Essay Assignment

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Paper 1: Negotiating Identity

Breneman, GWRIT 103
Fall 2008

Argument is a truth-seeking process. Using argument, we work together as a community to find the best solutions to the problems that face us and enact positive change. During this unit, we have explored history and identity and witnessed other writers using argument to seek change. Now it is time for you to craft your own argument; you will work to uncover the truths about your own history and identity, and to consider the ways your insights can benefit others in your community. You will engage in a conversation with your readers as you work with them to solve a problem.

To meet these goals, select one of the following prompts to begin your journey. No matter which topic you choose, you must establish an appropriate audience and a specific purpose for your essay. One goal of this course, and, more specifically, this assignment, is to help you develop strategies for critical thinking and writing in your personal, academic, and civic lives. While the essay must be argumentative in nature, how you craft your argument is up to you. I encourage you to challenge yourself and your readers, and to take risks as a writer; growth and learning require us to step outside our comfort zones. Be sure to select a topic that inspires you. Understand the urgency of the problem you are choosing to explore, and communicate that to your audience. Answer the questions "So what?" and "Now What?" for yourself and your readers.

The content of your essay must reflect more than superficial thought; demonstrate your critical thinking skills. Your essay should also reflect your understanding of the principles of argument that we have discussed so far this semester. Essays should be approximately 1250 words. Since this is a relatively short essay, be sure to select a topic that is narrow and specific enough to fully explore in four to five pages. Follow research and document design guidelines (available under "Course Documents" on Blackboard), and keep the grading criteria in mind. Using vivid details to support your ideas is especially important for this essay. In order to fully support your points with evidence, you must have at least three reliable outside sources for this paper and you must make use of library resources. Due dates and other paper policies appear on the syllabus. Be sure to turn in all drafts, workshop materials, and hard copies of your sources with your essay. Please use the essay checklist under “Course Documents” on Blackboard to help you prepare your essay for submission. Make good use of the resources available to you. Please see me with any questions or concerns.

1. In "i like guys," David Sedaris vividly demonstrates the various ways social constraints on identity made it difficult for him to be the person he truly was as he entered adolescence. Steven Blaski’s poetry recounts examples of social constraints taken to a terrifying level. Consider the ways social constraints on identity have limited your personhood, or kept you from being yourself. Be sure to select a specific form of constraint and a specific incident or set of closely related incidents to reveal this constraint. Write an argumentative essay in which you not only explore the specific constraint but also make a larger claim about the limitation on your identity (for example, you might argue that this form of social constraint must end, or, you might explore the benefits of certain social constraints). Be sure to select a specific audience and purpose for your essay.

2. Family members and friends have a significant impact on our lives. Think of Mapa’s brief but moving account of his father, or Sedaris's humorous rendering of his sister's transformations during the trip to Europe. Consider a specific incident or set of closely related incidents involving a family member (you choose how to define "family") or close friend that helped shape your identity. Now consider the greater social or political significance of that incident, similar to the way Mapa uses the story of his father’s change in attitude to argue his point. Write an essay in which you craft an argument based on your experience with your family member; use the insights you've gained, as well as the research you will conduct, to seek answers to a problem we face. Be sure to select a specific audience and purpose for your essay.

3. Unfortunately, people sometimes use stereotypes to judge, discriminate against, or otherwise harm others. Sedaris uses humor to address the dangers of racial and gender stereotypes. Blaski’s poetry and the clips we viewed from The Times of Harvey Milk, Common Threads, and Paragraph 175 demonstrate the tragic potential of stereotypes and discrimination. Consider an incident (or set of closely related incidents) during which you were either the victim or perpetrator of stereotyping or discrimination. What did you learn from this incident? What can your reader learn from this incident? After reflecting on the incident and its consequences, write an essay in which you craft an argument based on this experience. Be honest with yourself and your reader; honesty helps establish ethos and builds a bridge between you and your reader. Work with your readers to solve the problem at hand.

4. In "Notes from the Unmapped," Steven Blaski writes: "Your voices, distant and insistent / as foghorns heard in sleep, enter my dreams: / Remember us, Remember us." In his poetry, Blaski opens the "locked vaults of history" and honors that call. Consider the voices that call to you. In your own life, what person, group, or event do you feel has been overlooked or erased? How can we all benefit from finally recognizing and honoring this person, group, or event? Now, write an essay in which you unlock the vaults, calling attention to what has been overlooked or erased; educate your audience about the omission, and argue that it must be corrected. Note that you will not be writing a report on the topic, but rather crafting an argument about it; in other words, you will attempt to change the way your readers think, feel, or act regarding the issue, in order to work toward a solution to a problem.

5. In “Standing My Gay Ground,” Alec Mapa reminds his readers “adversity breeds success.” The stories Mapa, Paul Robinson, Steven Blaski, and the documentary filmmakers explore reveal the devastating consequences of hatred and fear, as well as the surprising love and courage individuals can summon within themselves. Consider, for example, the courage demonstrated by Harvey Milk, whose assassination ended his life but not his legacy. Now consider a story of courage in your own life. Has there been a time in your life when you've had to be stronger than you realized you could be? (Are you going through such an experience right now?) Or, consider an act of courage you have witnessed in another person. Just as the stories in the writings and films were part of a larger social fabric, think about how your story could benefit others. Now, craft an argument in which you explore both your story and the larger social and political implications of your profile in courage. Use your story to seek solutions to a problem we face.

6. Imagine yourself in another identity. Consider what your life would be like in this new identity. What would a typical day in this identity be like? How would other people treat you? What advantages or opportunities would you have? What difficulties would you face? What challenges and what possibilities does this identity offer? Use your critical thinking skills to delve beneath the surface of this new identity and discover what issues, controversies, and problems posed within this new identity. Write an essay in which you engage in an argument based on this new identity, seeking truth in order to find the best solutions to the problems at hand. Be sure to select a specific audience and purpose for your essay, and to use good reasons and evidence as you engage in truth-seeking. Some writers may choose to respond to this prompt with creative nonfiction; if you would like to take this approach, please see me to discuss the particulars of this type of writing. This is a challenging, but typically very rewarding, approach.

7. In consultation with me, design your own topic; it should be a topic you care about. You may select a topic related to the readings, to the unit, or to the general issue of negotiating identity. Because it’s vital to write about a topic that interests you, feel free to create a topic of your own, or to adapt one of the above prompts to fit your needs as a writer. However, you must get my approval before you begin composing your essay. I reserve the right to refuse unsuitable topics. Be sure to stay away from tired topics; join a conversation to which you can make an original contribution.

Again, please let me know if I can do anything to assist you.


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