English R1B

Reading & Composition: The Essay--Evidence and Idea

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
30 Spring 2012 Speirs, Kenneth
Speirs, Kenneth
MW 12-1:30 Wheeler 305


This course is designed to prepare you for more rigorous thinking, more elegant writing, and more complex academic work.  Our work will focus on the essay.  Not the five-paragraph one.  Not the one that begins with a simple assertion and moves forward, sometimes ploddingly, point by point.  The essays you will write in this class are exploratory and persuasive as well as critical and argumentative; they move forward as a form of inquiry, turning on themselves again and again, surprising even the writer as she writes.  Every good essay, we will discover, yearns to be sui generis, unlike any of its predecessors.

But of course, even the most unusual essay has features in common with all the others:  an idea, or, more properly, a network of ideas that shape and bind the many parts of the essay together, whether those parts be stories of experience, stories about written texts, or reflections about images (paintings, movies, tv shows, or sculpted objects); a three-part structure (beginning, middle, ending); the presentation of ideas that is (relatively) free of surface errors; and, finally, every good essay reveals how the mind writing it actually makes sense of things.  That final element seems now the most fundamental of all.

The essay does not prove, repeat, or reiterate; it is not a static litany of facts.  Instead, the essay in this class, like the idea, develops, changes, and expands as the writer considers both her subject and her readers, both new kinds of evidence and what her audience will need to know about this particular piece of evidence.  When she gets the words right, when she figures out what she has to say and how to say it, the writing becomes compelling, the subject and the idea more interesting, the reader captivated.

Course Materials

  • Course reader
  • Light in August.  William Faulkner, 1932.  [Vintage edition, 1990].
  • Leaves of Grass.  Walt Whitman, Penguin Classics, 2005.
  • The Waste Land and Other Poems.  T. S. Eliot, Signet, 1998.
  • A trusty, fluid pen, and a notebook brought to every class.

Course Requirements

  • Six Essays– You will complete three extended take-home essays (of 4-6 typed pages) and three in-class essays
  • Mid- and End-term Reflective Letters & Conferences– These letters, and the conferences with me, will give you the opportunity to reflect on what you are learning and what you still need/want to learn
  • Attendance, Participation, Passion, Enthusiasm, In-Class Work

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