Old Woman with Mirro -- Scozzi

Course overview
Reading list

Requirements and grading

Writing Seminar: Art of the Essay

Monday and Wednesday, 11:30 - 12:50, D43

Gloria Biamonte


Virginia Woolf describes the essay as a form that “must lap us about and draw its curtain across the world.”  But what are, she asks, “can the essayist use in these short length of prose to sting us awake and fix us in a trance which is not sleep but rather an intensification of life—a basking, with every faculty alert, in the sun of pleasure?”  Her answer is a simple one: “He [she] must know—that is the first essential—how to write.”  In this writing seminar, we will be reading a collection of essays from the personal essay to nature writing, literary journalism and science writing.  And, of course, . . .we will write.  During this semester, we will explore writing as an activity that we learn by doing, with some coaching.  For this reason, our class time will be spent generally doing, not listening to lectures about writing.  The way we will work toward our goal is through lots of practice in writing, critiquing, and rewriting.  A long distance runner improves her or his times by running faster, more frequently, and through good coaching.  A painter spends long hours in the studio, reworking line and color—getting it just right.  This class will be your writing studio. You will work on your craft, rewriting, revising, rethinking, polishing; and I will be your coach, your advisor, and your supporter, but not the only coach.  All of your writing will be read by other students, and each of you will become a coach.  We will take seriously the opening line of Patricia Hampl’s book, I Could Tell You Stories: “A writer is, first and last, a reader.” 

More specifically we will try to accomplish these goals:

  • build up your writing confidence so that you can tackle a variety of writing tasks
  • help you find a writing process that works well for you
  • let you experience the benefits of writing teamwork—the encouragement, advice, and response of prepared readers and writers
  • increase your ability to generate a topic and a controlling idea
  • help you to write a documented essay that paraphrases as well as integrates quoted material
  • provide you with the skills to support an evaluative statement by establishing criteria
  • enable you to strengthen your analytic reading skills by learning to recognize the writer's intention, central ideas, organization, and use of language
  • help you to understand the importance of unity, organization and supporting evidence
  • allow you to experience the value of language as a tool for thinking deeply and clearly  

We will work toward our goal through lots of practice in writing, critiquing, and rewriting.


  • In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction  Ed. Lee Gutkind
  • A Pocket Style Manual, Diana Hacker
  • Handling Sources (Marlboro’s Style Guide)

The above texts are available at the College Bookstore.

What you need to do

Well, first off and of most importance—keep up with the readingand writing.   Since each discussion and assignment will grow from the preceding one, it is important that you attend class regularly and come prepared to share your ideas.

Papers:  You will be writing three papers; one personal narrative that will help you discover more about yourself; one personal/critical essay that will interact with another’s ideas; a third documented essay that will help you understand the context of a particular topic.  Each of these essays will be revised at least twice, and my comments as well as your peers' comments will provide reader response that leads to revision.  Since I am concerned with the process you move through to reach your final version, I am asking you to attach to your completed work all preliminary notes, drafts, diagrams, and outlines leading to your final copy.  Since other students in class will come to depend on your writing and feedback, being on time with drafts is crucial.  Paper grades will go down by half a grade if they are received late. If you are unable to attend class the day a draft is due, please make sure someone brings your paper to class or puts it in my mailbox.  If you are late with more than one draft, I will ask you to drop the class and take it when you are better prepared for it.

You will also be writing a 1 page response to each day's readings.  These will be due at the beginning of class and will provide a foundation for class discussion.  Though I may, at times, assign a topic, most often the responses are open; you may choose to comment upon a theme, characters, plot, narrative style—what you respond to as a reader and what seems important, confusing, entertaining, or problematic at the time of your reading.  Since the purpose of these writings is to express your ideas prior to class discussion, they will not be accepted late.  Daily responses will be assessed on a check-plus-minus system.

In addition to your essays, each of you will be responsible for peer reviews of other students’ papers. Much of the class time will be spent working in groups, giving and getting feedback from your peers.  I will be looking at these peer reviews for enthusiastic, honest, and constructive criticism.  We will be discussing helpful ways in which to do this in class.

Attendance: Because of our workshop format, attendance is extremely important.  Two absences from class can be tolerated—no effect on your grade and no questions asked. More than two absences will affect your final grade. (In extraordinary cases of proven emergency, this provision will be modified).  Whether or not you are absent, you are still responsible for the work covered, and essays are still due on the date requested.  Chronic lateness will also affect your grade.

Conferences: During the semester, each of you will meet with me for at least three conferences.  These conferences will provide individual time for you to discuss your writing.  A missed conference is considered an absence.

Evaluation:  Grades will be placed on each of your final drafts.  There will be no final examination for this course, though we will have a final portfolio review during the last week of classes.  So—don’t throw any of your work away. 

In assessing your writing I look for the following qualities: (1) Competence: how thoroughly you introduced your topic, and developed and supported your ideas; (2) Creativity: how much you exerted yourself in being inventive, in taking a risk and trying something new or difficult, in approaching the assignment as more than just an assignment, in making what you write interesting to your readers; (3) Clarity: how clearly you were able to get your ideas across to your readers by focusing your topic and using effective organization, sentences, and words: (4) Correctness: how well you followed grammatical and mechanical conventions (punctuation, syntax, spelling), and  how clearly you documented your footnotes and bibliography; (5) Care: how well you incorporated suggestions and comments from your readers, and to what extent you presented a neat, readable paper.

Don't let this overwhelm you.  I guarantee that it is not as much as it sounds.  The writings will be fun, thought provoking, and even entertaining.  And, in addition to our class’s community of writers and readers, you have two other great sources for help: check out the Writer’s Block, and also look up Marlboro's writing page on the web at www.marlboro.edu/academics/requirements/writing_program. 


CALENDAR (all dates subject to change)

The following is a list of our readings for the semester.  Essays not in our text are handouts. The reading must be completed by the date listed.

M 1/23—“Red Sky at Morning” and “Memory and Imagination”  Patricia Hampl

(Essays handed out at intro class on January 17); “Three Spheres” Lauren Slater, pgs. 3-23

W 1/25—“Shunned” Meredith Hall, pgs. 49-70; “Gray Area: Thinking with a Damaged Brain” Floyd Skloot, pgs. 288-306; “The Mountain”  Eli Clare (handout)

M 1/30—“Why I Ride” Jana Richman, pgs. 395-418; “If You Are What You Eat, Then What Am I?” Geeta Kothari  (handout)

W 2/1—Draft of essay #1 due.

M 2/6—CONFERENCES (no class)

W 2/8—Workshop—please bring 3 copies of your draft to class.

M 2/13—ESSAY #1 DUE with drafts, peer response sheets and my comments.  Please bring two copies of completed essay to class.   “Looking at Emmett Till” John Edgar Wideman, pgs. 24-48; “Mixed-Blood Stew” Jewell Parker Rhodes, pgs. 382-394

W 2/15—“The Poems Came Late: Literacy as Cultural Dialogue” David Wallace (handout); “In the Woods” Leslie Rubinkowski, pgs. 318-330; “What Color is Jesus?” James McBride (handout)

M 2/20—“Prayer Dogs” Terry Tempest Williams, pgs. 92-108; “Killing Wolves” Sherry Simpson, pgs. 133-162; “The Shack of Art and Healing” Oona Hyla Patrick (handout)

W 2/22—“Notes from a Difficult Case” Ruthann Robson, pgs. 226-244; “Death of the Profane” Patricia Williams (handout)

M 2/27—“My Friend Lodovico” David Masello (handout): “Art Objects” Jeanette WInterson” (handout); “Chimera” Gerald Callahan, pgs. 368-381

W 3/1—Draft of essay #2 due.  Please bring three copies to class.  


W 3/8 ESSAY #2 DUE with drafts, peer response sheets and my comments. Please bring two copies of completed essay to class.


M 3/27—“Sa’m Pedi” Madison Smartt Bell, pgs. 331-355; “The Numbing of the American Mind: Culture as Anesthetic” Thomas de Zengotita (handout)

W 3/29—“The Clamor of Justification” Barry Lopez (handout); “A Fist in the Eye of God” Barbara Kingsolver (handout)

M 4/3—Favorite Essay Discussion—RESEARCH PROSPECTUS DUE  

W 4/5—Favorite Essay Discussion

M 4/10—Workshop on integrating sources and documentation. 

W 4/12—Draft of essay #3 due.  Please bring 3 copies to class.



W 4/19—Research Workshop

M 4/24—2nd draft of Essay #3 due.  Conferences will be held throughout the week

W 4/26— ESSAY #3 DUE with drafts, peer response sheets, and my comments

M 5/1— Portfolio review and self assessment

TH 5/4— Portfolios due at 8:30 a.m., DAL 38.




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