Below are some examples of faculty lectures and classes from past conferences

Lecture Titles and Descriptions

Vievee Francis, “Magnitude and Bond: Imagery and the Sensual in the Work of Gwendolyn Brooks and Lucille Clifton”

In this lecture I will explore the way Brooks’s and Clifton’s provocative and surprising use of imagery allows broad readings of the black body’s restraint and boundlessness. Through this exploration we may all find a means of (re)claiming our bodies for ourselves.

Maud Casey, “Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend: The Sound of Silence in Fiction”

Five years prior to his arrest by Stalin, Isaac Babel was invited as a Stalin-approved writer to the Writers Congress, where he gave a speech in which he referred to himself as the “master of the genre of silence.” Silence can be dangerous—the silencing effects of tyranny, the complicit retreat from the horrors of the world—and Babel surely was alluding to this, but might he also have been referring to the silence he cultivated deliberately in his work? This lecture will consider silence’s formal uses, its power and possibilities, in fiction. What sounds does silence make on the page—between and underneath the sentences, in the white space of fragmented narratives? How might it invite the reader in? What role does it play in the vocation of writing?

Mary Szybist, “The Spell of Echo”

In Greek myth, the nymph Echo’s story seems to emphasize reduction: to echo is not to express. What is the power of echo if not expression? I will consider a few poems that have haunted me and reflect on what gives their language repetitions their peculiar and unnerving powers.

Charles Baxter, “We Were Strangers: The Stranger and Strangeness as Fictional Necessities”

I want to talk about strangers (or visitors) as fictional devices and then move on to a more general consideration of the stranger as outcast, outsider, and artist. Examples from Emily Brontë, Camus, and Raven Leilani, among others.

Monica Youn, “Generative Revision: Beyond the Zero-Sum Game”

Poets tend to treat revision as a process of renunciation—the blue eyes of Alice Methfessel that feature in the original draft of Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” are lost forever, sacrificed on the altar of poetic necessity. But is there another, kinder way? This lecture considers another, generative model of revision—one in which the original and revised poem can coexist, can inhabit parallel dimensions. I’ll talk about revision as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division (pushing my mathematical skills to their very limits.) We’ll look at poems by Emily Dickinson, Ross Gay, CD Wright, Anne Carson, Jason Zuzga, Layli Longsoldier, and others.

Laila Lalami, “Ways of Seeing: Modulations in Point of View”

Of all the choices you face as a writer, perhaps the most significant is the vantage point from which your story is narrated. Who is telling the story? To what audience? And for what reason? In addition, your protagonist doesn’t have a fixed view of her universe. Modulations become necessary. Biases turn up. Agendas are revealed. In this lecture, I will discuss different approaches and considerations in point of view and outline their uses and effectiveness.

Craft Class Titles and Descriptions

FICTION

Bodies at Rest and in Motion: Staging the Scene, with Marisa Silver

We often think that staging bodies within a scene — or blocking — is more the purview of film and theater than of literature. And yet, some of the most indelible scenes in stories and novels imprint on the mind because of their physical action. In a well-choreographed scene, the emotional subtext can be expressed through the positioning of bodies almost without the aid of dialogue or narrative interpretation. We will begin this class by defining what we mean by “staging” as opposed to other kinds of physical behavior, then we will talk about the tension between the author’s desire for bodies to move in certain ways and the way character defines the terms of that movement. We will talk about the uses and abuses of “shoe-leather.” And we will discuss how placing restrictions on movement is another form of staging. Scenes we will be discussing include: the beach scene in J.D. Salinger’s ”A Perfect Day for Bananafish”; the scene at the dress shop in ”Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” by Alice Munro, the early scene in the classroom, the later scene where the narrator observes the storefront church, and the final scene in the music club in ”Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin, the scene at the diner in “The Fourth of July” by Audre Lorde, and the dinner party scene in Rachel Kushner’s “Flamethrowers.” 

POETRY

Changed, Changed Utterly: A Class on Revision, with Daisy Fried

This class will consider the mystery of poetry revision from several angles, by studying versions of well-known poems, through discussion, and perhaps also through a revision exercise. The class aims to be at least a little technically useful, and is also theoretical, in a down-to-earth way. Underlying questions: what are we trying to achieve through revision? Is revision something we can get good at, the way we can get more proficient at, say, writing sonnets, if we do a lot of it? Are there any actual revision techniques, and can they ever really work? Why might revision be a moral matter? 

NONFICTION

Embellishment: Art and Artifice in Narrative Nonfiction, with Vicki Forman

Of all the devices a writer of narrative nonfiction can employ, the most tempting and often ill-advised is that of embellishment: the use of overly symbolic language or literary devices, taking liberties with one’s narrator or subject, and, finally, invention pure and simple. And yet despite these caveats, well-crafted embellishment can, in fact, give a piece of writing voice and shape and make the work soar. This craft lesson will examine the definition and boundaries of embellishment and explore how well employed adornments bring originality to the work. Students should come with an essay or short excerpt for a workshop exercise.