Sophomore Seminars

Family Stories

ENGLISH 16Q

This is the time to believe in the necessity of our own stories and each other’s stories. As Margaret Atwood says, “a word after a word after a word is power.” What powers do we hold as we write our experiences? And how is listening to someone else’s writing a powerful and profound act? Though we’re physically apart, we’ll come together as a close community of writers, helping each other develop creative practices that are meaningful and steadying. This workshop is organized around the idea of family—and it is with our many definitions of this concept, as well as with our own memories, elisions, histories, questions, and uncertainties that we will begin. How does what we remember, and what we’ve been told, shape our personal narratives? What does family have to do with the construction of a self, and how can we investigate the self and its many contexts in writing? And, ultimately, how can the act of writing change us and sustain us in difficult times? The class will emphasize process over product, taking risks, and finding joy in writing as we consider the family and all of its implications. Students will have the opportunity to work in both poetry and prose, and to consider elements of craft essential to strong writing: how to turn the self into a speaker; how to create a world on paper; how to craft beautiful sentences and lines; how to find a form. Students will come away not only with a better understanding of their own stories and the many ways they might shape them in language, but with a sense of how to make writing a sustaining part of their daily lives.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Brittany Perham

"I am a Jones Lecturer in the Creative Writing Program, and a former Wallace Stegner Fellow. I am the author of Double Portrait (W.W. Norton, 2017), which was selected by Claudia Rankine for the Barnard Women Poets Prize and was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award; The Curiosities (Free Verse Editions, 2012); and, with Kim Addonizio, The Night Could Go in Either Direction (SHP, 2016), a collaborative chapbook that combines prose poems and pen-and-ink drawings. In my own work I am interested in the relationship between memory, obsession, and language; in musicality, repetition, and sonic patterning; and in hybrid forms, especially the intersection between writing and visual art. Before coming to Stanford in 2009, I taught literature and creative writing at James Madison University. I live in San Francisco."