"Personal Writing/Self-Revelation" with Prof. Dr. George Ellenbogen

Course description:

In PERSONAL WRITING/SELF REVELATION, which will be conducted as a one week compact seminar, students will explore the means by which writers use their own experience—real and imagined—to fashion memoirs, personal essays, and poems that reveal themselves and touch their readers. The course will address, among other topics, the establishing of a persona, the use of place, real and imaginary settlings, the role of detail, and beginnings and endings. Students will also produce their own writing in classes and read to one another in small groups. 

Before the first class, students will have read the texts, A Stone in My Shoe: In Search of Neighborhood by George Ellenbogen and Teaching Arabs, Writing Self by Evelyn Shakir. Passages of George Orwell’s essays will be assigned later. 

Course Teacher 

The course will be taught by memoirist and poet, George Ellenbogen. A professor of Creative Writing at Bentley University in Massachusetts, he has taught this course previously in Germany, and is awaiting the publication of the German edition of both his and Shakir’s memoir. 

The reading (synopses) 

A Stone in My Shoe: Poet George Ellenbogen’s memoir is more than a collection of anecdotes of his immigrant family and their journeys from Franz Joseph’s Austro-Hungarian empire and Poland to Montreal in the 1920s. A Stone in My Shoe charts his discovery of how an immigrant Jewish neighborhood—a tight-knit shtetl with extended families that had its own shops, institutions, and daily Yiddish newspapers—sustained him and his family as well as thousands of others. The revelations ripple outward and what surfaces—the markers of his parents’ navigation in a new world and his own youth in the 1940s and 1950s Montreal—extend to all. They become part of the universal map in which readers will recognize their own quirky courses into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood 

Teaching Arabs, Writing Self: Evelyn Shakir's witty, wise, and beautifully written memoir explores her status as an Arab American woman, from the subtle bigotry she faced in Massachusetts as a second-generation Lebanese whose parents were not only foreign but eccentric, to the equally poignant blend of dislocation and homecoming she felt in Bahrain, Syria, and Lebanon, where she taught American literature to university students. She effortlessly combines personal anecdote with cultural, political, and historical background, and is incapable of stereotyped thinking: one of the book's many pleasures is the diversity she finds among the people she encounters in the Middle East, including not only students, but cab drivers, storekeepers, and the guys who make the spinach pies at the bakery down the street from her apartment. As Shakir explores her own identity, she leads the reader to an appreciation of the richness and complexity of being Arab American (or any mixed heritage) in an increasingly small world.