Graduate Writing Workshop: Prose Writing the Senses

ENG 613C

W 3:15-5:45

Shawna Yang Ryan



Prose Writing the Senses
Description is the silent workhorse of fiction. How can we improve our sensory descriptions beyond a listing of detail, and in a way that enhances our fiction? In this course, we will read nonfiction and fiction works by experts that focus on the senses, studying how—for example—a music critic describes music or a food critic describes flavor. We will practice opening up our eyes/ears/noses/tongues to redirect and focus our interactions with the sensory world. With new vocabulary and perspectives, we will practice writing about the senses in lush, innovative ways. Ultimately, we are seeking—in a brave new Zoom world—to bring alive the sensory world through words.


This will be done within the context of the writing workshop—a critical element of creative writing inside and outside of the academy and the foundation of most creative writing curriculums. The workshop not only helps writers develop the language of critique and allows them to hone their eye for craft, but—perhaps most importantly—it can establish a vital community amidst the sometimes lonely art of writing.



Required Texts

A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman

Perfumes, the A-Z Guide, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

“All You Have Eaten,” Rachel Khong

Selected reviews by Jonathan Gold (“Pie’s the Limit,” “Man Bites Prawn”)

Selections from A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, Hanif Abdurraqib

“Keeping Bill Withers Alive,” Hanif Abdurraqib

“Why Your Entire Family is Belting Out Adele’s ‘Hello’,” Sasha Frere-Jones

(This list may be amended)



Student Learning Outcomes


To write arresting and thoughtful fiction


To develop a critical vocabulary for talking about writing as writers


To deconstruct the craft and techniques behind a selection of writing (employ close reading skills)


To understand how readers receive your work (demonstrate written and oral ability to place creative work within broader artistic/critical conversations)


To build a writing community and practice that will carry your writing life beyond the university




Weekly writing exercises: The goal is to help instill a consistent writing practice; it is also a place to explore new ideas for future work.


Workshop Critiques: Letters to your workshop colleagues about their work.


Workshop Stories: Number of pieces is dependent on final class enrollment.


Online Reading/Author Events: You are required to attend three creative writing events.