WRITING SEMINAR: AMERICAN IDENTITIES
Fall 2000


"If America is about nothing else, it is about the invention of the self. . ."

"What joins the Americans one to another is not a common race or ancestry (which testifies to the burdens of the past) but rather their complicity in a shared work of the imagination."

--Lewis Lapham, "Who and What is American?"


Class: Monday and Wednesday, 11:30-12:50, DAL 38
Instructor: Gloria Biamonte
Office:
E-mail
:
gbiamont@marlboro.edu
Office Hours: To be announced

Course Description
Required Texts
Course Requirements
Calendar

COURSE DESCRIPTION

In 1783, St. Jean De Crevecoeur in his Letters from an American Farmer asked the question, What is an American? We will begin to answer this question by exploring the many diverse American identities found in nineteenth and twentieth century texts, starting with Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and ending with Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Reading a wide range of materials, we will pay particular attention to issues of class, work, race, ethnicity, and gender--and how these issues intersect to create a multitude of American identities. Emphasis will be on reading—how authors create meaning, explore ways of experiencing the world, and share their stories of an American experience.

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:

  1. build up your writing confidence so that you can tackle a variety of writing tasks

  2. help you find a writing process that works well for you

  3. let you experience the benefits of writing teamwork—the encouragement, advice, and response of prepared readers and writers

  4. increase your ability to generate a topic and a controlling idea

  5. help you to write a documented essay that paraphrases as well as integrates quoted material
  6. provide you with the skills to support an evaluative statement by establishing criteria
  7. enable you to strengthen your analytic reading skills by learning to recognize the writer's intention, central ideas, organization, and use of language
  8. help you to understand the importance of unity, organization and supporting evidence
  9. 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.

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REQUIRED TEXTS

RECOMMENDED TEXT

The above texts are available at the College Bookstore. All secondary materials will be in the form of handouts.

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What you need to do

Well, first off and of most importance—keep up with the reading and 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 four papers—one 2-3 page personal essay, two 5-6 page critical papers on class texts, and one 8-10 page research paper. In addition, you will write a number of short in-class and take home assignments. I will provide more information on the requirements for each of these papers as the due dates approach. If you are unable to attend class the day a paper is due, please make sure someone brings your paper to class or puts it in my mailbox.

All writing in the course 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. You should date all such material.

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. Three absences from class can be tolerated--no effect on your grade and no questions asked. More than three 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: Three or four times during the semester. classes will be cancelled and each of you will meet with me for a conference. These conferences will provide individual time for each of you to discuss your writing. A missed conference is considered an absence.

Evalution: 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 colleagues and instructor, 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.marboro.edu/~jsheehy/writing.

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CALENDAR (Tentative course schedule for the opening weeks of the semester—all dates subject to change).

The following is a list of our readings. All essays and poems are in the form of handouts. The reading must be completed by the date listed.

M 9/4— Introduction to the class. Introduce essay #1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, pgs 3-137.

W 9/6— Huck Finn, pgs. 138-200.

M 9/11— Huck Finn, pgs. 201-307.

W 9/13— Huck Finn, pgs. 308-363. Draft of essay #1 due. Please bring three copies to class.

M 9/18—In progress. . .

 

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