Some Annie Dillard Inspiration

As we prepare for our travels this Saturday, please be sure you’re reading AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD by Annie Dillard. Here’s a little inspiration to nudge you along:

If you haven’t already sent me your blog address, please do.

And here again are your reading-response questions for CHILDHOOD.

Answer on your blog: In what ways are Dillard’s childhood experiences similar to or different from your own? How does Dillard write about place?

And here’s one more question to consider: How is the Pittsburgh of Dillard’s childhood similar to or different from the Pittsburgh you know (or are getting to know)?

Strip District Follow Up (And Assignment Outline)

Dear Travelers: 

I hope you enjoyed our visit to the Strip District

Since we went a little over time, here is some information I would have given you back at our classroom basecamp. 

Assignments (due before our next class meeting):

  1. Set up your travel blog. Use any platform that feels good to you. I recommend WordPress, but if you have another platform you prefer, that’s fine. Try to give your blog a creative and easy-to-remember name. Think about how you might find a Pittsburgh-based niche for your blog, since Pittsburgh is a hot market right now and all of our travels will be based here. 
  • Make your first blog entries. You should post the following four things on your blogs:  a) An introduction to you– your bio note – and a sentence or two about your blog(what it is, what you’ll cover, what readers might expect to find there, etc.); b) Your coverage of our Strip District visit. This post can be a short (around 500 words) bit of journalism/reportage, a personal essay, a creative piece (a series of poems or a short story or some bits of flash fiction/nonfiction). Be sure to infuse your work with research. In other words, check out the history of the Strip, facts about the place(s) you’re writing about, any interesting details you can find, and weave these into your work.  MOON PITTSBURGH is a great resource for this; c)Photos. (Or video, if you shot that.) Visual elements are so important in travel writing, so be sure to illustrate your coverage of the Strip. Also, in your introduction, it’s always nice to include a photo/illustration of yourself so readers can connect with you; d) A separate entry about our assigned reading(See Syllabus for the list of questions).
  • When posting to your blog, be sure to self-edit your workand check for grammar, factual accuracy, etc. It’s helpful to write and edit in Word and then cut and paste into WordPress (though watch for any weird coding that might happen in the transition and delete it). It’s also helpful to have someone read over your work before you make it live. 
  • Once your blog is set up and ready to go, please send me the title and link. Send to: loj@pitt.edu. I will post your blog links to our main class site. 

Our next class:

We’ll be visiting the Maxo Vanka murals in Millvale. Do a little pre-trip research on the murals and Vanka’s work. Pre-trip research always makes for a more engaging experience on site. Again, MOON PITTSBURGH is helpful, but go beyond that whenever you can. 

Our tour is scheduled for 12:30, so we will leave just a bit after 11 a.m. Remember to come to class on time. I don’t want to lose anyone or leave anyone behind, though we will have to do that if you’re not here on schedule. 

We should, all things considered, be back in our classroom by 3 p.m., so we’ll have an hour to talk about your blogs and have a short lecture on what makes for good place-based writing. 

  • Note:  Our whole semester’s assignment schedule – including your required writing for your blogs, etc. — will be pretty much exactly this. We’ll travel, write, read, and repeat throughout the term. 

Looking forward to reading your work and seeing you soon! 

Best, lj

Reading/Response Schedule

Before January 26

Read: An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard

Answer on your blog: In what ways are Dillard’s childhood experiences similar to or different from your own? How does Dillard write about place?

Before February 9

Read: Mysteries of Pittsburgh, by Michael Chabon

Answer on your blog: Discuss the symbolism of the Cloud Factory, as it relates to Art’s experience, as well as Cleveland’s. Also — consider your own landscapes. What place from your childhood/adolescence is your own Cloud Factory? Describe it and explain its significance to you and your own place.

Before February 23

Read: Out of This Furnace, by Thomas Bell

Answer on your blog: Why did George Kacha decide to come to America? What happened when he arrived? What were the living and working conditions like in the steel mill towns? How does this relate to the early days of the labor union movement? Why did Dobie move to Detroit and then return to Pennsylvania? How and why did Dobie become involved in union activities? What problems did Dobie face because of his involvement with the unions? How does Pittsburgh’s history with unions play out in our times now?

Before March 9

Read: The Pittsburgh Stories, by Willa Cather

Read: The Trolleyman, by Bob Pajich

Answer on your blog: Regarding “Paul’s Case” — How are the story’s themes—a working-class parent unable to understand and support a son’s love of the arts; the class tension between Paul and the cultured, upper-class patrons where he ushers at the Carnegie; and his acceptance by actors in Downtown Pittsburgh—universal and yet the setting and nuance clearly Pittsburgh?

Regarding “The Trolleyman” — How does Pajich write working-class Pittsburgh? What kind of place makes up the landscape of these poems? What is familiar — and unfamiliar — about the place he recreates here?

Before March 23

Read: Fences, by August Wilson

Answer on your blog: Discuss the significance of the title, Fences, as it relates to characters and themes of the play. How does August Wilson capture the sense of place of Pittsburgh’s Hill District?

Before April 13

Read: The Teeth of the Comb, by Osama Alomar

Respond on your blog: How might the title story be an allegory for human beings and why do you think Alomar chose the compressed, allegorical form for these stories? What effect does his form have on the reader?

Destinations/Travel Schedule

Some Things to Know:  

Here’s our schedule for the semester. As long as the weather cooperates – please, Pittsburgh! — we’ll stick to this plan. 

Um, Yes, Weather (and Gear)

Please check the weather before class and dress for the conditions. Wear comfortable shoes, and bring your writing notebook, as well as a camera/phone to take photos and videos. If you have any physical limitations or need assistance in any way, please let me know and I will do my best to help. Many of our destinations are fully accessible, but others may be less so. We’ll work it out together. 

Transportation

For most of our trips, we’ll have a campus van available. The van holds 12 people. We have more folks than that signed up for the course, and so we will need to figure out some carpooling arrangements as well. We’ll figure this out during our first day of class (tomorrow!). 

Meeting in Class/Departure Times

Our class will always meet on campus first, in 137 McKenna Hall.We’ll depart for our travels at fluctuating times, depending on distance, start times, and more. Please be sure to come to class on time, and, when we are on site, be sure to return to the van or your carpool on time. We’d hate to leave you behind. Also, when on site, be sure to follow all instructions and safety precautions. Your joy, education, and safety are all top priorities.

Syllabus and Readings

Please see the syllabus for course details. The assigned books are available in the campus bookstore (though I think they’re low on the Willa Cather right now). 

Travel Costs

I’ve tried to keep our travel costs very low (in some cases free), but if you’d like to purchase food or any items during our trips, please be sure to bring along some extra funds. I’ve suggested that we all plan to have pizza together on March 23, which will make our class run a little later than usual. We’ll discuss this to make sure that works for everyone. 

Also, bring your student I.D.s and other I.D.s with you if you have them. Many places offer discounts to Pitt students.

Welcome! Here’s to a brilliant semester.

DESTINATION SCHEDULE

January 12 (campus van/holds 12): either Westmoreland Museum of Art/Greensburg sites or Strip District (weather depending); free

January 26 (van) Maxo Vanka murals in Millvale, $10 (group tour with docent)

February 9 (van) Westmoreland Museum or Strip District  (weather depending), free

February 23 (van) Incline/Pittsburgh steps/Hill District (weather depending); Carnegie Museum of Art ($11.95 student admission)

March 9 : Spring Break!

March 23 (van) – Carrie Furnaces/Braddock ($17 – group tour with Rivers of Steel)/Westinghouse Bridge and Castle; dinner at historic Vincent’s Pizza (opens at 4 p.m., so class would run later) 

April 13 (carpool) City of Asylum/Alphabet City/Randyland/North Side 12:30; free (tour with City of Asylum representative, conversation with writer in exile, meet with Randy)

Welcome and Syllabus

Have you ever had to sit through a Powerpoint of your Uncle Jimmy’s trip to West Palm?

Have you ever had to read (or write) something called “What I Did on My Summer Vacation”?

Have you ever gotten a souvenir puffy-paint sweatshirt, a lava ashtray, or a bell shaped like a cow (get it — more cowbell)?

Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, you just should have been there”? 

If so, you already know everything good travel writing isn’t.

Which is a great place to start, because place really is everything. 

This semester, we’ll learn — through hands-on practice, craft lectures, readings and more — how to write engaging travel pieces about the places we call home. We’ll tap into our adventurous sides and experience the world around us. Every class meeting, we’ll venture into Greensburg, Pittsburgh, and the surrounding areas to discover new things and engage with new people. We will celebrate new experiences, do research, and read writers who inspire us.

And we’ll write about it all.

THE BASICS

You’ll keep a travel blog where you’ll post your stories, photos and videos, as well as reading responses to our texts. You’ll read and analyze different kinds of travel narratives and place-based books. You’ll learn how to craft and publish your own travel pieces. You may even publish your work in a national or international publication before the semester ends. (Pittsburgh made National Geographic’s list of 19 Cool Places to See in 2019, so you’re exactly where you want to be right now to write stories people want to read.)

IS THIS COURSE FOR YOU?

This course is designed for anyone who’s flexible, open to new experiences, curious and independent, and who’d like to try their hand at travel writing for targeted audiences. It’s especially helpful for writers who would like to prepare for a career in magazine writing, publishing, freelance work, or general content writing. Also, travel is good for you. Trust me.

Prereqs and Other Things

ENGWRT 0550/Intro to Journalism, ENGWRT Intro to Creative Nonfiction, Comp II, or instructor permission

Course Learning Objectives

After completing this course, you will be able to:

  • Research a travel destination
  • Travel to destinations you’ve researched and report on the experience
  • Write travel narratives and use digital-storytelling techniques to add new dimensions to your work
  • Create and maintain a travel blog
  • Critically read and analyze a wide variety of travel narratives
  • Have a better understanding of travel-writing markets and audiences
  • Have a better understanding of our cities, towns and neighborhoods and use that understanding to craft travel narratives for a variety of audiences
  • Be able to generate fresh ideas for magazine articles and identify target markets
  • Be able to research and craft various kinds of travel articles, including how-to pieces, reviews, feature articles and reportage, food writing, essay/columns and more
  • Understand the importance of revision in the writing process
  • Understand the ways digital storytelling techniques (including photography, videography and more) are used along with traditional prose to enhance travel narratives. You will produce digital content (photo essays, illustrations, video or audio supplements) to accompany your individual stories. 
  • Be able to write a query letter/pitch to an editor
  • Understand the way news values and audiences shape travel narratives
  • Demonstrate craft skills, a mastery of basic Associated Press style and good grammar

Required Materials

You will need access to a computer or tablet, both at home and in class. I-Pads are available for loan from our campus library.

A video/camera/recording device (a smartphone is fine)

Reporter’s notebook/pen

Required Texts:

Moon Pittsburgh (ed. by Emily King) — Guidebook

Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (Oakland, Pitt)

American Childhood by Annie Dillard (Pittsburgh)

Fences by August Wilson (The Hill District)

Out of this Furnace by Thomas Bell (Carrie Furnaces/Steel History)

The Teeth of the Comb by Osama Alomar (City of Asylum)

The Pittsburgh Stories by Willa Cather (Pittsburgh history)

The Trolleyman by Bob Pajich (The Electric Valley)

Highly Recommended: Extra Reads

Tomorrow & Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch (Futuristic ‘Burgh)

Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan (Squirrel Hill)

Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children by Dave Newman (Oakland, Braddock, Trafford and the Electric Valley)

All books for our class — required or recommended — are available at the campus bookstore. Most are available just about anywhere, including Amazon.

Course Expectations & Requirements:

  • Assignments and Projects:

At the beginning of the term, you will set up a blog. You’ll use your site to post your assignments for class, and as a space where you can generate and share ideas and research findings. 

You’ll set up your site during our first class. You’ll be free to use whichever blogging platform you’d like. (I use WordPress and recommend it. Wix is also super-user-friendly). You’ll share your site address with me and I will post a link to it here, on our class site.

In terms of writing assignments, you’ll average one article for every class meeting, plus two additional blog entries that will focus on our readings. You’ll have a total of seven articles and 14 other general blog entries by the end of the term. 

In between deadlines, you’ll revise your work and update your articles based on comments you’ll receive in workshop. Your articles will vary in length, but most will be between 500 and 900 words. All articles and revisions and general blog posts are due at the beginning of each class and should be live on your blogs by then.

University Policies

Students in this course will be expected to comply with the University of Pittsburgh’s Policy on Academic Integrity. Any student suspected of violating this obligation for any reason during the semester will be required to participate in the procedural process, initiated at the instructor level, as outlined in the University Guidelines on Academic Integrity. This may include, but is not limited to, the confiscation of the examination of any individual suspected of violating University Policy. Furthermore, no student may bring any unauthorized materials to an exam, including dictionaries and programmable calculators.

Disability Services

If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and the Director of the Learning Resources Center, Dr. Lou Ann Sears, Room 240 Millstein Library Building (724) 836-7098 (voice) or los3@pitt.edu as early as possible in the term. Learning Resources Center will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.

Copyright Notice

Course materials may be protected by copyright. United States copyright law, 17 USC section 101, et seq., in addition to University policy and procedures, prohibit unauthorized duplication or retransmission of course materials. See Library of Congress Copyright Office and the University Copyright Policy.

Statement on Classroom Recording

To ensure the free and open discussion of ideas, students may not record classroom lectures, discussion and/or activities without the advance written permission of the instructor, and any such recording properly approved in advance can be used solely for the student’s own private use.

Our Journey Begins

Welcome to the 2019 Pitt-Greensburg Travel Writing class! I’m looking forward to exploring our neighborhoods together and I’m so glad you’re here.

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