There are only two plots in all of literature, claimed the late John Gardner: the story of a journey, and of a stranger coming to town. Most travel literature is both: the story of a journey as well as a tale of a stranger, stepping into an alien land. This course is an introduction to the craft of travel writing, with a focus on the techniques by which writers capture the essential qualities of a place. Students will survey a wide range of works, from long-form “place” essays to destination articles, by travel writers such as Paul Theroux, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Jan Morris, and Pico Iyer. Students will take advantage of their geographic mobility throughout the course, gathering fresh material at our diverse ports of call, and submitting these stories and articles for peer review in workshop.
Field ClassCountry: China
Day: 1 - Shanghai - Tuesday, 03 February
Marketplaces—whether tidy or chaotic, dusty or gleaming—are prime portholes into foreign cultures. At the marketplace, the writer can play anthropologist, observing the convergence of peoples and rituals of interaction. But the writer’s main challenge is to describe. Specific sensory detail is the essence, and for this reason, our field lab activities put a strong emphasis on note-taking: how to bring keen and constant attention to the many dimensions of a crowded scene. Writers will spend the day navigating the Tongchuan Lu market in Shanghai. Each writer’s primary task is lend close attention to external stimuli, observing not only the array of detail in the marketplace, but the sensations and stirrings in themselves, as this, too, is story material. Partway through their reporting journeys, each student will pause and evaluate their gathered material to identify themes and further focus their reportage for the remainder of the field lab excursion. Academic Objectives: 1. Students will learn best practices as note-takers and strengthen their observational powers. 2. Students will challenge their notions of specificity, pushing all descriptions further in the direction of the specific. 3. Students will bring honing their focus and identifying themes and potential narrative pathways. 4. Students will write with immediacy, turning their raw material into narrative.