HUMS 603
Writing, Memory, and the Power of Place

Edwina Trentham

Course Description
For many writers, early memories are firmly rooted in a sense of place, and the imagery associated with this passionate involvement plays a powerful role in their work.  For example, both Jean Rhys and Edwidge Danticat use the lush tropical settings of their childhood—the Windward Islands and Haiti respectively—in their novels, Wide Sargasso Sea and Breath, Eyes, Memory, to tell very different stories, but in each case place is an essential component of the story told.   Similarly, a number of Elizabeth Bishop’s poems are set in Nova Scotia, where she spent the summers in her childhood, while images of Ireland are an integral part of many of Seamus Heaney’s poems, giving both their work a richness and individuality closely connected to the particular setting.  By closely studying these writers, and others who use place as a primary source of their imagery, we will explore the complex interplay of place, imagery, narrative, character, and theme, in fiction and poetry.  We will discover how our early memories of place can inform and enrich our writing, for if readers are to share the writer’s experience, they must, as Eudora Welty says, feel “the warm hard earth underfoot, the light and lift of air, the stir and play of mood, the softening bath of atmosphere that gives the likeness-to-life” so essential to good writing.
Course Format
The course is divided between reading and writing.  We will spend part of the class time in large group discussion of the assigned short stories and poems.  In addition to full class discussions, the class will be divided into three six-person groups, for work-shopping of student short stories and poems.  For short stories, the groups are also divided into A and B groups, to avoid the impossible task of reading and commenting in detail on six short stories over a short period of time (see Course Calendar).  Each of you will provide copies of your own stories and poems for group members and me, to take home, read, and respond to in detail and in writing, so that the work-shopping of stories and poems in subsequent classes can be substantive and helpful.  I will be part of a different group for work-shopping, and will participate in the poetry writing half of the class.  I will give written feedback on all student stories and poems and would be happy to meet with you individually at any time.  I suggest that we switch groups after the short story discussion, so that you can get to know the work of other members of the class, but I will leave that decision to all of you.

The second to last class (August 8) will be devoted to putting together a collection of your poems and stories and the last class (August 10) is set aside for the public reading of your work.

The due dates for reading short stories and poems (both assigned work and student work), and for writing short stories (6-10 pages) and poems, are listed on the course calendar, and those are firm dates. At the end of the semester,  you will submit a portfolio of two stories and five poems, rewritten in response to group and class discussion and your own growing understanding of your voice as the semester goes on. The portfolio should include the original and the rewrite of those stories and poems, marked appropriately.

I welcome suggestions about different ways to approach the reading and discussion, and will ask each group to bring in some examples of poems to add to the assigned reading (see Course Calendar).  In addition to this request, I hope you will feel free to bring in any other additional examples of work that might enrich our discussion.  We will be learning from each other.

Course Texts
Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Stumbling into the Light by Edwina Trentham
Seeing Things by Seamus Heaney
Handouts: Selection of short stories and poems
Course Calendar
June 27 Who are we, and why are we here?
Overview of class and some in-class writing
June 29 Welty, Mansfield, Joyce, Lessing short stories
1st short story, with copies, due from A half of Groups
July 4 No class: Fourth of July! Have fun!
July 6 Breath, Eyes, Memory
Workshop A half 1st short stories
1st short story, with copies, due from B half of Groups
July 11 Wide Sargasso Sea
Workshop B half 1st short stories
2nd short story, with copies, due from A half of Groups
July 13 Thomas,  Bishop, Soto, and Song poems
Workshop A half 2nd short stories
2nd short story, with copies, due from B half of Groups
Examples of place poems due from groups
July 18 Stumbling into the Light
Workshop B half 2nd short stories
First poem due with copies
Change groups?
July 20 Doty, Walcott, and poems selected by groups
Workshop first poem in groups
Second poem due with copies
July 25 Seeing Things
Workshop second poem in groups
Third poem due with copies
Discuss title for August 10 reading
Design flyer for August 10 reading
July 27 Continue discussion of Seeing Things
Workshop third poem in groups
Fourth poem due with copies
August 1 Workshop fourth poem in groups
Fifth poem due with copies
Discuss title and cover for book
August 3 Meet in Russell House
Workshop Fifth poem
Rehearsal for August 10 reading
August 8 Bookmaking and Party! Copies and covers for book due.
Portfolios due: Originals and finals of two stories and five poems
August 10 Student reading at Russell House
Be prepared to read your own work (5 minutes per student)
Invite all your friends and relatives!
Portfolios returned