Vital Words and Uncommon Archives: A Workshop in Experimental Criticism with Mary Cappello

I heard, as if I had no Ear/Until a Vital Word/Came all the way from Life to me/And then I knew I heard — (E. Dickinson)

What might happen to your scholarly practice if you allowed other sorts of source materials than those that are conventionally mandated to be in dialogue with your writing, your form, or your focus? We’ll work with what I call the uncommon archive to pursue the effects on our work of the seemingly simple mandate to “start from someplace else.” Three different genres of in-seminar writing experiments (influenced by the work of Emily Dickinson, Lynda Barry, and Christina Sharpe) will take us further and further into realms of unplumbed depths, generative adjacencies, and absent interlocutors. How is interest generated? Where does it come from and by what means does it arrive? In our short time together, I look forward to pursuing new grounds for unanticipated arrivals as we make audible and visible criticism’s unconscious.

Participants are invited to bring a signature-style analog notebook* expressly for the purpose of the exercises we will pursue together and with the hope of its serving as a portable studio for the evolution of individual projects thereafter. An openness to play (child’s work) and experiment (a willingness to fail) will also prove essential.

*a bound writing surface whose feel, shape and size personally resonate for their bearer

There are limited spaces available; to register for the workshop, please email

Mary Cappello is a queer practitioner of the essay, experiments in prose, memoir, literary nonfiction, and performative criticism. A Guggenheim and Berlin Prize Fellow, she is the author of seven books that include a detour on awkwardness; a breast-cancer anti-chronicle; a lyric biography; a speculative manifesto; and the mood fantasia, Life Breaks In. Keen to reconceive the forms nonfiction takes in public to meet the pressing political needs of our time, she has authored projects like the essay as collaborative mood room, and the inter-active anti-panel, while also calling for a return to the lecture as a sounding, contemplative art. A former Fulbright fellow at the Gorky Literary Institute (Moscow), she is Professor Emerita of English and Creative Writing at the University of Rhode Island.