Paris Then and Now: Circles of Influence

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Paris Then and Now: Circles of Influence is a four-week summer course given at Reid Hall by the Creative Writing Department. It is taught by Stacey D'Erasmo and Amy Benson, along with a grad student, who lives in the dorms and is around to help out with any needs. The course began in 2011 and is open to undergrads and grad students.[1]

After an application process in the early spring semester, about 15 students are selected to participate. The class is done completely in English.



Paris Then and Now is essentially two classes: a seminar and workshop. The seminar is taught together by Benson and D'Erasmo for a seminar on the readings but the class is arbitrarily split for workshop. As is typical of Columbia there are no classes on Fridays.

The seminar covers a variety of genres including the Moderns (think: A Moveable Feast), Negritude (Aime Cesaire), the Nouveau Roman (it's odd), and an ambiguous genre covering Paris as place (Paul LaFarge, Baudelaire, etc.).

In workshops, since Benson does nonfiction and D'Erasmo does fiction, they will bring a guest in to help the poets.

Outside of class

A guest speaker comes to speak each week, ranging from American authors to French literary critics to translators. Some are better than others.

Each week ends with a Stein-style "salon" where students read what they wrote, read what other people wrote, or perform. The PA provides cheese, charcuterie, pastries, and (to ensure people will be courageous and speak up) wine.

Students are given a list of optional cultural events to attend each week around the city. They must attend at least one each week. There are also a few readings at Shakespeare & Co. which the class is encouraged to go to together. Occasionally there is a mandatory film screening at Reid Hall.

Final requirements

At the end of the course, students are required to turn in workshop work, a piece based on the styles read in seminar, and a piece inspired by one of the suggested culture events. Grades are received at the end of summer.


Reid Hall is in Montparnasse, in the 6th arrondissement and the Maison is closer to the 5th, about a mile walk (15 minutes) from Reid Hall.

Students typically live in the Maison des Mines et des Ponts et Chaussées ("Maison des Mines" or simply "Maison" for short), which is the dormitories for three French engineering schools.[2] There are other students living in the dorms while Columbia is there, generally from France and Spain. They are, at times, overbearingly friendly.

The rooms are doubles, but Columbians get them as singles - so two beds and two desks for one person. The rooms have a closet, sink, refrigerator, and counter space. Bathrooms are communal and not denoted for gender. Garbage is collected from rooms and a cleaning lady will change the beds' sheets every so often. Towels, hangers, and kitchenware are not provided.


  • Go to the suggested cultural events. The teachers are cool, they pick cool things
  • Reid Hall is near the Luxembourg Gardens. Do your readings there.
  • A grocer two blocks to the north of the Maison on Saint-Jacques stays open late if you need a post-midnight snack
  • You don't need to know French for class, but a few phrases makes it a hell of a lot easier to get food/a drink/around/that cute guy's number.
  • Yes, Hemingway's old apartment is right around the corner from Reid Hall. No, it does not exist anymore.
  • Make life easier


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