The Art of the Personal Essay
Our voices as writers take shape, in large part, when we absorb and create from the fertile ground of our inner landscapes—those territories seeded with childhood fantasies, feelings, fears, dreams, family dynamics, myths and realities. In writing personal essays, you get to explore your own life in the context of the physical, ecological, spiritual and cultural worlds you inhabit. The verb “to essay” means “to attempt to do something” or to try something out that may or may not succeed. It takes courage to reveal yourself and your doubts in the process. You may not come to a conclusion in the essay, but you will have the pleasure of doing “basic research on the self, in ways that are allied with science and philosophy,” according to Philip Lopate.
This seminar will help you tap into and write about experiences that have helped shape who you are, ideas that spark your imagination, and cultural and societal issues about which you care deeply. Personal essayists tell us what they don’t know. as well as what they imagine to be true. Students will read a variety of authors—from E.B. White to Audre Lorde, Amy Tan, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Lewis Thomas and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In addition to in-class writing, students will maintain a daily practice of free-writing; write reading responses to assigned books, essays, and stories; conduct interviews, do research and write and revise at least two personal essays during the semester.