I think that I've mentioned a number of times that when we've met face to face, I always encourage students to image what they would write in the genre that we are reading any particular week. We've done this a number of times in class to greater and lesser success, but I want to try again.
What story would you tell for a YA audience? No particular word count. Have fun with whatever ideas you have. You can write in any genre, but it's for a YA audience.
Using your reading of Pepper's Guide, try to explain what makes a text both young and adult at the same time? Further, what makes it "literature." Can you connect elements of theme, plot, and character to your own reading experiences in young adult lit?
In roughly 300 words, respond to the two questions above. No need to respond to your colleagues.
I want to circle back to our reading of Interior Chinatown. That's a text we talked about as literary fiction, and I know that folks struggled with this idea of what literary fiction was at the time. So this week we are reading an example of something that explicitly calls itself genre fiction. And yet, I don't know that we can sort of explicitly say that this is not literary fiction.
This is the author's first "adult novel"--rather than YA, which is what he is known as. I think you can see a lot of YA influences in the text. This novel has gotten a lot of great reviews, which is one of the ways that a text makes that leap from genre fiction to literary fiction--fake as that seems.
So our prompt for today is a simple one: in what ways does this text seem to adhere to genre conventions? And what are those conventions and where do you see them in this novel? On the other hand, in what ways does this feel like literary fiction--I know, I know, you aren't sure what that means, but I think you have a better idea than you did--so what might you say could make this feel like literary fiction?
Post 300 words in response to the prompt. Respond to at least one of your colleagues--try not to say "oh yeah I totally agree."
OVERVIEW: I think it's been a long while since people wrote off graphic novels as just comics for kids, but it made news in the literary world when the graphic novel Sabrina was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2019. That was the graphic novel selection for 489 that year. You can read a synopsis of the novel here. You can read a review of the novel here.
One of the critical elements of the novel that many readers commented on was the way the images conveyed the bleak isolation that the various characters felt in Sabrina. And, of course, that is what makes the graphic novel unique as a genre: the role the visual plays in telling the story.
PROMPT: For today's ICRN, in roughly 300 words, discuss 1) what is the impact and role of the images in Paying the Land; 2) What would be lost or gained if this were a "traditional" novel; and 3) what challenges or joys does the graphic novel present to the reader? In your reply to these three questions, please don't generically talk about graphic novels generally. Please speak specifically about this text, Paying The Land, in ways that makes me know that you've read and thought about this particular text.
OVERVIEW: If last week what we looked at the "creative" side of creative nonfiction, this week's focus is on the "nonfiction" side. Albert Woodfox's story is an autobiography. It spans his entire life and, with the help of a co-author, is written from his perspective and in his voice (The Autobiography of Malcom X was co-authored by Alex Haley, author, most notably, of the book Roots).
There is an idea in Rhetoric called "kairos" which essentially is Greek for "time". In Rhetoric, it refers to what I call appropriateness. It's the right thing to say for a particular occasion--the right content, tone, voice for the particular historical moment. Sometimes the easiest way to see that something is not in harmony with the moment is when it goes horribly wrong--of course, the perspective of the audience plays a significant role in in determining this. Different audiences will view different rhetorical moments in different ways. That's the relationship between audiences, "texts," and speaker/authors.
PROMPT: In some ways, Woodfox's story, does not feel entirely new. I'm asking you to consider Solitary through a kairotic lens: consider the historical moment of this autobiography, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize last year. Why is this story important to tell? In what ways does it feel new, add to our understanding of race and racism in our country? How does it affect you as a reader? Can you imagine a different reaction?
BONUS QUESTION; What does it take to write this autobiography? I'm not asking for, like, courage and mental stamina or a typewriter. I'm talking about the kind of research that goes into a book like this--because even though it is his story, there is quite a bit of archival material in the piece. What does a writer do with the people named in the piece, particularly the people at Angola responsible for much of what Woodfox endured during his time at the prison--or some of his lawyers? How does Woodfox manage himself as a character? These are the kinds of questions you need to ask yourself when you are writing stories where you are the focus, but not the only character, in a long and complex plot.
Please post roughly 300 words in response to the prompt; read and respond to your classmates as you see fit. Connect what they say to your experiences reading the text and/or your reaction to their observations about how the text was constructed.
OVERVIEW: Creative Nonfiction is an exciting genre and one that gives writers a wide range of options for telling their (true) stories. Nonfiction is also a very old genre--If you've read Emerson, you've read in the tradition of nonfiction in American literature. But it's even older than that. Addison and Steele in 18th Century England wrote for and published The Spectator, which was essentially a collection of nonfiction, of essays and reportage, of London at the time. The tradition of the essay is a long one and rich one. I don't mean the five paragraph MCAS essay that you learned how to write, or even the essay you write for your college classes, but the kinds of writing that we read for and are talking about in today's class.
The word "essay," coopted as it has been by things like MCAS, make essays sound awful. But in truth, the very idea of the essay comes from the French "essayer" the verb for "to try." And, at its best, that's what this genre does, it is an author trying to seek an answer to their own question--sometimes a question about the wider world and sometimes a question about some part of their lives (memoir--also from the French for "to remember").
THE PROMPT: The "creative" part of creative nonfiction sometimes gets lost in discussions, but that is what I would like us to focus on this week. Creative nonfiction borrows heavily from the the characteristics of fiction--characterization, metaphor, imagery, the list goes on and on. For today's ICRN, select one of the essays we read for class--not to be confused with the short essay we are working on in-class--and write about the following:
English majors and folks who write have a complicated relationship to grammar and punctuation. On the one hand, there is often an expectation on the part of the writer as well as those who know that this person is a writer, of a level of expertise that they will have accumulated--or that they are naturally gifted in the grammar and punctuation department.
At the same time, many folks who write and write a lot and often quite well, actually think they are terrible at grammar and punctuation. I will certainly admit to feeling that way for many years--and still have moments of existential doubt when I load a web page or send out an email to all faculty. And with good reason: one time I sent out an email that. had it's for its and a fellow faculty member emailed the entire faculty with one word: "its".
Which brings me to a larger point: there is a lot of shame around grammar and punctuation rules. And a conflation of other skills with correctness--like spelling, for instance. But folks who write a lot make a kind of peace with the imprecision and sometimes unuseful (made up word) adherence to correctness.
So as we enter into the back half of the semester, it's my hope to shift your relationship to grammar and punctuation--to make shift from fearing it to feeling empowered by it. Because owning your skills in this area really will bring your writing to the next (professional level). To begin, once you've taken and we've scored the editing test I gave you in class today, post your reaction to taking it.
USE THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS AS GUIDES:
We'll use this test, your answers, and what I've read of your writing so far to focus in on some work with grammar and punctuation that will build your confidence in using both--to not feel burdened by the fear of error but to feel emboldened to try different constructions and rhetorical moves with grammar and punctuation to do it with.
And now a moment with Andre the Giant, wrestler and poet. . . .
You had to know this was coming. For our asynchronous work this week, take some time, don't be too self-conscious, write a poem. Just try. It's good for the soul.
Think about the list from our ICRN. Think about it from a writer's standpoint instead of a reader's standpoint this time:
Once you've posted, read your colleague's pieces. Congratulate each other. Identify a few poems that really speak to you and tell the writer how and why it speaks to you.
As a genre, there was a time when poetry and not fiction, certainly not novels, reigned supreme as a literary force. Harken back to your lit classes where Queen Elizabeth I patronized poets who wrote poetry in her honor. Poetry is a much different beast now that encompasses many more formalized kinds of verse structures (like sonnets or sestinas or rondeaus), as well as free and blank verse and everything in between. Poetry is also not the money-making endeavor it maybe once was (though patronage is a precarious way to earn money--and one could argue that patronage is still how people earn some kind of a living as a poet).
But, also, poetry is the bread and butter of teenage angst, of broken hearted 16 year old girls, etc. We've all written that poetry. We all, on some level, sort of regret it.
And yet, how much poetry has anyone actually read lately? I'll admit it, most of my poetry reading happens while I am reading other things in The New Yorker. And yet, I never regret reading the poems, even the ones I can't wrap my head around an upack. Because reading poetry makes me a better reader of everything else. That's not some big important theory; I'm telling you that's what reading poetry does for me.
And that's what I'd like the focus of this ICRN to be for our class. Choose one of the poems that you read for today's class and do a very close reading of it. What is this poem trying to get you to think about--and what does it seem to want you to understand about it? And, secondly, how do you know?
Connect to and build on one other person's interpretation. Point out some other aspect of the poem they are writing about that lends itself to meaning-making in the piece. Do you have a different reading than someone else? Offer it up, with evidence based on the bulleted list above.
My short answer to this question is, I'm not entirely sure. I think it's too easy to say it is "not genre," but consider the novel Station Eleven (the link will take you to the goodreads page for the book). Station Eleven is definitely science fiction/dystopian fiction. But it was a finalist for the National Book Award and was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner, both very prestigious literary prizes.
Something about that text, much like Interior Chinatown, does something more than the the gimmick of a genre (or in the case of Yu's Chinatown, a structure). That's incredibly difficult to pin down, and, in fact, it would seem that it's often the opinion of others that makes something literary and something not. The awards are, after all, the codification of a set of people who have been deemed experts and knowing it when they see it. Basing a texts quality on whether or not it wins an award is about as useful as deciding it is an important text based on sales. Of course both things happen in the actual world.
However, for our ICRN, I'm asking you to treat Interior Chinatown the way you would treat any text you might encounter in any literature class.That is another way to think about what makes a text "literary": what can the reader do with the text? What ideas/motifs/themes/images can a reader dig in to and make mean something? What work does a reader have to do to be able to understand not just plot but purpose in the text?
WHAT TO POST
Thus, post, in 200 to 300 words, a short close reading of some aspect of Interior Chinatown. I'm not asking for reaction. I'm asking for analysis. Make sure I can tell you read the novel.