As all college students know, there are some classes that challenge your ability to stay awake, and the rare others that you are truly sad to see end. And given the enthusiasm of its students, English 155 has proven to be one of those rare classes. Eight students from "Writing in the Documentary Tradition" presented selections from their completed work to over 70 students, faculty and community members at the Kelly Writer's House on Tuesday. The class, taught by Washington Post reporter and author Paul Hendrickson, required students to pick a person and painstakingly document his or her life over the course of the semester. "We were in uncharted waters here," Hendrickson said, speaking about the unique nature of the course. "But I must say like a proud parent, all the students performed admirably." The presentation of the papers, which were required to be between 35 and 40 pages long, was the culmination of a semester's worth of work. The documentaries covered a wide variety of subjects. One piece described the workdays of several nurses in the maternity ward of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, giving the audience a small taste of life at HUP. A piece about a doctor in the University's Student Health Services gave a personal glimpse into the day of a University staff member. Overall, the presentation allowed the standing room-only crowd to get a look at the diverse personalities that make up Philadelphia. It also encouraged exploration into a city whose human side is often missed by students. Throughout the presentation, the intensity of the class became apparent. Students were required to find a subject within three weeks and devote hour after hour to documenting the actions and routines of the subject. Hendrickson said that one of the most difficult aspects of the class was the actual writing of the final project. "The students were faced with the awesome responsibility of trying to render a life," Hendrickson said. "They had to learn the art of making poetic uses of bare fact." Nearly all of the students offered praise for Hendrickson, with some casually referring to him as "PH." "This was easily the best class I have ever taken," said College senior Sara Shahriari, who documented a single mother of five struggling to get a job and provide a good Christmas for her children. This is the first semester that the class has been offered at Penn. In order to enroll, students had to submit a writing sample and meet with the professor. The class will be offered again next semester.Comments powered by Disqus
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