Since 2011, Phil has taught writing, literature, and journalism classes at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), UMass-Dartmouth, and Brown University. His courses include:
BROWN, SPRING 2019, AND UMASS-DARTMOUTH, SPRING 2018: “Advanced Feature Writing.”
Breaking-news stories make up only a fraction of the news we consume. Much of what we learn about the world is presented, instead, via in-depth stories that offer a distinct voice; substantial context; a unique or non-traditional narrative structure; and an emphasis on scenes, detail, characters, and narrative momentum. These “feature” stories often take us to dramatic events, introduce us to unforgettable characters, tell riveting stories, or reveal a new aspect of a familiar story that we hadn’t previously considered. (The best features do more than one of these things at once.) These are the stories that move us, that we remember years later, that we share with friends, and that we feel compelled to re-read. In the feature form, reporting the news can become art. In this course, we will explore this feature form found in newspapers, magazines, online publications, and a variety of other media. Over the course of the term, students will read dozens of feature stories; hear from guest speakers with decades of feature-writing and editing experience; practice various essential feature-writings kills, including idea-generating, pitching, reporting, writing, and rewriting; and, ultimately, produce four polished features of their own. By the end of the term, students will have gained a deep understanding of the possibilities within feature-writing, and also developed writing, reporting, and editing skills that will serve them in various future writing activities.
RISD, SPRING 2018 AND FALL 2016: "Introduction to Nonfiction Workshop."
COURSE DESCRIPTION: "So much of the writing we encounter in the world falls under the umbrella of 'nonfiction': memoirs, magazine articles, op-eds, travel narratives, celebrity profiles, true crime stories, biographies, personal essays, restaurant reviews, and more. This course offers an immersive introduction to the genre through reading, writing, and peer-editing assignments. Students will experiment with a number of different forms, including criticism, interviews, personal essays, and reportage. And they will also read the work of authors ranging from all-time masters like George Orwell and Joan Didion, to more contemporary luminaries like Roxane Gay, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Sherman Alexie. By the end of the term, students will have not only gained a firm understanding of a branch of literature sometimes called the 'art of fact,' they will have also generated a substantial nonfiction portfolio of their own."
RISD, WINTERSESSION 2019, 2018, 2016, AND 2013: "True Crime."
COURSE DESCRIPTION: "'Crime is terribly revealing,' Agatha Christie wrote in her 1936 novel “The ABC Murders.” And in the genre known as “True Crime” – which, unlike Christie’s novels, deals with real events – there is a long and colorful history of examining crimes to see what, exactly, they reveal. This class is an introduction to this genre through classic texts (including Truman Capote’s "In Cold Blood" and selections from the Library of America’s True Crime anthology), texts that challenge conventions (including Rick Geary’s graphic novel, 'The Borden Tragedy,' and Taryn Simon’s photography project, “The Innocents”), and texts that spill into other media, including documentary film, television, and podcasts. Over the course of the term, students will study some of the most notorious crimes in American history; explore the outsized role crime plays in the history of Rhode Island; take a trip to the Lizzie Borden Museum, in Fall River, Massachusetts; and discuss how the #BlackLivesMatter movement is changing the national conversation about crime and punishment. All along - in papers, presentations, and discussions - students will wrestle with the questions that the best True Crime stories pose. What is a crime? What is justice? And why are we perennially drawn to these stories?"
RISD, FALL 2015: "'I Am Providence': The Words and Worlds of H.P. Lovecraft."
COURSE DESCRIPTION: "No writer is more closely associated with Providence than the 'cosmic horror' genius Howard Phillips 'H.P.' Lovecraft. So what better place to explore his work than a RISD classroom mere yards from where he lived and worked? This course will not only offer a survey of Lovecraft’s world-famous fiction, but it will also explore his nonfiction (letters, essays, etc.), his extraordinary critical comeback (from being panned in the New Yorker in 1945 to being crowned the 'King of Weird' in the New York Review of Books in 1996), his influences (including Edgar Allan Poe), and his vast imprint on contemporary culture (from comic books to films to video games to heavy metal lyrics)."
RISD, FALL 2017, 2015, AND 2012: "First-Year Literature Seminar."
COURSE DESCRIPTION: "RISD’s First-Year Literature Seminar isn’t just an introduction to college writing, it’s an introduction to college thinking. In this class, we will practice writing, thinking, and a number of other essential skills – close reading, analyzing, interpreting, researching, outlining, drafting, editing – via discussions of a variety of texts. We will read poems, personal essays, op-eds, primary-source historical documents, short stories, a memoir, and a novel. These texts will enable us to, among other things, travel back in time to 1636; visit a seaside hospital in France and a Spokane Indian reservation in Washington State; and meet the founders of the Rhode Island School of Design. By the end of the semester, students will not only have learned about their new home city – Providence, Rhode Island – but they will gain the confidence to analyze and discuss any text they encounter during their time here."
RISD, FALL 2012: "Journalism in the 21st Century."
COURSE DESCRIPTION: "What is journalism in the twenty-first century? Students in this workshop will strive to answer this question through reading, discussion, and hands-on reporting. Taking the RISD community as their “beat,” students will regularly publish news, profile, feature, opinion, and arts-coverage pieces. They will also discuss various texts – from gawker.com and This American Life to the New Yorker and the New York Times – to understand the journalistic successes and scandals of recent memory. The class will stress journalistic ideals and skills like fact-checking and interviewing, while, at the same time, students will experiment with blogs, videos, podcasts, social networks, and other new-media tools. We will host guest speakers from a variety of media outlets over the course of the semester."
RISD, FALL 2011: "Writing Providence: A Nonfiction Workshop."
COURSE DESCRIPTION: "This year marks the 375th anniversary of Roger Williams' first settlement of Providence. "Writing Providence" will honor this milestone by looking back at 375 years of writing in journalism, fiction, history, memoir, poetry, and scripts for film and T.V. about Rhode Island's 'Renaissance City.' For its written component, students will venture into the city to practice various nonfiction forms, including interviews, op-eds, reviews, essays, and reportage. The class is designed to introduce students to the people, places, and things that make Providence unique (Buddy Cianci, College Hill, and Haven Brothers Diner, to name a few) and to equip them with skills for writing about Place, wherever their travels take them."