English 143N

Prose Nonfiction: Traveling, Thinking, Writing

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2009 Giscombe, Cecil S.
Giscombe, Cecil
TTh 2-3:30 305 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Students should come to class before buying books. The list below is tentative. But, that said, it will likely include some of the following: Basho’s Back Roads to Far Towns (translated by Cid Corman); Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; Tete- Michel Kpomassie’s An African in Greenland; Joanne Kyger’s Strange Big Moon; Eddy Harris’s Mississippi Solo; Linda Niemann’s Boomer; Robert Michael Pyle’s Where Bigfoot Walks. We’ll also read excerpts from Travel Writing: 1700-1830 (Ian Duncan and Elizabeth Bohls); Stranger in the Village: Two Centuries of African-American Travel Writing (Farrah Griffin and Cheryl Fish); and items from the popular press.


Much of American literature has had to do with a sense of motion. Note the journeys, e.g., in the best known texts of Melville and Twain. But note also that Harlemite Langston Hughes’ autobiography, The Big Sea, begins on a boat and details his adventures in Europe and Africa; Canadian writer Gladys Hindmarch takes on Melville with her Watery Part of the World and Zora Neale Hurston travels to Haiti in Tell My Horse and through the American south in Mules and Men. 

The point of this course is multiple and full of inquiry.

familiar question, “Is this trip necessary?”, is joined to “What makes this trip important enough to 

Another field is the role of Americans and/ or Westerners—“subjectivity” in the vernacular—as travelers in the world. (I’d note that the world is both within and beyond our national boundaries.) What things are we heir to? What are our responsibilities and blindnesses? What’s the relation between the imperial West (of Conrad’s writing) and our current situation? The point in this—and any writing—is to write consciously and to be mindful of the political import of our writing. 

A third field is the defining of the relation between travel and place (and imagination). Place is “hot” 
right now, as a topic. What are the elements of the sentimental here and what assumptions?

Workshop. Discussions. Reading. Writing assignments. Field trips. The writing vehicle will be, for the greatest part, the personal essay (with some forays outward into hybrid prose/ poetry forms).

To be considered for admission to this class, please submit 5-10 photocopied pages of your creative nonfiction (no poetry or academic writing), along with an application form, to Professor Giscombe's mailbox in 322 Wheeler, by 4:00 P.M., TUESDAY, APRIL 21, AT THE LATEST.

Be sure to read the paragraph concerning creative writing courses on page 1 of this Announcement of Classes for further information regarding enrollment in such courses!

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