Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

This course is a workshop for students with some experience in writing essays, nonfiction prose. Our focus will be negotiating and representing identities grounded in gender, race, class, nationality, sexuality, and other categories of identity, either our own or others', in prose that is expository, exploratory, investigative, persuasive, lyrical, or incantatory. We will read nonfiction prose works by a wide array of writers who have used language to negotiate and represent aspects of identity and the ways the different determinants of identity intersect, compete, and cooperate.

How does writing of the sort we will read and discuss—writing that is simultaneously personal and political, representing the self as it scrutinizes culture—address and affect the world of lived experience? This will be a question we will sustain as we move through the semester and as each of you writes your way across the private/public divide.

The course is designed to help you build upon your strengths as a writer and to expand your repertoire of styles and approaches in essay writing. You will have multiple opportunities in your essays to experiment with different approaches, to learn new ways of gathering information to inform your work, to experiment with language, pushing your sense of what an essay is into the border territories of nonfiction with both fiction and poetry. Our aim will be for you to learn ways to write creative nonfiction from the inside out, by reading a great deal and by writing intensively, pieces that engage the complexity of social and cultural issues in vivid, dynamic, and memorable prose.

Course Requirements


The writers whose work we will read will include Alice Walker, Minnie Bruce Pratt, James Baldwin, Adrienne Rich, N. Scott Momaday, Richard Rodriguez, bell hooks, Margaret Atwood, Audre Lorde, Nancy Mairs, Paula Gunn Allen, Cynthia Ozick, John Edgar Wideman, John Updike, Lauren Slater, and Diana Hume George, among others. Readings for the course will be available as handouts.

One of the primary texts for our course will be the essays all of you write and what all of us have to say about your essays in workshops. These workshops, in which we will respond to and learn from the writing done by everyone in the class, will occupy much of our class time. Your purpose in the workshops will be to support each other's work in progress by offering careful, thoughtful, and serious responses as readers, pointing out what you see as the writer's successes and offering constructive suggestions for improving the work. The essays you submit to the workshops will be understood to be work in progress; you will use the responses of readers (including me) to revise, refine, and polish your work before submitting a final version.

I encourage you to bring to class articles, editorials, news items, etc., on issues of interest to you or relevant to the writing you or others in the class are doing and to share them with the class as a supplement to assigned reading.


Over the course of the semester, you will write four essays of 10-12 pages each. Each piece will be submitted initially as a first version and later, after workshop feedback from both members of the class and from me, in revised form. The process of revision—rethinking, re-conceptualizing, and then re-writing your essays—is essential to the course. You must have a minimum of 40 pages of revised and polished prose by the end of the semester. Our goal is for each of you to have at least one piece of writing ready to be submitted for publication by the end of the term.

You will also be assigned occasional preliminary or in-class writing in response to readings and in preparation for writing your essays.

Each student will give one formal oral presentation (approximately 15 minutes) in conjunction with one (or more) of your essays.

To help you engage more deeply with the reading you do, you will keep a Reader's Notebook—a place for you to write informally to explore the reading, raise questions, follow up on implications, and record your responses. Most of the notebook writing will be done outside of class, but our occasional in-class writing will also be part of your notebook. I will expect a minimum of about half a page or so of typewritten response to each essay—informal, speculative, reflective of careful reading, and written in a spirit of questioning and exploration. For further explanation of my expectations of your notebook writing, see the Reader's Notebook handout I will give you. My hope is that the written responses will deepen and enrich both the reading and writing you'll do in the weeks ahead.

I also ask that during the semester you attend two readings or presentations relevant to our course, make a brief report to the class about the event, and write a response/review in your Reader's Notebook. I will suggest events that I know about and think are appropriate; if there is something you know about, please announce it to the class, and if there is something you want to attend that I don't announce or know about, please ask me whether it will count.

Plagiarism: Using someone else's language and/or ideas without proper attribution is academically dishonest. As members of this class and the larger scholarly community, you are expected to abide by the norms of academic honesty. While a good deal of collaboration is encouraged in and out of class, failing to acknowledge sources or willfully misrepresenting the work of others as your own will not be tolerated. All the work you submit during the semester must be your original work, and none of it may have been submitted to meet the requirements in any other class. Plagiarism can result in withdrawal from the course with a grade of F.

Our schedule is tight, so all written work must be submitted on time. No exceptions, unless for real and serious emergencies, in which case you should get in touch with me at once. Extensions for emergencies will be granted only once per student per semester. Don't cut class just because you don't have your essay ready to hand in!

Class Participation

A vital, ongoing intellectual conversation—about your writing and that of the writers whose work we will read—is at the heart of the course. To be effective as a seminar participant, you will need to complete reading and writing tasks by their due dates. Please arrive on time and bring assigned texts with you. Your responsibility in the class is to be not only a writer, but also a reader and responder for other members of the class community. It is essential, then, that you attend class faithfully and come to each class fully prepared to participate in discussions of assigned reading and in writing workshops. Lateness for class, if extreme or chronic, will be counted as an absence. You must notify me as soon as possible when a real and serious emergency keeps you from attending class. Three unexcused absences will result in your receiving a failing grade. Missing class on a day when your work is up for workshop discussion will count as two absences. So don't take casual cuts, and come to class faithfully and on time and prepared to participate fully in class activities.

I will evaluate your work by responding as carefully and thoughtfully as I can to all the writing you do for the class, but I will not grade individual pieces of writing. At the end of the semester, you will submit to me a portfolio containing all the writing you have done for the course, including at least 40 pages of revised and polished essays and your Reader's Notebook, so that I can assign you a grade for the semester. In deciding on semester grades, I will consider, most importantly, the overall quality of the written work you submit in your portfolio, but also the degree and consistency of your effort throughout the semester, the success you demonstrate in revising your work, how actively you participated in class discussion and workshops, the quality of your oral presentation and classroom contributions, and how well you served as a reader and responder for other writers in the class. The primary determinant of your grade, of course, will be the quality of your writing. I promise to let you know at once if your performance falls to the level of C or below, and I will be happy to talk with you at any time about your work and your progress in the course.

All required work (assignments and assigned revisions, notebook and in-class writing, reading assignments and workshop responsibilities) must be completed satisfactorily in order to receive a passing grade for the course.

My hope is that by semester's end, you will have stretched yourselves intellectually, learned a great deal about the cultural constructions and problematics of identity, written work you are proud of, arranged to submit something for publication, and deepened your appreciation for the rich and wonderful world of the essay. You can count on me to give you honest and thoughtful feedback, to be receptive to questions and suggestions, and to treat you and your work with respect. We'll work hard together this semester, but let's have fun together too, okay? I will count on all of you to help make the course challenging, stimulating, pleasurable, and rewarding.

Course Calendar

1 First class meeting "Negotiating Identities" assignment given out


Lenore Look, "Facing the Village"

Diana Hume George, "Zane Grey on a Carousel in Indian Territory"

Chang-Rae Lee, "Coming Home Again"

Lauren Slater, "Tongue and Groove"

Jamaica Kincaid, "On Seeing England for the First Time"

Workshop of essays

Sign up for essay submission dates

"Negotiating Identities" assignment due



Minnie Bruce Pratt, "Identity: Skin, Blood, Heart"

James Baldwin, "Notes of a Native Son"

Richard Rodriguez, excerpts from Brown

Workshop of essays

Second essay submission day


Nancy Mairs, "On Loving Men"

David Sedaris, "Old Faithful"

E. J. Levy, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking"

Hilton Als, "Notes on My Mother"

James Baldwin, "Here Be Dragons"

Workshop of essays submitted in Ses #4

Third essay submission day


Selections from Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power

Workshop of essays submitted in Ses #5

Fourth essay submission day


Ashraf Rushdy, "Exquisite Corpse"

Bell Hooks, "Reflections on Race and Sex"

Patricia J. Williams, "Reflections on Law, Contracts, and the Value of Life"

John Edgar Wideman, "Father Stories"; "Whose War"; Looking at Emmett Till"

Workshop of essays submitted in Ses #6



Cynthia Ozick, "A Drugstore in Winter"

Alice Walker, "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens"

Alice Walker, "Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self"

Fifth essay submission day

Oral presentations

Workshop of essays submitted in Ses #9

Sixth essay submission day

Oral presentations (cont.)

Workshop of essays submitted in Ses #10



Annie Dillard, "The Death of a Moth"

Brian Doyle, "Yes!" and "Joyas Voladoras"

Edward Hoagland, "Spring"

Mary Oliver, "Dust"

Seventh essay submission day

Discussion of assigned reading

Workshop of essays

Eighth essay submission day
12 Last class: celebratory reading and refreshments at Rebecca's Portfolios due