what I did with my June
As you know, Internet Bob, I spent most of June in North Carolina, teaching an intensive creative writing course on science fiction and fantasy. It was a splendid experience: the kids were really engaged, and bonded amazingly well with one another. There’s nothing better than teaching for a class where everybody wants to be there and supports one another.
Some people expressed an interest in seeing my syllabus for the course. I’m not going to upload the whole thing — it’s got a lot of extraneous detail — but I did want to talk about the readings, and the topics we covered in discussion.
With the readings, I made a very calculated decision not to go the route where you assign “classics of the genre.” Those classics are decades old, and almost exclusively written by white guys, with a cameo appearance by Le Guin; it was important to me that I show the kids a fresher and more diverse face of the genre. (I also thought at first that I could dodge the problem of getting permissions and paying for coursepack printing if I chose readings that were all readable for free online. This turned out not to be true, owing to the extremely limited availability of computers — but even so, it made getting the permissions much easier.) The oldest story in the pack was, I think, from 2004. Here’s the full list:
- “The Grammarian’s Five Daughters,” by Eleanor Arnason
- “The Jaguar House, in Shadow,” by Aliette de Bodard
- “Where Virtue Lives,” by Saladin Ahmed
- “On the Acquisition of Phoenix Eggs (Variant),” by Marissa Lingen
- “A Song of Sixpence,” by Alyc Helms (unrevised draft manuscript)
- “The Brides of Heaven,” by N.K. Jemisin
- “Movement,” by Nancy Fulda
- “Trickster,” by Mari Ness
- “Three Little Foxes,” by Richard Parks
- “The Sun’s Kiss,” by Yoon Ha Lee
- “Love, Cayce,” by Marie Brennan
As you can see, it ended up skewing heavily female — owing in part to the fact that in many cases here I was approaching friends and asking if we could use their stories. (My budget was extremely limited, and I figured friends were less likely to demand a $200 reprint fee. Plus, I know a lot of really amazing writers!) The textbooks for the course were Samuel R. Delany’s About Writing and The Jewel-Hinged Jaw, making Richard Parks the only white guy on the entire syllabus. 😛
Regarding topics, I spent the first week on the usual suspects: ideas, grammar and dialogue, setting and worldbuilding, character, point of view, conflict, plot. Week two started off with some basics about research, writing habits, critiquing, and revision, and then we had three days of “here, have every major social issue in condensed form” — sex, gender, and sexuality; race and ethnicity; economic class and privilege; disability (and super-ability); religion; and violence and its role in stories. Week three had a day devoted to in-class critique and then a grab-bag of practical topics: intellectual property and fanfiction, writing for other genres or other media, and how the publishing industry works.
As you can tell from that list, it was intense. Six hours of instruction a day, plus a seventh hour of evening study, in which they read or worked on their stories. And bear in mind that a number of my students had never even written a complete short story before! At least when you go to something like Clarion, you have some sense of what you’re in for and what you’re capable of. But as I told the parents in the final conferences, part of the point of TIP is to ask these kids to do more that they’re capable of — because that’s the way to find out just how far they can go. I’m ridiculously proud of the work they did and the amount their writing grew over those three weeks.
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