English R1A

Reading and Composition: Short Work

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Fall 2017 Young, Rosetta
MWF 3-4 80 Barrows Reading and Composition

Other Readings and Media

Due to the unconventional reading list, there will a reader instead of a book list for this course. Authors read, however, will include Giovanni Boccaccio, Shakespeare, Franz Kafka, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson, as well as William Carlos Williams, Margaret Atwood, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, John Updike and Junot Diaz, among others. 


In an 1846 essay on composition, Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “If any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with the immensely important effect derivable from unity of impression—for, if two sittings be required, the affairs of the world interfere, and every thing like totality is at once destroyed.” If any time has taken this advice to heart, it is our own. Not only does most of the prose we consume take one sitting, but often stretches no longer than the length of our computer and smart phone screens. The demands of the information age break our time into smaller and smaller segments, encouraging what Poe once endorsed: stories designed for the in-between of “the affairs of the world.” While some lament this perpetual truncation of expression—perhaps rightly—there have never been more platforms for short narrative. Not only does the short story rule contemporary fiction, but also digital journalism and social media platforms, which have invented an entirely new form of aphoristic self-expression. In more ways than one, we live in the age of short stories and, in this course, we will examine how “short form,” broadly defined, has shaped our contemporary notions of writing, rhetoric and composition. Why—now and in the past—have short forms been particularly valued? What does it mean to value the short over the long? We will examine a range of examples from across literary and cultural history—the literary short story, the fable, the short essay, the short film, flash fiction, blog posts, listiciles, Tweets, FaceBook statuses, Vines, pop songs, sonnets, the short lyric, short-form digital journalism, TV episodes and their online counterpart, “webisodes.”

In terms of the content of this course, there will be two rules: 1) we will not read anything lengthier than the course’s longest writing assignment (a 5-7 page essay), 2) we will not listen to or watch anything with a run-time longer than a half-hour. This course will be true to its title: we will engage with short work. This does not mean, however, that our work will be short or easy; indeed, sustained thought and concentration will be required to draw out the themes and forms of these short works, perhaps more than that needed for longer works. Our meditation on the purpose, use and value of short forms will be inextricably tied to the writing assignments in this course, which (despite how one may feel the night before a paper is due) will be, like the vast majority of undergraduate essays, exercises in short form themselves. We will carry our discussions of the short form in literature and culture into our discussion of composition and ask questions of scale, form and content: how much can we expect to convey in a short essay? In what ways can we stretch form to convey more content in a shorter space? Is it even wise to try—and, yet, don’t we have to? There will be a 2-page short essay, followed by two critical essays, including extensive revisions; this will be supplemented by trying our hand at several of the short forms we will read, including the short story, flash fiction and the short personal essay. This class will be particularly concerned with arguments and making arguments in condensed spaces. Thus, we will examine first hand the long work of short work. 

Back to Semester List