2015 Summer Seminars

The 2015 Common Ground Teachers institute will be held from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. June 26-July 10. Teachers who submit a reservation by May 31st will be offered a place in one of this summer's Common Ground seminars. After May 31st, participants will be added on a first-come, first-served basis until each seminar is filled. Please contact Keri Myrick with any questions.

Apply for the 2015 seminars here.

Extending Past the Skin: Writing the Self into the World

Sara Cooper

Eula Biss, in her new book of essays about vaccination, suggests that the self doesn't end at the body, but extends past the skin into one's community, environment, and culture. Leslie Jamison, taking up the topic of empathy, asks how one can transcend the self and enter another's pain. In Citizen, Claudia Rankine considers — especially in light of recent violence against black men — what it means to be a black body "thrown against a sharp white background." Each of these writers suggests that the boundary between the self — especially the self as body — and the world is not rigid but porous. And each enacts this relationship formally in their work — blending their own stories with social and political issues that are not, they would argue, larger than the self but in and of the self. In this WITS/Common Ground collaboration, we will consider how these and other makers (of poems, blogs, literary essays, photographs, and even old medical textbooks) enact and resist boundaries between the "I," the "you," and the "we." We will identify the personal, ethical, and social implications of representing the self and others in artistic work. We will then use these conversations and model texts as starting points for our own writing, crafting and workshopping poems and essays that attempt to marry our private and public worlds.

Required texts:

  • Eula Biss, On Immunity: An Inoculation
  • Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams
  • Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts
  • Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
  • Claudia Rankine, Citizen
  • Tarfia Faizullah, Seam
  • Other readings will be made available online by the instructor

The Literature and Film of the Swarm

Merrilee Cunningham

This summer, we will be looking at the metaphor of the swarm in film and literature, with particular interest in spatial theory, swarm-learning theory, and swarm behaviors in classical and modern literature, as well as in film, science fiction, and game theory. We will also investigate the timing of swarm literature as it relates to swarm as wars, plagues, and other historical events. We seek to place swarm literature in a cultural and intellectual milieu, as well as the swarm in war theory and images of public, mob, and common needs of groups and diasporas.

Possible texts include:

  • Virgil, Georgics
  • Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of The Bees
  • William Shakespeare, Coriolanus
  • Homer, The Iliad
  • Gaston Bachelard & Maria Jolas, The Poetics of Space
  • John Lawless, Game Swarm
  • Michael Crichton, Timeline
  • Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds
  • Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village
  • Virgil, The Aeneid
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost and Pandemonium


  • Fritz Lang, Metropolis and King Kong
  • Christopher Nolan, Interstellar

Girls! Girls! Girls!

Lacy Johnson

If we take a look at the world today, it's easy to see the myriad ways in which the notion of girlhood is deeply and profoundly fraught. In the history of literature, the notion of "a girl" frequently and consistently stands in for innocence, naiveté, vulnerability, or all that we hold sacred and dear. Increasingly in the last several decades, women writers (especially those influenced by feminist thought in the 20th century) have redefined who a girl can be, what she is capable of, and what she might represent. In this Writers in the Schools seminar, we'll read and discuss works by contemporary women writers from many backgrounds that dare to imagine the many ways one can be "a girl." We'll spend time each day crafting narratives of our own, and discussing how we might best elicit meaningful narratives from the many girls who arrive each day in our classrooms. To that end, we'll also read a few texts to help us sustain and teach good writing long after the seminar is done.

Required texts:

  • Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina (Plume, 2012)
  • Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (Ballantine, 2009)
  • Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street (Vintage, 1991)
  • Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (Harper Perennial, 2013)
  • Lucy Greely, Autobiography of a Face (Harper Perennial, 2003)
  • Joy Harjo, Crazy Brave (Norton, 2013)
  • Maxine Hong Kingston, Woman Warrior (Vintage, 1989)

"Supernatural Stuff": The Sacred, the Scary, and Miraculous in American Literature

William Monroe

In this seminar, we will explore the religious, the sacred, and the holy through literary works and films. Our conversations will be serious but not solemn, respectful but not pious; we will occasionally imitate the irreverent tone of writers like Walker Percy, Flannery O'Connor, and Donald Barthelme. We will read and discuss poems, plays, films, and stories that are "about" religious questions, characters, symbols, and situations. A prospective reading and viewing list is as follows:

Required texts:

  • Edgar Allen Poe, "The Fall of the House of Usher"
  • Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
  • T.S. Eliot, selections from Four Quartets
  • Walker Percy, The Moviegoer
  • Flannery O'Connor, selected stories
  • Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
  • Mary Karr, Lit
  • Donald Barthelme, selected stories
  • Raymond Carver, selected stories


  • The Apostle
  • Tender Mercies

Migration in Literature

Romanus Muoneke

Migration, the permanent change of residence by an individual or a group, is an experience the world has lived with from time immemorial. Even today, forced migration is happening under our very nose in the U.S., the Middle East, Africa, etc. Usually, the voluntary migrant has one single purpose in mind, viz. to relocate to a "better" place where the grass is green. But the exile or the forced migrant has no option whatsoever — destiny is the sole determinant of his or her new migratory home. For ages, literature has revealed that migration, whether forced or voluntary, carries with it a dose of frustration, fragmentation, dislocation, and disillusionment. Although many immigrants will live to celebrate their change of status, many more will live to lament their fate because, sadly for them, life won't be "so sweet now as it was before." 

Required texts:

  • Willa Cather, My Antonia
  • Okey Ndibe, Foreign Gods, Inc.
  • Buchi Emecheta, The Family
  • William Shakespeare, As You Like It
  • Euripides, Medea
  • Robert Olen Butler, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain