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Otherworldly Creative Writing

Session B: July 20 - July 30, 2021
9:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.
English and Writing
Lucas de Lima

For science fiction and fantasy writers, world-building involves the construction of a complex, imaginary world with its own history, ecology, and geography. In this creative writing class, students will design worlds by reveling in dreams, hallucinations, nightmares, and reveries. To open portals to new worlds, we will immerse ourselves in the richness and expansiveness of language and play with our sense of space and time by keeping dream journals, sketching maps and landscapes, and conjuring visions of utopia and the apocalypse. Beyond writing and reading across literary genres, we will find tools for thinking about the relationship between the self and its contexts in film, visual art, anthropology, and other critical and creative perspectives. As we write poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and plays, we’ll pay special attention to how world-building tends to blur genres and dislocate readers even as it draws on the ‘real’ world and personal/political experiences. No prior background in creative writing is required.

Goals for Students

  • To introduce students to poetry, fiction, and dramatic writing and literary modes such as the epic, surrealism, magical realism, speculative fiction, and the fairy tale
  • To connect fictional, imaginative writing to the personal and the political
  • To develop skills in editing and revising drafts
  • To strengthen oral and written communication through assignments, workshops, and discussion

Day 1: The Existence and Possibility of Other Worlds
Class preparation: “Alternative worlds: Ghassan Hage talks multiculturalism, teaching the enemy, & thinking in public” (podcast); Ursula K. Le Guin, National Book Award Speech (video); begin dream journal
Class activity: course introduction; discussions on multiple realities and the role of literature; writing exercises based on in-class clips and readings

Day 2: Feral Origins: Rewilding Yourself and the World
Class preparation: Bhanu Kapil, Humanimal: A Project for Future Children; Robert Stam, “The Transmogrification of the Negative”; (re)write a hybrid fairy tale
Class activity: lecture/discussions on Kapil, the “I,” and concrete vs. abstract language; writing exercise based on “Art is of the Animal” blog post; workshop orientation; workshop fairy tale

Day 3: Cosmology and the Construction of Space/Time
Class preparation: “Preface” and “A Very Short History,” Cosmology: A Very Short Introduction, Peter Coles; “Worldview, cosmology, and myths of origin,” African Religions: A Very Short Introduction; define/illustrate ‘cosmology’ using concrete language based on the contents of your bedroom; write a 2-pg memoir based on Joe Brainard’s “I Remember”
Class activity: lecture/discussion on space and linearity; collective workshop on concrete language; in-class map-making and autobiography writing exercise; workshop

Day 4: Visions, Dreams, Hallucinations, Prophecies
Class preparation: Davi Kopenawa, The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman (excerpts); Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (excerpts); writing exercise based on dream journal
Class activity: lecture/discussion on the image and repetition; viewing of Estamira clip; writing exercise based on readings; workshop

Day 5: Dystopia/Utopia
Class preparation: Stephen Petranek, “8 Ways the World Could Suddenly End” (TED Talk); Junot Díaz, “Apocalypse”; Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (excerpts); writing exercise based on readings and your vision of utopia
Class activity: lecture/discussion on active beginnings and open endings; world-building group project; workshop

Day 6: Myth and the Epic
Class preparation: Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red; Popol Vuh (excerpts); Dante, The Divine Comedy (excerpts); hero/anti-hero writing exercise
Class activity: lecture/discussion on scale, plot, and the hero’s journey; visualization writing exercise; workshop

Day 7: Speculative Writing
Class preparation: Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (selections); Ricardo Bracho, Puto; short play writing exercise
Class activity: lecture/discussion on voice and narrative efficiency; ventriloquism and antipoetry writing exercises; workshop

Day 8: Surrealism, the Body, and the Grotesque
Class preparation: selection of surrealist writings; visual art by Ana Mendieta and Wilfredo Lam; writing exercise based on Mendieta’s Siluetas
Class activity: lecture/discussion on character development and interiority; writing exercise based on workshop

Day 9: Science Fiction
Class preparation: Ursula K. Le Guin, Where on Earth. In The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories (selections); revise portfolio and write reflection
Class activity: writing exercise based on reading; discussion on genre; class reading from portfolios