Word Play: Literature, Creative Writing, and Poetics of Catastrophe

Fall 2021
Winter 2022
Freshman - Senior
Class Size: 50
16 Credits per quarter
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Taught by
This program is now meeting fully in-person instead of hybrid. Contact the faculty with any questions.
This program incorporates Greener Foundations. Greener Foundations is Evergreen’s 2-quarter introductory student success course, which provides all first-year students with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive at Evergreen. First year students will get 14-credits from this program, and 2-credits from a Greener Foundations course. First year students will need to register for the 14-credit program CRN PLUS Greener Foundations (CRN 20001).
In "The Storyteller", Walter Benjamin writes that authors used to offer counsel but that storytelling as a form of wisdom has been replaced by information and data. Yet stories do still guide us: how so? Why do we turn to stories to make sense of and work through conditions and contingencies? How does art prime us or deskill us, in times of upheaval? What is the relationship between storytelling and prophesy for those hard hit by catastrophes? What kinds of stories do we turn to, do we need, when things fall apart? And what does word play and play broadly, have to do with it? For one thing, the capacity to play is a sign of resilience, and word play shows us the mutability of things. Words too have histories, and part of our practice as word smiths is to learn those histories. The word catastrophe, for example, means down turn. A strophe on the ancient Greek stage, was a dance move, a bodily and lyrical turn by which the members of a chorus registered not only tragic down turns, but also moments of hope or joy. Dancing and singing brought a kind of rhythm to the community response to suffering, part of the famous catharsis of otherwise debilitating emotions.
In this program we will read literary and literary critical texts centered on the sense-making that arises as a response to, and in anticipation of, world-historical change and explore the art of writing at macro and micro scales, from etymology to epic. Readings are likely to include: Sophocles during the plague in classical Athens; Boccaccio in 14 -century Florence; Camus in post-WWII colonial France; The Iliad, a poem concerned above all with mortality and suffering; and contemporary works such as Touba and the Meaning of the Night by Iranian writer-in-exile Sharnush Parsipur. Through these readings, and others, we will explore how authors, ancient and contemporary, guide, warn, grieve, inspire, and counsel the species in prose and verse.
Writing will be central to our inquiry, and will engage us during class sessions as well as outside class. We will interpret readings one at a time, through shorter analytical pieces, and several together, in synthesis essays. This work will both inform our seminar discussions and gain momentum from them. The creative writing module of the program includes a study of the tricky art of finding 'le mot juste', the perfect word. Our work together includes, then, developing our craft at the levels of word and sentence. For, as Gabriel García Márquez put it, Details are the life of prose. 


Fall 2021 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 10071
Fr (14): 10074
Winter 2022 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 20238
Fr (14): 20239

Academic details

Preparatory For

Writing, literature

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing


In Person or Remote
In Person (F)
In Person (W)
Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

SEM 2 A1105 - Lecture