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 1/23/17

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 1/25

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 1/27

Required: Jeff Porter, “A History and Poetics of the Essay” [pdf] + 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 1/30

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 2/1

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

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

F 2/3

Required: White, “Once More to the Lake” [pdf in Canvas]+ Dillard, “How I wrote the Moth Essay”   + Blog due

Recommended: 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),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 2/6

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 2/8

Required: Emerson, “Self-Reliance” Post at least one comment to the essay in the Wreading Parlor that responds to some aspect of the essay’s philosophy, its rhetoric, or its poetics (or all three)


F 2/10

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 2/13

Required:  Emerson, “Quotation and Originality” [linked]. Post at least one comment to the essay in the Wreading Parlor that responds to some aspect of the essay’s philosophy, its rhetoric, or its poetics (or all three)

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 2/15

Required: Shields, Reality Hunger, chapters A through E [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.

F 2/17

Required: Shields, Reality Hunger (Chapters N through Q, plus at least 3 more chapters of your choice, if not the rest of the book) + 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 2/20

Required: Scott Russell Sanders, “The Singular First Person” and “The Road Into Chaos and Old Night” (pdf ) + Meehan, “Essaying with Emerson” (pdf)

Recommended: Also read through your journal, compost ideas for your project, looking toward the initial draft due Wednesday.

T 2/21. Author Visit: Brian Turner (My Life as a Foreign Country), 4.30 pm, O’Neill Literary House

W 2/22

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 2/24

Required: Final version of Writing Project dueFriday 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: Essaying Exploration

M 2/27

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


W 3/1

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 3/3

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


Week 7: Douglass: Essaying Freedom

M 3/6

Required: Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life  [beginning through chapter 3] (linked here)


W 3/8

Required: Continue reading Douglass for Friday


F 3/10

Required: Douglass, finish Narrative of the Life + blog

Recommended:  Cobb, “The Walter Scott Case Mistrial and the Crisis of Facts”

[Spring Break]

Week 8: Kaysen: Essaying the Mind

M 3/20

Required: Girl, Interrupted through page 78


W 3/22

Required: Moore, Crafting the Personal Essay (chapters 9-12)


F 3/24

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.

Week 9: Essay as Memoir: Abani, Hall

M 3/27

Required: Chris Abani, The Face: Cartography of the Void (at least half) + “Be Destroyed” by Professor Hall (pdf to be distributed)


W 3/29

Required: Moore, Crafting chapter 8  

Recommended: Meet for class at the Literary House for a conversation with Professor Hall. Come with questions about his essay and his rhetoric, poetics, philosophy.

F 3/31

Required:  Finish Abani, The Face + Blog

Recommended: Focus in on one or two passages that you have found most compelling in the book  (or perhaps least compelling)–and explore the rhetorical work behind the passage.

Week 10: Second Writing Project: Rhetoric of the Essay

M 4/3

Required: Writing Project 2: Initial Draft (at least 3 pages) submitted to Canvas. Peer Response: Read and respond to writers in your peer review group by Tuesday 9 pm


W 4/5

Required:  [Advising Day] 

Thursday, April 6th, 4.30 pm at the Lit House: author Chris Abani will be reading. 

F 4/7

Required: Second Writing Project due 9 pm (submitted to Canvas). Bring draft in progress for editing workshop in class.


Part Three: Poetics of the Essay

Week 11: New Media Essay: multimedia

M 4/10

Required: John Bresland, “On the Origin of the Video Essay” + watch Video Essay Suite ; in particular, watch the video essay by Claudia Rankine titled Zidane.

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

W 4/12

Required: Audio Essay: Davids Sedaris, from his “Santaland Diaries” +

“Angeli Symphony” (from Snap Judgement; transcript here:


or “Home is Where Your Dolphin Is” (from Radiolab)

Class will meet in Beck Lab, lower level of the Library for a video/audio essay workshop

F 4/14

Required: TED Talk as essay. Nathan Heller, “Five Key TED Talks” + Steven Johnson, “Where Good Ideas Come From” (TED talk) + Blog [your initial reading/summary for this week must include at discussion of at least one essay from each assignment (video, radio, TED talk) as well as closer reading of at least one of them.

Recommended: 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?

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

Week 12: New Media Essay: text and hypertext

M 4/17

Required: Hypertext essays: Ander Monson, “Essay as Hack”Shelley Jackson, “My Body” [post at least one comment to Monson’s essay in Wreading Parlor]

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? Does Jackson “hack” the conventional memoir/autobiography? Is the hack effective?

W 4/19

Required: “The Fracking of Rachel Carson” (Photo Essay linked) + Work on Multimedia Project

We will meet in Beck once again, for a video/audio editing workshop

F 4/21

Required: Multimedia Project: New Media Essay due (posted to blog by 8 pm). In class: share/show either the finished form or work in progress.


Week 13: The Lyric Essay/Creative Nonfiction

M 4/24

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


W 4/26

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


F 4/28

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 14: Final Project

M 5/1

Required: Final Project Proposal due (submit to Canvas). See Guidelines under Writing Projects. + Reading in Moore, Crafting chapters 21-23. Presentations of your proposal in class.


W 5/3 [last class]

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 Friday 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?

Instead of regular class meeting, meet for conferences at scheduled time.

Final Project due by: Wednesday, May 10, 11.59 pm. Publication: Submit to Canvas; post copy of your project and preface to your blog. Then add the link from that blog post to the Class Magazine published on my blog.

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