Penn’s English Department is offering a new class in which students can simultaneously publish their work and receive class credit. The inception of the course, taught by acclaimed English professor Jay Kirk, marks the birth of Xfic, Penn’s premier literary journal in experimental nonfiction.
Experimental nonfiction, otherwise known as creative nonfiction, is a genre that delivers factual information through entertaining narratives. This style allows nonfictional content to be presented as though they were fictional.
“[Experimental nonfiction] is more about trying to orient the material itself more towards reality, using the techniques and stylistic devices of narrative and literature to reconstruct experiences,” Kirk explained.
Kirk has been on Penn faculty since 2005 and is a published author. He has received prestigious accolades such as the Whiting Writing Award in 2007 and a finalist standing for the National Magazine Award in 2013 for "Burning Man." His critically acclaimed book "Kingdom Under Glass" is his most notable creative nonfiction work.
“A goal is to have students try to write with a bigger level of immediacy, documenting the particular experience. I’ve had some students conduct sociological experiments, observe surgeries, and profile tattoo artists to gather the experiences to write about,” Kirk said. “I just want students to go out into the world and have fun. If you want to find meaning in life, it has to come through emotion.”
The class will be run in workshops, in which students will be paired off with another student to receive and offer edits throughout the semester. Kirk worked together with faculty in the Kelly Writers House and the Creative Writing Program to conceive of the course. Kirk said Creative Writing Program Director Julia Bloch thought to integrate the new Xfic journal with the class.
“What makes Xfic unique this coming spring is that it will truly be, from start to finish, produced by students enrolled in a workshop,” Bloch said. “We saw this as an opportunity to harness the powerful space of the workshop and provide students with hands-on, practical publishing experience.”
College freshman and prospective English major Chelsey Zhu attended the Xfic course launch meeting and has expressed interest in enrolling in the class.
“Courses like this are great since you have more opportunities to work together with other people and also are held accountable for producing quality work on time,” Zhu said.
Nathan Chiu, College and Wharton junior, also noted the benefits of an initiative like Xfic.
“I think [this] class [allows] students to see practical implications of their writing," Chiu said. "Writing should be completed with a purpose."
To join the course, students must first pitch a proposal for a long-form story to be written in experimental nonfiction style. If accepted by the instructor, the student will then pursue the story for the duration of the course.
“The pitch is very important because we want students to publish only the best possible pieces they can,” Kirk said.
The course will have a cap of 10 students and will be available for spring enrollment during advanced registration period. Story pitches for acceptance to the class are due on Nov. 8, 2018.