In this eight-week, four-session class, participants will read and discuss an absorbing selection of pandemic-related literature.
Books will include:
- Albert Camus'sThe Plague (1947)
- Samuel R. Delany's Flight from Nevèrÿon (1985)*
- Ling Ma's Severance (2018)
- Eula Biss's On Immunity: An Inoculation (2014)
(*Note: We will read The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals, a novel included in Flight from Nevèrÿon)
These works present a diverse set of literary responses to infectious disease, both real and imagined. We will discuss each book’s social and historical context while paying particular attention to craft strategies and their effects. Throughout, we will ask what we can learn from these texts as writers living today in the midst of an unprecedented and life-altering pandemic.
From Albert Camus’s plague to Samuel R. Delany’s time-bending AIDS narrative, from Ling Ma’s near-past sort-of-zombie novel to Eula Biss’s personal investigation of immunization and its metaphors, these authors variously combine history, fantasy, science, and journalism to examine past and present contagions and the collective crises they’ve unleashed. These works demonstrate literature’s capacity to document, grieve, speculate, and warn—and, also, to pose pressing questions about how we represent and give meaning to illness, infection, and immunity.
We will spend each class period discussing one book. Our discussions will be followed by short craft exercises that students will be invited to revise on their own, building towards a longer writer project that participants can then share with the instructor for feedback during an optional one-on-one conference after the final class. Participants are expected to have read The Plague before the first session.
Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
Note: Any ‘Reading...as Writers’ student can opt in to a 45-minute consultation with the instructor for an additional fee of $105, in which you'll receive one-on-one feedback on any writing that emerged from the course, including ideas for revision and specific line edits. Email [email protected] after your final group meeting to arrange a consultation.
- Greater familiarity with the history of literature responding to infectious disease
- Examinations of four different authors’ writing techniques and what they can teach us about our own writing
- Illuminating discussions of the relationship between craft choices and social crisis
- A supportive environment for exploring new literary possibilities, particularly with regard to aestheticizing illness, contagion, and immunity
- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
- Participants must have access to the four assigned books, either as physical copies or e-books
- Participants are expected to have read The Plague before the first session begins
- Each session will focus on one book; participants are expected to have read the book before the session begins
- Students are expected to attempt the writing exercises offered at the end of each session
- The course will feature discussions of sex-positive, queer, and disabled issues, characters, and themes; participants are expected to approach such topics, and each other, with respect
We will spend each class period discussing one book, followed by short craft exercises that students will be invited to revise on their own, building towards a longer writer project that participants can then share with the instructor for feedback during an optional one-on-one conference after the final class.
Megan Milks writes fiction, personal essays, and criticism. They are the recipient of the 2019 Lotos Foundation Prize in Fiction Writing. Their first book, Kill Marguerite and Other Stories, won the 2015 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award and was named a Lambda Literary Award finalist in fiction. Their literary and arts criticism has been published in 4Columns, Bookforum, Los Angeles Book Review, and The New Inquiry, among other venues. They have taught writing, literature, and queer, transgender, and (a)sexuality studies for more than ten years and currently teach at The New School.
“Megan Milks is the most interesting prose writer working today. There! I said it. Milks smashes fiction and glues the shards back together. Milks destroys boredom! Milks stans fanfic, retells the New Narrative, lights a million candles at the altar of queer & trans experimental literature, sends love letters to Kathy Acker and Samuel R. Delany and Ovid, hate-reads Sweet Valley High in the sexiest and most disturbing ways. You will never look at Tegan and Sara—or slugs, or tomatoes—in the same way again.”
“The stories in Megan Milks’s KILL MARGUERITE are pure force: they norm deviance, make violence effulgent, ungender and regender sexualities. Each story is a kitsch throwback to back in the day when reading was a fun choose your own adventure, or, these stories are not just carnal, not just animalistic, not just girly: they’re amphibian, our full corporeal tenderized to satisfaction, which is to say—hot.”
“KILL MARGUERITE AND OTHER STORIES mixes pop culture, Greek myth, queer feminism and childhood nostalgia into a gory and gorgeous mess. I got my hands dirty digging into Megan Milks’ sanguine collection of short stories. This prose oozes. This prose dripped perversely into my consciousness and stuck. Only a steady and sagacious writer like Milks can make paddling through this kind of muck so absolutely pleasurable.”
“The stories in [Megan’s] debut collection KILL MARGUERITE draw influence from cultures both high and low, from Homer and Joyce to video games and teen magazine columns. They never sit quietly, but rather unsettle convention and defy expectation. In fact, the moment you think you know what’s happening, the story opens into an unexpected black hole, thrusting you into a passage that devours and reconfigures expectations.”
“These are genderqueer girl stories of the most awesome kind, taking the basic narrative of boys, youth, sex and identity, scrambling them with their influences (pop music, porn, sexual fantasy, teen magazines and books, even video games), and then destroying them in gory pornographic explosions.”
“It’s … surprising, given the vast range of modes on display, how very well Kill Marguerite maintains itself as a unified work; tracing the veins that run from piece to piece is part of the fun. The consistently disciplined prose does nearly as much to this end as the shared themes, sometimes calling to mind the similarly wry and precise Lydia Davis. This collection establishes Milks as a writer who can do just about anything but who will, one expects, keep doing the bidding of [their] macabre but humane imagination.”
“Some … stories are intertextual puzzles in the best sense, intensely creative in imagining possibilities beyond a heterosexual, able-bodied, white, and affluent vision of life and thus serious about what it intends to interrogate: heterocentric romance narratives, compulsory heterosexuality and its attendant forms of femininity, aspects of affluent white teen girlhood.”
“…my favourite thing about this collection is its interest in a particular kind of adolescent girlhood in which other girls are all that matters and where aspiration, desire and the urge to wound are all tangled together. … This is an area of popular culture which literature rarely draws upon — possibly because of its association with young girls, whose tastes are always particularly open for mockery. That Milks sees it as important would be itself be enough to make me love her work. That the collection deals with it in this way — smart, queer, perverse, inter-textual—means even more. The stories in KILL MARGUERITE are unsettling and often unpleasant but they feel like a gift.”
“Megan made the class environment a place where we could ask questions, take risks, and have enjoyable conversations. They gave in-depth feedback and seemed invested in my growth as a student. Thank you for making this class a fantastic experience.”
“Charismatic and astute … always thought-provoking.”
“Amazing at organizing and igniting discussions. I don't have enough words to describe how amazing this class and professor were!”
“The best teacher I have had in my educational experience. I can truly walk away from the class saying I have actually learned something. My writing has improved and so has my ability to think critically. It is all thanks to the intelligence and constructive criticism of the professor and how perfectly structured the class was.”
“Milks is the BOMB! They gave me really helpful and encouraging feedback and I felt like it helped both my writing and my confidence.”