English R1B

Reading and Composition: Persona and Personality in the English Essay

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2017 Swensen, David
MWF 10-11 80 Barrows Reading and Composition

Book List

Lopate, Phillip : The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology

Other Readings and Media

In a course reader, we'll read selections from: Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist; David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster; Joan Didion, Blue Nights; The Best American Nature and Science Writing 2014, ed., Deborah Blum; David Rakoff, Half Empty; Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me 


This course will move rapidly through time, navigating the dense and heterogeneous terrains of the essay as a form in English. From the wondrous and choppy syntactical shores of Renaissance prose (Francis Bacon, Erasmus and Montaigne), to the razor-sharp wit of the 19th century (William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb), to the resplendent and various depths of the 20th century (James Baldwin, George Orwell, Joan Didion, Jumpha Lahiri and David Foster Wallace), we will chart a path through the essay as a form while continually appealing to the practice of essay composition.

The course will explore various modes of essayistic genre and address (the confessional, the scholarly, the pop scientific essay), but also the underlying formal and creative functions at work in these styles. We will address the extent to which ‘creative nonfiction’ has emerged as its own teachable category, and try to understand how its institutionalization has affected the form of the essay. Throughout, several underlying questions will help us formulate our understanding of the essay: how is self-exploration thematized in the voice of the author? How does the essayistic genre change our concept of authorial ‘voice’? What is the difference between voice and persona? What is the function of ‘personality’ as a literary construct in the essay? Finally, how do these concepts relate to our contemporary understanding of ‘the personal’? Our core text (containing about 80% of our readings) will be Philip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay, though further material will be regularly made available through bCourses.

As in all sections of English R1B, you will also practice your skills in argumentation through writing and revision, learn to use secondary sources effectively, and develop research skills necessary to write a longer research essay on a topic of your choosing.

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