Welcome to the archived website for Creative Writing 14/German 14: the German Big 10


Dear Visitor —

Welcome to the archived website for a course I developed and taught at the University of California, Riverside campus. This particular iteration of the course was given in Spring 2013.

Since UCR is a public university, I made the assignments, syllabus, and as much of the writing as possible available online.

The “German Big 10” refers to 10 writers that any educated person (and in particular any person interested in creative writing) should know.* I — as instructor — insisted that we read Immanuel Kant and Martin Luther. But after that, students were invited to debate and discuss amongst themselves whom they wanted to study. This strategy is based on Neil Postman’s work, in which he argues that students must learn actively rather than passively, and this can only happen if the classroom operates as a democratic space. I was dubious about such an approach, but when used with some limits, it creates a highly engaged group of students who work harder because they have chosen the material they are studying.

Please feel free to browse through the topics. Please remember that they are arranged in reverse order (the oldest are last). If you are interested in the creative writing question, you may want to start with the discussion of a creative writing exercise called a freewrite.

That topic is here: https://thegermanbig10.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/what-is-freewriting-and-why-is-this-a-smart-thing-for-writers-to-do/

A variation on a freewrite exercise is here: https://thegermanbig10.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/slow-write/

Herzlichen Dank and viel Spass (thank you and have fun!)

Stephanie Barbé Hammer

* this class is only the first of an array of classes that could be developed focussing on a particular language/cultural tradition. I have in mind The French Big 10, or the Spanish Big 10, the Arabic Big 10, the Swahili Big 10 and so on. This approach educates students about a particular history of a culture/nation as it enables them to use that information to craft short stories, poetry, plays, and even short screenplays.



reflecting on yourself…end of the quarter meditation

Please take at least 20 minutes to think about your self in this class this quarter.If you did the midterm self-eval, please talk about the challenges, pleasures (if any), and realizations that you made about yourself as a learner in the second part of the quarter. Which modern texts from our class did you hate, love, find weird, helpful, or all of these?

If you did not do the midterm self-evaluation, then you will need to take a bit more time and space: write about your experiences of yourself as a student encountering writers like Kant and Luther, and how the experience changed or did not change, when you got to Brecht, Celan, and Tawada.

Now, think and write honestly about the quality of your work, in your own estimation. What grade do you want to get? What grade do you feel that you deserve? If these are not the same, please talk about why the difference might exist, and speculate on what you might do differently to enjoy/learn from/challenge yourself/take responsibility in/for the next class in a more meaningful fashion.

Were you a community-minded student in this class, or were you concentrating on taking care of #1? Did you provide assistance to a student or a group of students, and do you feel this was an important gesture that you want to name?  Or, did you receive assistance from another student, and would you like to credit or give thanks to that person or persons?

Lastly, what piece of work did you create in this class — if any — that you loved and feel proud of? Why?

How to get Crafty — the Beginning – Morgner and Tawada

Try the following 3 sets of exercises in class today or at home (hand in electronically to me today, Thursday, May 23rd, or next Tuesday, May 28th).  MOOCER’s If you’re just following along, give these strategies a try with any short story that you admire.

here we go!

1.  Take a look at the first 3 sections of Morgner’s “Love Legend.” With 1-2 partners  (but not more) or on your own, consider and write down answers to the following questions:

  1. what mystery (ies)  does the author establish in the first section?
  2. is the author doing a narrative description or are we in a specific scene?
  3. what phrases of description jump out at you? Come up with 4
  4. in parts 1, 2, and 3 what pieces of information emerge to describe the “stranger.”  Name at least 3. How are they spaced/arranged in the narrative?
  5. What physical gestures does the author use to show sexual tension/competition?

Now take a look at the opening paragraph of both “Canned Foreign” and “The Talisman.”

1. Are we in scene in these first sentences? What author (that we have read in this class) is this approach imitating?

2. In “Canned Foreign” how many times does the author narrate a fact using “oftentimes” or use some other indication that what she’s talking about is habitual or repeated?

3. Is “The Talisman” or an essay? What would you argue, and what evidence would you use to argue this point?

The turns of the middle: Morgner and Tawada

Take a look at sections 4, 5, and 6 of Morgner’s story. John Updike once said “I love the middle — it’s where everything happens.” Think about that as you consider and write down answers to the following…

1. What kind of narrative do we get right after “Your place or mine? Mine.”? What are we expecting? Why don’t we get it?

2. React to this first sexual encounter.  What words in particular surprise you?

5. what tension gets created in section 5? What’s the problem?  are we in scene or in narrative description? Explain how this is working.

6. what physical responses does Morgner choose in sections 5 and 6 to show how the protagonist’s emotions are changing? Name at least 2.

Now look at the Tawada stories:  

1. In “Canned Foreign” there’s a sort of almost scene on p.3. what’s the “turn”? What does the protagonist “realize”?

2. Where are the “turns” in “The Talisman”? (hint — they happen about halfway through the story). Name 2.

Opening freewrite — jot down some ideas to write about later on penzu or in your electronic journal

1. What was it like to keep people from entering the classroom (if you are a guard)


What was it like to experience being shut out of the classroom?

GIve 3 emotional reactions.

2. What was it like to have to produce an i.d. in order to enter class?  write a sentence.

3. You then received a card with a civil entitlement written on it. Please write a paragraph (10 sentences) about what how valuable this entitlement might be, and specifically what entitlements you would be willing to give up in order to get the entitlement on your card. What entitlements WOULD be valuable to you?

Artifact Perusal

Take a stroll along the table, and look at the different artifacts. Feel free to pick up any of the objects. Choose 1 to write about, but be sure to put it back and leave it on the table.

Go back to you seat, and write a 10 sentence paragraph where you speculate about the sort of society that produced the object you chose.  How do the people live? What is important to them?

Resisting the hegemony — _Lives of Others_ quick brain storm

Hegemony = the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group.  Merriam-Webste Online Dictionary

A hegemonic portrayal of history is one that is “dominant” and serves whoever (or whatever) is “in charge.”

After looking at THE LIVES OF OTHERS, think about what current events, social injustices, political issues, and real-world problems are being “hegemonically” narrated by the media. As you can see from the film, these narratives are persuasive and powerful.

Now think about now and here — about your life and your neighborhood and the people you know.

What injustices, social/political issues, and problems do you care about personally that are being under- or even non-reported? 

Jot down a list of these concerns, if you have several. If you have 1, start brainstorming about a possible story, series of poems, screenplay, telescript, or play about your concern.

if you do not have a real concern of this type, then make one up!

Please turn this in to me via email or penzu by 4:50.

If handing in a hard copy, please hand in by 4:50 sharp. Thank you so much!  

GDR/BRD – East/West Germany — a divided history with divided interpretations and how I blundered into the middle of the divide

After World War 2, “Germany” was divided into 2 different countries — the German Democratic Republic (die Deutsche Demokratische Republik) and the Federal Republic of Germany (Die Bundesrepublik Deutschland). The former was dubbed “East Germany” and the latter “West Germany.” The GDR was an officially communist country under the close scrutiny of and in close proximity to the Soviet Union. The Federal Republic was a democratic nation, and a close ally of the US. The history of these two nations and the history of the dissolution of the Soviet Union are stories that are being fiercely debated right now. The fall of the Berlin Wall directly precedes the birth of most of the people in our class, and so most students never knew this two-state Germany, and know only the triumphalist narrative that celebrates the destruction of communism and the triumph of democracy in the region.

As a baby-boomer who was the child of Republicans, I grew up thinking “East Germany” was a scary place — a kind of German-speaking Soviet Union, where everyone hated Americans. But I was interested in German language and literature.  My college boyfriend convinced me to study German, because that’s what real intellectuals did. So I started. My boyfriend went to Hamburg for a junior year abroad and I visited him there. We went to Berlin in the January of 1974. We visited East Berlin during that trip, because my boyfriend had become a Marxist and was very excited to show me the GDR.

I have written about that first experience, which was extremely negative. Years went by. I married a different man. But my interest in German remained, and as it happened, the GDR offered summer school courses for teachers of German for very low prices, and a senior colleague suggested I go to one to improve my German. For a grand total of $250 I was able to attend a seminar for 3 weeks.  That sum of money covered room and board as well as classes and excursions in Weimar, where my favorite German authors once lived. I was very nervous about going. I stocked up on pharmaceuticals, and tampons, took a train over the border, and held my breath. This was the summer of 1985. My teacher was also my roommate in a house owned by an architect and his wife. Everyone was incredibly nice — except for the Yugoslavian poet who wanted to know why the stores were open 24 hours a day in the US, and why everyone insisted on eating steak. I had a tough time explaining President Reagan to my Polish friends who were attending the seminar. “But isn’t he just a really bad actor?” one of them asked.  “And wasn’t he in a space movie with a monkey?” someone else said. It was a strange experience trying to represent American politics in a foreign language, and the interactions that I had with my Polish friends, my teacher, and the many artists I met during my stay in Weimar got me wondering if East Germany was really as “bad” as I’d been hearing.

Perhaps my most startling memory was when I left Weimar by train and arrived in Frankfurt, which was in “West” Germany. Frankfurt was and is a big commercial metropolis. I walked into the train station and encountered an absolute barrage of ads, people trying to sell me things, and stores selling rolex watches, expensive suitcases, and diamonds. I think I realized for the first time, how much we live in a society that is all about buying and selling things. I have never forgotten that shock — that feeling of being absolutely buried in commodities. I think that was my first awareness of living under capitalism.

The second time I went to the German Democratic Republic, I went to Berlin. There though a chance research connection, I met and spent significant amounts of time with a man who was an SF/Fantasy editor. He introduced me to a number of amazing writers. I got to experience that once again the place for political discussion and critique was happening in the world of that kind of writing. It was great. These writers were using sf and fantasy tropes to imagine utopian worlds as well as nightmarish scenarios. As usual, SF/Fantasy had an active fan community who met frequently and communicated via magazines and comics and newsletters.


Then the Wall came down, and all the publishing houses that published those wonderful writers closed down because the government that subsidized them no longer existed, and none of those writers could get published.

My last visit to Berlin was right after the Wall fell, and there was a McDonalds’ going up on every corner. 165844_10150895207024720_2023285528_n

I worry that the more complex history of the GDR is being buried under a kind of rhetoric that does not do justice to the people who lived there, who actually believed in socialist ideals (like my teacher did), and who hoped for something better after the Wall fell. “They” had propaganda but “we” have propaganda too.

As a writer, I feel that it is important to share what I saw of the GDR from my own small perspective.

The unwillingness of many Berliners to part with the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall testifies, in my humble opinion, not only to a wish to celebrate freedom, but also a concern with preserving the complicatedness of the past. The nostalgia for the Wall and for the GDR (sometimes called Ostalgie) is a symptom of a deeper awareness that the truth of the past is somehow eluding these overly simplistic accounts.