumpa Lahiri received the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for Interpreter of Maladies, her debut story collection that explores issues of love and identity among immigrants and cultural transplants. Published to great acclaim in 2003, Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake, expands on the perplexities of the immigrant experience and the search for identity. Lahiri’s most recent book of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, received the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Vallombrosa Von Rezzori Prize, and the Asian American Literary Award. Lahiri is also the recipient of the PEN/Hemingway Award, an O. Henry Prize, and the Addison Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and has received grants from the Guggenheim Fellowship and The National Endowment for the Arts.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Look. I like Jhumpa Lahiri and everything, but I’m reading during this time–details to come in the next AWP guide post–with a bunch of badasses like Brian Oliu and Amber Sparks. Plus, at our reading you can get wasted.

Friday

9:00am-10:15am

F104. The Good Review: Criticism in the Age of Book Blogs and Amazon.com. (Jeremiah Chamberlin, Charles Baxter, Stacey D’Erasmo, Gemma Sieff, Keith Taylor) This panel examines how criticism is changing in a literary landscape increasingly dominated by new media. In this era, who is a critic? What is a good review? Whom does it serve? And what is the impact of criticism on literature and culture? Editors of both online and print publications join writers of fiction, poetry, and criticism to address these questions, as well as to discuss how books get reviewed and by whom, why vigorous reviewing is necessary, and ways to write reviews that matter.

Delaware Suite Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

This is sort of like my panel, except it has Charles Baxter. You know, THE Charles Baxter. To reiterate, CHARLES MOTHERFUCKING BAXTER!

F109. Raymond Carver in the Workshops. (Carol Sklenicka, Bret Lott, Maura Stanton, C.J. Hribal, Douglas Unger, Dagoberto Gilb) Writers who knew Raymond Carver will examine Carver’s profound influence on late 20th-century short fiction and his legacy to the genre.

Thurgood Marshall East Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

I’m not really convinced the stereotypical and reductive view that all workshop stories are Carver stories hold true anymore. I’ll be interested to see the panel’s take on this.

F117A. Potomac Review Celebrates Best of 50. (Julie Wakeman-LInn, Kirk Nesset, Sandra Beasley, Jacob Appel, Jennine Capó Crucet, Marilyn Kallet) To celebrate its fiftieth issue, Potomac Review offers a sampling of its history with readings by Kirk Nesset, Sandra Beasley, Jacob Appel, Ethelbert Miller, Jennine Capos Crucet, and others. Based in the Potomac region, PR has always had concern for the environment at its heart, but over the past two decades, its focus has evolved nationally and internationally and culturally; the reading represents the diverse voices and styles who have appeared in the pages and taps our Best of the 50 issue.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

My boy, Kirk Nesset honors the Potomac Review. What’s not to like here?

F117B. Starcherone Books 10th Anniversary Celebration Reading. (Donald Breckenridge, Sara Greenslit, Joshua Harmon, Janet Mitchell, Aimee Parkison, Nina Shope) Featuring Donald Breckenridge, Sara Greenslit, Joshua Harmon, Janet Mitchell, Aimee Parkison, and Nina Shope.

Empire Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

I love Starcherone. With an author lineup that includes Lily Hoang, Blake Butler and Alissa Nutting, I’m not sure what sane human being wouldn’t like Starcherone. Check it, peeps.

10:30-11:45am

F124. The Future of Creative Writing in the Academy. (Terry Ann Thaxton, Joe Amato, Philip Gerard, Nigel McLoughlin, Lisa Roney, Kass Fleisher) Creative writing as an academic discipline is relatively new, with the strongest push forward in the 1940s with Paul Engle’s Iowa Writing Workshop. And now, with budget restraints and the consumerist culture in the academy, creative writing courses, in the US and abroad, are receiving directives from administration to increase enrollments in smaller classes, which cuts at the very core of creative writing pedagogy. How can we afford to remain stagnant in our pedagogy if our studio workshop courses have thirty, forty, fifty students in them? Should we reform our pedagogy? What strategies can we adopt to protect good practice where necessary? Are there pedagogic methodologies which can be applied which will allow us to successfully integrate the workshop model into a more mixed methods approach? This international panel will explore proactive, theoretical, as well as pragmatic ways in which creative writing can survive in academe amidst budget issues and other pressures.

Harding Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Workshop pedagogy is something I’m thinking more about every day, as I run a workshop three times a week. I’m invested in the future of these courses.

F134. To Tell You the Truth: Strategies in the New Nonfiction. (Jeffrey Shotts, Nick Flynn, Eula Biss, Ander Monson, Stephen Elliott) Creative nonfiction has never been more exciting, as writers from multiple genres explore and define new modes of writing essay, memoir, journalism, and cultural criticism. Four writers at the forefront of the new nonfiction discuss strategies for writing and reading these new forms of “truth-telling.”

Wilson A, B, & C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Nick Flynn, Ander Monson and Rumpus overlord Stephen Elliott? Yes, please.

F136. Jets vs. Sharks? (Michael Croley, Richard Bausch, C. Michael Curtis, Elizabeth Cox, Jill McCorkle) In a recent article, essayist and author Elif Batuman stated one of her reasons for not attending a writing program was her aversion to the idea of craft: “I realized that I would greatly prefer to think of literature as a profession, an art, a science, or pretty much anything else, rather than a craft.” The panelists discuss the value of craft, what it means, and how we pass this knowledge onto our students while also addressing the concerns Batuman raises and their legitimacy.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

As previously mentioned, I’ve been following Batuman-gate as much as the next online lit blogger person. But the real reason to see this panel is JILL MCCORKLE! My love for Jill is pure and true. I had the opportunity to one on one workshop with her about six years back and she told me how honest and true my short story sex scene was. It was the greatest moment of my life.

F139. The Art of Rejection: Giving and Receiving. (Diana Raab, Wendy Call, Kevin Morgan Watson, Geeta Kothari, Molly Peacock, Philip F. Deaver) Rejection is part of the literary life. Rejection of your manuscript is not a rejection of you as a person or a writer, but of one piece of writing. It says nothing about your potential. It’s equally difficult being an editor turning down work, as being a writer receiving the rejection. These panelists of writers, editors, and publishers will discuss how to establish boundaries between yourself and your work, what we learn from rejections, and how feedback makes us better writers and editors.

Hampton Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, East Lobby

Not only is Geeta Kothari Pitt faculty, but she’s also an editor of the Kenyon Review. You can’t get advice from folks this well-connected every day.

Noon-1:15pm

F146. A Reading by Joyce Carol Oates. (Joyce Carol Oates) Evocative and transformative, as novelist, poet, dramatist, and essayist, It is no wonder that Joyce Carol Oates has become one of the most celebrated and honored writers of our time. Recipient of the national Book Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, the 2005 Prix Femina, and the 2010 national Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandorf Lifetime Achievement Award, Oates has been a dedicated teacher of creative writing at Princeton University since 1978 and is the author of the forthcoming A Widow’s Story: A Memoir and Give Me Your heart: Tales of Mystery & Suspense.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

You just can’t pass up a chance to see JCO read, right? I saw her in 2004, and she was a delight. Hoping to fit this into my conference schedule somehow.

F147. Local Poets With National Reputations. (Linda Pastan, Carolyn Forché , Fanny Howe, Jonetta Rose Barras) A poetry reading of local writers with national reputations.

Maryland Suite Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

I’ve always had a soft spot for the work of Carolyn Forché. Damn. This is one extremely tight spot on the schedule.

F151. Riders on the Storm: Strategies for Getting (and Surviving) the Tenure-Track Job. (Hadara Bar-Nadav, Miles Harvey, John Struloeff, Irina Reyn, Simone Muench) In these difficult economic times, many colleges and universities across the United States are in financial crisis, which has led to hiring freezes, furloughs, and even firings. As recent tenure-track hires, we will present strategies for securing tenure-track jobs. We also will discuss ways junior faculty can survive and succeed in these precarious economic times, while balancing academic responsibilities with our creative lives.

Thurgood Marshall South Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Irina Reyn, Pitt MFA guru and my fellow AWP panel-mate, breaks down the ins and outs of landing the tenure track job.

F155. Get Shorty: Readings from The Kenyon Review’s Short Fiction Contest. (Cara Blue Adams, Megan Anderegg Malone, Christopher Feliciano Arnold, Mika Taylor, Nick Ripatrazone, Megan Mayhew Bergman) The KR Short Fiction Contest for Writers Under Thirty is entering its fourth year. This reading is an opportunity to hear work from younger writers recognized as winners or runners-up by judges Alice Hoffman, Richard Ford, and Louise Erdrich from the first three years of the contest. Submission to this contest must be 1,200 words or fewer.

Virginia C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Nick Ripatrazone is another graduate of the Writers Institute at Susquehanna University. We never met, as he graduated right before I arrived, but since then we’ve appeared in a bunch of journals together. But even if you don’t know Nick you should check this out. Short fiction AND the Kenyon Review? Come on. Come on!

F156. A Tribute to John Haines. (Bruce Guernsey, Dana Gioia, Steven Rogers, John Haines, Sheryl St. Germain, Baron Wormser) A tribute to the noted writer, John Haines of Alaska, the author of nine books of poetry such as Winter News and The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer: Collected Poems, plus six collections of nonfiction including the memoir, The Stars, the Snow, the Fire. His awards include two Guggenheims, an NEA Fellowship, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Congress. Each participant will speak about a specific aspect of his work and life, and following, Mr. Haines himself will read.

Wilson A, B, & C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

A shout-out to Sheryl St. Germain, director of the MFA program at nearby Chatham University.

F160. Memoir, Spirituality and the Self in the Narcissistic Culture of Our Time. (Elizabeth Kadetsky, Rodger Kamenetz, Farideh Goldin, Julia Spciher Kasdorf) If one believes the detractors, memoir bears responsibility second only to reality TV for fomenting this “narcissistic” age, in Christopher Lasch’s term—an era of therapeutic jargon that celebrates not so much individualism as solipsism, justifying self-absorption as “authenticity” and “awareness”. Here, we consider quests for self-knowledge as linked, rather, to a spiritual project. How can memoir point to places beyond the self—to transcendence, insight or affiliation with human community?

Executive Room
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

E-Kadets taught at Pitt for a bit while I was in the program, and although I never got to take any of her nonfiction-centric classes, I’ve heard nothing but good things from the cnf folks here. Plus, I got to see her read in Denver last year and she hit the crowd with a cool post-apocalyptic story. Big ups for that.

1:30pm-2:45pm

F167. National Book Critics Circle Celebrates East Coast Fiction. (Jane Ciabattari, Edward P. Jones, Jayne Anne Phillips, Elizabeth Strout, Colson Whitehead, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award Winners and Finalists Edward P. Jones, Jayne Anne Phillips, Elizabeth Strout, and Colson Whitehead read from their award-winning fiction; the geographic range covered in their work evokes various regions of the East Coast, from Maine to Brooklyn to Virginia to West Virginia.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

You know those tracks on rap albums where every famous person on the label is carted out to do a verse? This panel is like that AWP style.

F178. Thinking Beyond the Book: The Future of Authorship and Publishing in a Transmedia World. (Jane Friedman, Seth Harwood, Guy Gonzalez, Kevin Smokler, Al Katkowsky) According to publishing futurists, we are now experiencing the late age of print. Publishers are beginning to see the print book as the last stage of author development, rather than the first step. A new model is emerging for stories and content distribution, with publishers and authors experimenting with mobile apps, podcasts, and multimedia approaches. This panel discusses the changes underway, what innovations are coming, and how writers can adapt no matter what the future of reading holds.

Wilson A, B, & C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Another future/tech panel I hope to attend.

F181. Responding to Disturbing Undergraduate Student Creative Writing. (Joseph Bathanti, Susan Weinberg, Peter Blair, Kim Carter, Derek Davidson, Lynn Doyle) When students submit work that raises fears for their wellbeing, teachers may wish to focus on craft, yet feel compelled to intercede. Being thrust into roles for which teachers are untrained is daunting, so what approach is best in conferences and workshops? How do we offer help, and what happens when it is rejected? What barriers might we encounter from our college, and what innovations might we propose? Experiences and ideas will be shared, with input from a Counseling professional.

Empire Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Oh jeez. Oh jeez, oh jeez, oh jeez, oh jeez. See you in Empire Ballroom, folks!

F182. Politics in the Novel. (Andrew Scott, Chuck Wachtel, Debra Monroe, Margaret Lazarus Dean, Steve Yarbrough) Serious novelists who allow politics to enter their novels must make difficult decisions about how the two meet. Readers bring their own politics to the experience as well, so how do authors negotiate these concerns to craft meaningful work that endures? How does an author reckon with the politics of an issue of central concern to her audience without slipping into didacticism or propaganda?

Executive Room
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Andrew Scott’s an internet pal of mine. Check out his shit!

3:00pm-4:15pm

F191. Hollins Graduate Program 50th Anniversary Reading. (Jeanne Larsen, Madison Smartt Bell, Karen Salyer McElmurray, David Huddle, Jill McCorkle, LU.K.e Johnson) Is it something in the (mineral spring) water? Some noted graduates of Hollins’ one-of-a-kind program in creative writing read their work, and sample more by a variety of other alums. Join us as we look back at our first 50 years, charge on into the next half-century, and celebrate the inauguration of the Jackson Center for Creative Writing, established through the generosity of John and Susan Jackson. Come figure out what makes the Hollins program what it is. Or just come and enjoy.

Maryland Suite Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Since I already gushed about my writer crush on Jill McCorkle, I will now gush about my writer crush on David Huddle. I usually hate books about writing, but The Writing Habit is pretty solid. Also, Madison Smartt Bell. Right? Right.

F197. Bodies Politic. (Barrie Jean Borich, Judith Barrington, Kekla Magoon, Ann Pancake, Ira SU.K.rungruang, Brian Teare) The literary body is beloved, is bared, is captive, is container, is hidden, is habitat, is dissenting, is taboo, is pleasure, is change. We make literature out of the body’s clashes and communions, and our bodies together create a social mesh we write to maintain and sustain, remake or escape. This panel—a diverse body politic of poets, novelists, and essayists gathering in the political belly of America—will grapple with corporeality, community and claiming the body for the page.

Thurgood Marshall West Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Ann Pancake is one of the best. If you don’t know her work, get Given Ground. If you’ve never met her, go to this panel.

F198. Ask Not What the Internet Can Do for You: Shifting Our Perspective on Internet Publishing as an Alternative to Major Market Publishing. (Ralph Pennel, Justin Maxwell, Ravi Shankar, Anmarie Trimble, Lizzie Stark, Max Magee) This panel will discuss electronic publications as central to the needs of 21st-century writers and readers, and not as entities serving as secondary iterations of preexisting publications. We will focus on how the electronic medium is advantageous to editors, and to the editorial and publication processes. We will also cover how the medium allows for a new nexus between writer and user by permitting a more diverse discourse with current and emerging literary modalities.

Virginia A Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

We living in the 21st century, doing something mean to it.

F199. Hint Fiction: Stories that Prove Less is More. (Robert Swartwood, Randall Brown, Michael Martone, Daniel Olivas, Roxane Gay) The editor of the recent Norton anthology and its contributors examine stories of extreme brevity. They will discuss whether these stories are considered actual stories, and whether they hold substance, focusing on these questions: Do works of this length help or hinder writers? Can these tiny stories have just as much impact as stories of traditional length? The panelists will share their own hint fiction and discuss its role in the ongoing evolution of literature.

Virginia B Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Roxane Gay, my PANK and panel pal, teams up with Michael Martone and others to discuss hint fiction. This one has the potential to be great.

F203. A Tribute to Ontario Review: Raymond Smith and Joyce Carol Oates. (Douglas Unger, Jana Harris, Richard Burgin, Sheila Kohler, Albert Goldbarth, Joyce Carol Oates) Founded in 1974 and edited by Raymond Smith and Joyce Carol Oates, Ontario Review and its press bridged literary/artistic cultures. It is known for introducing new and emerging writers, and maintaining established writers in print for three and a half decades. Forced to suspend publication in 2007 due to the death of Raymond Smith, Ontario Review and Ray Smith’s contributions to letters, and the continuing generous energies of Joyce Carol Oates, are honored by Jana Harris, Richard Burgin, Sheila Kohler, Albert Goldbarth, Doug Unger, and voices from the audience.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Again, JCO.

4:30pm-5:45pm

F212. A Reading by Mary Gaitskill and Sapphire, Sponsored by Wilkes University Low Residency MA/MFA Program in association with Blue Flower Arts. (Mary Gaitskill, Sapphire) Mary Gaitskill is the award-winning author of Veronica, which was nominated for the 2005 National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and L.A. Times Book Award; Because They Wanted To, which was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award; and her recent collection of stories, Don’t Cry. Sapphire is the author of the bestselling novel Push, which won the Book-of-the-Month Club Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction, and was made into the Academy Award-winning film Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. Her collections of poems are American Dreams and Black Wings & Blind Angels.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

This has got to be the single strangest pairing of readers in the history of readers. I have to see this. Plus, many of my MFA classmates called me Precious for a glorious month during the fall of 2009. So there’s that.

F220. Building the Literary Robot: The Lit Journal as New Media. (James Engelhardt, Scott Lindenbaum, Jurgen Fauth, Zach Dodson, Zachary Schomburg, Travis Kurowski) Lit has gone viral, adapted to fit Twitter feeds, iPhone apps, and social networks, and fashioned into flash animation for posting on YouTube. How do literary journals step into these new, far-reaching modes of publishing? What role will e-literature have in contemporary publishing and the teaching of creative writing? What will this mean to the traditional short story, poem, and essay? Writers and editors of online and print literary journals tell how they’ve explored new e-lit territory.

Virginia C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

I didn’t even need to read the description. Literary Robot. Count me in. I’ll be the guy asking questions about Gizmo Duck.

F225. Writing the Beltway: Four Washington, DC Publishers Navigate the Capital. (Matthew Kirkpatrick, Reb Livingston, Richard Peabody, Caitlin Hill, Dave Housley) Editors from Barrelhouse magazine, No Tell Books, Gargoyle magazine, and Poet Lore magazine read from their journals and discuss their experiences working to produce and promote literary art within the politics-obsessed sphere of Washington, DC.

Executive Room
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Lots of good editors. Lots of good journals.

8:30pm-10:pm

F228. A Reading by Junot Díaz, Sponsored by Georgia College & State University / Arts & Letters. (Junot Diaz) Junot Díaz was born in 1968 in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the John Sargent, Sr. First Novel Prize; the National Book Critics Circle Award; the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize. Díaz has been awarded the Eugene McDermott Award, a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, a Lila Acheson Wallace Reader’s Digest Award, the 2002 PEN/Malamud Award, the 2003 U.S./Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the fiction editor at the Boston Review and the Rudge (1948), and Nancy Allen Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

It’s obvious that I completely loved the first and final thirds of Oscar Wao right?

Saturday

9:00am-10:15am

S111. Small Ships, Deep Ocean: Independent Presses Keep Short Story Collections Afloat. (Clifford Garstang, Mary Akers, Laura van den Berg, Jason Ockert, Jim Ruland) Charting a course for your short story collection has never been trickier. From shrinking shelf space to nonexistent advances, disinterested trade publishers to increased competition for readers, more and more authors of story collections are turning to independent presses. Six salty veterans discuss the small press experience: platforms for approaching publishers, the challenges of promoting collections, and the advantages and disadvantages of small publishers in an uncertain economy.

Thurgood Marshall South Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

This topic is near and dear to my heart. Also, Laura van den Berg. Laura van den Berg!

S117. CLMP Panel—Editor as Mentor: Literary Magazines and Emerging Writers. (Rob Spillman, Hannah Tinti, C. Dale Young) Editors savvy in the ways of molding minds (in addition to manuscripts) from Tin House, One Story, and New England Review share stories about some of the relationships they’ve fostered and the writers they’ve nurtured, and what these mentorships have meant for their respective publications.

Ambassador Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

I will try and go to anything involved with Tin House.

S118. What To Expect When You’re Expecting Your First Book. (Alexi Zentner, Jill Bialosky, Téa Obreht, Noah Eaker, Peter Mountford, Adrienne Brodeur) Three debut novelists and their respective editors from Dial, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and W. W. Norton, will discuss what an author can expect, and more importantly, what an author should do, between the period of selling his or her book and the publication date. Topics will include mistakes to avoid, the editing process, what pre-publication marketing and publicity can be done by the author and what is handled by the house, and what the author should be working on in his or her own writing.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

We can fucking dream right?

10:30am-11:30am

S136. Finding and Creating Online Teaching Opportunities—and Sustaining and Succeeding in Them. (Erika Dreifus, Sage Cohen, Andrew Gray, Michael Morse, Chloe’ Yelena Miller, Scott Warnock) More than one in four college/university students now take at least one course online. While some writers teach in college and graduate writing programs, others have established their own independent course offerings, or teach through private organizations. Our panelists represent a range of professional experiences in online teaching, in prose and poetry, for-credit and not-for-credit. They will share strategies for finding (and creating) work and succeeding as online writing instructors.

Virginia C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Like these people. Like this topic. Might be relevant for those on the job market.

S138. The 1960 National Book Award Revisited: What Makes Fiction Last? (Peter Grimes, Steve Almond, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Brock Clarke, Michael Griffith, Jodee Stanley) What values in fiction endure? In 2010, we formed a committee of fiction writers and looked back fifty years to rejudge the 1960 National Book Award. We read, haggled, named a winner, and each of us wrote an essay—to take up arms for a favorite, reassess the year’s anointed books, reflect on the ebb and flow of reputation, explore the politics of awards. This panel will ask, What do we value most highly in fiction, and what gets cast aside by the way we define “ambition”?

Ambassador Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

I think the whole “let’s revisit a 50 year old literary award” thing is a little strange, but Steve Almond and Brock Clarke are going to be there. That’s reason enough to consider attending.

S140. The Poetry-Prose Dynamic, Internationally. (Carrie Etter, Toi Derricotte, Molly Peacock, Tim Liardet, Jill Bialosky) In this panel, five authors, residing in the U.K., Canada, and the U.S., investigate the interrelationships between their poetry and their prose, addressing such issues as the place(s) of memoir, shared elements such as simile and fact, the writer’s identity, and questions of form. What can we learn by examining the interfaces among the various genres we write? How do the different ways cross-genre authorship is perceived in the U.K., Canada, and the US affect identities and careers?

Empire Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Big ups to Pitt faculty Toi Derricotte.

S143. A Conversation with Richard Bausch. (Jennifer Haigh, Richard Bausch) A candid conversation between friends: acclaimed teacher and award-winning novelist and short story writer Richard Bausch, and his former student, novelist Jennifer Haigh.

Regency Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

I really like both of these writers. Haigh is totally underrated, and Bausch is a living legend. And conversations between former teacher/students are always interesting to watch unfold.

Noon-1:15pm

S149. America Reimagined: Four Contemporary Voices, Sponsored by Blue Flower Arts. (Alison Granucci, Jennifer Egan, Joshua Ferris, Rick Moody, Benjamin Percy) America finds itself recast, stretched, and redefined though the astute minds of Egan, Ferris, Moody, and Percy. Each explores an eerie version of America through the eyes of their characters: a reanimated crawling hand, an ill man who cannot stop walking, a former punk rock star, and a father-and-son trip down a devilish canyon. These refreshing and surprising writers go straight to the jugular of modern life and bring us stories in which one cannot always tell the hero from the villain.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

This might be my pick for best lineup of any panel at AWP. I would probably go see a panel with any one of these writers, but all five? Are you serious? Count me in.

S151. The Myth of Relevance. (Pauls Toutonghi, Tom Bissell, Danielle Evans, Vu Tran, Erin Ergenbright, Peyton Marshall) The use of topical themes in fiction can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, a strong writer should be able to make almost any scene interesting and vivid—writing about current events bears a certain weight of responsibility. Fiction depends on the artful surprise; if the substance of a story is cut from the headlines it risks straying into the territory of the familiar. Where should a writer draw the line? What is dangerous and what is inspiration?

Nathan Hale Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Longtime readers know my hero worship of all things Tom Bissell. I don’t think there’s any way I can actually miss this panel.

S158. From the Page to the Small Screen: What the Information Age Means for Us . (Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, Terry Hummer, Maggie Dietz, Mary Flinn, Brian Brodeur, Keith Montesano) As digital technologies such as blogs, online periodicals, hypertext, and phone Apps gain legitimacy, more writing than ever before finds its home online. Some big questions loom: What is lost or gained when we translate our work from the page to the screen? Are these technologies promotional tools or new creative forms? Are we witnessing the death of the page or its evolution? Panelists from Slate, Blackbird, the Favorite Poem Project, AmeriCamera, and the blogosphere will answer these questions.

Virginia A Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Did I not tell you there were a lot of panels about digital tidings? If you miss one, there’s literally five or six to pick from.

1:30pm-2:45pm

S171. What We Love; What Editors Are After. (Rob Spillman, Fiona McCrae, H. Emerson Blake, Denise Oswald, Andrew Leland, Daniel Slager) Six distinguished magazine and book editors speak candidly about what they love and what makes it to the top of the mountain of manuscripts. Editors from the Believer, Graywolf Press, Milkweed Editions, Orion, Soft Skull Press, and Tin House offer concrete examples and anecdotes of writing that works for them, as well as advice on how to build a long-term mutually fulfilling writer-editor relationship.

Maryland Suite Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

I love all of those journals and presses. I love this panel. I love San Dimas.

S172. As Long As People Write: Training and Supporting New Writing Teachers. (Sarah Harris, Crystal Fodrey, Ben Ristow) Richard Hugo said that as long as people write, there will be writing teachers. Today many programs listed in the AWP Guide name the opportunity to teach as a selling point—yet few offer training in the teaching of creative writing. Most graduate students are instead trained through composition theory. We will present the results of research on this training process, and recommend ways programs can support those who desire more connection between their writing lives and the courses they teach.

Nathan Hale Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Sarah Harris is an old classmate of mine from Pitt’s MFA program. Let’s support her and this panel, because really, more training for new writing teachers is something most schools desperately need.

S177. The Road Less Traveled: How to be a Writer Without a Full-time Academic Gig. (Cheryl Strayed, Steve Almond, Amy Holman, Ru Freeman, Christian TeBordo, Marisa de los Santos) The path to solvency and security for most writers is to pair writing with full-time jobs in academia. On this panel, six authors will talk about their lives as writers without the de facto college teaching gig. Panelists will discuss the range of ways they’ve supported themselves, the reasons they’ve chosen the paths they have, and also the liberations and constraints they’ve experienced as writers outside the writer-faculty track that’s so deeply embedded in what it means to be a writer today.

Thurgood Marshall West Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

I’ve blogged about alternative careers for writers before, and I’m curious to see what Almond has to say about the matter, especially considering his rock critic past.

S179. Makes New Friends and Keeps the Old. (Jack Shoemaker, Skip Horack, Andrew Altschul, Jane Vandenburgh, Richard Wirick, Janice Shapiro) Counterpoint / Soft Skull Press is an author-driven house with a clear presence on both the West and East coasts and two rosters of award-winning authors working in every genre. Please join us in celebrating our combined successes with readings by current outstanding authors—Skip Horack, Andrew Altschul, Jane Vandenburgh, Richard Wirick, and Janice Shapiro—marking the beginnings of a new indie era.

Virginia B Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Andrew Altschul is the book reviews editor of the Rumpus and a fine writer in his own right. I love Counterpoint/Soft Skull and would try and make this one anyway, but Andrew’s presence is a bonus.

S184. Change or Die: How Established Print Journals are Adapting to Life on the Internet. (Amber Withycombe, David Lynn, Speer Morgan, R.T. Smith, Christina Thompson) As models for publishing an economically viable literary journal evolve, the magazines that shaped small press publishing during the last century are learning to adapt by printing slimmer issues, moving original work online, and emphasizing social networking. Such practices are common for newer magazines, but few established journals have made the change. Editors from Harvard Review, Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, Shenandoah, and Witness discuss how they are re-imagining their magazines online.

Empire Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Another one about technology, but this one from the perspectives of the more traditional journals. Plus, Speer Morgan is a friend of Pittsburgh’s beloved Chuck Kinder, so I imagine he must be a total badass.

S186A. Writers on Mentors and Literary Friendships. (Jayne Anne Phillips, Tom Grimes, Elizabeth Benedict, Alexander Chee, John McIntyre, Michael Dirda) Jayne Anne Phillips, speaking on publisher/mentor Seymour Lawrence, joins Tom Grimes, author of Mentor, a Memoir (on writing and his Iowa mentor, Frank Conroy); Elizabeth Benedict, editor of Mentors, Muses, Monsters, 30 Writers on People Who Changed Their Lives; Alexander Chee, author of Annie Dillard and The Writing Life; John McIntyre, RN MFA Capote fellow and editor of Memorable Days (letters of James Salter and Robert Phelps); and Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning book columnist, discuss the lasting influence of shared literary mentors and publishers, the value of literary letters, and the importance of the mentor/apprentice relationship.

Palladian Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

If Jayne Anne Phillips gave a panel about which keyboards she preferred to write on, I’d attend.

3:00pm-4:15pm

S189. Linking It Up: Working with Story Cycles, Linked Collections, and Novels-in-Stories. (Anne Sanow, Cathy Day, Clifford Garstang, Dylan Landis) You have characters who appear in more than one story, or several stories set in one place—and you don’t want to write a traditional novel. What are the possibilities? This panel examines the different ways that stories can be linked together to create groups of stories or an entire book. We will focus on strategic craft decisions related to character, setting, point of view, and narrative arc, and discuss how best to determine the completed structure and form of your project.

Harding Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

I love linked stories, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for my former sensei, Cathy Day. Read her books then go to this panel.

S191. Graywolf Press Reading. (Jeffrey Shotts, Nick Flynn, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Stephen Elliott, Jessica Francis Kane, Elizabeth Alexander) Five writers of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction read from their recent books published by one of the best literary publishers in the country, Graywolf Press. Introduced by Graywolf Publisher Fiona McCrae.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Another appearance for Stephen Elliott and Nick Flynn. Plus, Graywolf. Everyone likes Graywolf, right?

4:30pm-5:45pm

S221. Beyond the Workshop: Revising, Revamping, Rejecting the Workshop Model. (Margaret Lazarus Dean, Charles Baxter, Liam Callanan, Valerie Laken, Patrick O’Keeffe) For many teachers, the workshop is the default mode of creative writing pedagogy. Many of us have had to defend the method from criticisms (e.g. that a workshop constitutes the blind leading the blind), yet even those of us most dedicated to the workshop have experienced problems or doubts. This panel will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the workshop as traditionally imagined, its underlying assumptions and possible limitations, and alternative approaches to the writing classroom.

Empire Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Much like Jayne Anne Phillips, I’d go see Charles Baxter read from the phone book. The fact that this topic is relevant to my job at Pitt is a huge bonus.

S224. Celebrating 50 Years of Freedom to Write Advocacy. (Larry Siems, Major Jackson, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, Azar Nafisi) Freedom to Write, PEN American Center’s flagship program, is celebrating fifty years of working to defend free expression globally.  Several PEN members—Major Jackson, Joanne Leedom Ackerman, and Azar Nafisi—and PEN’s director of Freedom to Write, Larry Siems, will offer an hour of readings and discussion related to PEN’s advocacy work.  They will touch upon PEN’s recent activities in China, Russia, and Iran, as well as PEN’s work against book-banning and for reader privacy in the U.S.

Regency Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

I fucking like me some Azar Nafisi. You should like you some Azar Nafisi too.

8:30pm-10:00pm

S225. A Reading and Conversation with Amy Hempel and Gary Shteyngart, Sponsored by The George Washington University. (Amy Hempel, Gary Shteyngart) Amy Hempel is a recipient of awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the United States Artists Foundation, and the Academy of Arts and Letters. Her Collected Stories was named one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times, and won the Ambassador Book Award for best fiction of the year. She teaches at Harvard University and Bennington College. Gary Shteyngart’s first novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, won the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. His second novel, Absurdistan, was a national bestseller. He was named to both Granta’s Best Young American Novelists and the New Yorker’s Top 20 Writers Under 40 in 2010. Following the reading, the authors will participate in a live conversation with novelist and critic Thomas Mallon.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

I adore Amy Hempel, and I’ve just started reading Super Sad True Love Story which I so far really enjoy. Looking forward to this.

Educational Autobiographies

Recently, I posted my plan to let my comp students write about their own obsessions in a mode similar to Tom Bissell’s stellar essay “Grand Thefts”. It didn’t turn out as well as I expected. Alongside the obsession option was another essay prompt about art that only two students out of nineteen took. I tell my kids all the time that I’m not some godly authority, that I’m learning as much as they are. And one thing I’ve learned is that sadly, I have to cut that obsession essay from future versions of the course. Luckily, the final essay prompt seems to have gone over extremely well. I’m only halfway through the papers but they’re really fucking impressive. Essay assignment is below. Let me know what you think, what types of things you teach (if you teach), if you have suggestions, etc. etc. etc. For this one they had to read “Aria” by Richard Rodriguez, “I Just Wanna Be Average” by Mike Rose and “Telling Tales in School: A Redneck Daughter in the Academy” by Hephzibah Roskelly.

Essay #5 (4-5 Pages)

Students will float to the mark you set. I and the others in the vocational classes were bobbing in pretty shallow water. Vocational education has aimed at increasing the economic opportunities of students who do not do well in our schools. Some serious programs succeed in doing that, and through exceptional teachers… students learn to develop hypotheses and troubleshoot, reason through a problem, and communicate effectively—the true job skills. The vocational track, however, is most often a place for those who are just not making it, a dumping ground for the disaffected. There were a few teachers who worked hard at education; young Brother Slattery, for example, combined a stern voice with weekly quizzes to try to pass along to us a skeletal outline of world history. But mostly the teachers had no idea of how to engage the imaginations of us kids who were scuttling along at the bottom of the pond.

—Mike Rose in “I Just Wanna Be Average”

Personal inquiry. Argument. Personal inquiry. Argument. At times, this course has felt like a battleground with lines clearly drawn between those who would rather write personal essays and those who feel that much more is at stake in formal arguments. For Essay #5, we want you to produce a hybrid, an essay that not only reveals the writer’s life ala David Masello and Tom Bissell, but one that also strives to make a point ala Peter Singer and Kelli Whitehead.

The educational system is something every American has experienced on some level. Each person in this course has gone through high school, and now you’ve chosen to extend your education at least four years here at Pitt. Yet many of you feel there are a great many problems within the education system. Richard Rodriguez tells a personal story about being forced to speak English instead of Spanish and how badly that damaged his relationship with his family. He then parlays that into an argument against widespread bilingual education. Mike Rose tells a personal story about being shuttled into the vocational track instead of the honors courses where he rightfully belonged. He then parlays that into an argument about students rising to what’s expected of them so that honors students act like honors students and vocational students act like vocational students. Hephzibah Roskelly tells stories about stories, referring to her days growing up on the farm and listening to her family’s tales. She parlays this into an argument about narrative as educational tool and the unjust stereotype most people think of when they hear the term “redneck”.

For this essay, you must write a personal story about education and parlay that into an argument about education. Pick something you care about. Be interested in your work. If you are bored with your topic, so will your readers. What links Rodriguez, Rose and Roskelley is that they have all chosen to write about deeply personal matters and use those feelings to write a coherent argument about education. You must critique the educational system. Nearly anything is fair game, everything from kindergarten to high school to college athletics to unfair distribution of scholarships. Secondly, like Roskelley, you must use outside sources. For this essay, we are requiring THREE OUTSIDE SOURCES. This does not mean Wikipedia. This means books in the library or articles on PittCATT. Your sources must be integrated organically into the paper like in Roskelley’s, and you must provide a works cited that follows MLA format (Microsoft Word can do this for you). Search out people who agree with your argument. Search out people who disagree with your argument and “beat” them at their own game just like you “beat” Peter Singer. Like anything, the debate concerning education is an ongoing conversation. Your paper is not an island, but a mere dialogue in an endless series of conversations.

Metal Gear Solid: A Narrative in the Digital World, A Narrative in the Physical World

(Note: this is the second in a series of blog posts looking back on certain formally interesting video games of the past twenty-five years. Check out the first one–about the 1994 forgotten gem Earthbound–here)

Between the ages of eleven and thirteen, I had horrible warts on the bottom of my left foot. We’re talking mini-flesh Death Stars on my heel and they hurt like hell. The first year or two was bearable, but then I actually started limping, the pain getting so bad that I found it difficult to run during basketball games. So I finally went to see a specialist and after multiple treatments, they decided to whip out a laser beam and fry that shit off. To repeat, I was thirteen-years-old and some creepy doctor shot a laser beam at bacteria on my foot.

It was awesome.

However, I learned right before they Large Hadron Collidered my foot that I would soon be in severe pain, that I would have to remain sitting up or prone in my house for a solid week. They numbed the shit out of my foot and told me I had one hour before the agony would set in. Once we left the doctors, my parents offered to take me wherever I wanted, to do whatever I wanted before retiring home for an entire week, a span of time which seemed practically incalculable to a young Sal Pane. I told them to take me to the mall. Metal Gear Solid had just come out for the Playstation, and I was more than ready to trade in three old games to get that gem of a stealth classic. They drove me. I purchased MGS. I spent the next week on the living room floor having the time of my life.

It removes foot warts AND creates black holes.

I had been anticipating MGS for months, ever since Electronic Gaming Monthly–a magazine that was the closest we had in the late-90’s/early-2000’s to Tom Bissell–started talking about it in hushed, reverent prose, declaring it months before its release as the front runner for game of the year. They ran a multi-page cover story over the summer before MGS‘ fall release, but what really hooked me, the moment when MGS really sunk its teeth into me, was when Konami–the beautiful wonderful corporation behind the Metal Gear franchise–released a demo with the latest issue of The Official Playstation Magazine. I purchased a copy the day it came out. Here’s how MGS begins. Prepare to be fucking awed, chumps.

HOLY SHIT!!! What was so shocking about this back in 1998 was that Metal Gear Solid Director–Hideo Kojima, one of the few gaming directors worthy of the title auteur–was clearly as interested in narrative as gameplay. There’s nothing inherently video game-esque about this opening. Instead, it apes modern action thriller tropes right down to the voice actor credits that roll across the scene. And how about the beautiful opera music 3/4ths of the way through the video? All of this was unheard of. What you have to remember is that 1998 was only two years removed from when gaming’s most narrative driven games looked like this:

And the music? The music of the mid-to-late nineties video games, even at its absolute best, sounded like this:

What struck me immediately while playing Metal Gear Solid–both the demo and when I finally purchased the full game just minutes before transforming into an immobile, cheesy foot goon–was how much of a quantum leap forward gaming had now taken in terms of narrative. Earlier game narratives of the culturally repugnant save the princess variety  could now be replaced with the more filmic qualities of political and action thrillers alike. Now that might not seem like such a big deal to non-gamers–is the plot of Clear and Present Danger that much of an artistic improvement over the simplistic story lines of Saturday morning cartoons?–but Metal Gear Solid was one of the first games to really tackle adult material. The politics of DNA mapping. The feasibility of nuclear disarmament. The ethics of genetic enhancement. A ghastly prediction of terrorism in a pre-9/11 world. These are the narrative questions that Metal Gear Solid is most formally interested in, and although it’s certainly not Shakespeare, it’s a massive improvement for an art form that only ten years earlier witnessed the launch of Super Mario Bros. 3.

Over the course of 20 or so hours, Metal Gear Solid tells an interesting story of political intrigue and nuclear escalation set amid the frozen tundras of coastal Alaska. The story interrupts the game frequently with cut scenes that are actually not all cringe worthy to watch (there are filmic perspectives, music, and acting that’s not actually terrible!).

But if all Metal Gear Solid had going for it was a groundbreaking story, it wouldn’t be as fondly remembered as it is. So many video games since 1998 have attempted vastly more sophisticated narratives. But what makes Metal Gear Solid stand out is its combination of filmic narrative with a metatexuality and interactivity only capable in video games. Hideo Kojima didn’t want to create a game that was merely a poor man’s action movie. He wanted to push games to their limit in terms of interaction with the player’s world. He abandons Tom Bissell’s notions of luddonarrative for a stringently linear structure that forces the gamer to actually interact with the physical world in order to proceed. Kojima’s most important tool? The recently released Dualshock controller.

About six months prior to the North American release of Metal Gear Solid, Sony released the highly advanced Dualshock controller for use with their sales chart topping Playstation. On the surface, the controller doesn’t look that different than their original controller; the only noticeable improvement is the addition of two analog controllers beneath the d-pad and face buttons. But the Dualshock actually contains two motors inside the controller that simulate tactile feedback experienced in video games. For example, let’s say you’re playing Gran Turismo, one of the most popular racing games of the era,  and you crash your vehicle into a wall. Prior to the Dualshock,  the only feedback you would get from the game would be visual. But now, the motors would spin causing the controller to vibrate,  thus simulating the impact of the crash. The Dualshock was much more advanced than Nintendo’s rival product–the Rumble Pak–because it could vibrate at various speeds and intensities. The Dualshock could mimic crashing into a wall at a hundred miles per hour as well as driving over a small speed bump at thirty. Although the controller was only released a few months before Metal Gear, Kojima was given a prototype and fully implemented Dualshock features into the game.

The first few hours of Metal Gear Solid are a delight to play. As mentioned, the narrative stands out as one of the best of its era and its gameplay–in which you’re actively encouraged to flee from enemies instead of taking them head on–was downright revolutionary for its focus on evasion over murder. But one of the first truly memorable scenes–when you first realize that Kojima is doing something far more interesting formally than you might have realized–occurs around the four-hour mark. Solid Snake–the gruff main character, a government manipulated soldier pulled out of retirement for one final mission–tracks down the DARPA Chief, one of the primary objects of the game. Kojima launches into a seven-minute cut scene that portrays the Chief’s death via heart attack. And what’s so intense about this scene, what’s so unlike anything in gaming that had come before, is that the two motors in  the Dualshock simulate this man’s heart attack. It mimics his racing heartbeat, climaxing with the seizure that causes his death, all in the palms of your hands. I could be wrong about this, but this is the first example I can recall of video game narrative being combined so artfully with real world stimuli: the mechanized simulation of a dying human heart.

From this point on, Kojima and Metal Gear Solid take great pains to blur the lines between playing a game in the digital world and playing a game in the physical world. The most meta moment–and easily my favorite moment in any video game ever–occurs less than an hour after the DARPA Chief’s death. Via Snake, the player encounters a character who tells you that you must contact an in-game character named Meryl. Your only clue on how to contact her? “Use the code on the back of the CD case.” Metal Gear Solid uses a simple radio program to contact its in-game characters. They all have different frequency codes, and you can pause the game at any time, enter one of these numbers, and talk to the various characters who are monitoring Solid Snake’s progress from afar. The first time I got this clue–laid-up with a throbbing sour foot don’t forget–I wandered around the limited area of the Shadow Moses fortress that I then had access to, searching for an in-game CD case which would hopefully contain Meryl’s frequency. I searched for hours, and then, in total desperation, opened up the case the game had come in to scan the instruction booklet.

What you have to remember is that this all occurred at the dawn of the modern internet era. I did not have internet access at the time, so unlike today, I couldn’t just go to GameFAQs and look up a walkthrough. I scanned the useless booklet for awhile, then gave up and sealed the case. Here’s what’s on the back.

See that box  toward the bottom middle? The black one with green faces? That’s the radio screen. On the right is Solid Snake, and on the left is Meryl. And what’s that in the middle? That’s right. Meryl’s code. There is no in-game CD case to find. The character was referring to the actual case you bought the game in. He needed you to inspect something that existed in the physical world.

This utterly blew my mind at thirteen, but I don’t think I truly understood the ramifications of what Kojima and MGS had actually pulled. For the first time that I’m aware of, a video game called on you, the player, to do something in the real world in order to advance. Let me be clear on this. If the player does not get up off the couch and inspect the back of the CD case, there is no way to advance. You’re stuck. You can continue playing the game, but there’s no way to further the narrative. The only way to move forward depends on an action in the physical world, not the digital one. This may not seem like such a huge deal, but what will the interaction be between digital narratives and physical narratives in ten years? How about fifty? Hideo Kojima was and is limited by whatever technology is available to him at the time. His imagination is limitless, but the same cannot be said about technology, especially about the now vastly underpowered Playstation. If Kojima is interested in blurring the lines between the digital and the physical–which I would argue that he is–what happens when the technology catches up with Kojima’s imagination? What happens when he’s able to make what happens in games “real”?

Metal Gear Solid is peppered with moments like this throughout. None so brilliantly capture how blended players have become with their digital avatars as the CD code, but there are other interesting examples. Later in the game, one of the bosses gives a demonstration of his physic abilities. In a cut scene, Psycho Mantis looks at the camera, at the player, and tells them whether or not they’re fans of certain games. I remember sitting there on the floor and Psycho Mantis shaking his head and telling me how much I loved the most recent Castlevania game, the now legendary Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Holy shit! I did love Symphony of the Night! But how did Mantis know?

Like the Dualshock, one of the big peripherals for the Playstation was the memory card, a small plastic trinket that you plugged into your system, allowing you to “save” your progress in various games. Kojima programmed Metal Gear Solid to scan your saved files at this point in the game and then have Psycho Mantis announce whether or not you owned any other Konami products. A bizarre bit of meta-corporate commentary to be sure, but this was nothing in comparison to Mantis’ next trick. He looks at the player once again and instructs you to put the controller on the floor. I looked around the room, startled, and did as I was told. Mantis points his fingers at the controller, and then, with only the power of his mind, causes the controller to rattle across the physical floor in your living room! Obviously, this is accomplished via the motors inside the Dualshock. They rev at maximum intensity when Mantis points, causing the controller to jerk around. Once again, Kojima proves that he wants to obliterate the line delineating avatar and player. For this brief moment, the player is no longer herself. For this brief moment, she is absorbed into the digital world; the player becomes Solid Snake.

And the highlight of the Psycho Mantis encounter? That’s unquestionably the boss fight itself. No matter what you  try and do, Mantis anticipates your attack and easily dodges, chalking it up to his psychic abilities. You call your advisers via radio, and they don’t know what to do and only say that you must break the connection between Mantis and your mind. And while all of this is happening,  the picture keeps going out. The screen keeps going black with the word Hideo appearing in green on the top edge of the screen, just like old televisions used to look when you’d switch to the video channel. The implication here is that Psycho Mantis has actually taken over your television and is changing channels at will in order to kill you in the game world.

The only way to win the fight is to stand up and unplug your controller from the player one socket and insert it into player two’s, thus disrupting the link between Psycho Mantis and your mind/Dualshock/television. This bizarre marriage of technology and implied flesh really disturbed me as a young man. And after killing Psycho Mantis, while watching him bleed out on the floor and tell you about his terrible childhood in a third-world country, I felt like I’d been put through something, that I’d experienced something emotional. It’s sort of like with short stories, how when you get to the end of a good one you find that moment of emotional resonance. Only here, it wasn’t a character who had gone through the journey; I’d gone through that journey.

There’s so much more I want to say about Metal Gear Solid, and in many ways, I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. What about the part when you get sick, and Dr. Naomi tells you to put the Dualshock up against your forearm so she can give you a shot? You do as instructed and feel the controller’s motors vibrate once against your bare skin. How about the complicated–for a video game from 1998 at least–questions about love? How about the final battle which goes on and on, moving to set piece after set piece in a manner so obviously culled from a thousand Hollywood thrillers? How about Metal Gear Rex, the cartoony, yet alarmingly plausible weapon designed for launching nuclear missiles at any target on the planet? How about the character of Grey Fox, a dead soldier brought back to life through illegal cybernetics, a terrifying premonition of the military industrial complex gone mad? All of these things could justify their own essays, but what made Metal Gear Solid truly matter to me all those years ago sprawled out with my throbbing foot was the way in which a mere man–Hideo Kojima–had been able, if even momentarily, to merge my identity with that of a video game avatar, that he could so easily merge the physical and digital worlds. It’s an experience that has always stayed with me, and one that I continually go back to every few years with a six-pack of beer. How comforting it is to play through Metal Gear Solid one more time, to find that no matter how much I or the world have changed that Solid Snake and Meryl and Psycho Mantis are exactly as I left them, ready to once again bestow their curious gifts upon me.

Is it that unlike rewatching a favorite film? Is it that unlike rereading a beloved novel?

What Do You Talk About In Class? Art. Obsession. Tom Bissell. Power Structures.

I’m not sure if this is of interest to anyone on the entire planet, but I’ve been thinking about composition a lot recently and figured I’d post something in-between editing my ever-expanding rant about 1998’s stealth game classic Metal Gear Solid. This post is going to be about teaching, bitches.

 

My boy, RR, looking all fly and shit.

 

For those unaware, I was pretty much terrified of entering the classroom this fall. I spent the weeks leading up to the first day pacing my room a lot and imagining myself standing at a podium, droning on about something like Kanye West, and a student standing up and screaming at me. Telling me to go fuck myself. That I didn’t know anything and his parents hadn’t scrimped and saved for 20 years to have their child listen to some skinny nerd in a striped cardigan rant about George Saunders.

Luckily, that hasn’t happened (yet). In fact, I’ve discovered that I really, really like teaching. Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I can’t shut up. Put a cup of coffee in me and I will ramble for hours. Teaching college is a job where I’m expected to talk. A lot. And guess what? These kids have to listen. In fact, they’re paying to listen! That’s awesome.

The first half of the semester has gone pretty well, but I think I hit my stride during a recent unit in my comp class on art/obsession. I thought I’d share some of it with you. Obviously, class discussion is a HUGE component of this course, and there’s no way I could share that. But I think sharing course materials and assignments is really valuable. I spent a few hours this summer just looking through old syllabi and it really helped refine my thinking on fiction workshops and comp classes. So, without further nonsense on my part, here’s what my comp class read for the art/obsession portion of the course. Keep in mind, this was over maybe two weeks. We discussed each piece pretty heavily.

1. “Can a Woman Be a ‘Great American Novelist'” by Meghan O’ Rourke

2. Kellee Santiago’s Video Games Are Already Art Presentation at USC

3. “Video Games Can Never Be Art” by Roger Ebert

4. “Grand Thefts” by Tom Bissell

Here’s the assignment after two weeks of discussion:

Essay #4

Unlike previous essay assignments in this course, this time you will have a choice. Below, are three options for Essay #4. There is no bonus or penalty for choosing one of them over the other two. All three will be graded exactly the same way.

Option A (4-5 Pages)

“I woke up this morning at 8am fully intending to write this article. Instead, I played Left 4 Dead until 5pm. The rest of the day went up in a blaze of intermittent catnaps. It is now 10pm and I have only just started to work. I know how I will spend the late, frayed moments before I go to sleep tonight, because they are how I spent last night and the night before that: walking the perimeter of my empty bed and carpet-bombing the equally empty bedroom with promises that tomorrow will not be squandered. I will fall asleep in a futureless, strangely peaceful panic, not really knowing what I will do the next morning and having no firm memory of who, or what, I once was.”

–Tom Bissell in “Grand Thefts” culled from the essay collection Extra Lives

The nature of obsession is laid bare in Tom Bissell’s essay “Grand Thefts” originally published in The Guardian. In the span of a few years, Bissell went from being one of the most promising writers of his generation to snorting cocaine in Las Vegas before 30 hour Grand Theft Auto binges. But throughout his essay, Bissell never condemns or praises his dual obsessions: video games and drugs. Bissell writes, “There are times when I think GTA IV is the most colossal creative achievement of the last 25 years, times when I think of it as an unsurpassable example of what games can do, and times when I think of it as misguided and a failure. No matter what I think about GTA IV, or however I am currently regarding it, my throat gets a little drier, my head a little heavier, and I know I am also thinking about cocaine.” He takes a more complex view. He sees how games and even drugs have altered his reality in a pleasurable and even desirable way, yet Bissell also becomes aware of the danger he’s in, of how precariously he dangles over the edge.

For this essay, write about an obsession in your own life. Obviously, we do not expect you to be addicted to cocaine or Grand Theft Auto, but has there been a time in your own life when you felt the majority of your time and even thinking taken up by something other than yourself—say a sport, lover, TV show, video game, family member, getting into college, etc. etc.? Like Bissell, lay bare this obsession on the page. Also like Bissell, do not come to a simple conclusion. We’re not looking for, “I was obsessed with playing football, and my grades suffered. Therefore, football is bad.” Tom Bissell takes a complicated view on his subject. He sees that there are immeasurable pros AND cons regarding his obsession. You must find these pros and cons too. You must look inside of yourself, inside of your obsessions, and yank out that complexity.

Option B (4-5 Pages)

“I remain convinced that in principle, video games cannot be art. Perhaps it is foolish of me to say ‘never,’ because never, as Rick Wakeman informs us, is a long, long time. Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.”

–Roger Ebert in “Video Games Can Never Be Art”

Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked a lot about what exactly constitutes art and who gets the right to proclaim that something isn’t art. Meghan O’ Rourke, in her article “Can a Woman Be a ‘Great American Novelist’”, made the claim that only white males are allowed to have their books considered art because of an unconscious bias on the part of the mostly white male book reviewers. O’ Rourke argues that writers like J.K Rowling and Jodi Picoult are not considered artists in the same way that author Jonathan Franzen is because they are women and not because of the quality of their work. Similarly, Kellee Santiago claims in her YouTube video presentation that Roger Ebert is wrong, that video games can be art, and in fact, already are art. Ebert’s response essay, “Video Games Can Never Be Art” very much defends his position. And of course, in class we discussed how there are some critics in the art field who believe that EVERYTHING is art. Take, for example, Pittsburgh-native Andy Warhol’s beloved 1964 project Brillo Boxes.

For this essay, you must come up with your own definition of art and argue for its validity using examples and logic just like O’ Rourke, Santiago and Ebert. In our society, what constitutes art? Do you take the hard-line view that only so-called “great works”—the classic novels and poems and paintings and operas—should be classified as art, or do you feel that everything—a sock, Transformers 2, the New York Knicks, a double cheeseburger—should be considered art? What is your stance? Prove it. Where do you draw the line?

Secondly, do you think that the specific people who have the ability to declare things art or not—Roger Ebert and the other critics who love Jonathan Frazen for example—in any way mimics the social power structure that governs our lives? Who in this society has power, and how do arguments about what and what is not art reflect that struggle?

Option C (1200 Words)

Pick Option A or Option B, and instead of writing your response in Microsoft Word, instead write your response on a WordPress blog. However, we’re not looking for an essay that simply exists on the internet. If you’re going to use a blog, you must embed its unique aesthetic features into your essay. You must use links, videos, and pictures in an organic way. If you choose this Option, there has to be compelling reasons throughout the text for why you’ve chosen to do a blog entry over a more traditional paper.

Culture Death Match #2: Tom Bissell vs. Sarah Vowell

What’s that? You read Culture Death Match #1 in which Amy Whipple and I talked Batman and Golden Girls and you’re dying for more? BEHOLD! Amy Whipple and I chat up Tom Bissell, Sarah Vowell, and who is assigned writerly authority and why that is exactly. It’s like a thousand Christmas mornings up in this bitch.

Earthbound: The Best Meta-Satire of 1994?

(Note: this is the first in a series of posts examining formally interesting video games. Check the second–about 1998’s Metal Gear Solid–here.)

Last month, Oscar Villalon wrote a piece on The Rumpus echoing Tom Bissell’s sentiments that many members of this generation do not catalog their lives by albums or movies, but through video games. Of course, I made a few remarks in the comments section. One responder said that while interested like Bissell in thinking about the new narrative opportunities afforded by video games, she doesn’t actually want to play them. In fact, she wouldn’t even know where to start, and instead, she offhandedly hoped that somebody would make a gaming mix tape for those whose only introduction to the form is Tetris.

BEHOLD THY MIXTAPE.

I thought that I might cover a couple video games over the next few months with the same literary lens I’ve been using to look at comic books. And the first one I’ve decided to go with is Earthbound, a 1994 release for the Super Nintendo. That should come as little to surprise to Earthbound veterans, but I’m imagining that most people who read this blog, even some gamers, aren’t aware of this relatively obscure game. The first thing we have to talk about right out of the gate is the box.

The box is bigger than my head.

That shit don’t mess around. And when you’re a ten-year-old boy wandering around the local Electronics Boutique, that giant face-sized behemoth is going to stick out. The box is so big because the game comes with its own strategy guide and a John Waters-esque pack of odorama gross out cards. Imagine me in 1994 utterly captivated by this box, so foreign, so alien, the sleek golden curvature of that figure on its front practically demanding a purchase.

So what’s the premise? Earthbound is about a group of kids who band together to fight hippies, eat cheeseburgers, break up Heaven’s Gate style cults, beat people up with frying pans, put their souls into robots, and ride the Loch Ness Monster. It’s a Japanese Role Playing Game, and for anyone not unspeakably nerdy enough to know what that is, JRPGs are text based narratives where your only method of interaction is steering the avatar (the figure the player controls onscreen) and selecting actions from a text box. Think Myst fused with Dungeons and Dragons. And up until 1994, these games for the most part followed the same formula. Dragons and magic and swords and castles. Plucky young hero watches his village destroyed by an evil empire, then has to fight them to save the world.

What’s so noteworthy about Earthbound is that it takes place in the present (199X to be exact), and the avatars are average kids with yo-yos and baseball bats for weapons. They drink soda, not potions, to repelnish their health. They get money by using their fathers’ credit cards in ATM machines, not collecting golden coins from fallen enemies. They fight crazed neighborhood dogs, not dragons.  They pal around with the Blues Brothers.

 

In 1994, this blew my fucking mind.

The aforementioned would be enough to make Earthbound noteworthy, just one in a line of excellent JRPGs released during the Super Nintendo era. But what pushes Earthbound over the edge from obscure gem into groundbreaking classic is the fact that it’s a satire, and it’s actually funny. Most people who play games acknowledge the fact that they’re funny. But games are rarely intentionally so. Games get chuckles when they have awful translations, not because of in-game jokes. Earthbound breaks that rule repeatedly. Sometimes you discover a trinket called “Insignificant Item” that does absolutely nothing. Other times you knock at someone’s door only to hear the hushed quotations of Beatles’ lyrics. If you approach a character called The Annoying Old Party Man you get one of these two messages: “The Annoying Old Party Man/Reveler grumbled about today’s youth” or “The Annoying Old Party Man/Reveler lectured you”. Mr. T makes a cameo. Sometimes, when fighting hippies, the game literally gives you this message: “The New Age Retro Hippie used a ruler! Now he can measure things more easily!” I’m not doing the game’s humor justice, because text can’t do the game justice. Its combination of offbeat soundtrack, Norman Rockwell-cum-Nintendo visuals, and insane story and dialogue in tandem are what make this game so truly bizarre and set apart from all the other deadly serious RPGs.

And did I mention the meta aspects of the game? Earthbound begins when an alien named Buzz Buzz (yes, Buzz Buzz) crash lands in the protagonist’s sleepy American town and explains to the young boy that he’s the inheritor of an important prophecy. This is typical JRPG crap, but Earthbound plays it off with style. Buzz Buzz alerts the player that he is critically injured and about to die, but after hearing his speech about what the game is about, he tells you he can explain it again if necessary, and in fact, can explain it an infinite amount of times despite being only seconds away from death. Multiple times throughout the game, the action will stop and a character onscreen will call to you (the real life sitting at home player, not the avatar) and ask you to take a picture of the avatars. At one point, they even ask you for your real life name and hint that they’re curious to know about the person who’s controlling them (again you) like a god-like figure in their 16-bit “lives”. And in the finale, the game asks you to send all your good karma to the protagonist so that he can defeat the final boss.

 

So meta. SO META!

And the ending? The ending. There’s no cut scene that finishes the game. The player has complete control and you’re free to roam around the massive game world where people thank you for playing or offer investment opportunities or chide you for missing school. There’s no true end other than turning off the power. And in 1994 this was truly memorable shit. Earthbound was the first game that made fun of itself for being a video game. Earthbound was the first game whose characters understood that they existed in a video game world, and they frequently commented on that fact.

I can’t imagine many people are going to rush out and play Earthbound after reading this (unless, like me, they’ve already played through it countless times). But like Bissell argues in Extra Lives, I think it’s important for the literary set to look at games and think about their narrative potential. They require a level of active participation that a book can never have (and that’s not a judgment on either medium). Bissell focuses much of his work on newer games, but my only true access point to gamer culture is fueled by nostalgia. Earthbound is the first game that truly made me aware of the storytelling capabilities within the video game, the first that made it clear that not everything had to follow the tired and culturally outdated “save the princess” plot line. And when I open up my Earthbound strategy guide and smell my Master Belch odorama card? Yeah. That’s a straight snort back to what it feels like to be ten-years-old again.

This reference is not lost on ten-year-olds.

Do I lose my writer card if I call Earthbound the Infinite Jest of 1994 Super Nintendo Japanese Role Playing Games?

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Dispatches From a Creative Writing Camp and the Strange Allure of the Nintendo Novel

This is my second week teaching at the Young Writers Institute, a University of Pittsburgh summer writing camp for middle schoolers and high school kids. I’m teaching 7th and 8th graders, and although I’ll undoubtedly write something longer about the experience later, there are a few things I want to discuss now. First off, it’s amazing to me the type of writers these kids respond to. Last week, we took them to the Carnegie Library and I managed to get a bunch of them interested in Flannery O’ Connor, Tom Perrotta, Stewart O’ Nan and Belle Boggs. One even picked up Kevin Wilson all on her own. Today we went through a bunch of the superb exercises in John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction. I expected Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl, and while the kids do all seem to like these books (can you believe current 7th graders were born after the release of the first HP book?!), they also seem to be drawn to “serious” “literary” fiction which is a promising sign.

But that’s not what this post is going to be about. One of my students reminds me a lot of a younger me. He’s unreasonably tall and built like a matchstick. He spends much of his day talking about Nintendo and always arrives earlier than anyone else. Usually, he has a new chapter from the novel he’s writing for me. What’s it about? It’s a sequel to a video game I never heard of, a Japanese Role-Playing Game that involves a bunch of Nintendo characters, including everybody’s favorite Italian stereotype, Super Mario.

For those unware, Japanese RPGs are extremely text heavy video games. They usually take 30-60 hours to complete, and much of that time is spent watching cut scenes or reading dialogue, the exact opposite of Tom Bissell’s beloved luddonarratives. Typically, these games are standard fantasy fare, i.e. knights and wizards. But in the nineties, things began shifting towards steampunk. When I was kid, RPGs were my favorite type of video games. And although I haven’t played one in a few years, I can relate to my student’s desire to ape this narrative style. A group of warriors and wizards are thrown together due to an extreme crisis. They band together and travel a fantastic world learning new abilities. They save the planet. I can relate to wanting to write in this style, but I don’t understand it.

As a child, I wrote many Nintendo novels, hundreds of pages of material following the typical RPG path. What I don’t understand is why this was the major type of story I, and apparently many others, tried to emulate. I was exposed to countless comic books and read a ton of young adult sci-fi and fantasy. Yet I never tried to recreate or sequelize those worlds. Why is that? Is it because they were more fully fleshed out? Because the worlds and characters of RPGs are only ever suggested and never fully realized? Is it because the stories of RPGs were inherently simpler than kid novels from writers like Bruce Coville, and thus, more easily copied? I’m not really sure. But I’m wondering if others out there tried to write Nintendo novels as kids. I’m wondering if anybody has any thoughts on why.

Review (Essay?) About Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives

Guys. This is easily the best review I’ve written. At three pages, it’s more like a mini-essay. As Amy Whipple would say, I have a lot of feelings about Tom Bissell’s meditation on gaming, Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter.