Cities are composed of contradictions: playgrounds for the rich and sites of concentrated poverty, highly organised and totally chaotic, an endless party and the loneliest places on earth. How do we write about them? In this course, we will examine how a range of writers represent city life in four major metropolises: London, Bombay, New York, and Tokyo. We will focus primarily on one book set in each of these cities—Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City, Teju Cole’s Open City, and Yu Miri’s Tokyo Ueno Station—and supplement our reading with short stories, journalism, sociology, and movies by writers including: Zadie Smith, Edith Wharton, James Baldwin, Katherine Boo, Spike Lee, and more.
What techniques do fiction writers, journalists, and filmmakers use to capture the constituent features of life in urban environments? How do these narratives represent social interactions? How do they depict interiority and consciousness? What kinds of characters are included in the field of vision? What kind of labour, if any, is represented? How, if at all, does the identity of the writer shape the stories they are telling? Other topics under consideration: class, race, gender, industrialisation, finance, greed, alienation, strangers, estrangement, economic inequality, cosmopolitanism, crime, immigration.
The first-year proseminar (taken in the spring semester of the first year) introduces students to the theories, methods, and history of English as a discipline, and contemporary debates in English studies. The readings feature classic texts in all fields, drawn from the General Exam list. This first-year proseminar helps students prepare for the General Exam (taken at the beginning of their second year); it gives them a broad knowledge for teaching and writing outside their specialty; and it builds an intellectual and cultural community among first-year students.
Note: This seminar is only for first year graduate students in the English Department.
A study of four poetic and/or visionary works written 1300-1400: Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy, John of Morigny's Book of Flowers, Julian of Norwich's Revelation of Love, and William Langland's Piers Plowman. We consider the inter-relationship between the poetic and the visionary in light of the categories of "orthodoxy" and "discretion of spirits" during a period when both were fiercely contested.
Note: This course is open, space permitting, to qualified undergraduates: please show up on the first day or contact Prof. Watson if you are an undergrad who wants to take the course.
Humanists of the 21st century are looking at a changed professional landscape. Major shifts in higher education, and in the college and university job market for humanists, predate the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic has brought these shifts into starker relief--even as it has revealed new opportunities for humanists in the fields of digital learning and educational media production, K-12 education, higher education administration, education policy, and more.
Teaching the Humanities with New Media: A Poetry in America Practicum will enable students to experience some of these newer career opportunities by “embedding” as Research and Pedagogy Associates in Poetry in America: The City from Whitman to Hip Hop, a for-credit course being offered to high-school students--most of them from Title I and Title I-eligible schools--across the US and around the world. This semester’s practicum will provide students an opportunity to gain exposure to, and to build skills in, the world of online education, broadly defined. Poetry of the City (POTC) is offered in partnership with the National Education Equity Lab and with Arizona State University. The course will be offered under auspices of ASU’s online high school, ASU Prep Digital.
Students enrolled in the practicum will have official titled roles within the ASU course that may provide them useful credentials for the future. Visit poetryinamerica.org to learn more about Poetry in America and its programs.
Note: Jointly offered with Harvard Kennedy School (as SUP-472 Education Equity Through A Solutions-Targeted Lens) and Harvard Graduate School of Education.
In his classic manifesto “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” Langston Hughes declared that his generation of artists and poets—upstarts coming of age in the roaring twenties—was determined to build what he called “temples for tomorrow.” How should we read that phrase today? Recent debates in Black Studies and in African American Literature over temporality, periodization, affect, and antagonism, suggest that we may not have an adequate theory of the avant-garde, or at least we may need to update the one we inherit from Poggioli (1968). By revisiting the avant-garde, we renew a concept that touches on a wealth of topics of interest to contemporary theoretical and methodological debates: taste, politics, publics and counter-publics, signifying, archives, transnationalism, translation, incompleteness, failure, and the circulation and manipulation of new medias. There are also the classic questions: Who gets to decide what constitutes an "avant-garde" or avant-gardes? What is the relationship between avant-garde artistic movements and political or militant ones? This course will explore all of these themes comparatively, with readings drawn from poems, plays, novels, and films, and we will range widely across the African diaspora, without neglecting important formations in Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America.... Read more about English 287ag. Black Literary Avant-Gardes: Graduate Seminar
This graduate seminar explores core concepts, questions, and methodologies within the environmental humanities. Rather than reading environmental literature and scholarship in isolation, we will trace their entanglements in environmental history, anthropology, philosophy, geography, and other adjacent disciplines.
The syllabus will be tailored to support the particular interests and pursuits of students in the course, but topics may include animal studies, capitalism and consumption, climate writing, disability and environment, disaster studies, environmental justice literature, environmental racism, extinction discourses, extraction narratives, feminist environmental practices, food sovereignty, hope and pleasure, indigenous environmentalisms, land access, militarized and nuclear environments, natural histories and collections, public health, queer environmentalisms, speculative futures, toxicity, urban environmental life, water rights, or the problematic idea of wilderness.
As a course designed to advance graduate research and increase fluency in an emerging field of study, assignments in this class will include a conference paper and a review of a book published in the last two years.
During a time of rampant, albeit necessary, pre-professionalization, this graduate seminar is meant to both model and inspire academic risk-taking. It offers a selective overview of recent literary criticism that productively transgresses formal, conceptual, and disciplinary norms. Readings may include: Brent Hayes Edwards, Susan Stanford Friedman, Sianne Ngai, Saidiya Hartman, Eric Hayot, Paul Saint-Amour, Paul Stephens & Robert Hardwick Weston, and Wai Chee Dimock, among others.
Instructor: Deidre Lynch Thursday, 3:00-5:00pm | Location: TBD Enrollment: Limited to 15 students
This course investigates literacy, literacy instruction, and literacy movements past and present, in theory and practice. Engaging with recent fictions and memoirs by authors such as Elena Ferrante and Ocean Vuong, with African-American slave narratives, laboring-class autobiographies, and other texts from the 19th century, and with materials from the history of alphabet books and children’s literature, “Literacy Stories” investigates the rich, ambivalent ways in which literature has depicted the literacy needed to consume it. Given under the auspices of the English Department and Harvard’s Mindich Program for Engaged Scholarship, “Literacy Stories” also involves collaborations with, and volunteer work for, various community organizations devoted to literacy advocacy and instruction.
This class will give us the opportunity to reflect—something we’ll do in part by learning from our community partners about the many ways of relating to texts that flourish beyond campus—on the contradictory ways in which we value reading. We’ll consider, for example, the friction between solitary and social reading: how the pleasures of this activity lie sometimes with how it separates us from others and sometimes with how it connects us. We will be thinking about literacy’s long-standing association with individual self-determination and thinking about how that association is put into question whenever people’s reading matter gets weaponized as an instrument of their domination. Literacy, the literary and theoretical texts on the syllabus will alike remind us, has a politics. Learning to be literate often involves experiences of unequal power relations and exclusion. Reading with(rather than “to” or “at”) others is an ethical challenge—one that humanities concentrators especially ought to explore.
The writing assignments you will do for “Literacy Stories” will join together academic analysis with personal narrative and social reflection. They will likely encompass regular short responses to the assigned texts, journal entries that reflect critically on what you have been learning from your volunteer work beyond Harvard, and interviews with literacy advocates and community organizers. The capstone project for the seminar will be a memoir—your own literacy story-- reflecting on your own memories of reading instruction and integrating those memories with your experiences in the community over the course of the semester.
Note: this course can be credited toward the Graduate School Education’s secondary field in Educational Studies.
2,500 years of essential works, taught by six professors. Humanities 10b is open only to students who completed Humanities 10a in Fall 2021. Humanities 10b will likely include works by Ellison, Woolf, Douglass, Wollstonecraft, Cao Xueqin, Shakespeare, Virgil, Sophocles and Homer, as well as the Arabian Nights, The Federalist Papers and the Book of Job. One 75-minute lecture plus a 75-minute discussion seminar led by the professors every week. Students continue to receive instruction in critical writing one hour a week, in writing labs and individual conferences. Students also have opportunities to participate online or in person, depending on public health conditions, in a range of cultural experiences, ranging from plays and musical events to museum and library collections.
Note: Humanities 10a and 10b will count as "Open Electives" for English concentrators. The course is open only to first-year students. Students who complete Humanities 10a meet the General Education distribution requirement for Arts & Humanities. Students who take both Humanities 10a and Humanities 10b fulfill the College Writing requirement. This is the only course outside of Expository Writing that satisfies the College Writing requirement. No auditors. The course may not be taken Pass/Fail.
Harvard’s still governing 1650 charter states the institution’s mission is “the education of English and Indian youth.” What were the ideas about race, culture, and colonialism that made such an idea possible? What was life like for the early Native American students who studied at Harvard, and what happened to the founding idea of a multiracial intellectual space in Harvard Yard over time? This course studies the Harvard Indian College and early Harvard history in the context of broader relationships between New England colonists and Dawnlands Native peoples. We will focus in detail on the surviving early writings of Caleb Cheeshateamuck, Benjamin Larnell, and Eleazar alongside colonial writings by John Winthrop, John Cotton, Anne Bradstreet, and others. We will learn about the catastrophic violence of King Philip’s War and the ways that conflict changed ideas about race and community in the seventeenth century. We will learn about Harvard’s continuing role throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in organizing relations with New England Indian communities, and the forms, genres, and rhetorics Indian activists and protesters developed in response. Throughout our course, we will bring Native American voices from Massachusetts, Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and other communities to the fore, in the past and in the present day.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Migrations" requirement for the Class of 2022.
In this course, we will explore the evolution of a story from a factual anecdote or incident to a fictional creation. The aims of the semester are to learn to listen to someone else’s story in interviews, and to endeavor to find, from there, the necessary bones for a fictional narrative. What is most urgent? What is most emotionally affecting? What are the details from an interview that stay with you? And from there: what, from a broader account, is the story you are moved to relate? Once you make that choice, how do you do further research, if necessary? How do you select the point of view, the frame, the characters for your fiction? What are the ethics and responsibilities of these choices?
In these riven and challenging times, storytelling is vital: learning to listen, to engage, and responsibly to relay what we discover. Each person we encounter is a bearer of wisdom and vast experience; so many urgent stories remain untold. How might we, as fiction writers, address reality, without simply writing about ourselves
Several published writers will visit the class to share their experiences of research, and of the relation in their work of fact to invention. We will read published examples of fact-based fiction, and discuss the authors’ choices.
The first third of the class will involve preparing and conducting interviews with a chosen subject, and sharing those interviews with the class. The second third will involve refining the story’s arc, research and formal decision-making, and writing a first draft. Finally, we will workshop the revised stories that have emerged from this process.
Supplemental Application Information: Prior experience writing fiction is helpful but not required. Please submit a writing sample of 3-5 pages of fiction, narrative non-fiction, journalism or personal essay, along with an application letter explaining your interest in this course, any writing experience you feel is relevant, and listing examples of work that moves and/or influences you, explaining why it does.
The course will consist of two halves. In the first hour of each class, we will be doing close readings of an assigned text (please see ‘Syllabus’), with the aim of isolating some concept or aspect of the genre under discussion in order to take bearings for your own. The assigned reading is obligatory. We will be looking at questions of genre, and at the reasons for the quotation marks bracketing the word genre in the heading. We will also look at the convergences and divergences in the various kinds and modes mentioned in the title of the course. We will be thinking of generic topoi, conceptual underpinnings, imagination, style, world-building, storytelling, resolution, among other things.
In the second half of the class, divided into two equal segments of 50 minutes each, we will be workshopping the writing of two students. Our goal is for each of you to have two turns, and approximately 5-10,000 words of your work critiqued, by the time semester ends. The final project involves significant redrafting of a story or a portion of a novel.
Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of creative writing in prose (fiction is preferable, but non-fiction is also fine) along with a substantive letter of introduction in which you write about why you’re interested in this course; what experience you’ve had writing; some of your favorite writers; what some of your favorite works of fiction are and why.
This workshop is designed to explore and hone the writing of fiction. We will read and respond to some exceptional published stories in a variety of genres, and each other’s works in progress. We will compose and revise at least thirty pages of fiction—in whatever number, size, and form suit the writer—over the course of the semester. We will also discuss and practice some of the pragmatic matters of a fiction writing career, including giving readings, editorial engagement, and submitting work for publication.
Supplemental Application Information: Please submit a writing sample of 3-5 double-spaced pages of fiction, and a one double-spaced page letter of introduction about you, your writing, and your hopes for the course.
Intended for students with prior fiction-writing and workshop experience, this course will concentrate on structure, execution and revision. Exploring various strands of contemporary and recent literary fiction – writers such as Karl Ove Knausgaard, Rachel Cusk, Chimamanda Adichie, Valeria Luiselli, etc – we will consider how fiction works in our present moment, with emphasis on a craft perspective. Each student will present to the class a published fiction that has influenced them. The course is primarily focused on the discussion of original student work, with the aim of improving both writerly skills and critical analysis. Revision is an important component of this class: students will workshop two stories and a revision of one of these.
Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of fiction, along with a letter explaining why you'd like to join the workshop, what you hope to get out of it, and what you're working on currently. Please also list your previous writing experience. Your literary and narrative interests are also relevant - what books, films or other artworks speak to you and/or influence your work?
The course will consist of two halves. In the first hour of each class, we will be doing close readings of an assigned text (TBA), with the aim of isolating some aspect of the craft of writing in order to take bearings for your own. In the second half of the class, divided into two equal segments of an hour each, we will be workshopping the writing of two students. Our goal is for each of you to have two turns, and approximately 5-10,000 words of your work critiqued, by the time semester ends. The final project involves significant redrafting of a story or a portion of a novel.
Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of creative writing in prose (fiction is preferable, but non-fiction is also fine) along with a substantive letter of introduction in which you write about why you’re interested in this course; what experience you’ve had writing, especially what Creative Writing workshops you’ve already taken at Harvard; some of your favorite writers; what some of your favorite works of fiction are and why.
Some say that to write well, you need to find your authentic voice. In this workshop we will explore a different proposition—that a writer can adopt many voices, depending on the situation and the story. We will experiment with different kinds of narrators, and we will practice writing dialogue as we study the structure and craft of the short story. The syllabus will include stories by writers such as Franz Kafka, Anton Chekhov, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Eudora Welty, Tillie Olsen, Raymond Carver, Jamaica Kincaid, Lydia Davis, Gish Jen, T.C. Boyle, Zadie Smith, and Helen Oyeyemi. In the first weeks of the course, you will write short sketches. You will then write two short stories which we will workshop in class. At the end of the semester, you will choose one of these stories to revise and submit as your final project.
Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of prose—either fiction or nonfiction—and a cover letter. In the letter, please share a little about yourself and your interests, why you would like to take the class, and what you like to read.
In this advanced workshop, we will read widely in the tradition that begins with Montaigne and write essays of our own in a variety of lengths and forms. A principal goal of the course will be to develop a voice on the page and learn how to deploy the first person, not merely as a means of self-expression but as a tool for telling a true story, conducting an inquiry or pressing an argument.
Supplemental Application Instructions: To apply, submit a brief sample of your writing in the first person along with a letter detailing your writing experience and reasons for wanting to take this course.
The arc of this workshop will trace the process of researching and writing a single long piece of science journalism: finding and pitching story ideas; reporting in depth and at length; outlining and structuring your story; choosing a narrative voice and strategy, crafting leads and “overtures,” and making connections between your story and its larger contexts. As a group, we’ll also work as editors on one another’s ideas and pieces. And since reading good prose is the best way to learn to write it, we’ll be closely reading an exemplary piece of narrative science journalism each week. Students will be expected to complete a draft and revision of a substantial piece by the end of the term.
Supplemental Application Information: To apply, submit a brief sample of your non-academic writing along with a letter explaining your reasons for wanting to take this course and describing your science experience, if any.
For almost two centuries now, words have accompanied photographs, sometimes to sublime effect. In this writing-intensive workshop, we will model our work on the various ways writers have responded to photographs: through captions, criticism, fiction, and experiments. Assigned readings will range from William Henry Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature (1844–46) to Zadie Smith’s Through the Portal (2018). Students will learn close-looking, research, and editing, and will be expected to complete a “words and photographs” project using their own photographs or photographs made by others.
Supplemental Application Information: Please submit a photograph and up to a page of text responding (or perhaps not responding) to it, as well as a cover letter saying what you hope to get out of the workshop, and mentioning three books in any genre that have been helpful to your writerly development.
An intense seminar for those interested in understanding the changing role of journalism and in learning the art of reporting and writing narrative stories. The course is intended for those contemplating careers as journalists or because they want a better sense of how journalism really works. Coursework will include two narrative articles that are ready for publication. Readings will include some of the best examples of modern journalism, from magazine features by authors including Gay Talese to multimedia narratives such as The New York Times' "Snow Fall."
Supplemental Application Information: The application should include a letter saying why the student wants to take the workshop, why writing and journalism interests them, and which websites, magazines, newspapers and other news sources they read. A writing sample is optional for this course application.