Salvatore Pane

Tag: Richard Rodriguez

Advanced Composition Fall 2013 Syllabus

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ENGL 220-01 Advanced Composition: Expository Writing
MWF 11:00-11:50am
ESCH Hall 264

University of Indianapolis
Assistant Professor Salvatore Pane
E-mail: panes@uindy.edu
Credits: 3.0

Affecting Change Through Writing

Syllabus

Welcome to Advanced Composition

By this point in your academic career, you know how to write an essay and how to contribute meaningfully in class. You’ve settled into your role as a student here at UIndy, but sometimes you find yourself wondering if there are any practical applications of the writing you do here at the university level. Is there any way to connect academic work to the outside world?

In Advanced Composition, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. We’ll use discussion and essays not only to grapple with complex problems plaguing society on a local and national level, but we’ll use our findings to make real world changes right here in Indianapolis.

Course Description

This is a class in which we will write A LOT. We will write about the reading we do and write about the thinking we do and then write about the writing we do and just plain write. This description may sound exhausting or exciting, but either way, you can be sure that the course will be both challenging and rewarding. The essay assignments and short exercises in this course are designed to help you approach writing from a variety of contexts, using a variety of techniques. We are trying to look beyond pat formulas (such as the five-paragraph essay) while still understanding the writely conventions specific to each piece and how they can be useful. At times, the prompts might ask you to employ a particular strategy or style of a published essayist, but always with the aim of exploring your own range of writing and voices.

Workshopping and revision will be key components of our work in this class. We will put essays from inside and outside of class onto the table to find out what is working or not working for us as readers and writers. The object is to take what we learn from workshop and apply it to our own writing in future drafts and revisions. I encourage you to look at every assignment that you complete as a draft that can be improved rather than a finished product.

Critical engagement and close reading will also be integral to this course. In fact, I hope that they will both become daily practices. A big part of this class is learning to complicate your thinking, to notice the details of language and composition on a micro and macro level. Throughout the term, we will do close reading exercises focusing on various literary and rhetorical devices with the aim of nuancing our own analyses and writing. Producing work that is fresh and insightful depends upon being able to draw out insightful readings of other texts, of ourselves, and of the world. Advanced Composition will push you to ask not only the “how” of writing but also the “why” and the “so what.”

Turning in Your Writing

It’s important that you turn in your writing on time, as late work cannot become part of class discussion. Likewise, because the Essays and Exercises build upon one another, turning in late work means you miss out on comments that would help you with the upcoming assignment. Since you will regularly revise your work, make sure to keep electronic and paper copies. All papers must be written in Times New Roman 12 with one inch margins. Also, please title your work. Do not generically title your papers, “Essay 2” or “Essay on Education.” Papers turned in late will receive a full letter grade penalty. Papers turned in over 24 hours late will result in an automatic failure. These penalties will factor into your final grade.

Readings and Quizzes

All of the assigned readings are on Ace. It is your responsibility to print out the readings we will focus on in any given class session. Everything you will need is explained in the Course Sequence. You only have to read essays marked “Homework.” Otherwise, just print out the reading and bring it with you. If you do not bring print outs of the readings, I will mark you absent. Also, there will be occasional pop quizzes to make sure you’re reading the assigned homework. Quizzes will be one or two questions at most and will be impossible to pass if you haven’t read the material and impossible to fail if you have. Read the homework.

Grading

You will receive provisional grades on each of the essays you turn in, but you will have a chance to revise those essays throughout the semester. At your mid-term conference you will receive a provisional grade, which is in no way final and is not factored into your final grade. Rather, this mid-term assessment is intended to give you a sense of how your writing is being evaluated and of your progress in the course. You are always welcome to stop by during office hours to talk about your writing or your grade. You are encouraged to keep on reworking essays that you like throughout the semester.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Classroom participation will affect your grade. Lack of engagement or preparation will lower your grade. Regular comments and involvement with moving the ongoing conversation of the class forward will increase your grade.

Essays & evaluations 60%
Exercises and class participation 25%
Community Presentation 15%

Optional Revision

At the end of the course, you will have an opportunity to revise, cut, and expand your first two papers for a higher grade. This is completely voluntary, however, and we will discuss this in more detail as the semester progresses.

Course Objectives

1) A successful student will add thoughtful and complex commentary to every class discussion.

2) A successful student will hand in thoughtful and complex essays on time for each corresponding assignment.

3) A successful student will complete all of the exercises with great attention to deal.

4) A successful student will be able to analyze difficult texts and think about their place in the world in new and constructive ways.

5) A successful student will be able to make connections between seemingly disparate threads.

Presentations

At the end of the course, you will be asked to give an eight-to-ten minute presentation exploring your final paper at the Wheeler Arts Center in the vein of the TED conference lectures we’ll watch in class. We’ll go over this in more detail as the semester continues.

Technology

Turn off all cell phones, laptops, tablets, and whatever else is invented before this semester ends BEFORE class begins. If, at any point during class, you look at any of this technology, you will be marked absent. I will not disrupt class. You will just be automatically marked absent. Don’t check your phones if you want to pass this class. Don’t look at the readings on phones and laptops. Print them out.

Attendance

If you miss class five times, you will fail. The ONLY excuses I will accept are a doctor’s excuse or some kind of family emergency.

You should always be on time for class. If you are late, you will not get credit for attending an entire class. If you are absent, it’s up to you to contact me to find out what you must make up.

If you are unprepared for discussion or workshop, I cannot give you credit for attendance that day.

Note

The syllabus is subject to change. I will only push assignments and readings back however. No assignment will ever be due earlier than it’s listed here.

Special Assistance

If you have a disability that may have some impact on your work in this class and for which you may require accommodations, please inform me immediately so that your learning needs may be appropriately met. Students with a disability must register with the Services for Students with Disabilities office (SSD) in Schwitzer Center 206 (317-788-6153 / http://www.uindy.edu/ssd) for disability verification and for determination of reasonable academic accommodations. You are responsible for initiating arrangements for accommodations for tests and other assignments in collaboration with the SSD and the faculty.

Plagiarism

Intellectual theft, like any other kind of theft, is a crime, and is especially dangerous on a college campus. Plagiarism is defined as any use of another person’s thoughts or words as your own. I don’t expect to see plagiarism in this class, and if I do each case will be dealt with on an individual basis, but the MINIMUM penalty will be failure for the assignment in question. Failing the entire course is not out of the question. If you are doing research and are unsure how to incorporate someone else’s work into your own in a valid manner, please ask—I’ll be more than happy to help you out so that there’s no danger of confusion.

Course Sequence

Week One
August 26
Syllabus and Introductions
Catherine Rampell “Many With New College Degree Find Job Market Humbling”
In Class Writing

August 28
Farhad Manjoo “Is Facebook a Fad?”

August 30
Zoe Kleinman “Is the Internet Changing Language”

Week Two
September 4
Roger Ebert’s Twitter Feed
Watch Kellee Santiago “Are Video Games Art?”
HOMEWORK: Read Nicholas Carr “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

September 6
Nicholas Carr “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

Week Three
September 9
Discuss Essay 1
Jane Wakefield “3D Proves a Hit in the Classroom”

September 11
Examples of Essay 1

September 13
Maya Rupert “The NBA: Where Racism Happens?”

Week Four
September 16
In Class Workshop

September 18
In Class Workshop

September 20
2 Page Draft Peer Review

Week Five
September 23
Essay 1 Due
Peer Review

September 25
Watch Ken Robinson “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

September 27
CLASS CANCELLED

Week Six
September 30
Jeff Selingo “Fixing College”

October 2
Student Conferences

October 4
Student Conferences

Week Seven
October 7
Revision Pamphlet
Discuss Optional Revisions 1 and 2

October 9
Ray Fisman “Clean Out Your Desks”

October 11
Ray Fisman Continued
Homework Read Richard Rodriguez “The Achievement of Desire”

Week Eight
October 16
Richard Rodriguez “The Achievement of Desire”

October 18
Scott Gerber “How Liberal Arts Colleges Are Failing America”
Homework Read Paulo Freire “The Banking Concept of Education”

Week Nine
October 21
Paulo Freire “The Banking Concept of Education”
Discuss Essay 2

October 23
Examples of Essay 2

October 25
In Class Workshop

Week 10
October 28
In Class Workshop

October 30
2 Page Peer Review

November 1
Watch Adelph Molinari “Let’s Bridge the Digital Divide!”
Discuss Final Project + Abstract

Week 11
November 4
Essay 2 Due
Peer Review

November 6
TBA

November 8
TBA

Week 12
November 11
TBA

November 13
In Class Workshop

November 15
In Class Workshop
Abstract Due

Week 13
November 18
Revision Workshops

November 20
Student Visit + Reading TBA

November 22
In Class Workshop

Week 14
November 25
2 Page Peer Review

Week 15
December 2
Volunteer Student Conferences

December 4
Volunteer Student Conferences

December 6
Presentations at the Wheeler Arts Center

Finals Week
December 9
Essay #3 Plus Optional Revisions Due

In-Class Writing

For this first writing assignment, we would like you to discuss authority in Catherine Rampell’s “Many With New College Degree Find Job Market Humbling.”

At some point in your response, we would like you to focus in on specifics. Which details capture your attention and why? As you describe what you read, consider what gives Rampell “authority.” Authority, on the page, is when readers believe what a writer writers. What makes you believe that Rampell knows what she’s talking about? Is it because she is a reporter? Is it because she uses a lot of facts? Or do you not believe her, and if so, why not?

While you may come to some interesting conclusions by the end of your response, you should not feel obligated to wrap things up neatly or to offer a definitive set of statements. In fact, rather than driving toward a pre-determined conclusion, we want to encourage you to surprise yourself, to discover new interpretive territory. Try writing without knowing quite where you will land. You may even find that as your understanding deepens, a whole new set of questions arises.

You will have the rest of class to complete your response.

Essay #1 (1300 words)
DUE MONDAY SEPTEMBER 23RD IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 11AM

“And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski. I’m not the only one.”

–Nicholas Carr
It’s difficult to argue that the proliferation of the internet and broadband technology haven’t affected our lives in a number of ways. Farhad Manjoo discusses the power social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter hold over our lives, while Zoe Kleinman shows us how the internet is rapidly reconfiguring the way we communicate offline and online. While Kelle Santiago and Roger Ebert spur endlessly about whether or not video games are art, Jane Wakefield visits schools around the UK who have already adopted 3D technology in middle school classrooms. And then, of course, there’s Nicholas Carr who has written an entire book aiming to prove that the internet has reshaped the way humans process information.

Technology can affect our educations, it can affect our communications and relationships, and it can even affect our minds. For this assignment, we want you to imagine the future. What effect is technology having on us and what are the pros and cons? In this essay, you will try and predict where technology is leading us as a people and what exactly makes you think that. If you believe text messaging will leave future generations unable to spell correctly, that’s fine, but you must show evidence of that in the here and now using sources. The bolded words above are vague enough for you to use your own interests. Do you think experimental German surgeries will allow athletes to play professionally well into their forties, and what are the pros and cons of that (look it up, Kobe Bryant did it, and now a host of other athletes are too)? Do you think the increased dependence on social media over physical relationships will lead to legions of depressed Americans? Will the ever-improving world of technology lead to a glorious new age like Kellee Santiago predicts, or will it leads us into doom like Nicholas Carr imagines? Maybe it’s something in between.

For this paper, you must use four critical sources. Two must come from either the Manjoo, Kleinman, Santiago, Carr, or Wakefield. Two must be critical sources you find on your own via UIndy’s academic databases. We will touch on this in class.

Essay #2 (1300 words)
DUE MONDAY NOVEMBER 4TH IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 11AM

“Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the “banking” concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is men themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, men cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

—Paulo Friere in “The ‘Banking’ Concept of Education”

In some form or another, all of you have been affected by education. You all went to grade school, middle school, high school, and now, here you are, in the hallowed halls of higher education at UIndy. And yet, something is off. A class subtly yet perceptibly goes off the rails. You accrue more and more debt. The specter of graduation and finding a job looms large in the future. Is higher education exactly what you imagined?

Over the last few weeks, we’ve discussed various problems with higher education. Things aren’t perfect. There are problems nationally that don’t appear to be especially important to politicians or other people in power. Paulo Friere discusses the “banking” concept of education and how that pedagogy is destroying students’ minds. Richard Rodriguez explores the perils and pratfalls of memorization and how many schools are pumping out students who can remember important dates but can’t think critically. Fisman, Selingo, and Gerber write about the way educators and institutions have failed students, giving them degrees and sending them out into an economy with few opportunities for this young.

For this essay, you will address a single problem within higher education. Be interested in your work. If you are bored with your topic, so will your readers. What links the above writers is that they have all chosen to write about deeply personal matters and use those feelings to write a coherent argument about education. You must critique the educational system. Nearly anything in college is fair game, everything from unfair distribution of scholarships to the job readiness of students to the massive amount of debt students absorb. Locate a problem you’ve experience and write about it. Connect it to other thinkers who’ve thought about similar concerns. Then, come up with a solution.

For this essay, we are requiring that you use four sources. The first will be either Freire or Rodriguez. The second will be either Selingo or Gerber. The final two will be from UIndy’s academic databases. Search out people who agree with your argument. Search out people who disagree with your. Like anything, the debate concerning education is an ongoing conversation. Your paper is not an island, but a mere dialogue in an endless series of conversations.

Essay #3 (3900 words)
DUE MONDAY DECEMBER 9TH IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 11AM

The world can be a pretty unjust place. Over the course of this semester we’ve talked about how the internet might melt our brains, the injustice of the American school system, and even the vast digital divide that excludes so many global citizens. We’ve seen videos and read articles of thinkers and average people trying to solve these problems, and yet, solutions are difficult to see. All the writers we’ve read would agree that although equality is a goal we should strive for, it’s an incredibly difficult goal to achieve.

For this essay, you will be asked to transform yourself in a positive force for change. Much like in your educational autobiography earlier this semester, we want you to choose a problem you care about that has to do with equality right here in Indianapolis. Like Adelph Molinari, you must select a real, physical problem—in his case, the lack of internet access in the third world—and try and sketch out a solution. This must be a real life problem with a real, tangible solution. However, you don’t have to be ambitious to the point where you set out to end world poverty. Think locally. What is a problem with equality you have witnessed in your own lives? Have would you solve it? First, explain why this is a problem that must be addressed. Remember how Molinari argues why his cause is so important. Then set forth your explanation, arguing why exactly this is a feasible way forward. Your problem and solution can relate back to education or technology or something completely unrelated.

Additionally, this paper is also meant to serve as a tangible blueprint to solve your problem. You will not only present your paper at the Wheeler Arts Center on First Friday—more about that to come—but you will send your paper to someone who might have the ability to enact said change. For example, you may send your paper to the mayor or a congressperson. You may send your paper to a local neighborhood group or soup kitchen. Be creative. Write about something you care about. In many ways, this is the culmination of everything we’ve discussed this semester. It’s time to take the thinking you’ve done and transform it into something concrete.

You will be required to use four critical sources. They must come from UIndy’s academic databases. Find sources that are related to your problem.

Advanced Composition Syllabus or Damn, Freire and Rose/where the hell you been?/Students talking real reckless/stuntin’

Below, you’ll find my Advanced Composition syllabus. This is my first time teaching it, and 75% of the course is brand new. The general rules and regulations are mostly the same, and I do begin with a modified version of the final project from English Composition, but everything else I developed this summer. The major units are Education, Technology, Censorship, and Equality. We’re doing a lot of interesting activities here, and the thing I’m most excited for is having the students read “On Pregnancy and Privacy and Fear” by Aubrey Hirsch and then skype with her the following class. Again, feel free to use any of this for your own pedagogical purposes. Feel free to comment below. Feel free to share what you’re up to.


Advanced Composition: Expository Writing
MWF 11:00-11:50am
University of Indianapolis
Assistant Professor Salvatore Pane
Office Hours: 10-11 MWF, 2-3 MW
Credits: 3.0

Navigating the Future: Writing into Action

 

Required Texts

 

The Best American Essays, Sixth College Edition, edited by Robert Atwan

Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White

 Lives on the Boundary, by Mike Rose

 Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez, by Richard Rodriguez

 

 Recommended Text

 

Writer’s Reference, Seventh Edition, by Diane Hacker

Welcome to Advanced Composition

You’ve taken other English courses before. You know a little something about how to write an essay, and you’re pleased with some of the work you’ve produced in the past. However, there’s a nagging sensation when you hand in assignments. You can complete the work in a satisfactory way, but you’re left wondering if there’s any way you can complicate your thinking, made your ideas more complex, more concrete.

In Advanced Composition, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. We’ll use discussion and essays not only to prove standard points but to grapple with really difficult problems tackling society and ourselves. What can an essay do to fix the educational system, to end world poverty? It’s time to write the future.

 Course Description

This is a class in which we will write A LOT. We will write about the reading we do and write about the thinking we do and then write about the writing we do and just plain write. This description may sound exhausting or exciting, but either way, you can be sure that the course will be both challenging and rewarding. The essay assignments and short exercises in this course are designed to help you approach writing from a variety of contexts, using a variety of techniques. We are trying to look beyond pat formulas (such as the five-paragraph essay) while still understanding the writely conventions specific to each piece and how they can be useful. At times, the prompts might ask you to employ a particular strategy or style of a published essayist, but always with the aim of exploring your own range of writing and voices.

Workshopping and revision will be key components of our work in this class. We will put essays from inside and outside of class onto the table to find out what is working or not working for us as readers and writers. The object is to take what we learn from workshop and apply it to our own writing in future drafts and revisions. I encourage you to look at every assignment that you complete as a draft that can be improved rather than a finished product.

Critical engagement and close reading will also be integral to this course. In fact, I hope that they will both become daily practices. A big part of this class is learning to complicate your thinking, to notice the details of language and composition on a micro and macro level. Throughout the term, we will do close reading exercises focusing on various literary and rhetorical devices with the aim of nuancing our own analyses and writing. Producing work that is fresh and insightful depends upon being able to draw out insightful readings of other texts, of ourselves, and of the world. Advanced Composition will push you to ask not only the “how” of writing but also the “why” and the “so what.”

Things to Remember

Push yourself to be innovative and creative. Push yourself to take that extra step towards flushing out the complexity of an issue. This class is a safe place to take risks that may not always improve your writing in the short term but will help you better understand writing and the successful choices you can make as a writer over time. You will be given plenty of time to write during class. Use this to your advantage.

One of our goals is to forge a community of writers who participate in an ongoing and constructive conversation about the craft. Advanced Composition illustrates quite literally how your writing is always part of a public conversation!

Turning in Your Writing

It’s important that you turn in your writing on time, as late work cannot become part of class discussion. Likewise, because the Essays and Exercises build upon one another, turning in late work means you miss out on comments that would help you with the upcoming assignment. Since you will regularly revise your work, make sure to keep electronic and paper copies. All papers must be written in Times New Roman 12 with one inch fonts. Failure to comply will result in a lowered grade. Also, please title your work. Do not generically title your papers, “Essay 2” or “Essay on Education.”

 Readings

All of the assigned readings are either in Best American Essays or on Ace. It is your responsibility to print out the readings we will focus on in any given class session. Everything you will need is explained in the Course Sequence. You only have to read essays marked “Homework.” If you do not bring print outs of the readings, I will take off participation points. If this becomes a consistent problem, I will start marking you absent.

Grading

You will receive provisional grades on each of the essays you turn in, but you will have a chance to revise those essays throughout the semester. At your mid-term conference you will receive a provisional grade, which is in no way final and is not factored into your final grade. Rather, this mid-term assessment is intended to give you a sense of how your writing is being evaluated and of your progress in the course. You are always welcome to stop by during office hours to talk about your writing or your grade. Keep in mind that your final portfolio will be comprised of three polished essays. Thus, you are encouraged to keep on reworking essays that you like throughout the semester.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Classroom participation will affect your grade. Lack of engagement or preparation will lower your grade. Regular comments and involvement with moving the ongoing conversation of the class forward will increase your grade.

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you turn in a paper late, you will lose an entire letter grade. If you turn in a paper more than 24 hours late, it is an automatic failure. Automatic failures WILL impact your final grade in the class. No excuses.

Essays & evaluations                                                                               70%

Exercises and class participation                                                           30%

 Course Objectives

 1)     A successful student will add thoughtful and complex commentary to every class discussion.

2)     A successful student will hand in thoughtful and complex essays on time for each corresponding assignment.

3)     A successful student will complete all of the exercises with great attention to detail.

4)     A successful student will substantially revise and extend two of their essays.

5)     A successful student will be able to analyze difficult texts and think about their place in the world in new and constructive ways.

6)     A successful student will be able to make connections between seemingly disparate threads.

Conferences

You will have at least one conference with me over the course of the semester at mid-term. This meeting takes place in my office. It will be brief and is designed to better gauge individual needs and interests as well as get feedback.

Attendance

I want to be as clear as I can on this. If you miss class five times, you will fail. There will be no make up assignments. Don’t come back to class. The ONLY excuses I will accept are a doctor’s excuse or some kind of family emergency. I am not going to make any exceptions on this front.

You should always be on time for class. If you are late, you will not get credit for attending an entire class.

If you are unprepared for discussion or workshop, I cannot give you credit for attendance that day.

Note

The syllabus is subject to change. I will only push assignments and readings back however. No assignment will ever be due earlier than it’s listed here.

Week One

Monday August 27
Syllabus & Introductions
Azar Nafisi “Words of War”
In Class Writing

Wednesday August 29
Nate Jackson “The NFL’s Head Cases”
60 Minutes
Exercise A

Friday August 31
Ray Fisman “Clean Out Your Desks”
Exercise B
Homework: Read Chapters 1 and 2 of Lives on the Boundary

Week Two

Wednesday September 5
Exercise C
Discuss Mike Rose “I Just Wanna Be Average”
Homework: Come to Next Class Prepared to Discuss One Problem You’ve Had With the Educational System

Friday September 7
Discuss Educational Problems
Homework: Read “Aria” in Hunger of Memory

Week Three

Monday September 10
Discuss “Aria” in Hunger of Memory
Exercise D
Homework: Read “The Achievement of Desire” in Hunger of Memory

Wednesday September 12
Discuss “The Achievement of Desire” in Hunger of Memory
Exercise E (Group Activity)

Friday September 14
Molly Lambert “The ‘Poor Jen’ Problem”
Exercise F
Homework: Read Hephzibah Roskelly “Redneck Daughter in the Academy”

Week Four

Monday September 17
Discuss Hephzibah Roskelly “Redneck Daughter in the Academy”
Discuss Essay #1

Wednesday September 19
Examples of Essay #1

Friday September 21
Farhad Manjoo “Is Facebook a Fad?”
Zoe Kleinman “How the Internet is Changing Language”
Exercise G

Week Five

Monday September 24
Essay #1 Due
Peer Reviewing

Wednesday September 26
Roger Ebert’s Twitter Feed
Kellee Santiago “Are Video Games Art?”
Homework: Read Nicholas Carr “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

Friday September 28
Discuss Nicholas Carr “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”
Exercise H

Week Six

Monday October 1
Discuss Jane Wakefield “3D Proves a Hit in the Classroom”
Exercise I

Wednesday October 3
Discuss Essay 2
Ben Percy “Keep Doing What You Are Doing, James Franco”
Exercise J

Friday October 5
Revision Pamphlet
Discuss Revision 1
Exercise K

Week Seven

Monday October 8
Student Workshops

Wednesday October 10
Student Workshops

Friday October 12
Essay #2 Due
Peer Review

Week Eight

Wednesday October 17
Student Conferences

Friday October 19
Student Conferences

Week Nine

Monday October 22
Student Conferences

Wednesday October 24
Revision 1 Due
The Simpsons “Itchy and Scratchy and Marge”
Exercise M

Friday October 26
Class Cancelled

Week Ten

Monday October 29
Discuss Elliot Feldman “Frank Zappa Vs. Tipper Gore”
Homework: Read Jason Wire “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?”

Wednesday October 31
Discuss Jason Wire “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?”
Homework: Read Alan M. Dershowitz “Shouting ‘Fire!’”
Exercise N

Friday November 2
Discuss Alan M. Dershowitz “Shouting ‘Fire!’”
Exercise O

Week Eleven

Monday November 5
Exit Through the Gift Shop

Wednesday November 7
Exit Through the Gift Shop

Friday November 9
Discuss Essay #3
Student Workshops
Homework: Read Peter Singer “The Peter Singer Solution to World Poverty”

Week Twelve

Monday November 12
Discuss Peter Singer “The Peter Singer Solution to World Poverty”
Exercise P
Read Aubrey Hirsch “On Pregnancy and Privacy and Fear”

Wednesday November 14
Discuss Aubrey Hirsch “On Pregnancy and Privacy and Fear”
Skype with Aubrey Hirsch
Exercise Q

Friday November 16
Watch Adelph Molinari “Let’s Bridge the Digital Divide!”
Exercise R

Week Thirteen

Monday November 19
Essay #3 Due
Discuss Essay #4

Week Fourteen

Monday November 26
Student Workshops

Wednesday November 28
Student Workshops

Friday November 30
TBA

Week Fifteen

Monday December 3
Student Conferences

Wednesday December 5
Student Conferences

Friday December 7
Final Portfolios Due

In-Class Writing

For this first writing assignment, we would like you to discuss authority in Azar Nafisi’s “Words of War.”

At some point in your response, we would like you to focus in on specifics.  Which details capture your attention and why?  As you describe what you read—bombs over Iran, some strange book called Pride and Prejudice, allusions to the US War in Iraq—consider what gives Nafisi “authority.” Authority, on the page, is when readers believe what a writer writes. What makes you believe that Nafisi knows what she’s talking about? Is it because she is from Iran? Is it because she is a university professor? Is it because she uses big words? Or do you not believe her, and if so, why not?

While you may come to some interesting conclusions by the end of your response, you should not feel obligated to wrap things up neatly or to offer a definitive set of statements.  In fact, rather than driving toward a pre-determined conclusion, we want to encourage you to surprise yourself, to discover new interpretive territory.  Try writing without knowing quite where you will land.  You may even find that as your understanding deepens, a whole new set of questions arises.

You will have the rest of class to complete your response.

Essay #1 (4 pages)

DUE MONDAY SEPTEMBER 24th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 11AM

 “Students will float to the mark you set. I and the others in the vocational classes were bobbing in pretty shallow water. Vocational education has aimed at increasing the economic opportunities of students who do not do well in our schools. Some serious programs succeed in doing that, and through exceptional teachers… students learn to develop hypotheses and troubleshoot, reason through a problem, and communicate effectively—the true job skills. The vocational track, however, is most often a place for those who are just not making it, a dumping ground for the disaffected. There were a few teachers who worked hard at education; young Brother Slattery, for example, combined a stern voice with weekly quizzes to try to pass along to us a skeletal outline of world history. But mostly the teachers had no idea of how to engage the imaginations of us kids who were scuttling along at the bottom of the pond.”

—Mike Rose in “I Just Wanna Be Average”

For Essay #1, you will combine personal inquiry and argument, an essay that not only reveals the writer’s life, but one that also strives to make a point. The educational system is something every one of you has experienced on some level. Each person in this course has gone through high school, and now you’ve chosen to extend your education here at UIndy. Yet many of you feel there are a great many problems within the educational system. Richard Rodriguez tells a personal story about being forced to speak English instead of Spanish and how badly that damaged his relationship with his family. He then parlays that into an argument against widespread bilingual education. Mike Rose tells a personal story about being shuttled into the vocational track instead of the honors courses where he rightfully belonged. He then parlays that into an argument about students rising to what’s expected of them so that honors students act like honors students and vocational students act like vocational students. Hephzibah Roskelly tells stories about stories, referring to her days growing up on the farm and listening to her family’s tales. She parlays this into an argument about narrative as educational tool and the unjust stereotype most people think of when they hear the term “redneck.”

For this essay, you must write a personal story about education and parlay that into an argument about education. Pick something you care about. Be interested in your work. If you are bored with your topic, so will your readers. What links Rodriguez, Rose and Roskelly is that they have all chosen to write about deeply personal matters and use those feelings to write a coherent argument about education. You must critique the educational system. Nearly anything is fair game, everything from kindergarten to high school to college athletics to unfair distribution of scholarships. Secondly, like Roskelly, you must use sources. For this essay, we are requiring that you use two of the three education readings (Roskelly, Rodriguez or Rose) in addition to two outside sources on your own. Your sources must be integrated organically into the paper like in Roskelly’s, and you must provide a works cited. Search out people who agree with your argument. Search out people who disagree with your. Like anything, the debate concerning education is an ongoing conversation. Your paper is not an island, but a mere dialogue in an endless series of conversations.

Essay #2 (4 pages)

DUE FRIDAY OCTOBER 12th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 11AM

“And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski. I’m not the only one.”

–Nicholas Carr

It’s difficult to argue that the proliferation of the internet and broadband technology haven’t affected our lives in a number of ways. Farhad Manjoo discusses the power social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter hold over our lives, while Zoe Kleinman shows us how the internet is rapidly reconfiguring the way we communicate offline and online. While Kelle Santiago and Roger Ebert spur endlessly about whether or not video games are art, Jane Wakefield visits schools around the UK who have already adopted 3D technology in middle school classrooms. And then, of course, there’s Nicholas Carr who has written an entire book aiming to prove that the internet has reshaped the way humans process information.

Technology can affect our educations, it can affect our communications and relationships, and it can even affect our minds. For this assignment, we want you to imagine the future. What effect is technology having on us and what are the pros and cons? In this essay, you will try and predict where technology is leading us as a people and what exactly makes you think that. If you believe text messaging will leave future generations unable to spell correctly, that’s fine, but you must show evidence of that in the here and now using sources. The bolded words above are vague enough for you to use your own interests. Do you think experimental German surgeries will allow athletes to play professionally well into their forties, and what are the pros and cons of that (look it up, Kobe Bryant did it, and now a host of other athletes are too)? Do you think the increased dependence on social media over physical relationships will lead to legions of depressed Americans? Will the ever-improving world of technology lead to a glorious new age like Kellee Santiago predicts, or will it leads us into doom like Nicholas Carr imagines? Maybe it’s something in between.

For this paper, you must use four critical sources. Two must come from either the Manjoo, Kleinman, Santiago, Carr, or Wakefield. No Wikipedia.

Revision #1 (6 pages)

DUE WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 24th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 11AM

 “When you write,” Annie Dillard says, “you lay out a line of words . . . Soon you find yourself in new territory.  Is it a dead end or have you located your real subject?”  You write a first draft.  A few weeks pass and the terrain changes. You have some ideas for improvements.  Those comments in the margins are a good place to begin.  A few pointed questions, the occasional word of advice.  You have the voices of your classmates, a few new ideas about writing.  That’s a good start, you say to yourself.

For this assignment, you will substantially revise one of your essays and take it in a new direction.  Begin by reading over your writing, looking again at those lines of words you laid down.  Think about where you want them to go now.  How have your ideas about what you wanted to say, or how you wanted to speak, changed?  Where do you find yourself at a dead-end?  Are there questions in the margins that open up new routes, perhaps calling to mind stories you have yet to tell, ideas you would like to pursue further?

Once you have read through your writing and the comments, decide which essay you will revise.  Be sure to ask if you have questions about anything written on your draft.

Plan on spending at least as much time and effort revising as you did writing the original.  In some instances, you may write new paragraphs, entirely new pages.  In others cases, you will undoubtedly find yourself fine-tuning single sentences.  Highlight the revised and new material by using a different colored font.  Once you have completed your revision, the new essay should look quite different from the original.

If you scored an A on the first draft, cut 10% of your material. If you scored a B on the first draft, cut 25% of your material. If you received a C or lower on the first draft, cut 50% of your material.

Essay #3 (4 pages)

Due Monday November 19th in My E-mail Inbox by 11am

Get dressed, Marge. You’ve got to lead our protest against this abomination!”
“Hmm, but that’s Michelangelo’s David. It’s a masterpiece.”
“It’s filth! It graphically portrays parts of the human body which, practical as they may be, are evil.”
“But I like that statue.”

The Simpsons

Cartoon characters are banned for being too violent. Prince and Purple Rain are blamed for the devolution of a nation. Street artists are chased by police officers across European rooftops. The KKK distributes flyers right in our own backyard here in Beech Grove. Yet a man can allow a dog to starve to death and call it art, and nothing happens to him.

Censorship is a slippery slope, yet it exists all around us. Alan Dershowitz argues you can yell “Fire!” in a movie theatre but after the events of Aurora, Colorado, and before that 9/11, this seems pretty unlikely. Is censorship ever ok? Should more things be censored? The KKK? Artists murdering dogs? People who protest soldiers’ funerals? Or, by allowing these people protection via free speech, are we illuminating the stupidity of their ideas? What are the dangers inherent in censoring? Can we go too far either way?

Over the last few weeks, we’ve discussed censorship and your various stances toward it. For this assignment, pretend that you’ve been assigned by the government to come up with a new policy on censorship in America. Will you take a hard line, censoring violence and nudity on television or other forms of artistic expression? Or will you take an anything goes mentality? What are the pros and cons of your stance? Tease out the ramifications. Come up with a competent argument for why your censorship policy is best for America.

For this assignment, you will use four sources. Two must come from either the Simpsons episode, Exit Through the Gift Shop, the Elliot Feldman, the Jason Wire, or the Alan Dershowitz articles. Two must be your own, and they must be critical sources. No Wikipedia.

Essay #4 (8 pages)

Due Friday December 7th In My E-mail Inbox By 11am

“If this baby is a girl, I am hopeful that things will be different when it’s her turn. That she will read this essay in thirty years and laugh and say, ‘Mom, you were so crazy.’ Because she will feel so in control of her life, her choices, her body, that she won’t be able to imagine a time when any small modicum of control had to be flexed, hoarded, treasured. She will be part of a generation of girls unassaulted by their society. They will walk around generous and uninjured. Or maybe that’s just the dream of this pregnant woman, because we all want better for our kids than we had ourselves.”

–Aubrey Hirsch

The world can sometimes be a pretty unjust place. Over the last few weeks, we’ve read Peter Singer’s account of poverty and starvation in the third world. We’ve seen Adelph Molinari explain the vast digital divide that excludes so many global citizens. And we’ve read and chatted with Aubrey Hirsch who felt changed by her pregnancy from “Aubrey” into a “Mother-to-be.”

And yet, the solutions are hard to see. Peter Singer’s solution to world poverty seems completely implausible and impossible. Aubrey Hirsch hopes for a better tomorrow for her child but isn’t exactly sure how or even if that will happen. Adelph Molinari forms a plan of action but admits he’s extremely far away from his goal of bridging the digital divide. All three writers and thinkers agree that although equality is a goal we should strive for, it’s an incredibly difficult goal to achieve.

For this essay, you will be asked to transform yourself into a positive force for change. Much like in your educational autobiography earlier this semester, we want you to choose a problem you care about that has to do with equality. Like Adelph Molinari, you must select a real, physical problem—in his case, the lack of internet access in the third world—and try and sketch out a solution. This must be a real life problem with a real, tangible solution. However, you don’t have to be ambitious to the point where you set out to end world poverty. Think locally. What is a problem with equality you have witnessed in your own lives? Have would you solve it? First, explain why this is a problem that must be addressed. Remember how Hirsch and Molinari argue why their causes are so important. Then set forth your explanation, arguing why exactly this is a feasible way forward. Your problem and solution may relate back to education, technology, or censorship. In many ways, this is the culmination of everything we’ve discussed this semester. It’s time to take the thinking you’ve done and transform it into something concrete.

You will be required to use four critical sources. For this assignment, you are not required to use the two essays and video we discussed during this unit, but you may use one, and only one, if you wish. Find sources that are related to your problem.

FINAL PORTFOLIO

DUE DECEMBER 7th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 11AM

In addition to Essay #4, you also must turn in Revision #1, and Revision #2. For Revision #2, you will revise any of the first three essays you haven’t revised already. The same rules apply. You must cut out either 50%, 25%, or 10% of your work depending on your grade. Then you must extend the paper to six FULL pages.

English Composition Syllabus or Comp So Hard The Registrar Wanna Fine Me

A new semester has begun, and I thought it might be interesting if I posted all my syllabi. I’ve done this before, but every semester I try to retool some things that aren’t working. I’ve just started work at the University of Indianapolis, and honestly, I can’t even imagine being happier than I am right now. My experience here has already gone above and beyond expectations, and they were pretty high to begin with. This fall I’m teaching two sections of English Composition, one section of Advanced Composition (the only course I haven’t taught before), and one section of Fiction Writing Workshop. I’ll be posting the syllabi separately over the next week. If you want to use these or take sections that work for you, please feel free to do so. I’ve cobbled these from syllabi I’ve photocopied and downloaded. Some of it comes from Cathy Day. Some of it comes from my friends back in Pennsylvania. Some of it was used as the standard comp syllabus at Pitt back in 2007. Most of the assignments and papers are my own inventions, but I really think syllabi are things to share and learn from. Let me know what you think of what I’m proposing here. Let me know what you’re doing in the classroom. Let’s collaborate.

ENGLISH COMPOSITION

MWF 8:00-8:50

University of Indianapolis
Assistant Professor Salvatore Pane
Office Hours: 10-11 MWF, 2-3 MW
Credits: 3.0

Public Connections: The Evolution of the Essay

 

Syllabus

 

 

Required Texts

 

The Best American Essays, Sixth College Edition, edited by Robert Atwan

Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White

 

 

Recommended Text

Writer’s Reference, Seventh Edition, by Diane Hacker

Welcome to English Composition

Somewhere along the way, you likely encountered the five-paragraph essay with its introductory paragraph and thesis statement, its three supporting examples and conclusion that re-states the central idea. Now, having arrived in a college Composition course, you may be expecting more of the same. But you will soon discover that English Composition—and writing in the university more broadly—demands more complex (and inventive) writing and thinking than this kind of essay allows. You might say this is a writing course that begins where the five-paragraph essay leaves off…

Course Description

This is a class in which we will write A LOT. We will write about the reading we do and write about the thinking we do and then write about the writing we do and just plain write. This description may sound exhausting or exciting, but either way, you can be sure that the course will be both challenging and rewarding. Keep in mind that writing is a skill, just like playing football or driving a car. That is, it is something that improves with diligence and practice. But in this class, unlike driving a car, you will never be asked to follow the same rote steps. The essay assignments and short exercises in this course are designed to help you approach writing from a variety of contexts, using a variety of techniques. We are trying to look beyond pat formulas (such as the five-paragraph essay) while still understanding the writely conventions specific to each piece and how they can be useful. At times, the prompts might ask you to employ a particular strategy or style of a published essayist, but always with the aim of exploring your own range of writing and voices.

Workshopping and revision will be key components of our work in this class. We will put essays from inside and outside of class onto the table to find out what is working or not working for us as readers and writers. The object is to take what we learn from workshop and apply it to our own writing in future drafts and revisions. I encourage you to look at every assignment that you complete as a draft that can be improved rather than a finished product.

Critical engagement and close reading will also be integral to this course. In fact, I hope that they will both become daily practices. A big part of this class is learning to complicate your thinking, to notice the details of language and composition on a micro and macro level. Throughout the term, we will do close reading exercises focusing on various literary and rhetorical devices with the aim of nuancing our own analyses and writing. Producing work that is fresh and insightful depends upon being able to draw out insightful readings of other texts, of ourselves, and of the world. English Composition will push you to ask not only the “how” of writing but also the “why” and the “so what.”

Things to Remember

Push yourself to be innovative and creative. Push yourself to take that extra step towards flushing out the complexity of an issue. This class is a safe place to take risks that may not always improve your writing in the short term but will help you better understand writing and the successful choices you can make as a writer over time. You will be given plenty of time to write during class. Use this to your advantage.

This small size of our class will help you get to know each other and each other’s work well. The goal is to forge a community of writers who participate in an ongoing and constructive conversation about the craft. English Composition illustrates quite literally how your writing is always part of a public conversation!

Turning in Your Writing

It’s important that you turn in your writing on time, as late work cannot become part of class discussion. Likewise, because the Essays and Exercises build upon one another, turning in late work means you miss out on comments that would help you with the upcoming assignment. Since you will regularly revise your work, make sure to keep electronic and paper copies. All papers must be written in Times New Roman 12 with one inch fonts. Failure to comply will result in a lowered grade. Also, please title your work. Do not generically title your papers, “Essay 2” or “Essay on Singer.”

Readings

All of the assigned readings are either in Best American Essays or on Ace. It is your responsibility to print out the readings we will focus on in any given class session. Everything you will need is explained in the Course Sequence. You only have to read essays marked “Homework.” If you do not bring print outs of the readings, I will take off participation points. If this becomes a consistent problem, I will start marking you absent.

Grading

You will receive provisional grades on each of the essays you turn in, but you will have a chance to revise those essays throughout the semester. At your mid-term conference you will receive a provisional grade, which is in no way final and is not factored into your final grade. Rather, this mid-term assessment is intended to give you a sense of how your writing is being evaluated and of your progress in the course. You are always welcome to stop by during office hours to talk about your writing or your grade. Keep in mind that your final portfolio will be comprised of three polished essays. Thus, you are encouraged to keep on reworking essays that you like throughout the semester.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Classroom participation will affect your grade. Lack of engagement or preparation will lower your grade. Regular comments and involvement with moving the ongoing conversation of the class forward will increase your grade.

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you turn in a paper late, you will lose an entire letter grade. If you turn in a paper more than 24 hours late, it is an automatic failure. Automatic failures WILL impact your final grade in the class. No excuses.

Essays & evaluations                                                                                                 70%

Exercises and class participation                                                                                30%

Course Objectives

1)    A successful student will add thoughtful and complex commentary to every class discussion.

2)    A successful student will hand in thoughtful and complex essays on time for each corresponding assignment.

3)    A successful student will complete all of the exercises with great attention to detail.

4)    A successful student will substantially revise and extend two of their essays.

Conferences

You will have at least one conference with me over the course of the semester at mid-term. This meeting takes place in my office. It will be brief and is designed to better gauge individual needs and interests as well as get feedback.

Attendance

I want to be as clear as I can on this. If you miss class five times, you will fail. There will be no make up assignments. Don’t come back to class. The ONLY excuses I will accept are a doctor’s excuse or some kind of family emergency. I am not going to make any exceptions on this front.

You should always be on time for class. If you are late, you will not get credit for attending an entire class.

If you are unprepared for discussion or workshop, I cannot give you credit for attendance that day.

Note

The syllabus is subject to change. I will only push assignments and readings back however. No assignment will ever be due earlier than it’s listed here.

Plagiarism

Intellectual theft, like any other kind of theft, is a crime, and is especially dangerous on a college campus. Plagiarism is defined as any use of another person’s thoughts or words as your own. I don’t expect to see plagiarism in this class, and if I do each case will be dealt with on an individual basis, but the MINIMUM penalty will be failure for the assignment in question. Failing the entire course is not out of the question. If you are doing research and are unsure how to incorporate someone else’s work into your own in a valid manner, please ask—I’ll be more than happy to help you out so that there’s no danger of confusion.

Week One

Monday August 27

Syllabus & Introductions
Azar Nafisi “Words of War”
In Class Writing

Wednesday August 29

Farhad Manjoo “Is Facebook a Fad?”
Exercise A

Friday August 31

Ben Percy “Keep Doing What You Are Doing, James Franco”
Exercise B
Homework: Read Peter Singer “The Singer Solution to World Poverty”

Week Two

Wednesday September 5

Exercise C
Discuss Peter Singer “The Singer Solution to World Poverty”
Homework: Read ANY five opening paragraphs from Best American Essays

Friday September 7

Discuss Essay 1
Exercise D

Week Three

Monday September 10

Examples of Essay 1

Wednesday September 12

Nate Jackson “The NFL’s Head Cases”
60 Minutes
Exercise E
Homework: Read Tom Bissell “Grand Thefts”

Friday September 14

Discuss Tom Bissell “Grand Thefts”
Homework: Read David Masello “My Friend Lodovico”

Week Four

Monday September 17

Essay 1 Due
Peer Review

Wednesday September 19

Discuss David Masello “My Friend Lodovico”
Exercise F

Friday September 21

Discuss Essay 2
xTx “We Have to Go Back”
Exercise G

Week Five

Monday September 24

Examples of Essay 2

Wednesday September 26

Student Workshops

Friday September 28

Essay 2 Due
Peer Review

Week Six

Monday October 1

Molly Lambert “The ‘Poor Jen’ Problem”
Exercise H

Wednesday October 3

Revision Pamphlet
Discuss Revision 1
Exercise I

Friday October 5

Roxane Gay “A Profound Sense of Absence”
Exercise J

Week Seven

Monday October 8

Student Conferences

Wednesday October 10

Student Conferences

Friday October 12

Student Conferences

Week Eight

Wednesday October 17

Revision 1 Due
Roger Ebert’s Twitter Feed
Kellee Santiago “Are Video Games Art?”
Homework: Read Roger Ebert “Video Games Can Never Be Art”

Friday October 19

Discuss Roger Ebert “Video Games Can Never Be Art”
Exercise K
Homework: Read Jason Wire “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?”

Week Nine

Monday October 22

Discuss Read Jason Wire “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?”
Exercise L

Wednesday October 24

The Simpsons “Marge vs. Itchy and Scratchy”
Exercise M

Friday October 26

Class Cancelled

Week Ten

Monday October 29

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Wednesday October 31

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Friday November 2

Discuss Essay 3
Exercise M

Week Eleven

Monday November 5

Examples of Essay 3

Wednesday November 7

Ray Fisman “Clean Out Your Desks”
Exercise N
Homework: Read Mike Rose “I Just Wanna Be Average”

Friday November 9

Discuss Mike Rose “I Just Wanna Be Average”
Exercise O

Week Twelve

Monday November 12

Essay 3 Due
Peer Review
Homework: Read Richard Rodriguez “Aria”

Wednesday November 14

Discuss Richard Rodriguez “Aria”
Exercise P
Homework: Read Hephzibah Roskelly “Redneck Daughter in the Academy”

Friday November 16

Discuss Hephzibah Roskelly “Redneck Daughter in the Academy”
Discuss Essay 4

Week Thirteen

Monday November 19

Examples of Essay 4

Week Fourteen

Monday November 26

Peer Review First Page of Essay 4

Wednesday November 28

Student Workshops

Friday November 30

Student Workshops

Week Fifteen

Monday December 3

Student Conferences

Wednesday December 5

Student Conferences

Friday December 7

Final Portfolios Due

In-Class Writing

For this first writing assignment, we would like you to discuss authority in Azar Nafisi’s “Words of War.”

At some point in your response, we would like you to focus in on specifics.  Which details capture your attention and why?  As you describe what you read—bombs over Iran, some strange book called Pride and Prejudice, allusions to the US War in Iraq—consider what gives Nafisi “authority.” Authority, on the page, is when readers believe what a writer writes. What makes you believe that Nafisi knows what she’s talking about? Is it because she is from Iran? Is it because she is a university professor? Is it because she uses big words? Or do you not believe her, and if so, why not?

While you may come to some interesting conclusions by the end of your response, you should not feel obligated to wrap things up neatly or to offer a definitive set of statements.  In fact, rather than driving toward a pre-determined conclusion, we want to encourage you to surprise yourself, to discover new interpretive territory.  Try writing without knowing quite where you will land.  You may even find that as your understanding deepens, a whole new set of questions arises.

You will have the rest of class to complete your response.

Essay #1 (3 pages)

DUE MONDAY SEPTEMBER 17th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment, and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.”

—Joyce Carol Oates

As readers, we are often drawn to voices we consider “conversational,” by which we usually mean friendly or non-threatening.  And yet there are many modes and styles of conversation.  Consider the differences in tone, diction, cadence, and syntax that characterize the dialogues in which you regularly engage, your varied motivations for speaking or listening.  Talks with your teachers no doubt differ markedly from those with your parents, your friends, your romantic partners, your cat, or that police officer who pulls you over for speeding.  Even chats between the same two speakers can vary considerably according to circumstances: arguments, heart-felt confessions, interventions, seductions, lies, denials, comic relief.

Write an essay in which you present your conversation with “The Singer Solution to World Poverty.” What do you notice about how Singer shapes and manipulates the relationship between writer and reader? Where, for example, does Singer anticipate your response?  How does he ask you to see yourself, and what strategies does he employ to get you to do so? What do you notice about your responses to Singer’s provocations, his anticipated counter-arguments, his questions and direct addresses? Where did you listen quietly, and where did you speak back? Do you agree or disagree with Singer? Why or why not?

Keep in mind that we are not asking you to summarize the essay, but rather to describe and reflect on your reading process. Unless you have a compelling reason for doing so, you should avoid the five-paragraph essay form.  Write as many paragraphs as you need, structuring your work according to the logic of what you have to say.

In your essay, make sure to use quotations from the text to illustrate your ideas or support your claims.

Essay #2 (3 Pages)

DUE FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 28th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“We must remove the mask.”

                      —Montaigne

“If you must preserve your secret, wrap it up in frankness.”

                                                                                 —Alexander Smith

One way the essayist fashions a persona is by choosing what to reveal to the reader, and what to conceal.  Personal history is offered piecemeal, often while the writer appears to be focused on another subject altogether.  In telling someone else’s story, the writer plays the part of looker-on, a lens trained on the essay’s real subject.  When such essayists turn to talk about themselves, their candor seems almost accidental, a slip of the tongue.

In Tom Bissell’s “Grand Thefts,” we learn about the writer’s Grand Theft Auto avatar Niko Bellic. We discover vital information about Niko’s world and personality, but at the same time, Bissell reveals his own faults and obsession with drugs. In David Masello’s “My Friend Lodovico,” we meet the author’s dear friend, Lodovico Capponi.  But we also get to know the author—his history of love affairs and lost friends, his changeable fashions and wandering eye.  For as much as David Masello looks at Lodovico, Lodovico (and we) look at David Masello.  One might say these essays are as much autobiographies as they are biographies, double-portraits of the subjects and the writers.

Try your hand at a double-portrait in the spirit of “My Friend Lodovico” and “Grand Thefts.”  Like Masello, your subject will be a friendship, an acquaintance with someone (or something) you have never actually met.  A figure from art, history, or popular culture.  A character in a book, film, or television show.  An image in a painting or photograph.  A celebrity.  An athlete. As you prepare to write, consider the persona you will shape on the page, the tidbits of personal history you will reveal.

Revision #1 (5 pages)

DUE WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 17TH IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“When you write,” Annie Dillard says, “you lay out a line of words . . . Soon you find yourself in new territory.  Is it a dead end or have you located your real subject?”  You write a first draft.  A few weeks pass and the terrain changes. You have some ideas for improvements.  Those comments in the margins are a good place to begin.  A few pointed questions, the occasional word of advice.  You have the voices of your classmates, a few new ideas about writing.  That’s a good start, you say to yourself.

For this assignment, you will substantially revise one of your essays and take it in a new direction.  Begin by reading over your writing, looking again at those lines of words you laid down.  Think about where you want them to go now.  How have your ideas about what you wanted to say, or how you wanted to speak, changed?  Where do you find yourself at a dead-end?  Are there questions in the margins that open up new routes, perhaps calling to mind stories you have yet to tell, ideas you would like to pursue further?

Once you have read through your writing and the comments, decide which essay you will revise.  Be sure to ask if you have questions about anything written on your draft.

Plan on spending at least as much time and effort revising as you did writing the original.  In some instances, you may write new paragraphs, entirely new pages.  In others cases, you will undoubtedly find yourself fine-tuning single sentences.  Highlight the revised and new material by using a different colored font.  Once you have completed your revision, the new essay should look quite different from the original.

If you scored an A on the first draft, cut 10% of your material. If you scored a B on the first draft, cut 25% of your material. If you received a C or lower on the first draft, cut 50% of your material.

Essay #3 (3 pages)

DUE MONDAY NOVEMBER 12TH IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“I remain convinced that in principle, video games cannot be art. Perhaps it is foolish of me to say ‘never,’ because never, as Rick Wakeman informs us, is a long, long time. Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.”

–Roger Ebert in “Video Games Can Never Be Art”

Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked a lot about what exactly constitutes art and who gets the right to proclaim that something isn’t art. Kellee Santiago claims in her YouTube video presentation that Roger Ebert is wrong, that video games can be art, and in fact, already are. Ebert’s response essay, “Video Games Can Never Be Art” very much defends his position. And of course, Jason Wire argues in “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?” that everything is now considered art, even demonstrations as bizarre as an orchestra sitting in silence for four-and-a-half minutes to the demented, a starving dog tied up just out of reach of food in a museum.

For this essay, you must come up with your own definition of art and argue for its validity using examples and logic just like Wire and Santiago and Ebert. In our society, what constitutes art? Do you take the hard-line view that only so-called “great works”—the classic novels and poems and paintings and operas—should be classified as art, or do you feel that everything—a sock, Transformers 2, the New York Knicks, a double cheeseburger—should be considered art? What is your stance? Prove it. Where do you draw the line?

Secondly, do you think that the specific people who have the ability to declare things art or not—Roger Ebert and other critics—in any way mimics the social power structure that governs our lives? Who in this society has power, and how do arguments about what and what is not art reflect that struggle? Remember Roxane Gay’s essay “A Profound Sense of Absence.” She makes a case that the art that is most often valued in our society focuses on upper-middle class white people from America. What does that say about us as a society?

NOTE: For this paper, include a works cited. You must use 3 of the essays/videos we’ve gone over in class during this unit (the Ebert, the Santiago, the Wire, the Simpsons episode or the Gay), and you must find 2 more CRITICAL sources on your own. I don’t want Wikipedia.

Essay #4 (7 pages)

DUE FRIDAY DECEMBER 7TH IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

“Students will float to the mark you set. I and the others in the vocational classes were bobbing in pretty shallow water. Vocational education has aimed at increasing the economic opportunities of students who do not do well in our schools. Some serious programs succeed in doing that, and through exceptional teachers… students learn to develop hypotheses and troubleshoot, reason through a problem, and communicate effectively—the true job skills. The vocational track, however, is most often a place for those who are just not making it, a dumping ground for the disaffected. There were a few teachers who worked hard at education; young Brother Slattery, for example, combined a stern voice with weekly quizzes to try to pass along to us a skeletal outline of world history. But mostly the teachers had no idea of how to engage the imaginations of us kids who were scuttling along at the bottom of the pond.”

—Mike Rose in “I Just Wanna Be Average”

For Essay #4, you will produce an essay that combines personal inquiry and argument, an essay that not only reveals the writer’s life ala David Masello and Tom Bissell, but one that also strives to make a point ala Peter Singer and Roxane Gay.

The educational system is something every one of you has experienced on some level. Each person in this course has gone through high school, and now you’ve chosen to extend your education here at UIndy. Yet many of you feel there are a great many problems within the educational system. Richard Rodriguez tells a personal story about being forced to speak English instead of Spanish and how badly that damaged his relationship with his family. He then parlays that into an argument against widespread bilingual education. Mike Rose tells a personal story about being shuttled into the vocational track instead of the honors courses where he rightfully belonged. He then parlays that into an argument about students rising to what’s expected of them so that honors students act like honors students and vocational students act like vocational students. Hephzibah Roskelly tells stories about stories, referring to her days growing up on the farm and listening to her family’s tales. She parlays this into an argument about narrative as educational tool and the unjust stereotype most people think of when they hear the term “redneck.”

For this essay, you must write a personal story about education and parlay that into an argument about education. Pick something you care about. Be interested in your work. If you are bored with your topic, so will your readers. What links Rodriguez, Rose and Roskelly is that they have all chosen to write about deeply personal matters and use those feelings to write a coherent argument about education. You must critique the educational system. Nearly anything is fair game, everything from kindergarten to high school to college athletics to unfair distribution of scholarships. Secondly, like Roskelly, you must use sources. For this essay, we are requiring that you use two of the three education readings (Roskelly, Rodriguez or Rose) in addition to two outside sources on your own. Your sources must be integrated organically into the paper like in Roskelly’s, and you must provide a works cited. Search out people who agree with your argument. Search out people who disagree with your argument and “beat” them at their own game just like you “beat” Peter Singer. Like anything, the debate concerning education is an ongoing conversation. Your paper is not an island, but a mere dialogue in an endless series of conversations.

FINAL PORTFOLIO

DUE DECEMBER 7th IN MY E-MAIL INBOX BY 8AM

In addition to Essay #4, you also must turn in Revision #1, and Revision #2. For Revision #2, you will revise Essay #3 just like you did for either Essay #1 or Essay #2. All the same rules apply. You must cut out either 50%, 25%, or 10% of your work depending on your grade. Then you must extend the paper to five FULL pages.

Educational Autobiographies

Recently, I posted my plan to let my comp students write about their own obsessions in a mode similar to Tom Bissell’s stellar essay “Grand Thefts”. It didn’t turn out as well as I expected. Alongside the obsession option was another essay prompt about art that only two students out of nineteen took. I tell my kids all the time that I’m not some godly authority, that I’m learning as much as they are. And one thing I’ve learned is that sadly, I have to cut that obsession essay from future versions of the course. Luckily, the final essay prompt seems to have gone over extremely well. I’m only halfway through the papers but they’re really fucking impressive. Essay assignment is below. Let me know what you think, what types of things you teach (if you teach), if you have suggestions, etc. etc. etc. For this one they had to read “Aria” by Richard Rodriguez, “I Just Wanna Be Average” by Mike Rose and “Telling Tales in School: A Redneck Daughter in the Academy” by Hephzibah Roskelly.

Essay #5 (4-5 Pages)

Students will float to the mark you set. I and the others in the vocational classes were bobbing in pretty shallow water. Vocational education has aimed at increasing the economic opportunities of students who do not do well in our schools. Some serious programs succeed in doing that, and through exceptional teachers… students learn to develop hypotheses and troubleshoot, reason through a problem, and communicate effectively—the true job skills. The vocational track, however, is most often a place for those who are just not making it, a dumping ground for the disaffected. There were a few teachers who worked hard at education; young Brother Slattery, for example, combined a stern voice with weekly quizzes to try to pass along to us a skeletal outline of world history. But mostly the teachers had no idea of how to engage the imaginations of us kids who were scuttling along at the bottom of the pond.

—Mike Rose in “I Just Wanna Be Average”

Personal inquiry. Argument. Personal inquiry. Argument. At times, this course has felt like a battleground with lines clearly drawn between those who would rather write personal essays and those who feel that much more is at stake in formal arguments. For Essay #5, we want you to produce a hybrid, an essay that not only reveals the writer’s life ala David Masello and Tom Bissell, but one that also strives to make a point ala Peter Singer and Kelli Whitehead.

The educational system is something every American has experienced on some level. Each person in this course has gone through high school, and now you’ve chosen to extend your education at least four years here at Pitt. Yet many of you feel there are a great many problems within the education system. Richard Rodriguez tells a personal story about being forced to speak English instead of Spanish and how badly that damaged his relationship with his family. He then parlays that into an argument against widespread bilingual education. Mike Rose tells a personal story about being shuttled into the vocational track instead of the honors courses where he rightfully belonged. He then parlays that into an argument about students rising to what’s expected of them so that honors students act like honors students and vocational students act like vocational students. Hephzibah Roskelly tells stories about stories, referring to her days growing up on the farm and listening to her family’s tales. She parlays this into an argument about narrative as educational tool and the unjust stereotype most people think of when they hear the term “redneck”.

For this essay, you must write a personal story about education and parlay that into an argument about education. Pick something you care about. Be interested in your work. If you are bored with your topic, so will your readers. What links Rodriguez, Rose and Roskelley is that they have all chosen to write about deeply personal matters and use those feelings to write a coherent argument about education. You must critique the educational system. Nearly anything is fair game, everything from kindergarten to high school to college athletics to unfair distribution of scholarships. Secondly, like Roskelley, you must use outside sources. For this essay, we are requiring THREE OUTSIDE SOURCES. This does not mean Wikipedia. This means books in the library or articles on PittCATT. Your sources must be integrated organically into the paper like in Roskelley’s, and you must provide a works cited that follows MLA format (Microsoft Word can do this for you). Search out people who agree with your argument. Search out people who disagree with your argument and “beat” them at their own game just like you “beat” Peter Singer. Like anything, the debate concerning education is an ongoing conversation. Your paper is not an island, but a mere dialogue in an endless series of conversations.

Thoughts on the Short Story Survey

“Do people still care about short fiction?” That’s a redundant, pointless question for the most part, but I find it interesting that the dominant form of literary fiction consumed in this country is the novel, yet so many undergraduate institutions focus primarily on the short story in writing workshops and even in general surveys for non-English majors. I’m taking an Independent Study at Pitt with Nick Coles called Seminar in Course Design. The goal of the course is for me to generate five syllabi for a wide variety of classes: Workshop in Composition, Short Stories in Context, The Graphic Novel, Intro to Creative Writing and Intro to Fiction. I’ve been reading a lot of pedagogical theory on these subjects by writers like Mike Rose, Richard Rodriguez, Madison Smart Bell and Peter Turchi. It’s been really great experience so far, but the one I keep getting stuck on is the short story course.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the survey courses I took in undergrad. My professor was a particularly cool guy we all wanted to emulate. Dr. Laurence Roth had a book out about Jewish detective fiction and wrote scholarly articles about comic book luminary Will Eisner. He also played in a kickass band made up of other faculty members. This is all to say that he had a posse of students who signed up for practically every class he taught. When I took his survey,  I was still a very naive, innocent undergrad reading Carver, Dubus, Wolff and Ford pretty much exclusively. Roth bombarded us with Pynchon, Eggers, Safran-Foer, DeLillo, Kincaid and even the aforementioned Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware. I was alternatively frightened by Roth’s selection and intrigued. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that Roth’s survey class proved a valuable counterpoint to the realism heavy focus of all my workshop classes. Roth showed the alternative; he showed us what else was possible.

So the question I’ve been facing is whether or not one class can balance both sides. Can a single survey course manage to promote neither realism, postmodernism or any other school of thought, and instead, simply show students the possibilities and let them decide on their own? Or will professors’ biases always come to the forefront no matter how democratic a syllabus? I’m not sold either way. But I’ve made an attempt. Below, you will find a draft of my short story survey syllabus. I’m looking to improve it, so if you have any suggestions, please throw them out. Keep in mind, it’s aimed at undergraduates.

Course Description

This course is a survey of the various facets of the contemporary short story from 1950 to present. The class will be broken down into four major units in which we will examine the work of authors from different literary movements and see how they are affected by history and culture. The first unit will involve a thorough analysis of the so-called post war writers who often focused on the widespread conformity of 1950s and early 1960s America. Unit two will move on to the more experimental writers of the ‘60s and beyond and focus on how these writers constructed their stories and why they were so deeply impacted by their place in literary history. Then we will cover the dirty realists of the ‘80s and their shift back to basics during an age of utter excess. Toward the end of the course, we will study the growing world of globalized writers and the plight of those who deal with the aftermath of colonial imperialism. Finally, the class will investigate the new frontier of canonized short story writers and attempt to understand and categorize what their place in history is.

Required Coursework

The class is designed as an ongoing discussion about the contemporary short story and how the form affects and is affected by broader stratifications in history and culture. We will conduct close readings on the assigned material every class. After the second week, group presentations will begin in which teams of four students are given time to present on directed topics. Aside from class participation and group presentations, grades will be based on three separate papers in which students will be asked to discuss the various texts at length along with supplemental material and other theoretical/cultural concerns.

Sequence

Unit I: Post War Conformity in the USA: The Rise of Traditional Realism

John Updike
John Cheever
J.D Salinger
James Baldwin
Richard Yates
Group Presentations Begin

Unit II: The Counter Culture and Avant-Garde

Donald Barthelme
Joyce Carol Oates
James Alan McPherson
Barry Hannah
Toni Cade Bambara
Charles Baxter
Jamaica Kincaid
Roberto Bolano
Paper #1 Due

Unit III: Dirty Realism in the Age of Reagan

Tim O’Brien
Raymond Carver
Andre Dubus
Tobias Wolff
Richard Ford
Bobbie Ann Mason
Alice Munro
Breece D’J Pancake
Lorrie Moore
Paper #2 Due

Unit IV: New Frontiers

David Foster Wallace
Rick Moody
Rick Bass
Etgar Keret
Junot Diaz
Dan Chaon
Robert Boswell
Dave Eggers
Antonya Nelson
Miranda July
Stewart O’ Nan
A.M Homes
Don Lee
Jhumpa Lahir
George Saunders

Final Paper Due

Assignments

Paper #1) Using the work of two writers from Unit I and two writers from Unit II, compare and contrast the style and techniques of the Post War Realists and the Experimentalists. What is at stake for these groups of writers and is there any overlap? Focus your argument on whether or not one side or the other has more emotional resonance. You may want to take into consideration that the answer may be more complex than “the experimentalists have more emotional resonance because…” What concerns bind these seemingly disparate groups of writers together? What threatens to tear them apart? 5 pages.

Paper #2) What does it mean to be a dirty realist in the age of Reagan? Using the work of at least three of the writers covered in Unit III, come up with a mantra for this generation of writers and spend your paper arguing their merits and drawbacks. What have these writers taken from those in Unit I? What about Unit II? On the flip side, what have they jettisoned? What is gained from their techniques? What is lost? Feel free to make use of the historical milieu of the time period. 5 pages.

Paper #3) We have now examined some of the most major writers of the short story from 1950 to the present day. Since you now have a vast resource of stories and writers to draw from, I would like you to select three writers from Unit IV that you think are similar stylistically. Then go back through the previous units and attempt to create a genealogy for this group of writers. You should argue which writers and stories influenced your writers and how. Do you see the macabre flourishes of Joyce Carol Oates in the work of Dan Chaon? Is there a connection between the down and out protagonists of Raymond Carver and the Pittsburgh milieu of Stewart O’ Nan? Is Jhumpa Lahir’s interest in the post-colonial world influenced by Jamaica Kincaid in any tangible way? Make connections. See the through lines that are at play in literary history. 10 pages.

The Most Unfortunately Titled Article Ever Published or Why America Hates English Professors

A few days ago I read an entry on the LA Times blog Jacket Copy written by former Pitt MFAer Carolyn Kellogg. The article links back to a feature published in The American Book Review conspicuously titled “Top 40 Bad Books”. Normally, I wouldn’t read such a list because there’s so much great literature out there, so many wonderful opportunities. Why dwell on the negative? But the writers Carolyn name-checked from the article were enough to pique my interest (and rage): Cormac McCarthy? F. Scott Fitzgerald?! RICHARD YATES ??!! Umm….. huh? The introduction (there’s no author credited) gives us this:

Richard Ford once said that it takes as much effort to produce a bad book as a good book. And as disheartening as that sounds, what Ford’s assertion might raise, and what most everyone who has attempted the task of a book-length work already knows, is the notion that effort alone does not ensure a book’s success, and that there are probably more ways for a good book to be overlooked than a bad book to never make it into print…

That said, what constitutes a bad book? Is it an overrated “good” book? Can an otherwise good author produce a “bad” book? Is the badness in style, in execution? Or is it in theme or outlook? Or is the notion of a “bad” book even comprehensible in the age of postmodernism, poststructialism, and cultural studies?

Calling the question of “bad books” to the fore elicited—as might be expected—an overwhelming response. The forty responses below were selected to demonstrate the sheer variety of responses to what at face value seems a simple question. But as with most literary matters, nothing is as simple as it appears—not even the question of what constitutes a bad book… (American Book Review)

Ok, let’s just ignore the fact that they used the dreaded “theme” while discussing literature. I didn’t realize this was AP English. Anyway, what’s on the list? The Great Gatsby. Revolutionary Road. All the Pretty Horses. The Ian Fleming James Bond novels. Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence. Dreiser, Melville and Colson Whitehead also make appearances. On initial glance, I wanted to yell and scream and rant. The list is made up of 40 entries written by College English Professors (in all Caps of course). A few of the entires are obsessed with attacking well-renowned writers and tearing down their legacies (the Yates and Fitzgerald entries are especially, and needlessly, unkind), but there are many examples here of professors (and a writer or two) doing good work. Some don’t even name a single book. For example, take a look at what Dagoberto Gilb has to say on the subject of bad books:

Like bad girlfriends (and boyfriends, too), there are so many categories of bad books that it’d be gruesome and pathetic to categorize the various species of that sorryness. Setting aside the intrinsically aggravating that the very coquetish author is actually stupid, or the editor who chose the manuscript is too dumb or lame or dazzled, or that the system which perpetuates both of them is as flawed as a university paying for a Glenn Beck lecture series, and omitting the writers who are really salespeople, as are their duped or complicit publishers hyping their so pretty product as though…. Wait a minute, that may be what I think is a major bad book or line of them even. (Gilb) (His ellipses, not mine)

One professor wonders about the usefulness of bad books and cites Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Another, Gerald Graff, talks about the practicality of bad books in pedagogical practice. Graff writes, “It has always seemed strange to me that bad books aren’t a prominent part of our school and college literature curriculum. How do we expect students to learn to tell the difference between good and bad books unless we assign some bad ones for comparison? Don’t you need badness in order to know goodness?” Another interesting tangent is brought up by Carol Guess who says:

Notice (2004) was published posthumously. Its narrative voice was so unique that no press would touch it until Lewis committed suicide at forty. Her suicide allowed the book’s publication; now she was dead, and sufficiently chastened for examining experiences that mainstream culture attempts to suppress. Before she killed herself, Lewis wrote one more novel, The Second Suspect (1998). This book was published and reviewed during her lifetime. It was bought, and it was read. The Second Suspect is a terrible book. But it’s not just a bad book; it’s so much more. It’s a bad book riffing off the author’s masterpiece. The Second Suspect is a rewriting of Notice, but minus everything that makes Notice literary. The Second Suspect takes plot, characters, and themes from Notice and reduces them to formulaic drivel. (Guess)

It’s obvious that Guess isn’t arguing that The Second Suspect is one of the worst books ever written, just as it’s painfully clear that some of these professors have axes to grind (look at the lambasting poor Cormac McCarthy takes!) and are using the American Book Review as a platform to air their theoretical grievances. So although the article in its entiretry is far less inflamatory than expected, what I can not stand for is its title. “Top 40 Bad Books” is a horrible title when the article in question doesn’t even have a list, when some of its contributors don’t even put forth a single book. I’m hoping that this is some type of marketing ploy, that the Editors at ABR chose this title knowing it would be controversial and would garner more attention (case in point, its mention on this blog). But an article like this written by a legion of college professors does much more harm than it does good. It purpotrates a stereotype that America loves to hate, that of the stodgy old English professor who despises everything.

For an example of what I’m talking about, check out The New Republic’s review of a recent memoir, The Professor and Other Writings, by Terry Castle. Ross Posnock, the reviewer, starts his critique with the following:

The public expression of contempt for professors is one of our cherished national pastimes and is that rare thing—bipartisan… Recently on its front page the New York Times invoked “the classic image of a humanities professor … tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular—and liberal” in a story on a sociological study of the power of typecasting. And in the annals of egghead bashing, the perennial butt of the foolproof punch line has long been the English professor. For decades Hollywood has dined out on this stereotype—Dennis Quaid’s bloated, bleary, and insufferable literature professor in Smart People is only a recent entry in a long parade of fatuity—but the Times has also loyally done its part. Their reports on the MLA convention are always good for a laugh, with their generous sampling of silly and sex-addled paper titles (who can forget “Wandering Genitalia in Late Medieval German Literature and Culture”?) that the Times cited a few years ago as proof that “eggheads are still nerds” with too much “sex on their minds (and time on their hands).” Whether the accusation is justified or not is less the point than the casualness of the contempt, the easy assumption of a license to scorn. Almost no group is more safely maligned and mocked. (Posnock)

I love the New Republic (especially their dryly titled lit blog The Book), but when they think you’re stodgy you know there’s a serious PR problem. Articles like “Top 40 Bad Books” reinforce the stereotype that English professors are cranky old dipshits seething in their Ivy Towers casting their hate outwards at everything. They are not lovers of literature; they are destroyers. Fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction are the manure from which they produce their cornucopia of brilliance. While Carol Guess and Gerald Graff and Dagoberto Gilb attempt to subvert this assumption, there are just as many examples within the ABR article that prove it. Since there are no bios included within the text of the article (only the names of institutions), one has to wonder if these hater professors teach Literature exclusively or if they dabble in their school’s Comp or Creative Writing departments.

The reason why I ask about what department these professors come from is because of an article by William M. Chace in the American Scholar. This was passed around in secret between friends of mine because the views expressed within are relatively controversial in a University environment. Entitled “The Decline of the English Department”, Chace’s article explores how and why enrollment numbers in English departments across the country have plummeted since the 1960’s coinciding with the ascendancy of critical theory as the main text of the humanities classroom. His findings are what you expect. He blames things on cultural studies and theorists with pseudo-political, pseudo-philosophical agendas (thus satisfying neither the politician or philosopher) and the shift away from the so-called Great Books. This stereotype of an English professor is in line with the bogeymen presented in the ABR article: Learned Men coming down the mount to explain to us philistines why The Great Gatsby is one of the top 40 worst books ever written.

But not all is doom and gloom. What Chase ignores is the rise of undergraduate Creative Writing programs and MFAs. Their enrollments have skyrocketed since the 1960’s with MFA programs pumping out 5,000 graduates a year. Similarly, Comp programs have also evolved thanks to the work of dedicated scholars like Mike Rose and Richard Rodriguez. While regular humanities classes become more and more specialized and in some cases jettison works of fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction altogether, creative writing and comp classrooms have put the focus back on student work and the so-called great books. So, to cap off this long, rambling rant, we need more professors like Guess and Graff and Gilb willing to ruminate over tough subjects, but also willing to celebrate the beautiful act that is the reception and creation of literature. And what we need less of are professors making lists of the worst books ever written and explaining why exactly the work of Richard Yates is so offensively terrible.

Rediscovering Nonfiction

A few weeks ago I was at a multi-genre reading with segments of fiction and nonfiction. I sat. I listened. I thought about how cultured I was. And I was utterly bored, especially during the creative nonfiction components. It was mostly navel-gazing and that genre I hate more than anything in the entire world: “Memoir of a Privileged, White Twenty-Something”. Ok, I guess that’s slightly better than “Memoir of a Privileged, White Twenty-Something Who Goes To The Third World and is Enlightened Spiritually”.  I sat there scowling and thinking about how much I used to love CNF back in college when I enjoyed literary journalism as well-deserved respites from devouring novel after novel after novel. I sat there thinking how I no longer cared about the genre.

In a workshop class I’m taking, writer Cathy Day has us thinking about “the negative cultural and critical reaction to personal nonfiction writing vs. its popular/commercial appeal”. It’s interesting that in an era of publishing history when nonfiction greatly outsells all facets of fiction that CNF, particularly the memoir, is under attack. Check out Taylor Antrim’s tirade on The Daily Beast. How about Maud Newton’s slam over at the LA Times? Two big name authors who swung through Pittsburgh both discussed how much they disliked CNF: Lorrie Moore and Aleksandar Hemon.

I can only speak to my own experience. I’m not a huge reader of the genre. I’m very often bored by memoirs, especially if the writer isn’t famous or hasn’t gone through something exceptional. I don’t read nonfiction for assurance that I am not alone in the universe and that there are others out there like me; that’s why I read fiction. These are my favorite works of CNF: On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner. Lives on the Boundary by Mike Rose (light pedagogical theory). Portions of Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (a pedagogical biography).  No More Vietnams by Richard Nixon. Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman. A Tragic Honesty: The Biography of Richard Yates. And New New Journalism, a fantastic collection with long, informative essays by writers as varied as John McPhee and Hunter S. Thompson.

I bring these up to illustrate a point. The Rumpus recently ran an interesting article about why people read nonfiction. It quotes John D’Agata who asks, “Do we read [nonfiction] to receive information, or do we read it to experience art?” I think this is the fundamental sticking point in the nonfiction debate. I’ve looked at my shelves, thought about this question and my own instinctively negative reaction towards memoirs. Clearly, I’m not reading nonfiction for art. No one who lists the prose of Richard Nixon as a favorite could possibly be looking for art, and it’s now obvious I value the genre for its ability to distill and disseminate information.

So to sum up: I think that a bunch of leather-elbowed professors and critics sitting around trying to decide whether CNF is a bankrupt genre is silly. It’s different from fiction. The two genres aren’t in competition with one another. People whose natural instinct it is to chide CNF are probably just coming at it from a different viewpoint: they’re not looking to experience voice, or sometimes even emotion in nonfiction; they’re looking for (at times clinical) information. And if that’s your primary motivation for reading nonfiction, it’s difficult to really compare it to fiction in any favorable way. Nor should you.