Category Archives: not poetry

Not Poetry: David Foster Wallace’s Syllabus

English 102 – Literary Analysis 1: Prose Fiction

UT-Austin houses the archives of author and teacher David Foster Wallace. They’ve made public some of his teaching materials from Illinois State University, including a syllabus and marked up copies of the texts he taught. The files are a bit small so it’s a little difficult to read, but I love the conversational tone of the syllabus – far more interesting than any syllabus I ever read or composed myself. There are a number of interesting lines. I’m struck by the emphasis on reading each text twice, “All reading assignments are two for one”. Perhaps my favorite: “Handwritten corrections on typed work (stuffed crossed out, added, words respelled) are not only accepted but encouraged, since they’re usually signs of sedulous proofreading. Better right than neat (as long as its readable).” If I were to go back into teaching I would have to at least try that rule out to see what results it brought.

Link courtesy of Open Culture where Josh Jones provides some of his thoughts on the materials.

Not Poetry: Kurt Vonnegut term paper assignment

An excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut’s term paper assignment to his students in 1965. Read the full version at Slate:

I invite you to read the fifteen tales in Masters of the Modern Short Story (W. Havighurst, editor, 1955, Harcourt, Brace, $14.95 in paperback). Read them for pleasure and satisfaction, beginning each as though, only seven minutes before, you had swallowed two ounces of very good booze. “Except ye be as little children …”

Then reproduce on a single sheet of clean, white paper the table of contents of the book, omitting the page numbers, and substituting for each number a grade from A to F. The grades should be childishly selfish and impudent measures of your own joy or lack of it. I don’t care what grades you give. I do insist that you like some stories better than others.

Do not do so as an academic critic, nor as a person drunk on art, nor as a barbarian in the literary market place. Do so as a sensitive person who has a few practical hunches about how stories can succeed or fail. Praise or damn as you please, but do so rather flatly, pragmatically, with cunning attention to annoying or gratifying details. Be yourself. Be unique. Be a good editor. The Universe needs more good editors, God knows.