2021 – Spring

Personal Essay

Course Number: JOUR-GA 1182.013

Day & Time: Monday, 10:00am-1:00pm [In-Person]

Location: 726 Broadway, Room 701

Instructor: James Marcus

Syllabus: Download

This course examines the long personal essay as a unique form of investigation, combining memoir with research and reportage to examine the most intimate, compelling, and philosophical aspects of human experience. What makes an essay with a personal origin broadly relevant? How much should you foreground yourself in the narrative when it involves others? How can you fairly and accurately narrate the lives of others who have trusted you with their stories? We’ll discuss the ethical and legal challenges of writing about family members, learn how can we be generous in our work without “oversharing,” discuss the freedoms and limitations of the author as a character, and practice using fictional techniques to craft non-fiction stories that are both informative and immersive, teaching the reader something while inspiring empathy. We’ll read the work of authors ranging from Susan Orlean, James Baldwin, and Barry Lopez, to Valeria Luiselli and Helen MacDonald, studying how they balance facts and statistics with memory, voice, and perspective. The class will involve writing exercises, longer assignments, in-class discussion, sharing, and peer critique.