The personal essay is a flexible genre that often incorporates rumination, memoir, narrative, portrait, anecdote, diatribe, scholarship, fantasy and moral philosophy. The title of Montaigne’s Essais (“attempts"), published in 1580, suggests the tentative and exploratory nature of this form as well as its freedom. The hallmark of the personal essay is its intimacy—the sharing of the writer’s observations and reflections with a reader, establishing a dialogue on subjects that range from the mundane to autobiographical and political meditations to reflections on abstract concepts and moral dilemmas. Style, shape, and intellectual depth lend the personal essay its drama, charm, and its ability to provoke thought. In this course, we will read and write personal essays, and, in the process, explore how writers create “persona,” “tone,” and “voice.” We will also consider concepts such as “the self,” “personal identity,” and “sincerity.” Readings may include essays by Seneca, Michel de Montaigne, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, Jorge Louis Borges, Natalia Ginsburg, James Baldwin, Joan Didion, Alice Walker, Maxine Hong Kingston, Adrienne Rich, and Hanif Kureishi.
Advanced Writing Courses (WRTNG-UG)