Course Description: English 325: The Art of the Essay
In this class we will read, write, view, discuss, and listen to some of the myriad examples of creative nonfiction. Though primarily focusing on written work, we will also briefly encounter visual and audio compositions as possibilities of creative nonfiction. We will study structure, style, source material, point of view, and additional features of composition. You will have the opportunity to write long-form essays, create genre-bending pieces, and compose in multiple modes. Your assignments will be semi-structured, but with room to choose topics that suit your interests and experiences. Each week, in addition to reading essays on creative nonfiction, we will explore work by writers like Maggie Nelson, James Baldwin, Claudia Rankine, and others.
Natissa’s fabulous project stems from two course assignments. The first I called “Investigation from the Center.” For this essay, I asked students to develop an essay where their experiences served as the basis of knowledge and exploration. This essay, I wrote in the assignment description, may come closest to the sub-genre “personal essay,” but as we were studying in class, I asked students to consider this essay an opportunity to play with form, rhetorical devices, or—to paraphrase the editors of our primary course text—to transform the raw material of reality into a literary art. I asked students to keep in mind creative nonfiction practices such as “peripheral vision,” “hermit crab essays,” and the “shimmer” of grammar to deflect writer vulnerabilities. In short, I asked student to craft a story by choosing experiences of which they were comfortable sharing to build a narrative. I also asked students to consider practicing intertextuality and to play with metaphor, setting, characters, dialogue, and description.
The second assignment, which showcases the project before you, was a multimodal assignment. For this assignment, I asked students to consider how modalities other than the linguistic mode might affect rhetorical operations in their texts. I wanted students to explore how visuals, sounds, gestures, and space affect how a writer transmits a message to an audience. Students were invited to choose a new topic to create their multimodal project or continue a line of inquiry from a former project. A crucial aspect of this assignment was that I asked students to make their multimodal project “textured.” By this I meant: Do not sit in front of the camera or just record your voice for the length of the composition. Rather, I wanted students to incorporate multiple sounds and images.