English 623 Zacharias
Nonfiction Writing Spring 2002
Text and Supplies: Phillip Lopate, Ed., The Art of the Personal Essay
3 reams of 20-lb. white copy paper
Scope and Rationale: Nonfiction is the only genre that is named by what it is not. It might inlude anything from a brief factual report to a lyrical book-length meditation. In this course we will focus on the art of the informal/personal essay (with one notable exception, when Liz Seymour, a freelance writer who specializes in travel and design and also writes for Book magazine, will talk with the class about writing as a freelancer for trade magazines). With an anthology and supplementary texts, we will learn as much as we can about the genre as a whole, its history and the particular forms it has taken, as well as examining such urgent questions as the role of truth and fiction in literary (or as it is often called "creative") nonfiction.
Student Learning Outcomes: Upon completing this course students will be familiar with the tradition and range of the personal essay as literature and will have developed skills to use in shaping the raw material of experience by the unities of meaning that characterize art.
Method: Workshop of student essays plus discussion of supplemental texts. Short essays will be workshopped in groups; the longer essay assignments will be workshopped in the class as a whole provided they are turned in on time. A deadline sheet will be passed around.
Written critiques of all longer student essays workshopped in class, to be turned in to the authors on the date of discussion with a second copy to be turned in to me in a portfolio of critiques at the end of the semester.
Written critiques of the short student essays by members of your critical group, to be turned in to the authors on the date of discussion with a second copy turned in to me in the portfolio of critiques at the end of the semester.
Two short essays (ca. 2-3 pages)
Two longer essays (ca. 8-12 pages) OR one longer essay and a substantial revision
See the next page for information about the essay assignments.
Grading: Your grade will come in equal measure from the quality of your essays and the quality of your critical work (in written critiques and workshop discussion). Written work will be judged with an awareness that in a workshop environment we are looking at work that is, though complete in draft, still in progress. Individual essays will not receive letter grades; rather, I will let you know where you stand at that point once we have discussed your first long essay; you are welcome to discuss your grade with me at that time. If you have addressed the workshop seriously through your discussion and critiques and your essay work is strong, you will receive an A. If your essay work is strong but your discussion and critiques are weaker, you will receive a grade of A- or B+, depending on my sense of your effort. If you essay work and your discussion and critiques are acceptable you will receive a B. You must satisfy all requirements to pass. Attendance is mandatory. No unexcused absences.
About the Essay Assignments
The first short essay (ca. 2-3 pages) should be based in memory and is due January 29.
The second short essay is to exclude memory and is due February 19. It might be an observation based on fieldwork (e.g., go somewhere, see something, or do something you haven't done before and write about it, but in such a way that you are not merely reporting), a portrait of a someone, or whatever you choose. The two requirements are that it be no more than 3 (or 3 1/2) pages and that it not be based in memory.
The goal in these short assignments is to have you write at the extremes of the form, one essay that presents you as an "I" with an experience so personal it's been internalized and another that presents you more as an "eye." A number of short essays will be distributed in class as examples.
You will sign up for the deadlines for the two longer essays (or one longer essay and a substantial revision of that essaywhich you will probably decide later in the semester). Page length (ca. 8-12 pages) for these longer essays is an approximate guideline, as length will depend largely on your material and your method. You may end up using some of the material from one or both short essays in the longer work. Topics and focus for these longer essays are openthe work may be more, less, or not at all autobiographical, as long as it does not fall into the categories of academic writing, reporting, or unembellished polemic.
Jan. 22 Liz Seymour visit
Jan. 29 First short essays due
Feb. 12 Group workshops for first short essays
Feb. 19 Second short essays due
March 5 Group workshops for second short essays
Note: All class sessions except January 15, January 22, February 12, and March 5 will be used to discuss supplentary materials and long student essays as assigned.