Travel Writing (section 2)

Discipline: English Writing
Instructor: IV
Credits: 3
Day: C
Start: 1230
End: 1345
Field Work: Day 1 - St. Petersburg - Thursday, 24 July | Russia Download Syllabus

In this course students will learn how to take their most interesting experiences as travelers and render them in prose that’s pleasurable to encounter and that teaches readers something fresh. We’ll focus on three keys to travel writing. Students will learn how to describe a new place so that a reader feels as though he or she is almost present there. They’ll learn to tell (true) stories about what happened to them at their destinations. And maybe most important they’ll learn to write about themselves in the first person in a way that fits their identities and that earns the reader’s trust and (maybe) the reader’s affection. We’ll begin by writing brief sketches, move on to story telling and the shaping of narrative, and learn to tune prose until we’ve got the right personal tone. We’ll also do a lot of reading: we’ll read selection from some classic travel writers who have visited our destinations, such a Ralph Waldo Emerson on England (English Traits) Samuel Johnson on Scotland (Tour of the Hebrides) and Mary Wolestonecraft on Scandinavia (A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.) But our main focus will be on contemporaries, in particular the modern master of travel writing, Paul Theroux. Final project: every student will complete a travel essay of about four thousand words with the aim of submitting it to a travel magazine or a travel web site.

Field Work

Country: Russia
Day: 1 - St. Petersburg - Thursday, 24 July

We will read Gogol’s great story about Nevsky Prospect and a selection of poems by Anna Akhmatova and her contemporaries.  The field lab will include writing-in-place as we walk up Nevsky Prospect itself; lunch between St. Peter's Square and Akhmatova's home on Liteiny Prospect; a visit to the museum and to Josef Brodsky's apartment directly below it; and time to write in the courtyard outside the house museum.  We will try to write accounts of the site in its modern form inspired by Gogol and Akhmatova—and maybe competing with them.   Academic objectives: 1.  To read Gogol's "Nevsky Prospect" as an introduction to this historic St. Petersburg thoroughfare and study the way a writer engages place. 2.  To read the poems and biographical notes of Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Lili Brik, and Josef Brodsky. 3.  To visit the museum dedicated to Akhmatova in her former apartment, in which she gave shelter to Mandelstam, and below which Brodsky lived before emigrating to the United States. 4.  To write a contemporary account of Nevsky Prospect. 5.  To become more accurate, perceptive, enjoyable describers of place. 6. To frame a feature length travel piece about Russia with our reflections on Nevsky Prospect.