Writing About Experience & Identity
Professor: Josh Roiland
Phone: 314-550-9156
E-Mail: joshua.roiland@gmail.com

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means” – Joan Didion

“What the mind doesn’t understand, it worships, or fears” – Alice Walker

The Seagull Reader: Essays, Joseph Kelly, ed.
The Seagull Reader: Stories, Joseph Kelly, ed.
A Pocket Style Manual, 4th ed., Diana Hacker
In-Class Handouts

Course Description
Our course will explore the themes of identity and experience by reading a diverse array of short stories and essays that recount the experiences of others. Each week we will read one essay and one short story that deal with a common theme (although sometimes these themes may not be initially apparent). We will discuss racial, gender, class, and sexual identities and explore how those identities account for different lived experiences. We will also reflect on our identities and personal experiences and write papers that both describe those experiences and analyze the experiences of others.

Course Objective
Simply stated, this course’s goal is to enhance your already-developed critical reading, thinking, and writing skills. We will work hard to explore what we know and how we know it. We will accomplish this goal by reading a myriad of rich and thought-provoking texts, discussing our readings and ideas inside (and outside) of class. And writing personally, reflectively, and argumentatively about the impression the texts and discussion have made on us. Our course is neither reading-intensive, nor will it strictly focus on writing. Reading and writing are so deeply intertwined, that, to cultivate the craft of one would be impossible without the other. One becomes a better writer by writing, but also by reading good literature. And one gains a better grasp of what one reads, when, as the above quote by Joan Didion underscores, one writes about it. We will write to learn. We will think on the page. My goal is for all of us to investigate the themes of identity and experience through reading, discussion, composition, revision, and introspection.

Course Requirements
Daily reading & writing
Group Discussion
Writing Workshop Participation
10 Reading Reflections
4 Essays (3 drafts each)

Course Evaluation
Paper 1: 4 pgs. — 10%
Paper 2: 5 pgs. — 15%
Paper 3: 6 pgs. — 20%
Paper 4: 6 pgs. — 20%
Reading Reflections — 20%
Class Participation —15%

                              Reading and Writing Schedule

                              Week 1
Introduction, Syllabus
George Orwell, “Why I Write” 1-2
Joan Didion, “Why I Write” 1-5
George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” 117-129
Reading Reflection 1

                              Week 2
Alice Walker—“Everyday Use”
Zora Neale Hurston—“How It Feels to Be Colored Me”
Paper 1 Assignment Prompt
Reading Reflection 2

                              Week 3
John Updike—“A & P”
Henry David Thoreau—“Civil Disobedience”
Paper 1.1 DUE

                              Week 4
Ernest Hemingway—“Hills Like White Elephants”
William F. Buckley Jr.—“Why Don’t We Complain?”
Paper 1.2 DUE

                              Week 5 PAPER 1 CONFERENCES
Tim O’Brien—“The Things They Carried”
Martin Luther King Jr.—“Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Reading Reflection 3

                              Week 6
Kate Chopin—“The Story of an Hour”
Paper 1.3 DUE
Virginia Woolf—“In Search of a Room of One’s Own”
Reading Reflection 4

                              Week 7
Raymond Carver—“The Cathedral”
Paper 2 Assignment Prommpt
Frederick Douglass—“Learning to Read”
Reading Reflection 5

                              Week 8
Paper 2.1 DUE
Leslie Marmon Silko—“Yellow Woman”
Maxine Hong Kingston—“No Name Woman”

                              Week 9 PAPER 2 CONFERENCES
Paper 2.2 DUE
Joyce Carol Oates—“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”
William Zinsser—“College Pressures”

                              Week 10
Paper 2.3 DUE
Paper 3 Assignment Prompt
Charlotte Perkins Gilmann—“The Yellow Wallpaper”
S.I. Hayakawa—“How Dictionaries Are Made”
Reading Reflection 6

                              Week 11
Flannery O’Conner—“A Good Man is Hard to Find”
Paper 3.1 DUE
James Baldwin—“Stranger in the Village”
Paper 3.2 DUE

                              Week 12 PAPER 3 CONFERENCES (Optional)
William Faulkner—“A Rose for Emily”
Deborah Tannen—“Conversational Styles”
Reading Reflection 7
Paper 3.3 DUE

                              Week 13
Eudora Welty—“A Worn Path”
Paper 4 Assignment Prompt
Eudora Welty—“Listening”
Reading Reflection 8

                              Week 14
John Cheever—“The Swimmer”
Paper 4.1 DUE
E.B. White—“Once More to the Lake”
Paper 4.2 DUE

                              Week 15
No Class
Paper 4.3 DUE

A Note on Assignments
Upon receiving a writing assignment, small or large, do not immediately configure your thought process according to its parameters. Instead of asking me what I want, ask yourself what you want to write about. What interests you about the topic? What excites you? What makes you angry? Determine these answers first, and then proceed to figuring out how to incorporate your thoughts and feelings into the limits of the assignment. These are your assignments; therefore, you should dictate what goes in them.

A Note on Writing
Our course is not an assembly line, where, after several key stops, a polished and finished product (you, the writer) appears. Rather than production, think of this class as design, where you come up with new, creative ideas, and then test them out. Some will work, others will not, but this class, like college in general, is not a means to an end. It is a means to exploration of thought – and there can be no end to that. This semester we will be:

-practicing the stages of the writing process, including peer review
-defining a significant argument through the writing process
-framing personal experience for a public audience
-supporting an argument with relevant evidence from formal essays
-considering audience in making decisions about writing
-identifying arguments in reads and responding to them
-developing arguments in a variety of ways outside the formal essay
-writing clear, error-free sentences
-revising for style, grammar, and essay organization

A Note on Grading
Do not be consumed by your grades. Thoughtful feedback, not judgmental grading, will help you become a better writer. Grade obsession often stifles creativity and compels students to pander to a higher authority (i.e., me, the teacher). This ideology runs counter to everything our class will celebrate. Take risks! Explore! And heed the words of author and critic James Baldwin: “It is very nearly impossible…to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.” It will serve you better to concern yourself with originality of thought rather than outcomes of performance.

A Note on Asking Why
The word why, in my opinion, is the most powerful word in the English language. It derives its power from the response generated in those who are asked it. Be it parents, teachers, politicians, etc., the word why grates and nags because it requires critical thinking, articulation, and honesty. We are a fast-paced culture that thrives on instant gratification, convenience, and economy. Why entrenches itself against all these notions. It requires us to slow down, work hard, and perhaps – almost certainly – be displeased with the results we find. The benefits to this discomfort, however, far outweigh the inconvenience. Asking why allows us to travel beneath the surface, beneath the generalizations, easy answers, and half-truths. Asking why is a powerful tool that makes people nervous; it allows us to get to the heart of the heart of the matter – to learn things others may not want us to know.

A Note on Respect
As I’ve noted, our class will function mainly as a discussion group (a hyper-analytical book club with writing assignments, if you will). Whether we meet in small groups or as a whole class, it is imperative that we treat everyone’s opinions with respect, empathy, and concern. No doubt we will, at times, get into heated debates in the classroom – this is great, this means we are passionate and engaged with our topics – but these debates must always remain civil and thoughtful. When emotions run high it becomes easy to dismiss other points of view, but in doing so we learn nothing. We must listen to the other side (if for no other, than to develop arguments against it), and try to understand why those in opposition to us feel the way they do. Civilized intellectual discourse is what college, and life for that matter, is all about, and more often than not, we will learn more from listening than from shouting.

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