English 143N

Prose Nonfiction: Traveling, Thinking, Writing

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2016 Giscombe, Cecil S.
TTh 9:30-11 259 Dwinelle

Book List

Harris, Eddy: Mississippi Solo; McCarthy, Andrew: Best American Travel Writing 2015; Niemann, Linda : Boomer; Pyle, Robert Michael: Where Bigfoot Walks


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.

We’ll consider what “travel writing” might be.  We’ll read selections from the Best American Travel Writing series and from the Ian Duncan and Elizabeth Bohls anthology, Travel Writing: 1700-1830; but we’ll also read some unlikely travel narratives—Eddy Harris’s Mississippi Solo (the adventures of an African-American canoeist), Linda Niemann’s Boomer (her account of her life as a railroad brakeman following the work through the west), and Robert Michael Pyle’s Where Bigfoot Walks (a lepidopterist’s inquiry into mythology and the ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest).

The writing vehicle will be, for the greatest part, the personal essay.  Philip Lopate (from The Art of the Personal Essay): “The essay form as a whole has long been associated with an experimental method.  The idea goes back to Montaigne and his endlessly suggestive use of the term essai for his writings.  To essay is to attempt, to test, to make a run at something without knowing whether you are going to succeed.”

We’ll write micro-essays, longer essays, and final prose projects.  (Cross-genre projects are welcome.)  We’ll also keep journals and work on one or two collaborative pieces.  We’ll workshop.

There will be one field trip—11-13 November, a long weekend.  (The 11th is Veterans Day, a university holiday.)  We’ll travel, as a gang of writers, to the interior of northern California—into the southern reaches of the Bigfoot country that Robert Michael Pyle has documented, a racially and economically contested and profoundly interesting space—and spend our days seeking visions and meeting the locals.  Class members may need to pay for a couple of nights’ lodging (off-season rates) in the north.

Only continuing UC Berkeley students are eligible to apply for this course. To be considered for admission, please electronically submit 5-10 double-spaced pages of your creative nonfiction (no poetry or academic writing) by clicking on the link below; fill out the application you'll find there and attach the writing sample as a Word document or .rtf file. The deadline for completing this application process is midnight, THURSDAY, APRIL 28.

Also be sure to read the paragraph concerning creative writing courses on page 1 of the instructions area of this Announcement of Classes for further information regarding enrollment in such courses.

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