2021 – Summer

The Big Essay (Session 1)

Course Number: SS1: JOUR-UA TBD

Day & Time: T/Th 10:00am-1:00pm

Location: Online

Instructor: Mallika Rao

Albert Class Number: TBD

Every editor in the biz is looking for it. The Big Essay. Maybe it’s shareable, a work that unites deep and casual readers, Midwesterners and coast-dwellers, folks of varying races, genders and classes. Or else, it circulates in small circles, but turns famous all the same, (with media nerds). Think of it as a writer’s runaway hit, akin to a radio hit for a band. The reason for its success, whether resounding or quiet, lies in a combination of factors. It may expose a conundrum most readers can recognize, that hadn’t yet been articulated. Maybe it births new terms that wind their way into everyday speech. Maybe it reframes something in dramatic fashion — as David Foster Wallace did for lobsters, or more recently, Wesley Morris, with black male sexuality. One way or the other, it changes things. And it does so, typically, without subsuming the writer. Because a really Big Essay can feel like a marriage, between poet and poem, can convey a sense that only this writer could have written this work.

We will pay close attention to essays that lean on cultural items — books, films, TV shows, paintings — by masters of the hybrid form: Zadie Smith, Leslie Jamison, Jenny Zhang, Morris, Foster Wallace, and more. Students can expect to leave with a well-developed pitch and framework for their own comparable essay, as well as with guidance on how to pitch to editors.