Writing with Power: No Fear Here

Brenda Flanagan, English, Davidson College

Four times out of six, when I tell someone that I teach writing, that person, hands raised as if to shield an onslaught, will say, “I was never any good at that at school.”

Writing is, without question, a feared enterprise, yet all of us depend on the knowledge that good writing affords us to help us unpack ideas, and clarify our own thoughts about various subjects. Lovely essays are like great recipes: they offer us food that nourishes our brains cells and our hearts.

Some of the greatest essayists have left us pondering their words, even as we laugh aloud at some of their suggestions, or cringe at the dissonance their theses create. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, Susan Sontag’s Notes on “Camp”, Joan Didion’s The White Album, and J.M. Barrie’s Courage are just a few of the magnificent essays that have caused us to reconsider our views on a variety of social and political topics, and Truman Capote’s The Duke in his Domain—about a meal he shared with Marlon Brando—would make us hold our sides with laughter even as David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster might cause us never, again, to dunk a live lobster into a pot.

Teaching young people to write lovely and powerful essays is not simply about getting the verbs right, or aligning the noun with the most appropriate adverb or adjective. It is teaching them about style and intended effect. Through the reading and analyses of a number of published works, this seminar will examine how to teach students the craft involved in the creation of their own memorable essays.