All assignments (reading and blogs) are due at the beginning of the class, unless otherwise specified. Items under “recommended” are to guide critical thinking, writing, further reading (toward writing projects) but not required for that day. However, one can never do enough reading and thinking…

Part One: The Philosophy of the Essay

Week 1: Rethinking the Essay

M 8/28/17

Required: First Class. Read Phillip Lopate “The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt” (linked here) + Read through syllabus and begin to browse course material (website) in advance of class.

Recommended: Come to class ready to write (bring a journal/notebook with you).

W 8/30

Required: Moore, Crafting the Personal Essay (chapters 1-3)

Recommended: As you make note of Moore’s initial definitions of the essay, compare/contrast your definitions and past experiences with the essay form.

F 9/1

Required: Jeff Porter, “A History and Poetics of the Essay” + Christy Wampole, “The Essayification of Everything” (linked)

Recommended: Make note of keywords and ideas that Porter and Wampole associate with the essay tradition. Consult the guidelines I recommend for using the journal in response to your reading.

Week 2: The Essay’s Beginnings

M 9/4

Required: Montaigne, “Of Repentance” [linked] + Bacon, “Of Truth” [linked]

Recommended: As you read through and respond to Montaigne’s essay, do so deliberately–make note in your journal and on the text of particular lines and passages that characterize how he thinks and writes essays. How does Montaigne’s essay compare or contrast with Bacon’s?

W 9/6

Required: Moore, Crafting (chapters 4-7) + Woolf, Death of the Moth [linked] + Dillard,

“The Death of a Moth”+ Dillard, “How I wrote the Moth Essay”

Recommended: How does the “contemplative essay” compare/contrast with your understanding of the essay from school? How does Woolf compare back to Montaigne?

F 9/8

Required: White, “Once More to the Lake” [pdf in Canvas]+ Lauret Savoy, “The View from Point Sublime’ (first essay in Trace)   + Blog due

In your blog, in addition to providing an overview from your reading this week (must include summary of Montaigne and at least two additional essays from this week), contemplate and explore further a particular aspect from one or more of the essayists for closer reading. With White or Dillard or Woolf, do you see extensions of Montaigne and his approach to the essay, or something new and different for the genre?

For guidelines on the blog:

Week 3: Emerson and the Essay

M 9/11

Required: Emerson, “The American Scholar” [linked] +  “Circles” [linked]

Recommended:  How might we apply Emerson’s idea of circular power to Emerson’s own writing–to an essay such as “Circles”? What might this mean for our own reading and writing–what sort of essaying does this envision? Think about the ways Emerson’s call in “The American Scholar” to rethink education extends to ways of rethinking writing and reading.

W 9/13

Required: Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

Recommended: Emerson’s most famous (infamous) essay. An argument for being ourselves, but also look for ways that the essay complicates conventional understanding of what it means to be a self.

F 9/15

Required: Emerson, “Experience” + Blog (your initial reading summary must include “Experience” and at least two other essays from Emerson this week; closer reading can focus on any of them you choose)

Recommended: “Experience” is one of the great essays in English–not a simple read. Use the commonplace form for some organization of your response: philosophy, rhetoric, poetics.

Week 4: Quotation and Originality

M 9/18

Required:  Emerson, “Quotation and Originality” [linked] plus start Shields, Reality Hunger [chapters A and B, if not beyond]

Recommended:  How does Emerson view originality and the self? What are the implications of this vision for a writer? for an essay? You might also check out a contemporary mediation on the topic, Lethem, “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism”

W 9/20

Required: continue Shields, Reality Hunger, chapters C through Q [at least, can read beyond this if you like].

Recommended: Keep thinking of Emerson on quotation and originality–consider how Shields might extend Emerson’s vision of the essay in his book.

Thursday 9/21, 4.30, Gibson Center for the Arts: Reading by essayist Lauret Savoy, author of Trace.

F 9/22

Required: finish Shields, Reality Hunger  + Blog

Recommended: For the blog, as you begin to contemplate more directly your own essay on the essay, explore ideas by putting Shields into conversation with Emerson as well as your own emerging philosophy of the essay. What do you see at work in Shields (in terms of his philosophy, rhetoric, and poetics) that you might want to write about, or learn from? What might you borrow?

Week 5: First Project: Philosophy of the Essay

M 9/25

Required: Scott Russell Sanders, “The Singular First Person” and “The Road Into Chaos and Old Night” (pdf ) + Amanda Eldreth, “Designing Towards the (Re)Discovery of Thought” (pdf–essay published in WCR by former student in the class)

Recommended: Also read through your journal, compost ideas for your project, looking toward the initial draft due Wednesday. If interested, you can take a look at my version of an essay on the essay (and an essay on Emerson as essayist), Essaying with Emerson

W 9/27

Required: Initial Draft of project due: submitted to Canvas and available (print or electronic copy) in class for workshop. Complete Peer Review in Canvas by Thursday noon. Guidelines for peer review are in the Canvas “Project 1 initial” assignment.

Recommended: Draft should be at least 2-3 pages. Include at the top an abstract of your argument (as it exists at this point).

I suggest trying an inductive approach: skipping some of the intro (have a provisional thesis) and dive into the body—exposition and close reading of texts and ideas from the course that will develop your argument about the essay, and lead to a stronger thesis.

F 9/29

Required: Final version of Writing Project due Friday by/before 11.59 pm (submitted to Canvas) and posted to your blog.

In class: Revision and Editing workshop; bring latest version of  your essay.

Recommended: Don’t forget writing resources listed on home page (Guide to Grammar and Writing, Purdue OWL, etc) as well as Writing Center as ways to sharpen your essay’s logic, rhetoric, and poetics.


Part Two: The Rhetoric of the Essay

Week 6 Dillard: Essay and Exploration

M 10/2

Required: Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (through page 70: first 4 essays)


W 10/4

Required: Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (through page 94)

Recommended: Moore, Crafting the Personal Essay (chapters 11, 17 and 18)–for discussion of writing the spiritual, nature, and travel essay.

F 10/6

Required: Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk  (finish)+ Blog


Week 7: Douglass: Essay and Freedom

M 10/9

Required:  Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life [through chapter 3]. Conferences scheduled this week: have journal with you.

Recommended: See Dr. Hall’s reading at the Literary House, 5 pm.

W 10/11

Required: Finish Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life (or most of it–whatever you don’t get to, finish over the break). No blog this week.


F 10/13

Required: Fall Break



Week 8: Kaysen: Essay and the Mind

M 10/16

Required: Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted (through p. 44)


W 10/18

Required: continue Girl, Interrupted plus read Lia Purpura, “Shit’s Beautiful” (pdf)


Thursday 10/19: Essayist on campus: Lia Purpura, reading from her lyric essay, Literary House, 4.30 pm

F 10/20

Required:   Finish Girl, Interrupted + Blog

Recommended: Focus in on one or two passages that you have found most compelling in the book thus far (or perhaps least compelling)–and explore the rhetorical work behind the passage. You might compare/contrast Kaysen’s with Douglass.

Week 9: Savoy: Essay and Memory

M 10/23

Required: Savoy, Trace (through p. 68)


W 10/25

Required: Continue reading Trace for Friday + read “The Case for Reparations” by Tai-Nahisi Coates [you are not required to include Coates in your blog response]


F 10/27

Required:  Finish Trace + Blog

Recommended: As you continue to reflect on and explore the rhetorical aspects of Savoy’s project, think about its multidisciplinary aspects: a geologist (from a liberal arts college!) who also teaches environmental science and whose writing includes historical research and personal history.

Week 10: Second Writing Project: Rhetoric of the Essay

M 10/30

Required: Writing Project 2: Initial Draft (at least 3 pages) submitted to Canvas. Bring draft with you for workshop. Peer Response: Read and respond to writers in your peer review group by Tuesday noon


W 11/1

Required: Moore, Crafting the Personal Essay (chapters 8-12) + revision of your essay. Bring to class your work in progress and latest draft. Consider a conference with me and/or Writing Center as you work on revision and editing this week.


F 11/3

Required: Second Writing Project due 11.59 pm (submitted to Canvas). Bring draft in progress for editing workshop in class.


Part Three: Poetics of the Essay

Week 11: Multimedia Essays

M 11/6

Required: John Bresland, “On the Origin of the Video Essay”  + view all 6 essays in the Video Essay Suite.

Recommended: Additional “video poems” by Claudia Rankine called “Situations”

W 11/8

Required: [Reading for Friday–no class meeting: Advising Day] Audio Essay: David Sedaris, from his “Santaland Diaries” +“Angeli Symphony” (from Snap Judgement; transcript here:

F 11/10

Required: Digital/multimedia Essay: Ander Monson, “Essay as Hack” +Photo-Essay, The Dizzying Grandeur of 21st-Century Agriculture + Slide Show “The Fracking of Rachel Carson” (Sandra Steingraber) Blog  For the blog: your initial reading/summary for this week must include discussion of at least one “essay” from each assignment (video, radio, digital/multimedia) as well as closer reading of at least one of them.  Consider for your response: is a multimedia essay just an essay in multimedia/digital form–or do multimedia/digital poetics transform what the essay is (philosophy) and how it works (rhetoric). Is this stuff brand new, or does it take us back to Emerson and Montagine? Is it rhetorically effective and compelling, or merely entertainment?

Recommended: Remember parataxis. In what ways does hypertext (the nonlinear paths and associational thinking provided by web links) create or reinforce the paratactic quality of an essay? What does it mean (at least for Monson) that the essay performs a hack? Do the images in the NYTimes photo-essay on agriculture effectively “hack” what a traditional essay or article would do?


Week 12: Essay as Journalism/Documentary

M 11/13

Required: Podcast as Essay: Listen to the podcast “Serial, Season 2, episode 1: DUSTWUN.” Also TED Talk as essay: Read Nathan Heller, “Five Key TED Talks” + watch Steven Johnson, “Where Good Ideas Come From” (TED talk)

Further reading/viewing (suggested): The TED Talk by Ken Robinson on education (referred to as most watched TED ever), in an animated version.

W 11/15

Required: Essaying Sports. Claudia Rankine, “The Meaning of Serena Williams” + read (and be prepared to share) another example of your choice of sports or entertainment journalism. What makes these essayistic?

F 11/17

Required: Michael Pollan, “Unhappy Meals” plus read and bring in another example of long-form journalism you have read (any topic) that you would consider to be essayistic.

Instead of a blog this week, work on Project 3 (due Monday)

Recommended: Again, how does journalism become essayistic, or when and how does the essay becomes journalistic? For another piece on food, consider Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, originally published in Rolling Stone.

Week 13:

M 11/20

Required: Project 3 due–posted to blog by class time. See Writing Projects for full description–basics here:

Option 1: Multimedia Essay. Create a video essay, audio essay, photo-essay, hypertext, podcast or any other form of digitally mediated essay. The essay can be on any topic, and need not be complete. For video or audio, aim for 2-3 minutes (the beginnings of what could be a longer essay). For hypertext or photo-essay, aim for several pages.

Option 2: Journalism/Documentary. Create a treatment or plan for a long-form essay (any topic or issue) that might be a documentary film, a podcast, a TED Talk, etc. Your treatment should be at least 2-3 pages, explaining what the essay will explore and how the medium of the essay (film, podcast, presentation) will play a role in its effect.


W 11/22  [Thanksgiving Break]



F 11/24 [Thanksgiving Break]


Week 14: The Lyric Essay

M 11/27

Required: D’Agata, The Lifespan of a Fact, first half (or read whole essay, skipping footnotes)


W 11/29

Required: finish Lifespan (or reread, focusing on footnotes) + A follow-up piece/review of Lifespan of a Fact and D’Agata, with surprises.


F 12/1

Required: Gutkind, “The 5 Rs of Creative Nonfiction” + “Picturing the Personal Essay: A Visual Guide”; no blog due (start thinking about Final Project, proposal due Monday)


Week 15: Final Project

M 12/4

Required: Final Project Proposal due [posted to your blog]

Recommended: Moore, Crafting (chapters 22, 23 and Appendix A, B, C)

W 12/6

Required: Final Project Workshop. Initial drafting of your essay due (should be at least 3 pages, however rough)–and submitted to Canvas. You will provide response to your peer group by Thursday 5 pm. To guide your response, use the following questions. What’s the philosophy or idea that seems to be emerging for this essay? What’s one rhetorical element that seems strong, worth expanding and one that seems in need of more development? What’s an element of the poetics you notice that the writer could or should do more with? What questions are you left with after reading the draft?

Final Project due by: Wednesday, December 13, 11.59 pm (submitted to Canvas)