Teaching

A teacher, especially one whose primary subject is literature, is also a storyteller; the larger aim of my courses is to shape a story for each class that will pull students in as readers and draw them out as writers and thinkers, encouraging them to become the productive protagonists of their learning lives. I discovered the power of this pedagogy of narrative across a range of teaching environments, in three countries and at every level from primary school to university. And I developed this philosophy at Cornell, first through my training in active learning techniques at the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines and then through the hands-on experience of conceiving and teaching four first-year writing seminars. I begin by finding a narrative structure for the course as a whole, one that exploits the affinity between the students’ reading and their writing, and that allows each piece of their work to build towards a cumulative final project. As they explore the literature I have selected and master the forms of writing I assign, I want them above all to feel the value of their original work: to see how the interpretations they formulate, the skills they develop, and the words they compose will long outlast the class itself. The structure and spirit of my classes reflect my understanding of English as a discipline at once global in scope and forensic in attention. It teaches us how to think rigorously through the interaction of reading and writing, through analysis (of composition) and composition (of analysis). This process transforms private encounters with literature into public explorations. As a teacher, I focus on giving students forms to experiment with; the resulting stories are theirs.

Courses Taught

English 1111: Diaspora Voices

 

This seminar explores the global literary impact of diasporic voices. Tracking the English-language writings of the Jewish, African, and South Asian diasporas, we will encounter essayists from James Baldwin to Cynthia Ozick, fiction writers from Salman Rushdie to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, poets like Derek Walcott and M. NourbeSe Philip—plus a few filmmakers to boot. What does it mean to belong to a diaspora, a people scattered by history far from the “homeland”? Which forms of culture emerge from the experience of dispersion, discrimination, adaptation, and longing? What can learn from examining migration, and its creative energies, across a range of places and periods? You will investigate these questions and your own roots by keeping a reading journal, composing critical essays, using class as a writing workshop, and making a new intellectual home for yourself at university.

English 1158: Making a Magazine

(The New Yorker and 20th-Century Literature)

 

The New Yorker magazine has been making and showcasing great writers since 1925. In this seminar, it will be our guide to 20th and early 21st-century cultural life. How has this powerful magazine shaped literature, for good and for ill? Who finds an audience in our society? By what means and to what ends? We will read Alice Munro, Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, James Baldwin, Janet Malcolm, Pauline Kael, and other New Yorker stalwarts. What’s more, we will learn from the multiple genres the magazine contains: personal essays, short stories, investigative reporting, literary and film criticism. Students will sharpen their close reading, analytic writing, research skills—and produce their own magazines over the course of the semester.

English 1134: True Stories

 

True stories: the title of this course could be a contradiction. What makes a story true or false? Is truth equivalent to fact, are lies commensurate to fiction? Or is there something inherently falsifying in putting experience to paper, shaping life to make a narrative? And does invention, curiously enough, offer an alternative route to authenticity? There may be many kinds of true story—many avenues by which stories can reach truth. Together we will explore them. This is a class in which reading will fuel your writing. You will read across the varieties of nonfiction—taking on such authors as Alison Bechdel, James Baldwin, Zadie Smith, and Janet Malcolm—and write about them. The work of transforming your reading into writing will draw you from private encounters with literature into larger and longer conversations about the world literature comes from.

English 1170: Short Stories

 

This is a course for which writing is both the subject and the object. You will read short stories—the purest form of prose fiction—and write about them. In doing so, you will develop your skills of composition, revision, and research to college level, while also exploring a range of great creative and critical texts. Alice Munro, Vladimir Nabokov, Grace Paley, Frank O’Connor, Edwidge Danticat, Jorge Luis Borges, Lydia Davis: by the time December rolls around, you will be familiar with all of them. By concentrating on the form of the short story, we will find points of connection between your writing and the writing you read: how to begin, how to end, how to develop a series of ideas, how to structure a piece, how to incorporate other voices and perspectives into your work, what kinds of language to use and why? The abilities you develop will be both specific to English and adaptable to any other discipline of study that requires writing, research, and interpretation.