Instructor: Terri Giuliano Long

 

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Writing the Personal Essay

   


 

Instructor: Terri Long January 23 - May 8, 2006
Office: McGuinn 100 Monday 6:30-9:00
e-mail: longt@bc.edu  
Texts

Models For Writers, Alfred Rosa and Paul Eschholz
Modern American Memoirs, Dillard & Conley
The Elements of Style, Strunk & White

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“Through finding a story’s shape within your life’s shape, you could know what your life means.” Tristine Rainer, Your Life as Story

This semester, we’ll read the personal stories of others, using those pieces as inspiration to help you discover and write your own personal stories. In your writing, you’ll explore feelings and beliefs about love and loss, faith and commitment, hope and disappointment, faith, courage, challenge and success.

In discussions on craft, you’ll learn the techniques that will help you write compelling essays. You’ll learn to engage your readers by writing realistic dialogue, building interesting scenes, describing dynamic characters and settings. Exercises and homework assignments, designed to complement classroom discussion, give you the opportunity to experiment with structure and form, as you learn new ways of enhancing and expanding your creativity.

Essay Assignments: In addition to regular short exercises, you’ll write two creative pieces: a two to three-page personal reflection and a five-page memoir which will be discussed in a workshop held in class. A polished final draft of your workshop essay will be due the last night of class. Papers will be graded on creativity, content, style, structure, and mechanics.

Please note: all essay assignments must be turned by the end of class on the night they are due. Late essays will be penalized—one letter grade per class after the due date.

Paper Format: We’ll be using the Modern Language Association (MLA) standard manuscript format for English and the humanities.

Attendance and Class Participation: A large portion of this class will be conducted in workshop format. Please remember: workshops help the critic as much as they help the writer. It’s not fair to you or to your classmates, who depend on your insight and support, if you don’t show up.

Grades: Grade assessments are based on three components: quality of essays, attendance and participation, completion of homework and exercises.

Attendance and participation account for 15% of final grades. Anyone who misses more than 3 classes will fail the course.

Conferences: I’d be pleased to meet with you before class to discuss the essay you’re working on—or to talk about writing in general. To enable me to give you the time and attention you need, please schedule an appointment the week before you’d like to meet.

Peer Critique: The peer critique is your response to the pieces presented in the workshops. Please read each piece carefully, then write a brief analysis, describing the essay’s strong points and pointing out areas where you feel the writing might be improved. Try to make your comments as specific as possible. Careful analysis of the peer essays will help the author, and will also help you to become a better writer and critic.

One final note: One week before your scheduled workshop, you’ll be asked to bring copies of your second essay to class. You must bring copies for everyone. Because this class meets in the evening, it’s nearly impossible to distribute work outside of class. Essays not brought to class the night they are due will not be reviewed. If an emergency forces you to reschedule your workshop, you are responsible for: 1) finding a classmate to switch time slots with you; 2) informing me, so I can update the schedule. Workshops are to be rescheduled ONLY in emergency situations.

I hope you find this a rewarding and productive semester. I look forward to sharing your work.

Work Schedule: Writing The Personal Essay, Spring 2006

ESSAY ASSIGNMENTS: In addition to regular exercises, you will write two essays, a short, 2-3 page reflection and a longer (5 page) personal essay/memoir. A revised draft of your first essay is due on 2/27; a polished draft of one of your essays is due on the final night of class.

Please Note:
1) Late Papers will be penalized one letter grade per class.
2) ALL assignments are to be double-spaced and MUST adhere to page limits. Shorter pieces can be fully developed by tightening your focus.
3) All writing, including one-page journals, must be turned in.

Syllabus: Spring 2006

Week One       1/23
Introduction

Week Two       1/31  
Reading:
“Becoming a Writer,” Baker, Models 195
“Shame,” Gregory, Models 142
Handout—Susan Orleans
Writing:
1) One page reflection—what is an essay?
2) Copy an opening and a closing that you admire (may be from different sources). In a paragraph describe what appeals to you and why.
Discussion:
1) Writers and the writing process
2) Subjectivity and Truth
3) Getting started—what interests you?
4) Start with a punch; end with a bang.
Exercise: Opening for your first essay.

Week Three       2/6  
Reading:
“A Crime of Compassion,” Huttmann, Models 293
“A Childhood,” Crews, MAM 1
Paper Due “Does a Finger Fing?” Lamar, Models 243
Writing:
Paper #1 Write a 2-3 page story/reflection about someone you care about. How does that person’s life intersect with your own?
Discussion: Voice, Point of View
Exercise: Switching POV

Week Four        2/13
Reading:
“Learning to See,” Scudder, Models 98
“Be Specific,” Goldberg, Models 299
Writing:
Jot down details that you might add to develop your first essay. Be as specific as possible.
Writing:
Write a 1-page essay about an important event. What significance does the event have for you?
Discussion:
1) Concrete v Abstract, Specific v General
2) Focus and Unity
Exercise: Round the class stories

Week Five        2/20
Reading:
“I Love Washington,” McCullough, Models 352
“Wolf Willow,” Stegner, MAM 24
Writing:
(1 page) Describe a place that has made an impression on you. Make the description come alive.
Discussion:
Description
Exercise:
You’re MIA: Describe yourself.

Week Six       2/27
Reading:
“Momma, the Dentist…” Angelou, Models 333
“Stop-Time,” Conroy, MAM 132
Rev. Due. Writing:
1) Revision Paper #1
Discussion:
Dialogue
Exercise:
Practice dialogue writing

Week Seven        3/13
Reading:
“Confessions of a Knife,” Selzer
Discussion:
Narrative Distance

Week Eight       3/20
Reading:
“Replacing Memory,” Lopez, MAM 372
Writing:
Using Lopez’s essay as a model, divide one of your pieces into sections. Briefly describe each section (you need turn in only the descriptions—one page).
Please bring a draft of one of your essays to class.
Discussion:
Structure/Organization—shaping a text
Exercise:
Effects of Structure/Organization on Story?

Week Nine        3/27
Reading:
“Bronx Primitive,” Simon, MAM 40
“The Sounds of the City,” Tuite, Models 348
Writing:
(1 page) Describe a place from your childhood.
Discussion:
Setting & Atmosphere

Week Ten        4/3
Reading:
“This Stubborn Soil,” Owens, MAM 269
Writing:
(One Page) Write a brief story about something interesting or scary that you’ve done.
Discussion:
Scene Making

Week Eleven      4/10 
Reading:
“Brothers and Keepers,” Wideman, MAM 407
Writing:
(One Page) Write a brief analysis of the essay you intend to present as your final piece. What’s working? What isn’t? What moves the story forward?
Discussion:
Revision
Please bring a copy of one your essays to class.

Week Twelve       4/24 
Reading:
“This Boy’s Life,” Wolff MAM 193
Writing:
Write a one page opening of a new essay.
Discussion:
Revision Continued

Week Thirteen        5/1
Reading:
“Simplicity,” Zinsser, Models 164
“In Praise. . . Humble Comma,” Iyer, Models 173
“. . .Case. . .Short Words,” Lederer, Models 303
Writing:
Copy two paragraphs written by your favorite author, then write two paragraphs of your own, imitating his or her style. Finally, write a paragraph describing the stylistic techniques you copied.
Discussion:
Style, Edit, Final Revision
Please bring a copy of the essay you plan to turn in as your final piece.

Week Fourteen       5/8 
Writing:
1) Polished Draft of Workshop Essay
2) Personal Evaluation—where do you think you are now with your writing? What has changed in your writing this semester? How have you grown as a writer?
Discussion:
Appreciating the finished product.

McGuinn 100
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© 2005, Terri Giuliano Long
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