Press "Enter" to skip to content

Jia Tolentino Teaches Master Class in Literary Journalism at Bennington 

Photo by Elena Mudd

This term, The New Yorker staff writer and author Jia Tolentino is on campus to teach a Master Class in Literature Journalism. Tolentino is known for her NYTimes best-seller book Trick Mirror and her New Yorker articles ranging from an expose on Britney Spears with Ronan Farrow to a viral piece on reproductive rights. She had previously visited Bennington for speaking events, including a panel in spring of 2022 alongside Sheila Heti and Jenny Offill, moderated by Literature professor Benjamin Anastas, called “How to Be an Art Monster.”

After the panel, the speakers and organizers had a dinner in CAPA where Tolentino joked “Someone get me a teaching gig here,” and the plan was soon set in motion. Tolentino’s teaching experience includes a class she taught while in graduate school at University of Michigan and before that, she taught poetry to third graders in Houston. More recently, she taught a six-week master class at Columbia University. 

“Teaching is something I’m interested in getting better at. I love talking to college students,” Tolentino says. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to make it work, commuting to Vermont once a week, with a seven-month old and three year old at home in New York City, but the deal was sweetened when the college offered her a CAPA apartment to stay in. 

Excitement spread quickly when it was announced Tolentino would be teaching a course at Bennington. All students could apply and 15 were selected based on their writing samples. The class meets on Wednesday afternoons for four hours, with a large portion of the time dedicated to analyzing readings and the remainder to in-class writing exercises.  

The course title is “Hearing Voices: a Master Class in Literary Journalism” and Tolentino designed the reading list to be as diverse as possible, covering a wide range of genres, styles, and eras. “I put together a syllabus that is varied in every way I can think of,” Tolentino shares. Patricia Lockwood, James Baldwin, Eve Babitz, Joan Didion, Marlon James, and Roger Angell, are just a few of the writers whose work Tolentino assigned. 

A close friend of Tolentino’s, Luce de Palchi graduated from Bennington in 2010 and often told her about her time at the college and how special it was. “I was primed for its specialness,” Tolentino says, adding that there is an aura around the campus that “attracts a certain kind of independent, passionate, weird-in-the-best-way student.” 

Tolentino’s goal for the course is to help students shake off “student voice” in their writing. “For me, it was an enormous turning point in my writing life and intellectual life when I figured out how to write in a voice that sounded honest and like myself,” Tolentino reflects, adding “It’s a pursuit of honesty.” Students will be pushed to scrub out the blander student voice that is often ingrained into their writing. “This is a perpetual project I’m engaged in,” she says. 

Teaching, for Tolentino, is all-consuming. “I’m invested in your writing and in the conversation. I feel consumed by the process of teaching in a way where I would not be able to do this every semester.” She explains that she has many pieces due for The New Yorker and two young children. “I’m so deep in the thick of this stage of motherhood and family life, selfishly it’s incredible to know that I am removing myself entirely once a week to just talk about writing.” 

Along with teaching, Tolentino is currently profiling director Park Chan Wook for The New Yorker, working on a piece about an “extremely popular children’s show,” and writing a screenplay. 

“Whenever you teach, you always end up learning the subject again and in a deeper way, with the help of your students’ brains,” Tolentino says, adding that “there’s a lot of stuff that’s fun for me to revisit as a writer, stylistically.” She feels the effects of journalism, as an industry, attenuating and knows a lot of places with the resources to fund interesting experimental journalism are disappearing. “Hopefully it is fun for the people who are younger than me, interested in journalism, to get to experiment too.” 

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *