2018 – Fall: Personal Essay

Day & Time: Tuesday, 4:00pm-7:00pm
Location: Room 600
Course ID: JOUR-GA 1182.008
Instructor: Perri Klass
Syllabus: Download

This course examines the long, thoughtful, and well-written personal essay, and the power and privilege of using the first person, as narrative voice, as perspective, and as technique.  We will be looking at how research and reporting can be presented in the first person, and we will be examining memoir, but most particularly at memoir which goes beyond the strictly personal. We will discuss the pleasures and pitfalls of writing about yourself as a character in serious nonfiction, the complexities of keeping your distance and coming too close, and of course, the interplay of experience and accuracy, memory and narrative.  We’ll look at personal narratives constructed for purposes of entertainment, advocacy, intellectual discovery, and even revenge.  And we shall consider the always intriguing question raised by the first line of David Copperfield: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”  We will examine essays which incorporate research and reportage, journeys and personal narratives, memoirs and deliberately constructed adventures. We will deliberately attempt the transformation of memoir and memory into personal essay, and of reported experience into personal essay. Our theme will be the use of the personal essay format, and the incorporation of the personal narrative voice, in strongly written pieces which address a wide variety of issues, at home (literally) and out in the great wide world. We will talk about the many options for presenting reported material, and about the advantages—and pitfalls—of the personal voice. We will talk about the writer’s job of constructing that personal voice in an essay, and about the essential job of writing a personal essay which is about more than that personal voice and that personal perspective.