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Students Explore Philadelphia Literary Culture in PhillyX Course

From libraries and local bookstores to community gatherings and readings, there is a vibrant literary culture in Philadelphia. Ursinus students are tapping into that culture in “Philly Word,” a Philadelphia Experience (PhillyX) course taught by Nzadi Keita, associate professor of English and coordinator of African American/Africana studies.

In PhillyX, Ursinus students live, work and study in Philadelphia. Philly Word is all about individual experience and how each student can document those experiences in creative ways. Throughout the semester, students are soaking in Philadelphia culture by attending inspiring sites and literary events; taking a trip to the Free Library to hear U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo; and designing a literary walking tour based on their own historical research.

Through blogs, vlogs, short essays and vignettes, each student showcases their discoveries within the local artistic community.

Students split their time between a Center City “classroom” at the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia (thanks to the support of Ursinus Board of Trustees Chair Rob Wonderling) and use of city spaces and places as class settings.

One of the key features of the class is the collection of work and writing that the students share via blogs. Each student is responsible for creating and populating their blog with related assignments.

“I thought that such media would make the concept of writing for an audience even more tangible than if they only submitted workshopped writing from the classroom,” Keita says.

She also uses the blogs as a way to incorporate a visual aspect in their work and to emphasize what they have learned and experienced in detail, adding, “A visual aspect would merge text and image to more effectively document their actual experiences with literary culture.”

Another goal of the course is for students to engage with primary and secondary sources. They are able to meet with, ask questions and learn from individuals who are deeply connected to the culture of Philadelphia.

Amanda Turcios ’20 wrote about the story of publisher and activist Larry Robin in her blog post “Will Books Become Outdated?” She discusses the modern-day difficulty that many people face when it comes to reading books in the digital age, writing “The Internet and other digital outlets are forcing books to become a thing of the past.”

“It’s not your average lecture class,” Turcios shares, adding that her appreciation for the city has grown since the semester started. “Through these trips, it has shown me different locations around Philadelphia that have great significance within the writing community.”

Students visited the Moonstone Arts Center founded by Larry Robin and his wife; attended a reading of Sarah Broom’s memoir The Yellow House at the Pen and Pencil Club; experienced an in-class visit and reading by poet Lamont B. Steptoe about his own life; and visited the Soapbox Print Show and Zine Library where they were able to read unique handmade zines, a form of small circulation publication. –By Mary Lobo ’15