Skip to Gallatin Navigation Skip to Gallatin Main Content

The Art of the Personal Essay

Semester and Year SP 2019
Course Number WRTNG-UG1305
Section 001
Instructor Sharon Friedman
Days W
Time 12:30 PM - 3:15 PM
Units 4
Level U



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 and collective identity and identification," "subjectivity" 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, Jamaica Kincaid, Maxine Hong Kingston, Adrienne Rich, and Hanif Kureishi.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Advanced Writing Courses (WRTNG-UG)