Weeks/Topics/Epigraphs Guests Readings/Viewings/LINKS Due DATES

Week 1: On Possibilities 

(In which we reflect on how writing presents us with myriad possibilities for understanding, exploring, and engaging the world, and, as such, is a powerful way to see cities in fresh ways)

“You have brains in your head / You have feet in your shoes / You can steer yourself / Any direction you choose.” —Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”


Dr. Seuss, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”

Robert Macfarlane, “The Gifts of Reading”

George Saunders, “On Story” (YouTube)

Excerpt from Before Sunrise, “Bring Me the Horns of Wilmington’s Cow” (YouTube)


Week 2: On Blind Spots 

(In which we look at how we overlook, ignore, exclude things in our field of vision because we are inadvertently or willfully blind to them)

Vijay Iyer

George Saunders,  “In Defense of Darkness” (YouTube)

Annie Dillard, “Seeing” (PDF)

Excerpts from Teju Cole’s “Blind Spot”

W. H. Auden, “As I Walked Out One Evening”

A Tribe Called Quest, “We the People” (YouTube)

Ruddy Roye’s Instagram page


Vijay Iyer, Holding It Down


Week 3: On Structure

Anastasia Taylor-Lind

George Saunders on not panicking: “On the Tricks of the Writing Process” (YouTube)

John McPhee, “Structure” (also in Draft No. 4)

David Ulin on John McPhee:  Draft No. 4: The Legendary John McPhee’s “master class in the writer’s craft”


Week 4: On Movement

(In which we consider the relationship between movement and writing)

“To escape is the greatest of pleasures.” —Virginia Woolf, “Street Haunting: A London Adventure”


Virginia Woolf, “Street Haunting”

Antonia Malachik, “The End of Walking”

Lauren Goff, “Ghosts and Empties”

John Edgar Wideman, “Williamsburg Bridge”

Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”

Lana Del Ray, “Fordham Road” (YouTube)


Rachel Wetzsteon, “Thoughts While Walking”

Robert Frost, “The Fear”

Robert Creeley, “Walking”

Essay #1 due

Week 5: On Conversation


Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd, Good Prose


Week 6: On Reporting

Carlo Rotella

John McPhee, Draft No. 4


Week 7: On Intimacy: The power of the personal voice

Anna Badhken

Vivian Gornick, The Situation and the Story

(Over spring break, begin reading Mehta’s Maximum City, since it’s not a tiny book!)


Week 8: On Memory

Kushanava Choudhury

Vivek Bald

Suketu Mehta

William Dalrymple, “A Love Letter to Kolkata” (review of Epic City)

Suketu Mehta, Maximum City

Suketu Mehta, “This Land Is Their Land”

Essay #2 due

Week 9: On Meaning

“It is a terrible, an inexorable, law that one cannot deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own. In the face of one’s victim, one sees oneself. Walk through the streets of Harlem and see what we, this nation, have become.” —James Baldwin, “Fifth Avenue, Uptown”


“The Meaning of Cities”—Hedgehog Review, Summer 2017 issue

Richard Wilbur, “To The Student Protesters”

James Baldwin, “Fifth Avenue, Uptown”

Dave Chappelle, from “Killing Them Softly” (YouTube) (watch 2:27 to 4:12, especially 3:08 to 4:12)


Week 10: On Loss


David Ulin, Sidewalking

Layli Long Soldier, Whereas


Week 11: On Justice


Claudia Rankine, An American Lyric

John Freeman, ed. Tales of Two Americas


Week 12: On Vulnerability


Edward P. Jones, Lost in the City

Lauren Elkin, “Radical Flaneuserie”

Masha Gessen, “Why We Must Protest”

Lauren Elkin, “Donald Trump: Anti-Flaneur”  

Patsy Cline, “Walkin’ After Midnight” (YouTube) (lyrics here )

Ava DuVernay, dir. (2014). Selma . Paramount Pictures.


Week 13: On Hope


Mohsin Hamid, Exit West

Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, eds. Nonstop Metropolis (the essays by the instructor can be safely ignored; there won’t be the immodest or uncomfortable situation of being asked about the instructor’s contribution in the collection)


Week 14: On Truth, Facts, Fiction, and Fakery


Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Final essay due

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