Literature at Bennington has a long and rich tradition. As we at Bennington understand it, the undergraduate study of “literature” encompasses world literature—both in English and translation—and creative writing. We expose our students to the broadest possible range of world literature, and to questions of translation. As a discipline, we find equal value in analytical and intuitive, critical and creative writing. Analysis should be artful and imaginative; creative writing should be rigorous and thoughtful.
In the Bennington tradition, our faculty is made up of teacher-practitioners: each is a renowned and active writer in his or her own field. Our faculty includes award-winning and notable novelists, memoirists, poets, literary journalists, and translators. Because of this, students are regularly invited to share a writer’s perspective on contemporary and classic works of literature in the English. We teach a wide range of courses, examining works from every historical period. Classes are generally small seminars centered on animated discussion.
Literature and writing at Bennington are grounded in the idea that good writers are by definition good readers. Students do not study creative writing in a vacuum; the act of writing is a dialogue with other writers, past and present. Accordingly, all of our student poets and fiction writers will spend a good deal of time reading and writing analytically about great works of literature.
That said, we regularly offer creative writing courses, designated in the curriculum as “Reading and Writing.” Recent offerings have included poetry writing, satire, the novel, literary portraiture, travel writing, the short story, the lyric essay, and the memoir. Many of the literature courses offer creative options for particular papers. Students have an opportunity in their senior year to work with faculty on a substantial project/thesis, which can be comprised of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, analytical prose, biography, or translation.
Our biweekly Literature Evenings are held in a house living room and feature readings by distinguished guest writers, students, and faculty. Field Work term allows you firsthand experience in the world of publishing, journalism, literary magazines, and other areas in which you can enrich your writing and reading. Student publications like SILO and the Bennington Free Press provide outlets for student writing and editing. Students interested in publishing or editing careers can work on plain china, a Bennington online literary magazine featuring top writing from undergraduate literary journals from across the country.
Distinguished former professors of literature at Bennington include fiction writers Nicholas Delbanco, John Gardner, Bernard Malamud, and Harry Matthews; poets W.H. Auden, Stanley Kunitz, Howard Nemerov, Mary Oliver, and Theodore Roethke; critics Kenneth Burke, Stanley Edgar Hyman, R.W.B. Lewis, and Camille Paglia; biographer Steven Bach. memoirist Lucy Grealy; and essayist Edward Hoagland.
Notable writers in various genres have attended Bennington over the years as students. These include the fiction writers Bret Easton Ellis, Donna Tartt, Jonathan Lethem, and Kiran Desai; the critical theorists Judith Butler, Andrea Dworkin, and Mark Edmundson; the nonfiction writers Michael Pollan, Alec Wilkinson, and Gretel Ehrlich; and the poets Anne Waldman, Susan Wheeler, Kathleen Norris, Reginald Shepherd, and Lynn Emanuel.