During this year’s January break, up to 50 students will participate in a two-week writers’ workshop led by Princeton Professor Evan W. Thomas ’73 and Harvard Overseer Walter S. Isaacson ’74, in the most extensive winter session programming yet offered by the College.
The workshop is unique not only because of the number of students who will participate, but also because it will begin meeting several days before the start of “Wintersession,” what the College has labeled the period of time during which all students can return to Cambridge prior to the start of second semester.
The students selected to join Thomas and Isaacson from Jan. 9 through Jan. 21 will be treated to guest lectures by a number of writers, group dinners with teachers, and individual meetings to discuss past writing.
Thomas—who is also a former expository writing preceptor—said he came up with the idea for the program during a conversation with Harvard Overseer Anne Fadiman ’75.
“We were talking about ways to improve the teaching of writing at Harvard. It just occurred to me that now that there is such a thing as a J-Term, this would be a chance to give a short course on how to write,” Thomas said.
While the aim of the course is to improve the writing ability of a select group of Harvard students, none of the participants will actually compose any work during the two-week session.
“I don’t expect people, having just written a whole lot of term papers ... are going to be all that eager to write,” Thomas said.
Instead of putting pen to paper, Thomas’ pupils will be reading the work of the guest lecturers before each makes an appearance in class. The current slate of speakers includes University President Drew G. Faust and bestselling author and journalist Jonathan H. Alter ’79, as well as a number of other authors and journalists.
Thomas also said that he looks forward to co-teaching with Isaacson, with whom he became friends while working together at Time Magazine in the late 1970s.
The pair have since gone on to respected careers in nonfiction writing. Thomas has written 10 books, and won a National Magazine Award for his work at Newsweek. Isaacson—whose biography of the late Steve Jobs will be released early next week—has served as the managing editor of Time Magazine and the Chairman and CEO of CNN.
On his part, Isaacson said he agreed to teach the course because he believes nonfiction writing is a valuable skill. He added that he was also looking forward to working with Thomas, as well as the dozens of students involved in the program.
In an e-mail, Pforzheimer House Resident Dean Lisa Boes, the administrator coordinating Winter Break and Wintersession, said that the writing program is a good example of the range of activities the College hopes to provide in January.
While the winter course will be much more abbreviated than the semester-long class taught by Thomas at Princeton, the professor said that two weeks is plenty of time to make a difference.
“I think you can get the essentials and can actually improve your writing if you are really paying attention for two weeks,” he said.