English 103, Fall 2007

Writing Sample: What is “American?”




One focus of this course is on American culture, and on developing a critical awareness of the assumptions and expectations placed upon us and others by the culture in which we all participate.  The first step in understanding these issues and relating them to your writing is to reflect on how they already affect your life and to start using those ideas to put pen to paper.  Your personal literacy essay will help me get to know you as a writer.  My responses to your essay will help you get to know me as a reader--with no grade attached. 


Remember that the word essay isn't just a noun; it's also a verb.  It means "to strike out" or "to explore."  You "essay out" to explore a subject, the same way Lewis and Clark "essayed out" to explore America two hundred years ago.  In this essay, you'll write to explore your own mind, to find out what you think, and to help your audience fully understand your thoughts.  Specifically, you will explore your own experiences of America and reflect on how those experiences have affected your life and your conceptions of America.


Your audience for this essay will be the other members of our 103 class.  Part of your job will be to determine the best ways to share your experiences with this audience.




Focus the essay on a single experience in your life—one in which you were made to think about America.  For instance, you could concentrate on an early experience (when were you introduced to American cultural beliefs and practices?  How did that affect you?), an experience when you felt particularly “American” (what were you doing? Why do you think you felt the way you did?), or an experience in a foreign culture [or American subculture] which struck you as divergent from mainstream American culture (what were the differences? How did that experience affect your view of America?).  You might also focus on a negative experience, one in which you felt particularly un-American, one in which you felt “left out” of the mainstream.


Develop your essay by narrating one or two key scenes from this experience.  Describe the scenes using sensory detail.  Give examples.  Show us what everything looked like; let us hear people talking.  Then, reflect on the significance of the experience.  How did it affect you then and how does it continue to affect you now?


Make your essay coherent for your audience by choosing an arrangement and style that will present your experiences and ideas clearly and vividly.




Length will be determined by what you can comfortably write in 50 minutes, allowing for a quick read-through at the end of class. Students in the past have typically generated 3-5 page essays.  I do expect you to write for the entire class period, and to develop a complete essay.  If you like, you may bring a page of text (notes, scribbles, thought map, outline, or other prewriting) to class on Friday, and hand that in with your essay as well.





I will respond to your writing--first and foremost, now and throughout the semester--as a fellow human being interested in your experiences and what you have to say.  Then, I will note your essay's technical and stylistic strengths and weaknesses, suggesting areas we might focus on this semester.  I expect a few glitches under the pressures of in-class writing, but please do your best under the circumstances.  Your personal literacy essay receives no grade, but makes an important first impression.