2022 – Spring

Writing Social Commentary

Course Number: JOUR-GA 1281.001

Day & Time: Tue | 4:00 PM – 7:40 PM

Location: 20 Cooper Square, Room 659

Instructor: Kate Bolick


At its best, first-person journalism about contemporary issues can be electrifying, rousing readers to see anew their own surroundings; done poorly, it’s boring and irrelevant. In this weekly seminar, students will learn how to connect their deepest concerns with the broader social and political environment, and write in-depth nonfiction that combines memoir with on-the-ground reporting and historical research. As a class, we’ll read seminal essays by great American practitioners past and present—Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, James Baldwin, Gore Vidal, Merle Miller, Ellen Willis, Richard Rodriguez, Barbara Ehrenreich, Rebecca Solnit, among others—to see how they did it, and invite a few working writers to share their secrets. Students can choose and stay with a single subject for the entire semester, writing and re-writing one 5,000-word essay, or address several different topics with three separate 1,500-word essays. Everyone will be responsible for finding and sharing two essays—one good, one bad—that relate to his or her subject(s), and explaining to the class why they do and do not work.