In our first few days of class, the creative writing students got to know one another and the town
that will be hosting them.
We began the course on Sunday evening with an essay from Jhumpa Lahiri. In the introduction
to her recently published anthology Italian Short Stories, Lahiri recounts the journey that led her
to discovering first Italy, then the Italian language, and ultimately Italian literature. We used this
as a jumping off point to discuss the students’ own hopes for their time in Italy, some of whom
had never before left the United States.
On Monday, we began our module on craft with lessons on very fundamental principles of
language and storytelling. We read essays on the difference between representation and the thing
being represented, on the nature of words, symbols and icons, and how these acquire meaning.
We spoke about the realm of experience vs. the realm of storytelling: how some events and
objects bring baggage with them when transferred into writing or other media, while others leave
a piece of their significance and meaning behind when stripped of their real-world contexts.
Translation and intercultural exchange were central topics in these conversations. We spoke
about the ways that language and culture can pressure or influence the ways we think and write.
Meanwhile, multilingualism, translation and travel emerged as keys to seeing and writing about
the world differently. To this end, we will read stories from both American and Italian authors
throughout our 3 week class, in the hopes of discovering the ways in which representation,
aesthetic and even genre can vary across different languages and cultures.
The town of Spoleto has been invaluable as a living text supporting our daily lessons. A walk
around the centro storico on Monday revealed a myriad of symbols and icons that collectively
make up the vocabulary of daily life in an Umbrian hilltop town. A trip to the park on Tuesday
made us question the very nature of something so simple as trees, and all of the ideas and
feelings that we subconsciously attach to them.
Today’s lesson centers on characters and characterization, and a claim from author Charles
Baxter that writing is really an art of match-making. To help practice this essential art, students
will return to town this afternoon to observe and record some of the characters that populate the
background of their daily life in Spoleto.
All the while, I’ve been asking students to brainstorm ideas and notes toward their eventual final
project. Students will begin drafting these projects in earnest next week, and I look forward to
seeing what they’ve come up with!