Writing in a Post-Gender World
Creative Writing 8215
Avi Sato (firstname.lastname@example.org)
We have been raised in a world of socialization and expectations, assumptions and performances. We have taken Shakespeare’s stage-as-life and made it a reality as we act out our gender identities, cultural backgrounds and walk a fine line between who we are and who the world expects us to be. That’s difficult enough but for those of us who create characters for a living, how are we to navigate a world of fluid genders, spectrums of queerness and a lifestyle that is intersectional between east and west, right and wrong and true and false? This course examines the creation of alternate realities for a contemporary readership, in particular a questioning, queer and queer-friendly audience — an audience that now encompasses a huge section, if not the majority, of young people and new adults in our society. What are the expectations and can we break them? What are the norms and what will be tomorrow’s?
We will be meeting twice a week for two hours each session. Mondays 10.00-12.00 will be a seminar block and Wednesdays 15.00-17.00 will be a workshop. This will be supplemented by optional but recommended evening informal discussion sessions with guest speakers several times during the term and the dates and times for these will be distributed in advance.
This course focuses on you achieving the following. By the end of this course, you should be able to…
- understand the relationship between sex and gender as it applies to fiction, society and audience.
- create fiction and non-fiction prose relevant to the sensibilities of a queer and queer-accepting audience.
- write from the perspective of characters both members of and participants within the queer community and from an external perspective with an understanding of related social dynamics.
- understand the role of gender, sexuality and personal identity in narrative and character creation and apply that understanding to your own work.
- work in a collaborative commentary environment where you give and receive criticism and specific suggestions.
- use critical approaches to analyzing your own work and that of others for mutual benefit.
- edit large volumes of your own and others’ work effectively and efficiently.
- understand the compositional style and form used in a variety of writing techniques and apply those to your own work as needed.
During the course, you will be able to demonstrate…
- mastery of editing and compositional technique in a variety of contemporary writing forms.
- creative reflection on given situations and improvised prompts.
- adaptation of your work to achieve expectations as given by an instructor and/or other students.
- understanding of the relationship between form and content in various cultures as to how they address gender, sexuality and identity.
- cooperation within a group-editing situation.
- self-directed and self-motivated working under short-term deadline and iterative workflow requirements.
This is a mixed-methodology course with half its in-class time in a seminar style and the other half in a workshop style. This means that you will be responsible for participation in seminars and, in addition to that, presentation and commentary in workshop settings. The presentation of draft work is a necessity in these situations and criticism will be forthcoming both from me and the other students on an ongoing basis, both in-class and online. Relevant discussion is encouraged but it is expected that you will be mindful of the emotional effect of your words.
There is no assigned textbook for this course and it is predominantly a course in creation of new material. Individual excerpts to be studied in some of the seminar classes will be distributed as needed.
- 15% Cultural Journal
(due Friday of week 12)
- 25% Bi-weekly Submissions
(due Friday of weeks 2, 4, 6, 8, 10)
- 5% Shared Commentaries
(due before Thursday class of week following submission each week)
- 15% Interior Monologue Assignment
(due Friday of week 12)
- 40% Short Story Portfolio
(due Friday of week 12)
- You are expected to keep a cultural reflection journal throughout this course. The minimum requirement for this is three entries per week, a minimum length of four hundred words per entry. You are encouraged to complete these on a daily basis but, as there is no way to check that this is being done, you are welcome to write as many of these at a time as you desire. As the course extends for twelve weeks, this works out to be a minimum of 36 entries and 14k words. While absolutely daily entries are not a requirement for an excellent grade on this assignment, you are encouraged to write thoroughly thought-out, short pieces often rather than longer pieces that attempt to do more than tackle a single idea. Examples of these entries will be provided throughout the semester but a loose guideline is to write either a commentary on a piece of writing within the sphere of queer literature or theory that you have read (no more than 25% of the total entries may be commentary) or to compose a piece of your own. You are welcome to write thoughts and comments about your own work. I encourage you to take this opportunity to explore literature from outside the cultural spheres you usually inhabit, regardless of what those spheres are — if your typical reading is in the western world, please consider reading Indian, Chinese and Japanese literature, for example, to draw cultural comparisons, while if your focus has been east-Asian literature, American, Arab and Jewish literature may be a new place to explore the cultural differences within the new and expanding queer canon. No matter what length this works out to be or how many entries, I will be happy to read it completely and offer suggestions on anything you submit. You are welcome to submit this assignment as often as you like for ongoing commentary and suggestions rather than waiting until the last day to send it for the first time. Frequent and repeated submission of the work is optional but highly encouraged.
- You are required to submit a single short story for sharing, discussion, public reading and commentary every two weeks. These may be following the themes and ideas discussed in the Monday sessions or completely of your own choosing. It is encouraged that you attempt to apply what has been discussed that week but you are free to write how you wish. These are to be submitted no later than 23.59 Friday of weeks 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 to the online forum. Minimum 500 words, no maximum but please keep in mind that other students will be reading and commenting on your work and it may be unkind to make them read more than 3500 words. Remember, everyone in the course will be reading everyone else’s submissions but not commenting on them. It will be your choice whose work you comment on and either work that is not sufficiently thought-provoking, polished or concise will not likely be selected by others and you will not benefit as thoroughly from their attention. I will be giving comments and suggestions on all submissions. You are encouraged to submit these as early as possible on the weeks indicated as it gives others a longer window to send comments and suggestions and that, in turn, allows you to make improvements to your work before in-class discussions take place. These will be reviewed and commented on with suggestions at the time but you are expected to update and improve your work throughout the semester. Whichever version is the latest by the last day of the semester will be the version that will be assigned a final grade. A running grade will be assigned with each submitted revision and there is no limit to how many times this may be changed.
- Commentaries on five other students’ work are to be submitted each two-week period before class on Wednesday of weeks 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11. These do not need to be long (minimum 200 word commentary plus any helpful suggestions you feel you can make). You will be graded on how constructive and helpful these comments are. Please note that telling others that their work is exceptionally good (or bad) is unhelpful and will be graded no higher than submitting no work at all. Be brief and concise with your suggestions, specific words and phrases. If there is a particular piece that you would like more comments on, I am happy to arrange with other students an exchange where you comment on their work and they comment on yours. Otherwise and in general, you may select any work submitted for that week. There is no limit to how many pieces you can comment on but a minimum of three per week, not fifteen total, will be graded. This means that if you comment on ten this week, you still need to comment on three every other week but your grade will be increased if you have provided more help by commenting on more than the minimum. As always, extra initiative will be rewarded and extra effort will result in better results for all concerned.
- Throughout the semester, we will be looking at different cultures and approaches to queer literature. Each of these will have its own distinct voice for its characters (and often for its narrators), many of which will be told from an interior monologue perspective. This assignment is to write a short piece (minimum 2000 words) including the use of interior monologue to explore the thoughts and actions of a character. While it is not necessary that this character be a member of the queer community, it is intended that the piece itself be relevant to those issues that we have been addressing in this course. As this is an ongoing project, you are welcome to submit it in pieces or complete starting at any point during the semester. You are encouraged to do this early and often as there is no limit to the number of submissions and you will receive suggestions and an ongoing grade each time you offer it as partially complete. The final edition submitted by the last day of the semester will be your final grade on the assignment.
- You are required to submit as your final project a small collection of short stories. While there is no specific number of stories that this is to include but I recommend a minimum word count of 15k words. There is no maximum number of stories or words and the minimum is suggested rather than required but if you wish to submit either a very small or large number, I would highly recommend you speak to me first about your submission and to do so early in the semester so you are not surprised by the decision. This project may also be submitted in pieces as many times as you like during the semester for ongoing grades, suggestions and comments. Your final grade on this project will be the one applied to the last-submitted version on the last day of the semester. (Previous submissions receiving excellent marks have been approximately 10k-25k words and stories range from flash-fiction, 500-1000 words, to a single piece closer to a novella, more than 10k words.)
It is general practice to provide this in chronological order and this will be done in that way, to an extent. I mention this, though, because seminar classes will be outlined first, followed by workshops. I believe this makes it clearer but please be aware that there are, in fact, two simultaneous lists that follow.
Please note that all the readings will be provided electronically at least one week before the class discussing them (with the exception of the first two weeks for obvious reasons) and you will be expected to have them with you either on screen or, if necessary, on paper in class.
Each seminar will address a different theoretical or practical application to investigating the boundary between mainstream and queer society in writing. It will begin with a short introduction to the topic (15-20 minutes) followed by a more in-depth discussion (30-40 minutes), focused particularly on the italicized questions in this seminar list, bringing us to the halfway point. The next 30 minutes will be an exercise, either in small groups or individually to create a short segment of a piece of writing. The last 30 minutes will be devoted to sharing, discussing and analyzing these pieces as a group and final questions. These time periods, of course, are flexible and approximate.
This class will be an introduction to three things — the correlation between societal perspective and writing, the nature of queer theory and its brief history and the state of various contemporary societies and their contributions to the queer fiction canon. You will also be given this syllabus in this class and we will end slightly earlier than usual so you can thoroughly read it and ask any questions individually that you may have on first reflection on the materials. This is also the point at which you will be asked to provide a contact email to receive an electronic copy of this, ongoing class notes and the examples for the remainder of the course. This does not need to be your primary email but you will need to check it throughout the semester to access electronic work and to receive electronic suggestions and comments on your work. You may certainly request to have this in hard copy but it will be more quickly available electronically, if that is possible. I am happy to supplement the examples here with work from my own publications but I certainly do not presume to use these as teaching tools. If this is something that you would like to have added to your weekly examples, I invite you to let me know.
- Is queer society really separate from mainstream society?
- Can you write for an audience you’re not part of from the perspective of characters whose lives you don’t live?
- What does theory really mean when it comes to putting words on screen?
- Excerpt from High School, Tegan Quin & Sara Quin
- Excerpt from When they Call you a Terrorist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandelle
As a precursor to looking at social gender and nonconformity/nonbinary identity in culture, these two classes will be an exploration of how sexuality is represented in literature and how we can take those existing works to form a basis for our own writing. This will include homosexuality vs heterosexuality, the spectrum of sexual attraction and bisexuality.
- Who are we writing for?
- Is cultural appropriation a concern within queer lit?
- Are there really any valid binary divisions anymore?
- Excerpt from On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
- Excerpt from The Queen of America Goes to Washington City, Laura Berlant
- Excerpt from Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, Samuel Delany
These classes will explore a wider cultural implication of queer literature and its intersection with mainstream readers — by wider in this instance, I particularly mean outside the traditional domain of power and politics in the west. We will be looking at how race and cultural background are and can be reflected in characters and authors as a way to challenge the dominant assumption of “the token gay character” and similar notions.
- How can we avoid tokenism/orientalism in our writing?
- What does it mean to challenge without being disrespectful or propagating/exacerbating problems with our work?
- Is it ok/necessary to preach to the choir on queer issues?
- Excerpt from Nobody is Supposed to Know — Black Sexuality on the Down Low, Riley Snorton
- Excerpt from Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures and Other Latina Longings, Juana María Rodríguez
- Excerpt from Disoriental, Négar Djavadi
This class will be an exploration of the gender spectrum and how characters/narrators/authors may not fit completely into the assumed binary extremes — and, just as importantly, how that is reflected in the writing that is produced, not just as people to be understood and seen as different but part of a cohesive and coherent narrative.
- Where does the assumption/expectation of binary gender come from?
- Is any character truly an extreme? Should they ever be?
- How can we create gender nuance in our writing?
- “Adolescence”, Gabrielle Owen
- “Imagining Transgender”, David Valentine
These classes will look at how to work within the framework of long-fiction/novel writing to sustain fully-developed characters who identify as queer — we will start in the first class looking at single voices (narration, interior monologue), progress in the second to multiple characters and in the third look at multiple-perspective narration.
- What is so special about the queer perspective?
- How do we create authentic, non-mainstream voices?
- How does a person think when their thinking fights against their learned reality?
- How do characters interact differently when they don’t follow society’s rules?
- Is rebellion necessarily obvious?
- How do we avoid token characters in long-fiction?
- Is it necessary to be explicit about queer characters, especially when inside their heads?
- Is it enough to be an individual?
- “Child”, Tey Meadows
- “Sissies at the Picnic”, Samuel Delany
- “Growing Sideways”, Kathryn Bond Stockton
- Excerpt from More Happy than Not, Adam Silvera
- “The Future is Kid Stuff”, Lee Edelman
- Excerpt from Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan
- Excerpt from When the Moon was Ours, Anna-Marie Mclemore
- Excerpt from Nobody Passes, Matt Bernstein Sycamore
- Excerpt from Patsy, Nicole Dennis-Ben
- “The Empire Strikes Back — A Posttranssexual Manifesto”, Sandy Stone
These classes will look more seriously at the practice of planning character development and how that relates to the development of plot and the use of language. We will also be looking, in the second class, at the differences between different social groups in terms of their dialogue styles.
- How can we tell a story over time?
- Is linear structure relevant in a non-mainstream cultural work?
- Does literature have to be experimental in form to be experimental in content?
- Can you tell I’m queer by how I speak?
- Can you write mainstream literature with queer characters and ideas? How?
- Are we writing for society or for our readers? Is there a difference?
- Excerpts from Speak No Evil, Uzodinma Iweala
- Selections from The Stonewall Reader
This class will be an exploration of the implications of the work that has been produced in the workshops this term so there are no external readings or questions. We will spend the last half hour talking about what has struck each of us during the term that is new or different from what we expected out of queer literature.
The workshops are generally based on the seminars for the same week and this is more of an expansion on those expectations.
The first week’s workshop will focus on planning for character creation and background information for setting.
This workshop will be a series of creative exercises on stream of consciousness and interior monologue to define and explore sexuality in characters.
The third week will explore how to write attraction and intimacy in non-mainstream characters.
In this workshop, we will tackle both subtle and overt confrontation between queer characters and non-accepting worldviews.
This workshop will be a set of exercises approaching how queer characters deal with secrecy and, on the other side of that coin, overt discussions that no longer need to focus on sexuality/gender as their content but are influenced by it. This is the first workshop where we will more thoroughly explore the notion of writing queer literature that doesn’t specifically deal with queer issues.
In this week’s session, we will look at writing from the perspective of young queer/questioning characters.
Continuing from last week, we will use this workshop to explore the differences between writing within the queer literature space for adults and for young adults.
This week’s workshop will focus on long-fiction planning and selecting details.
As a continuation of week eight’s workshop, this week will look at how to legitimately include issues you care about without treating characters as tokens or orientalist objects, fully developing them without necessarily focusing on their non-mainstream characteristics — we can think of this as the “walking-the-tightrope” workshop.
The tenth workshop will look at how to break the mold of mainstream literature and create writing styles and organizational structures that are unexpected — and how to work with them to create something that people might actually want to read, not just be surprised by.
Continuing from week ten, we will go back to the mainstream platform for long-fiction writing and look at how to work within the expected norms of storytelling and narrative structure to better integrate queer ideas into non-revolutionary literary expectations.
The final workshop will be about discussing, sharing and looking at our goals for the future as to our writing and coming together to expand on those ideas.
This document was last updated on 2020.3.6 and corresponds to the Winter 2020 semester version of this course. For earlier course outlines, please get in touch directly as only the most recent version will be displayed here to avoid potential confusion.