English 143N

Prose Nonfiction: Travel and Place

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2021 Giscombe, Cecil S.
MW 5-6:30


“Traveling, Thinking, Writing.”

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 
celebrate?” Another field is the role of Americans and/ or Westerners as travelers in the world.  What things are we heir to?  What gifts do we bring?  And what kinds of ignorance?  What’s the relation between the imperial West 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 still “hot,” as a topic.  What are the elements of the sentimental here and what assumptions?

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

Texts: Best American Travel Writing 2020, edited by Robert Macfarlane; Eddy Harris’s Mississippi Solo; excerpts from Linda Niemann’s Boomer; excerpts from Basho’s Back Roads to Far Towns (translated by Cid Corman).

Only continuing, upper-division UC Berkeley students are eligible to apply for this course. To be considered for admission, please electronically submit 5-7 pages of your nonfiction 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 deadine for completing this application process is 11 PM, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 29.

Applicants will be informed, by email, of the results of their applications by Tuesday, November 24

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