In Search of Inspiration – Fall '23 English 110S "Intro to Creative Writing: Writing as Practice"

Class at the Nasher

Students in Professor JP Gritton's Fall '23 "Intro to Creative Writing: Writing as Practice" class veered from the traditional classroom setting and enjoyed several inspirational creative writing excursions. These trips, along with a guest lecture on utilizing archives in writing, provided students with physical, mental, and sensory stimulation for their writing assignments.

"My idea (for this course) grows out of a powerful sense that all art forms—music, dance, visual art, theater, writing, even cuisine—inform and strengthen one another. When I was in college, I had a wonderful writing professor who urged us to pursue interests outside of writing, the idea being that these various art forms would cross-pollinate. My journey with capoeira grew in part out of my writing journey: for most of college, if I wasn't writing or reading or in the dining hall, I was probably playing capoeira." - Professor JP Gritton

The class’s first field trip on Monday, September 25, was to Duke's Rubenstein Cube in the Rubenstein Art Center to participate in "Capoeira," an Afro-Brazilian martial art and game that includes elements of dance, acrobatics, music, and spirituality. Students joined Professor Katya Wesolowski's Dance/Cultural Anthro class "Capoeira Angola" for a capoeira lesson taught by Alexsandra Frias, Mestra Tigresa, who has earned the title of Mestra. Gritton's class chronicled this opportunity in a journal assignment.

"The two art forms aren't so different. In both, you're telling a certain kind of story to an audience: in capoeira, it's the other player, and in literature, it's whoever picked up your short story or poem. In writing, you're relying on trickery and subterfuge to affect your reader's response; in capoeira, they'd call this malandragem or malicia. Like a well-turned phrase, a game of capoeira can be humorous, playful, deadly, and serious all at once. Sometimes, you start smiling, but you're on the floor by the end of the game. Reading Jamel Brinkley's wonderful, capoeira-infused short story "Everything the Mouth Eats" was a revelation to me: I saw capoeira and narrative seamlessly blended. I wanted to create an assignment and curate an experience for my students that invited that kind of innovation. Alexsandria Frias (Mestra Tigresa) was a wonderful guide for that journey."
 Professor Gritton

Students learning about capoeira
Students participating in capoeira


On Monday, October 2, Professor Chris Ouma, the newest member of the Duke English faculty, visited with Gritton’s class to discuss digital archives and how they can ignite one's creative mind and allow one's fingers and keyboard to produce something otherwise unimaginable.

"I spoke to them about how my research into the archives is also about the inspiration to imagine and be creative. Archives can and do inspire creative imagination because you have novelistic genres that are inspired, motivated, and often based on archival research. I also spoke to them about my upcoming spring courses: a) Adichie and her Contemporaries and b) Black Archival Imagination."Professor Chris Ouma 

Professor Ouma discussing digital archive research


On Monday, October 9, students visited the Durham Food Hall. This excursion allowed them to utilize their five senses and discuss recipes that are special to them. Professor Gritton broke the class into three groups, and each group had a budget to spend on afternoon snacks at the Food Hall. Each group had to work together to select items they could agree on based on each member's likes, dislikes, and dietary restrictions. The class enjoyed their family-style snacks, discussing the recipes they selected for their class assignment and the free-writing period that followed.

Students ordering at the Durham Food Hall
Food at the Durham Food Hall
Class at the Durham Food Hall

"Writing from memory is one thing, but this class has allowed me to write about experience as it's happening. Describing the flavors of a dish as I'm actually eating it with my peers brings out a new kind of creativity."
- Tessa Nyhan, 2026, Biology and Marine Science and Conservation

Discussing "St. John the Baptist II" by Kehinde Wiley at the Nasher

For their final field trip, the students visited the Nasher Art Museum on Monday, October 23, for a private showing with Ellen Raimond, Associate Curator of Academic Initiative. Raimond had the class meet around "St. John the Baptist II" by Kehinde Wiley to discuss the piece and what they saw in it. She shared with the students that art is a means for the artist to communicate with their audience and that the subjects who pose for artwork often have no say in their representation. Students shared their thoughts at first glance at Wiley's work. They took notice of the subject’s facial expressions, attire, accessories, noted elements that seemed to be period pieces, the size of the canvas, the detailed golden frame, and the swag illustrated in the painting.

Following the group discussion of Wiley's piece, Raimond split the students into three groups and provided them with a poetry assignment. Each group selected a painting, and then each student wrote a sentence about their selected piece. They then came together to ensure the poem flowed grammatically without changing the essence of what each group member wrote. Gritton's students communed with the work and the artist behind it as they worked on their poems.

With these non-traditional learning activities, Professor Gritton has shown his students that one can draw inspiration from anywhere. This illustrates how the vision one has for their work, whether it is writing, dance, music, research, culinary, or painting, can influence others in their works and can be perceived differently.

"Professor Gritton does a great job engaging his students with the texts and material. This allows us to interpret abstract concepts in our own way. From the Nasher Museum trip, the Durham Food Hall excursion, and the poetry readings we have had in class, the methods of instruction have all been entertaining and motivational. I still think about how to describe new foods and visual experiences using our five senses (a tool we learned through the food hall class)."Dylan Dotan, Economics major, political science minor.

In the Spring of 2024, Professor Gritton will teach English 221S.02 "Intro to the Writing of Fiction," in which students will compose pieces of short fiction and read the work of writers renowned for their short-form writing.

Studying Art