Essay Assignment

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Henderson, GWRTC 103
Fall 2009

Essay 1 Assignment: Personal Narrative

The first five essays we will read from The Seagull Reader this semester examine the power of language—its power to unite, divide, inspire, clarify. While I hope these essays bring light to the role of literacy in your life, you may not feel that you have a story to tell about language. So instead, you will write a personal essay that is inspired by the form and purpose of one of these essays.

Choose from one of the following five topics:

1. Write a humorous account of being an outsider, as David Sedaris does in “Me Talk Pretty One Day.”

2. Analyze an aspect of your process—whether it’s the process of writing, painting, running, studying, or something else—as Joan Didion does in “On Keeping a Notebook.”

3. Describe the influence of your childhood home on something that you value, as Eudora Welty does in “Listening.”

4. Discuss the impact that someone in your family has had on your ability to adapt to a culture, as Amy Tan does in “Mother Tongue.”

5. Explain how you learned to do something challenging, as Frederick Douglass does in “Learning to Read.”

Whatever topic you choose, it will be your job to clearly describe your experience through the use of narrative techniques such as concrete detail and sensory language. Shape your story through the use of setting, scenes, characterization, and dialogue. And give your essay a title that not only suggests your subject also your point of view on the subject.

This assignment prizes focus and clarity as well as creativity and risk-taking. This is not a college application essay; your purpose is not to “sell” yourself. Your purpose—at least in part—is to share the story of an experience that is new to your audience, but to which your audience can relate on some level. Tell me something I don’t know! Tell me something you don’t know! Write to discover something new. Write about something you haven’t written about before. Write about something that challenges, embarrasses, or confuses you. Share your nostalgia, your obsessions, your almost-forgotten-memories. Dust them off and dress them up.

No secondary research is required. Your paper must be documented using MLA format. Consult OWL’s MLA Formatting and Style Guide.

The minimum length for the essay is 1000 words (about 3 to 4 typewritten pages).

A strong paper is built on many stages, so this class places a value on the entire process of your writing, not just the final product. The following assignments will be considered as part of your “portfolio” for your Essay 1:

· Prewriting (from conference)
· First Draft (with my comments)
· Final Draft
· Any other prewriting, drafting, reflections, or notes that document your writing process along the way (including evidence of visiting a writing center).

Essay 1 accounts for 15 percent of your final grade.


An “A” paper (90–100):
· presents a unique and memorable experience with insight and incisiveness
· shows sophistication, originality, and creativity with style, diction, and voice
· makes conscientious use of narrative techniques to create a vivid world
· advances a clear purpose (even if presented implicitly)
· supports the purpose with specific, relevant examples
· is constructed of unified, well-developed paragraphs and consciously crafted sentences
· demonstrates control of conventions

A “B” paper (80–89):

· presents a unique experience, but may lack the insight or incisiveness of an “A” paper
· provides evidence of an evolving, but perhaps underdeveloped, individual voice
· makes good use of narrative techniques, but strategy may lack depth or coherence
· advances a clear purpose, but purpose may lack complexity
· provides support, but development may be limited
· progresses logically, for the most part, and shows emerging sentence awareness
· exhibits few errors

A “C” paper (70–79):
· presents an experience that may be familiar, or presentation may lack inventiveness
· may be simplistic in style or reliant on clichés; writing may lack variety
· makes use of narrative techniques, but detail may be familiar to the point of inertness
· demonstrates an attempt, though perhaps inconsistent, at a singular purpose
· provides support, but support may contain generalizations
· arranges paragraphs and sentences logically and coherently, with perhaps a few lapses
· exhibits patterns of grammatical error, but they do not significantly impede meaning

A “D” paper (60–69) may lack any of the following:
· a clear or compelling subject
· a clear or compelling purpose
· effective use of language
· adequate support
· clearly defined paragraphs
· understanding of conventions

An “F” paper fails to meet most requirements and/or the writing exhibits serious deficiency.

If you would like additional help with this assignment beyond our initial conference, please make an appointment at the University Writing Center or the FYI Writing Center, or make use of my office hours. I want to help you write well.


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