WRITING SEMINAR: WHO’S UNCOVERING WHOM: READING MYSTERY FICTION
FALL 2000


"My ultimate object is only the truth."

-- C. Auguste Dupin, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"


Class: Monday and Thursday, 1:30-2:50, DAL 42
Instructor: Gloria Biamonte
Office:
E-mail
:
gbiamont@marlboro.edu
Office Hours: To be announced

Course description

Required texts
Course requirements
Calendar

 

COURSE DESCRIPTION

Focusing on mystery and detection, the novels and short stories that we will be exploring activate an especially attentive reading attuned to the solving of enigmas. Important to our class discussions will be an examination of how various attempts to answer the question "who done it?" lead to an examination of issues that seem superfluous to solving the mystery at hand. Some of the topics we will consider include: the roles of the multiple suspects; competition/contradictions among the various "readings" of the clues"; the altering of self-definition and the definition of the "other" that develops as the mystery continues; the effect created when detective and suspect vacillate on who is pursuing whom; the importance of language in a genre that attempts to reconstruct the "story" behind the mystery. Beginning with Poe, Doyle, and Christie, those writers who shaped the genre, we will then move to contemporary writers who have moved the genre in new directions.

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.

Back to top

 

REQUIRED TEXTS

RECOMMENDED TEXT

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

Back to top

 

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.

 Back to top

 

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 course. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" Edgar Allan Poe (handout)

W 9/6—"The Purloined Letter" Edgar Allan Poe (handout)

In progress. . .

 

 Back to top