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ENGLISH 135C: Reading and Writing the Personal Essay

This course examines the literary and cultural significance of the personal essay. We will begin with some influential theories of the essay, and conclude by considering the changing media from periodicals to blogs in which it appears. In between, we will explore some of the many reasons writers have had for writing themselves into their essays, such as explaining their personal tastes, demanding action from their readers, bearing witness to trauma, and making the personal political. Course readings will be drawn from across the rich history of the personal essay, including works by Charles Lamb, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, James Baldwin, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Alice Walker, David Foster Wallace, Elif Batuman, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. As we explore the literary history, structure, and style of the personal essay, we will also reflect on what this genre reveals about the modern person. How are individuals shaped by social, cultural, and political forces? How are the ways we construc more »
This course examines the literary and cultural significance of the personal essay. We will begin with some influential theories of the essay, and conclude by considering the changing media from periodicals to blogs in which it appears. In between, we will explore some of the many reasons writers have had for writing themselves into their essays, such as explaining their personal tastes, demanding action from their readers, bearing witness to trauma, and making the personal political. Course readings will be drawn from across the rich history of the personal essay, including works by Charles Lamb, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, James Baldwin, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Alice Walker, David Foster Wallace, Elif Batuman, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. As we explore the literary history, structure, and style of the personal essay, we will also reflect on what this genre reveals about the modern person. How are individuals shaped by social, cultural, and political forces? How are the ways we construct and express ourselves affected by changes in the media? And what might the personal essay reveal about the shifting boundaries between self and other, public and private, fact and fiction? Throughout the course, students will complete a series of short critical assignments, culminating in a final paper in which they will apply what they have learned to produce personal essays of their own.
Last offered: Summer 2018 | UG Reqs: WAY-A-II
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