- 5 June to 14 July 2023
- Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
“Writing about London” is a course with elements of seminar, lecture, and workshop in which students explore the city in four ways: reading about London, in a variety of genres; writing about London, with an emphasis on craft; visiting London sites; and getting to know one Londoner with an interesting occupation.
We’ll ask such questions as:
- Can a place be presented not only as setting but as character? If so, in different works, what kind of character is London (hero, lover, villain, annoying relative)?
- As writers, how can we create atmosphere?
- How can multisensory description bring the reader into our experience?
- What does our relationship with a place say about us?
In the first half of the course, students will work on short personal essays about their experience of London. Then, because the best way to get to know a place is through the people who live and work there, the second half of the course will be devoted to choosing and profiling a Londoner found in the online Yellow Pages (Yell.com) – for instance, the owner of a kebab shop, a seller of second-hand books, or a hydrographic surveyor of the River Thames. Students will critique and support each other’s writing.
Rebecca Solnit has written “A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities.” Students will select from that repository in some of their writing. Walking will also lie at the center of our outings – some undertaken as a class and some individually – to Westminster Bridge and Abbey, Hampstead Heath and Kew Gardens. During each site visit, students will keep a "Ten Things Journal": an informal list of ten things they’ve noticed (ranging from architecture to weather to overheard conversations to smells).
Our readings will include fiction, non-fiction and poetry. John Betjeman, Ferdinand Dennis, Albino Ochero-Okello, George Orwell, Sylvia Plath, Sukhdev Sandhu, Zadie Smith, and Virginia Woolf will be among our authors.