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Close Reading with a Lens

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Close Reading with a Lens

Write an essay about one story from your anthology, showing how it critiques, challenges, or complicates a conventional definition of “confessional writing.” In order to write such an essay, you will need to specify how you are defining the phrase, and from which sources your definition comes. Include a counter-argument in your paper to strengthen your argument. Your finished essay will be approximately 6 pages long.

Goals of the Essay
Your primary goal in this essay will be to write a coherent argument that emerges from your close analysis of the story.

Writing this essay will help you learn to:

* Identify a problem worth writing about (a motive), and formulate a thesis in response to this problem.
* Structure your essay “organically,” avoiding plot summary, on the one hand, and the five-paragraph essay, on the other. When arguing about your interpretation of the story, you should structure your essay according to the thesis about the story, not necessarily according to the flow of the story itself (first this, then this, then this). Your thesis should be unified and worth arguing; it should not, in other words, have three prongs (e.g., imagery, diction, and tone), each of which are explored in a single paragraph.
* Use key term as a lens for your argument. You will craft your argument about one story using your textual analysis, but also with reference to what you’ve learned about the idea of “the confessional writer.” So, one of your tasks is to narrow and specify how you’ll be using that that key term as a lens through which to focus your interpretation of a story. This is a skill you will build on in the next sequence!
* Practice including a counter-argument in your essay. Your thesis will be stronger if you can see an argument that could be launched against it. Acknowledging what someone might say to refute your thesis (in just a line or two), and then going on to reassert why your thesis still stands is a great rhetorical move to make in a paper. We’ll be talking about counter-arguments in class.
* Use MLA formatting and source referencing. I will be handing out a sheet with a sample MLA style first page of an argument. We’ll be learning another style later in the semester.


Active Reading Notes/ Asking an Analytical, or Genuine, Question

Your active reading and re-reading of the text is fundamental for a semester’s work of successful writing, discussing, and further reading, so it’s crucial that you do this reading as seriously and thoughtfully as you can. As you read, actively engage the text in the following ways:

In general, slow your reading down.

  • Note in the margin (or on a separate sheet of paper) anything that seems bizarre or strange to you, and jot down any questions you might have.

  • Look up any words you don’t understand in the dictionary. I recommend using the Oxford English Dictionary online, which is a link on the Library Homepage. Go to Library Home, click “Find Articles and Databases,” then click on “Dictionaries, Thesauruses, and Encyclopedias,” then click on “Oxford English Dictionary” online. From there, it’s pretty easy!

  • Puzzle through the lines and passages you find difficult to understand. Is the writer being indirect? To what end? What’s missing that would make this clearer?

  • After annotating each story, jot down a few quick sentences summarizing it. List these summaries on a single page.

When you’ve finished the stories, review your notes and summaries and generate three genuine questions from out of your notes. Please bring the log of your notes and questions to class. I won’t respond to these, but I want to see that you’ve been doing it!


Pre-Draft Assignments (to be typed)

Pre-Draft 2.1
Analyzing a Text—to be submitted in class, due Wednesday September 28
Choose the story and passages you plan to focus on for Essay #1. The best story/passages will be ones that seem rich in meanings and tensions, incongruities, or oddness worth exploring.
1/ Why this story? Describe in a paragraph why this is the story you want to work on. Why does it interest you? Be as specific as possible.
2/ Notes, notes, notes: Type out the passages (no more than two) you plan to focus on and annotate them: underline key words, note significant details, and draw arrows between related stylistic images and ideas. What is the situation described? What does each passage show us about the main character or narrator? What is its purpose in the story?
3/ Interpretive Rendering. Render the passages you’ve annotated in your own words. Use your interpretive rendering to register the multiple meanings of various phrases, images, metaphors, and so on. Question and work through as many of the details as you can! You should expect your rendering to be a lot longer than the passages you choose.
4/What frame? Write for a paragraph about what aspect of the “confessional writer” definitions we gathered will prove useful in arguing about the story in question. Tips to getting there: Which aspect of the definitions does your story call to mind? Does the notion of the “confessional writer” help us to understand the story?

What is a Draft?
The draft you turn in should represent your best possible effort to get your ideas on paper and shaped into a coherent and readable whole. The better your draft, the more useful will be the feedback on it. In short, a draft undertaken as a best possible effort will help you to write a better revision.
Essay # 2 Draft Cover Letter

Please write a letter, addressed to your readers, in which you answer the following questions and present any other concerns about the essay that you have. Think of the letter as an opportunity to ask for the kind of feedback you think you most need. Your letter should be about a page long.

  • What do you see as your main point or idea in the essay?

  • What are the biggest problems your having at this stage in the writing process?

  • What idea or point do you think you’ve made most successfully?

  • Which idea or point do you think you’ve made least successfully?

  • What’s the number one question about your essay – its thesis, structure, use of evidence, persuasiveness, style, and so on – that you’d like your reader(s) to answer for you?

  • What’s your favorite sentence? Least favorite? Why?

Essay # 2 Draft Response Letter
You should spend about 30 responding to each draft. Please be thoughtful and expansive in your comments. Your job is to offer the writer comments that will help her or him to revise. Revision literally means “seeing again.” Writing specialist Nancy Sommers has found that when experienced writers revise, they often radically alter their idea and reorganize the entire essay. By contrast, when student writers revise, they tend to change just a few words here and there but leave the essay more or less as it was. Help your partner become an experienced writer! He or she has several days to revise, so you can make comments that demand—and assist—a true revision. Of course, we should all write constructive comments. The directions below will help you to do all of this:
As you carefully read and re-read each essay, draw a squiggly line under awkwardly expressed sentences and phrases whose meaning are unclear. Write marginal notes to the writer on anything that puzzles you.
After re-reading, write a letter to the writer in which you address these questions:

  1. In your own words: What’s this paper about? Underline what you think the main thesis is: Don’t be surprised if there isn’t one!

  1. What do you see as the draft’s strength(s)?

  1. What do you see as its weakness(es)?

  1. Take a look at Gordon Harvey’s “Elements of the Essay.” Now identify two elements that you thin the writer might focus on in revising and discuss these in relation to the draft. Try to be specific wherever possible – point to sentences, structural elements, etc.

  1. In the draft’s cover letter, the writer asked several questions of her or his reader. What answers do you have to offer to those questions?

Essay # 2 Revision Cover Letter
Each time you hand in a revision, you’ll hand in a cover letter along with it. For Essay # 1, please answer the following questions and address any other concerns you have:
* What is your thesis? How has it changed from draft to revision?
* What are you most pleased about in this revision?
* What was most challenging in your drafting and revision process? How did you approach those challenges?
* What would you work on, if you could keep revision?
* Choose two “Elements of the Essay” (Gordon Harvey) – one that you think works well, and one that feels less successful—and describe, in each case, why.

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