English 125.302: Writing the Essay

What Should Be a Syllabus (But Isn't Really)

Jack Lynch
Monday, Wednesday 3:00-4:30
Bennett Hall 325
Office: Bennett Hall 310; 898-6331.
Hours: Wednesday, 1:00-3:00, and by appointment.
Home: (609) 482-5867 (before 11 p.m.!).
E-mail: jlynch@english.upenn.edu (the best way to reach me by far).
Listserv: lynch125@english.upenn.edu
As it turns out, there is no syllabus -- not yet. The syllabus will grow out of the interests of the participants, so a real schedule of class meetings should come after the first few weeks. Still, I have some ideas on how we'll conduct the course.

Each week we'll read a few published essays. There's no textbook; I'll take care of the photocopying, and you'll learn to pardon the resulting chaos. For the first few weeks we'll focus on classics from throughout the history of the essay -- Montaigne, Bacon, Addison & Steele, Johnson, Hazlitt, Lamb, Twain, and so on. After that come twentieth-century essayists in a wide range of styles. I strongly encourage students to suggest essays for the rest of the class to read. Remember, though: this isn't a lit course, but a chance to examine masters of the craft and to see how studying their work can help our own.

The heart of the class is the writing workshop. Just about every week, each student will write a short (two-to-five-page-ish) essay. Page limits are flexible: write what you want to write, not academic papers of fixed lengths. Sometimes I'll give specific exercises, but you can usually choose whether or not to follow the suggested topics. After the first two weeks, when everyone has an E-mail account (which is required, by the way), we'll distribute a few of your essays to the class via E-mail and spend the next class discussing what works, what doesn't, and why. Be prepared to be opinionated and to take stances.

Interspersed will be discussions of general writing topics. I hope to discuss, for example, ways to get your writing published. How the word processor and desktop publishing will affect the writing and publishing process is worth thinking about. I'll be glad to teach as much grammar as you want to know. All that sort of thing.

Grades, in such a subjective endeavor, will be based on the degree of your overall involvement in the workshop process: writing essays, critiquing others', engaging in the discussion. Although I'll provide comments, I won't grade each essay. I'm not strict about taking attendance, but clearly you're not participating if you're not there. Because this is a workshop, and class discussion will be based on your essays, it's important that you do your best to hand in your work on time.


The instructor reserves the right to be grievously and pig-headedly wrong.