All In The Campaign for Blair Academy 2018-2025
Jim Moore
Creating a Manuscript of Substance: Blair’s New Advanced Seminar in Literary Writing
English department chair Jim Moore, Hon. '93

Four or five years back, a question began to rattle around in my brain as we began work on the schoolwide Advanced Curriculum initiative. What if, I kept asking, we designed a course for our most interested and ambitious writers, the ones who sat down in the quiet of Timken Library of an evening to write poems about the first snowfall of the year, or who shyly asked, as a student did of me late last fall, if I would take a look at the short story she had written over the weekend? I spoke with local literati, like Arjun Chopra ’21, Emily Wang ’23 and Fiona Han ’23, whose collective response was, effectively, “Dude, why didn’t you offer that class to us?” I consulted with science department member Nadia Abascal, PhD, whose by-application three-semester Integrated Science Research program offered a model that already dovetailed nicely with our existing schedule. I don’t even remember my first conversation about this idea with Assistant Head of School for Academics Nathan Molteni; all I can recall is that the course has taken shape over our many discussions and is now in the catalog of Blair’s academic offerings. It is a real thing, and, as proof, the first cohort—five 10th graders and an equal number of 11th graders—began their work with the new year.

The final product of Advanced Seminar in Literary Writing will be a manuscript of substance: a collection of stories, a novel, a piece of literary criticism, a screenplay, a book of poems or some other literary product of the student’s design. Before the student commences that work, however, they must complete the Foundations of Literary Writing course, in which students experiment with writing fiction, poetry, scripts and criticism, guided by the instructor and such Blair-affiliated experts as former faculty member Pedro Hurtado Ortiz, who teaches Comparative Literature and English at the University of California at Berkeley and poet Dan Kraines ’06. The final assignment of the Foundations course is a proposal for that “manuscript of substance,” a stake in the ground, as it were, that asserts a student’s literary intentions—including the prospect of publication—for the next two semesters. 

While the year of writing in ALW will enable the members of the cohort to explore and develop their interest in the literary, it will also introduce and reinforce project management skills that they will be able to apply to any endeavor in the future: developing checkpoints, making progress in the context of incomplete information, tapping experts for advice, and changing course while staying on track. 

Ultimately, we’d like to create a designated space for the ALW, a slightly messy but well-lighted place with big windows, a desk for every writer, a coffee machine in the corner and plenty of electrical outlets. But while that’s something to dream about, right now we’ve got what really counts: our first group of young writers, busily finding their voices.

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