Paris Then and Now: Circles of Influence

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  • Students at Reid Hall, Paris
Students at Reid Hall, Paris
School of the Arts

CREA S4300
Paris Then and Now: Circles of Influence
July 3-30, 2011
Instructors: Stacy D’Erasmo and Amy Benson

Paris is a seminar, a post-graduate course in Everything. 
-- James Thurber (1918)

Course Description:
Come write, study, and explore the literary life in Paris this summer. The Creative Writing Program at Columbia University School of the Arts is pleased to announce its first summer course at Reid Hall, Paris Then and Now: Circles of Influence, July 3-30, 2011. During this intensive month-long program, creative writing students will focus on the mutual influences among French and English-speaking writers from Modernism to the present moment while writing their own fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, inspired by this storied cultural capital and one of the most important literary traditions in history. 

Taught by Stacey D’Erasmo and Amy Benson, this special course consists of both a writing workshop and a cross-genre seminar exploring the extremely robust artistic traffic in and through Paris in the last century. In the seminar section of the course, we will take a look at the moderns, the writers of Negritude, the groundbreaking nouveau romanistes, and some of the many writers who have used Paris as setting and inspiration. In the workshop section of the course, we will discuss students’ fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, and explore how individual work transforms under the Parisian influence.

In addition to the core seminar and workshop, we will arrange special guest lectures by prominent writers and scholars; talks by French editors, agents, translators, and writers; study groups that discuss the influence of film, music, and visual media on literature; and a weekly writers salon. We will also experience firsthand the contemporary literary scene in Paris, attending readings and other cultural events as time permits.

Join us for an Information Session on Wednesday, December 8 at 6 pm in Dodge Hall, Room 413. Please come meet the instructors and find out more about this rare opportunity to study and write in Paris.

Course components:
Reading Seminar:

An intensive study of the mutual influences among French and English-speaking writers from modernism to the present day, focusing on Paris as the site for extraordinary literary exchanges. We will examine the cross-pollination within and among four major groupings—modernists, negritude, the nouveau roman, and the use of Paris as setting and site.  

Writing Workshop:
A weekly roundtable discussion of student fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. For their final portfolios, students will be required to produce creative work that makes use of the influences they’ve experienced during their time at Reid Hall.

Formal Study Group:
As complement to the seminar, the study group examines interdisciplinary artistic influence. Students will be asked to create a literary work influenced by a different artistic medium. 

Individual Student Conferences:
Benson and D’Erasmo will meet with students to discuss their portfolios, their progress in their reading, and any concerns they might have.

Guest Lectures and Readings:
Guest lectures will focus on major currents in contemporary French literature. Writers, editors, artists, and translators working in Paris now will read and discuss their work.  

Literary Events in Paris:
As scheduling permits, we will attend readings, panels, lectures and other literary events taking place in the city.

Literary Salon:
An open forum for reading and performance—students, faculty, and any visitor who cares to contribute will offer their work.  

Prospective Weekly Schedule:

10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.            Reading Seminar
2:00 – 4:00 p.m.                        Guest Lectures & Readings

2:00 – 3:30 p.m.                        Formal Study Group
5:00 – 7:00 p.m.                        Guest Lectures & Readings

10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.            Writing Workshop
7:00 – 9:00 p.m.                        Literary Events in Paris TBD

2:00 – 2:30 p.m.                        Formal Study Group
4:00 – 5:00 p.m.                        Independent Student Conferences

2:00 – 3:30 p.m.                        Formal Study Group
3:00 – 5:00 p.m.                        Guest Lectures & Readings
6:30 – 8:00 p.m.                        Reid Hall Salon

Sample Readings (subject to change):
Week 1:

Janet Flanner, Jacques Romain, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes

Week 2:
Tyler Stovall, Aime Cesaire, Paulette Nardall, Claude McKay

Week 3:
Nouveau Romanistes
Marguerite Duras, Nathalie Sarraute, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Louise Aragon

Week 4:
Where is Paris?
Abdourahman Waberi, Paul La Farge/Paul Poissel, Richard Howard, Charles Baudelaire, Jacques Prevert, Calum Storrie, Julien Green

Note: Texts will either be in English or available in English translation.


Amy Benson
received a BS in biology from Bowling Green State University and an MFA from the University of Alabama. Her book The Sparkling-Eyed Boy (Houghton Mifflin 2004) was chosen by Ted Conover as the 2003 Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize winner in creative nonfiction, sponsored by Bread Loaf Writer's Conference. She has received fellowships from Bread Loaf and Ledig House International Writers Residency. Her poetry and prose has appeared in journals such as Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Quarterly West, Pleiades, New Orleans Review, Connecticut Review, Sonora Review, and River Styx.

Stacey D’Erasmo is the author of the novels Tea, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; A Seahorse Year, which was named a Best Book of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle and Newsday; and The Sky Below, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a Los Angeles Times Favorite Book of the Year. She is the recipient of a 2009 Guggenheim  Fellowship in Fiction. Her essays, features, and reviews have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The Boston Review, Bookforum, and Ploughshares, among other publications. In the spring of 2011, she will be in residence at the American Academy in Rome as the 2010-11 Sovern/Columbia Affiliated Fellow.

Students will stay in dorm-style accommodations in close proximity to Reid Hall, in Paris' Montparnasse neighborhood (14th or 15th arrondissements). Detailed information will be published in January.

Reid Hall:
The program is based at Reid Hall, Columbia University's campus in Paris. For over a century, its long and distinguished past of intellectual, artistic, and cultural exchange has earned it a significant place in the relationship between France and the United States. Currently, Reid Hall also serves as an educational center for many American universities and for scholars from around the world and it hosts hundreds of events annually including lectures, film screenings, art exhibits, concerts, and conferences.

Reid Hall is located on the Left Bank in the lively Montparnasse (6th arrondissement) within walking distance of the Luxembourg Gardens as well as the Latin Quarter and various branches of the University of Paris. The grounds of Reid Hall include a beautiful private interior courtyard and gardens, a small reference library, a computer room, classrooms, two large conference rooms, and administrative offices. Reid Hall is open seven days a week and has a wireless network.

Course Requirements:
Students will be expected to attend all classes and events and to complete a workshop portfolio, a writing project for the seminar, and creative project for the interdisciplinary study group.

Creative Writing Credit (for Creative Writing Majors):
The course will provide four (4) Creative Writing credits. It will count as one of the Creative Writing major's four required 3-credit seminars or as one of the three required 3-credit “related courses.” The one remaining credit may be combined with two other credits--for example, from a one-credit independent study or a one-credit master class--and count as a “related course." Distribution of the credits will be determined in conference with the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Creative Writing, Timothy Donnelly.

Course Eligibility:

  • Must be a currently enrolled Columbia/Barnard undergraduate or graduate student in good standing, or a current or recent Visiting student, with a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA.
  • Must have completed at least one semester of French or the equivalent.

Preference will be given to creative writing majors but it is also appropriate for students with a demonstrated interest in writing, translation, and/or French language and culture, with preference going to those who have completed at least one creative writing workshop.

The deadline for applications is March 1, 2011.
You must submit a writing sample (up to 20 pages for prose, 10 for poetry) and a few paragraphs describing your interest in the course. Applicants to the course will be notified of their admissions status by April 1, 2011.

Please visit the Office of Global Program's website to apply.

Summer 2011 Tuition and Fees
The list below is intended to summarize possible charges that could be incurred against a student's account. Certain charges depend upon specific circumstances, as noted.

Tuition                       $5,800
Transcript Fee*         $95
Withdrawal Fee***    $75

*One-time fee for Visiting Students only
**Required of any student who withdraws from program once registered

Estimated Expenses:
The estimated expenses below are NOT paid to the program. The figures below can be used to plan average meal and miscellaneous costs while in Paris. However, please remember that each person has individual spending habits and that you must decide for yourself how much to budget. Depending on your living arrangements and own spending habits, as well as the depreciating dollar, you may decide to bring more than what is listed below. Also remember that travel within France and Europe can further increase costs.

Round trip airfare NYC-Paris     $1,250
Meals                                         $600/month
Miscellaneous                            $700/month

If you have questions about the content of the course or your eligibility, please contact the course instructors, Amy Benson or Stacey D’Erasmo.

If you have general questions about your application or living in Paris, please contact the Office of Global Programs (212-854-2559, tel.)

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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.