English R1A

Reading and Composition: Persona and Personality in the English Essay

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Fall 2018 Swensen, Dana
MWF 10-11 211 Dwinelle

Book List

Lopate, Philip: The Art of the Personal Essay; Lopate, Philip: The Art of the Personal Essay

Other Readings and Media

Additional material will be provided in the form of bCourses PDF's. These will mostly be contemporary and late 20th centrury nonfiction/essays by authors such as David Rakoff, Rebecca Solnit, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Claudia Rankine, Malcolm Gladwell and Roxane Gay.


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), this course wil 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 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 65-70% of our readings) will be Philip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay, though further material will be regularly made available through bCourses. Students will be required to write three essays (and revisions).

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