A lucky group of students will be taught by the author of “Friday Night Lights” in the upcoming fall semester.
After visiting Penn last spring, Buzz Bissinger, a 1976 College graduate and long-time Philadelphian, was inspired. Bissinger will be teaching a nonfiction creative writing course at Penn next semester.
During his time at Penn, Bissinger wrote for The Daily Pennsylvanian and looks back on it fondly.
“The DP was a center piece of my life at Penn. This provided me with incredible opportunity and was seminal in my professional development,” Bissinger explained.
After Bissinger graduated, he came back and wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1981 to 1988, which he considered his “pinnacle of journalism.” Then, he returned in 1992 to write “A Prayer for the City.”
In spring 2014, as part of the Kelly Writer’s House Fellows Program, students read and studied all of Bissinger’s books. At the end of the course, Bissinger came in for an interactive discussion with many of the students.
Upon his arrival, Bissinger said he was overwhelmed by how great it was to be back at Penn, where writers are nourished and where they have many resources available.
“I was blown away by the opportunities [at Penn] and just by the students in general,” Bissinger said.
Al Filreis, Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House, and Bissinger are good friends and often grab oysters and beers together in the city. While discussing Bissinger’s excitement to be back at Penn, they began thinking about the idea of Bissinger teaching his own course.
“After many years, Bissinger felt warm to Penn and wanted to give back to the smart and young people that read his work,” Filreis said.
Bissinger currently resides on the West Coast but will fly in every two weeks to teach the course. Students will have to apply to get into the class.
“I’m happy to give a tiny piece back to the writing center and to my alma mater,” Bissinger said.
Bissinger has never taught writing before, but is eager to teach his students about storytelling, plot and journalistic integrity.
“My own writing is not perfect. But by examining it, I can pinpoint what does work and what does not work,” he added.
Bissinger’s warm feelings and generosity towards Penn does not end here. Bissinger and his wife Lisa Smith, in collaboration with the Kelly Writers House, will be sponsoring a writer’s residency this upcoming spring break at their guest cottage on the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington State. The winner, College junior Alina Grabowski, will live and write in this idyllic setting for ten days.
“Having this chunk of time to work on revisions is huge,” Grabowski said. “I’m also looking forward to being able to ask Buzz and Lisa questions about creating a life as a writer, as well as picking their brains about the writing process itself.”
As he prepares to teach his first writing course, Bissinger keeps in mind the importance of continuing to read and write voraciously.
“Writing is like anything in that it requires a certain bedrock of talent, enthusiasm and passion,” he said.
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