This is a reading and writing course. More specifically, this is a course in which we will focus on writing for a wide audience about very complicated social issues. In the past century, writing about many of these issues was usually reserved for the specialist: scholars, political pundits or commentators, social scientists. But in the age of the Internet, everyone is entitled to weigh in. We will read and discuss a host of contemporary writers who are writing essays devoted to discussion of some of the most pressing of social issues, as well as remembering two important writers—James Baldwin and Joan Didion—who paved the way for these later voices. Your voice has every right to join this chorus. My hope, in fact, is that you will leave this course seeing yourself as part of the wider discussion, or at the very least with a greater awareness of the need to cultivate a habit of critical, written expression about the challenges your generation faces.
The course is split between critical discussion and analysis of essays and developing your own essay. For that reason, a major part of your grade depends on your regular and vigorous participation in class discussion, including leading class discussion on one day (see details below) and engaging in workshop critiques of your classmates’ writing.