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First-Year Seminar (105-6-24)


The Art of the Personal Essay


James Richard O'Laughlin
1908 Sheridan Rd., Rm. 206
Office Hours: Wednesday, 4-5 p.m. Thursday, 1-2 p.m.

Meeting Info

Locy Hall 314: Mon, Wed, Fri 3:00PM - 3:50PM

Overview of class

The personal essay is known for how deeply and openly it often explores its author's experiences, struggles, passions, uncertainties, doubts, beliefs, etc., but also for the manner in which it does that: it rarely tells us up front what its point is or how we can expect things to unfold in what follows. We'll study different types of personal essays to better understand the ways these writers elaborate their personal experience and reflect on it in relation to larger ideas, and we'll write several different kinds of these essays ourselves. We'll also explore how the strategies used in personal essays can be adapted to other kinds of writing, and how personal essays can generate questions and material for other kinds of writing. Our readings may include essays from Lopate's The Art of the Personal Essay (from which this course takes its title) and from Melissa Faliveno, James Baldwin, Ross Gay, Rachel Ghansah, Audre Lorde, Sherman Alexie, Yiyun Li, Dariel Suarez, Alan Shapiro.

Learning Objectives

The goal is for each of you to improve your ability to:

a. Identify and use different methods of exploring experiences and reflecting on those in personal essay writing.

b. Use brief writing exercises to find and develop things to write about from your own life experiences, and exercises to connect those to larger ideas.

c. Review other class members' essay drafts to identify strengths as well as
areas for possible improvement.

d. Manage the writing process, from generating ideas to elaborating a draft to
revising a draft after feedback.

e. Write an effective personal essay.

Class Materials (Required)

All readings will be available through Canvas.

Class Attributes

WCAS First-Year Seminar

Enrollment Requirements

Enrollment Requirements: Reserved for First Year & Sophomore only