Writing Essays

“A writer—and, I believe, generally all persons—must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.”

—Jorge Luis Borges

 

“There are as many kinds of essays as there are human attitudes or poses, as many essay flavors as there are Howard Johnson ice creams. The essayist arises in the morning and, if he has work to do, selects his garb from an unusually extensive wardrobe: he can pull on any sort of shirt, be any sort of person, according to his mood or his subject matter—philosopher, scold, jester, raconteur, confidant, pundit, devil’s advocate, enthusiast.”

— E.B. White

From its inception, the word “essay” implied a sense of experimentation, and in this course, that’s exactly what we’ll do: attempt, to the best of our abilities, to weave the abstract qualities of beauty and truth in an effort to construct artful narratives of our lives. This course takes as its premise the idea that nonfiction writing and essays inherently move beyond personal experience to include and engage larger issues of identity, society, and culture; essays enlarge, inhabit, and assume positions that must necessarily resonate with readers unfamiliar to the writer and his or her world. Throughout the course of the semester, students will read and study a wide variety of essayists and essayistic forms—including personal essays, narrative essays, braided essays, lyric essays, experimental essays, and graphic and video essays, to name a few—and together, we’ll discuss the craft and formalistic guidelines inherent to each while simultaneously drafting our own through exercises that target point-of-view, form, voice, and structure. Students will read essays by both canonical and contemporary essayists, including Joan Didion, Phillip Lopate, John D’Agata, David Foster Wallace, Mark Doty, Annie Dillard, William Zinsser, Jo Ann Beard, Meghan Daum, Lauren Slater, Brian Doyle, Ryan Van Meter, Eula Biss, Kelly Sundberg, Matthew Gavin Frank, Michael Martone, Jenny Boully, Jonathan Bresland, Lucas Mann, Kyle Minor, Kristen Radkte, Diane Seuess, and Matteo Bittanti. Students should expect to produce ample writing throughout the semester and to share this work with others regularly in a formal workshop environment. The course will culminate in a final portfolio comprised of original drafts and revised work as well as a thoughtful reflection.

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