Bestselling author and 1985 College graduate Jennifer Egan will teach a modern fiction class next semester. While famous authors typically come to Penn to teach courses on the craft of writing, Egan's class will instead focus on critically analyzing some of her favorite books.
Egan, a well-known contemporary writer, won the Pulitzer Prize for her 2011 novel, "A Visit from the Goon Squad." She most recently published the book, "Manhattan Beach." Egan arrived at Penn in September after being named this year's Artist-in-Residence.
Students taking her course, titled "Self, Image, Community: Studies in Modern Fiction," will read alongside Egan and discuss the deeper themes found in the literature, such as identity and belonging. They will study works by various authors, including Joan Didion, Philip Roth, and Edith Wharton.
“It is so meaningful to return to Penn,” Egan said. “There’s a wonderful circularity in coming home intellectually. I really hope I can contribute to this place that has given me so much.”
English Department Chair Jed Esty said Egan's residency at Penn has long been in the works. “The idea of bringing Jennifer Egan to campus has been with us for about five years now,” Esty said. “By being a Penn alum and an English major, she has an immediate rapport with and appeal to all of our students and Penn undergraduates in general.”
Before enrolling at Penn, Egan spent a gap year working at an archaeology site and backpacking across Europe. Although she originally intended to major in archaeology, she later found herself drawn to writing and eventually decided to major in English.
“In the course of that time in Europe, it somehow became clear to me that writing was an important and essential part of my relationship to the world,” Egan said. “I felt very determined to be a writer in some way."
In her role as Penn's Artist-in-Residence, Egan will participate in several public events and mentor English majors and minors. Her 2017 book, "Manhattan Beach," was also selected as this year's Penn Winter Reading Project.
English Undergraduate Department Chair Josephine Park said Egan's class is a one-time opportunity to see how a major contemporary writer reads a body of literature. Park added that she hopes the course will reach a broad range of students.
“I hope that I’ll have people coming from all perspectives with different majors,” Egan said. “My goal is to make it a class that can be a rich experience for anyone. There’s nothing about this that should require any particular background, age, or education.”
Egan’s course has caused a buzz on campus. College junior Sam Claypoole, who is majoring in English, said that while she is not planning on taking the class herself, she sees it as a unique opportunity.
“I think that any Penn student would be lucky to take a class with a Pulitzer prize winner,” Claypoole said. “There’s always something you can learn from somebody that’s well-respected in the writing community.”