Sophomore Seminars

Writing Mystical, Spiritual, and Altered Experiences


Because mystical, spiritual, and altered states of experience have always been a part of human life, we’ve always been trying to write about them. While some try to claim these subjects are frivolous, dated, or even dangerous, writers keep coming back to them, including some of the best writers of our time. Lucky for us, the results have been exhilarating! In this workshop class, we will read and discuss a range of writers and forms to understand how these ancient subjects are handled in the contemporary context, including works by journalists Michael Pollan and Jia Tolentino, scientists Robin Wall Kimmerer and Oliver Sacks, fiction writers Denis Johnson and Hillary Mantel, and poets Max Ritvo and Christopher Wiman. Most importantly, we will write and workshop our own literary works of questioning, exploration, and awe.

Meet the Instructor(s)

William Brewer

"I am a Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stanford. Previously I was a Wallace Stegner Fellow. I am the author of I Know Your Kind, a winner of the National Poetry Series, and Oxyana, selected for the Poetry Society of America's 30 and Under Chapbook Fellowship. My work has appeared in American Poetry Review, The Nation, New England Review, The New Yorker, A Public Space, The Sewanee Review, and other journals. I also write fiction and am finishing a novel. In all of my work, I’m interested in exploring the edges of our experience, moments when normative states of consciousness, language, and culture break down--what I sometimes call "encounters with the mystery." I believe literature is especially adept at capturing, and even replicating, these experiences, and that learning how to write them ourselves can be deeply enlivening, rewarding, and even enlightening."