Place in Fiction

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Characters are not disembodied spirits. They need a place to live. With student stories serving as our basic text, and also drawing from a varied reading list, we will explore the multiple uses of place in fiction and how it can serve to define characters, advance story, and illuminate theme. We will consider questions such as why does a story happen here rather than there—say, in Richard Yates’s suburbia, ZZ Packer’s Atlanta, Jose Donoso’s Buenos Aires or Chile, Nadine Gordimer’s South Africa, Katherine Anne Porter’s Texas, Junot Diaz’s inner city, or Denis Johnson’s highways and roads. Each region—its landscape, its history, its culture—has its own set of values and associations. Changes of scene—from country to country and even from room to room—can also reflect shifts in a character’s state of mind. What does it mean, for example, for a character to be—or to feel—“out of place” or “at home”? What does it mean for a character to know—or, as is often the case, not know—his or her place? What, then, does exile mean? Or homelessness? We will consider these and other issues as they relate to each student story. Short exercises will be assigned. Supplementary readings will include selected novels, short stories, and essays. Students will be expected to participate actively in class discussion. There will also be an opportunity to raise broader questions about the challenges of the writing experience and to share insights.