English 143N

Prose Nonfiction

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2019 Giscombe, Cecil S.
M 3-6 186 Barrows

Book List

Harris, Eddy: Mississippi Solo; Nieman, Linda: Boomer; Strayed, Cheryl, ed.: Best American Travel Writing 2018

Other Readings and Media

Course Reader to include work by Elizabeth David, Michael Pollan, Philip Lopate, etc.


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 reailroad brakeman following the work through the west), cookbook author Elizabeth David's forays through France, etc.

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 wlecome.) We'll also keep journals and work on one or two collaborative pieces. We'll workshop.

There will be three or four field trips, trips in which we'll travel as a class, at least one of which will fill a day. Dates to be decided by discussion.

Only continuing UC Berkeley students are eligible to apply for this course. To be considered for admission, please electronically submit 5-7 pages of your non-fiction prose, 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 11 PM, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 25.

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