Schedule: The Core Writing Seminar

We will try to stick to this plan as closely as possible, but we may get ahead or fall behind. If either situation arises, expect in-class and online announcements of schedule revisions. Develop habits, therefore, of bringing your copy of the syllabus to each class meeting and of checking this page.

Aug. 28 Tue.

Welcome to class!
Introduction to the course materials.
Why bother with a writing class?

Aug. 30 Thu.

Lewis Thomas, “Notes on Punctuation” (handout).


For class today, think about the “clever” ways that Thomas teaches about punctuation in his essay. We might play some more (and hopefully better-planned) punctuation games. In addition, we’ll talk about why a writing class is a good thing for you to take (aside from it’s being necessary for you to graduate, of course).

The course feed now works—see the link in the far right column. Enjoy!

(Oh, and I’ll be away from the office from 10:30 until about 11.)

Today we also will begin an occaisional “series” called “New Developments in English Communication.” We’ll look at this post in David Pogue’s blog.

Sept. 4 Tue.

Adam Gopnik, “Death of a Fish” (85-95).


We’ll be talking quite a bit about Gopnik’s essay, especially with how it employs structure to its advantage.

If you haven’t seen Vertigo, we’ll have to do something about that. (Hint: it may involve a schedule change!)

In the meantime, here’s a little grammar & sentence structure exercise for your edification or entertainment. This other diagram, though, will probably only make your head hurt.

You might be interested in a discussion of the exclamation mark.

In addition, I’ll be posting my grading standards before class on Thursday. Thanks for your patience!

Sept. 6 Thu.

Alan Shapiro, “Why Write?” (197-207).


My essay grading criteria are online. I hope they help you as you prepare the first draft of Essay #1!

PS My e-mail woes continue; but I am determined to get your tumblelogs on the tumblelog page by Saturday!!!!!!!!!!

Sept. 11 Tue.

John Dawkins, “Teaching Punctuation as a Rhetorical Tool,” and Pico Iyer, “In Praise of the Humble Comma” (handouts).


Consider ways in which you might use Dawkins’s advice in your own (previous & future) writing.

Office hours today are cancelled, sorry.

As of 7:30 a.m. on Mon., Sept. 10, I have received 14 tumblelog links; if you haven’t sent me a link yet, please do so.

If you’re interested in arcane discussions of grammar, you might be interested in John Gruber’s commentary on this article in the New York Times (nb: the error in the quoted material isn’t an itso). If you’re interested in the process of revision—and you should be!—you might want to read his follow-up to some of his readers’ comments.

Sept. 13 Thu.

Essay 1 (draft) due.


Remember to bring a pencil or a blue ink pen to class—I like it when I can distinguish my own chicken scratch from other people’s writing!

If you’re interested in music or medieval studies (or both) make a point to attend the first medieval studies lecture of the term: “The Body as Instrument,” with Nancy Van Dreusen of Claremont Graduate University. Here are the vitals:

  • Monday, Sept. 17, 3:30-5:00 p.m.
  • Crown Auditorium (on the 2nd floor of the Crown Center), LSC.
  • It’s free, and there’s often some sort of free food afterward.
Sept. 18 Tue.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.


Feel free to bring snacks, popcorn, etc. But also try to take notes on anything that strikes you. Think of our good friend Bluey.

(Even though I doubt you need me to tell you: Remember to pick up after yourselves if you do indeed bring various & sundry foodstuffs to class.)

If you’re interested in music or medieval studies (or both) make a point to attend the first medieval studies lecture of the term: “The Body as Instrument,” with Nancy Van Dreusen of Claremont Graduate University. Here are the vitals:

  • Monday, Sept. 17, 3:30-5:00 p.m.
  • Crown Auditorium (on the 2nd floor of the Crown Center), LSC.
  • It’s free, and there’s often some sort of free food afterward.


Sept. 20 Thu.

Vertigo, continued, if necessary.
Discussion on revision.
Joseph Epstein, “The Culture of Celebrity” (54-69).


After finishing Vertigo, we’ll talk about it for a bit. Then we’ll discuss the revision process; I’ll be basing some of “the talk” on notes from your essay drafts, which I’ll return to you at the end of class.

If we have time, we’ll discuss Epstein, so make sure to read it for class—it’s a great essay!—even though that discussion might be postponed until next week. We’ll get to Epstein on Tuesday.

Office hours? They’re at Beck’s!

Sept. 25 Tue.

Ken Chen, “City out of Breath” (43-47).
Joseph Epstein, “The Culture of Celebrity” (54-69).


Office Hours: 11:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m., at Beck’s. I’ve been having internet-related woes; I apologize if you’ve been trying to reach me!

Sept. 27 Thu.

Essay 1 due.

Oct. 2 Tue.

Class is canceled today. Sorry—I’m very sick; you don’t want what I have! We’ll discuss Morano’s essay and your essays on Thursday. (Your first response paper is still due on Thursday.)

Michele Morano, “Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood” (107-21).

Oct. 4 Thu.

Michele Morano, “Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood” (107-21).

Response Paper 1 due.

Oct. 9 Tue.

Mid-semester break: no class.

Oct. 11 Thu.

Robert Polito, “Shame” (153-58).

Oct. 16 Tue.

Poe Ballantine, “501 Minutes to Christ” (11-24).


Office hours today: Noon - 2:00 PM, at Beck’s; no office hours Thursday.

Notice: If you e-mailed me a response paper, please make sure that I also receive a paper copy—I (unfortunately) can’t function as a printing service.

Oct. 18 Thu.

Essay 2 (draft) due.

Oct. 23 Tue.

Toi Derricotte, “Beginning Dialogues” (48-53).


The “research methods” discussion will be postponed until a date in the not-too-distant future.

I need to be downtown this morning & early afternoon, so office hours are canceled. I’ll be having extended office hours (at Beck’s) on Thursday, 11:00-2:00.

Oct. 25 Thu.

Susan Orlean, “Lost Dog” (122-32).


Remember: Office hours are 11-2, at Beck’s.

If you have yet to turn in a draft of Essay 2, please give me a paper copy ASAP.

Oct. 30 Tue.

Bring a copy of your second essay in whatever state it’s currently in. We’ll be doing some workshopping—to help you solve any problems that you might have with your essay.


While the essay’s due date has been changed to Thursday (Nov. 1), you still need to prepare Macbeth, act 1. I’ll introduce the play today.

Office hours: 11:30 AM 12:45(ish) - 2:00 PM, at Beck’s. (Sorry—running late!)

We’ll wrap up today with about 15 minutes on Shakespeare, drama, and reading. You might be interested in checking out early modern English pronunciation. We’ll address this either today or at the beginning of the next class.

Nov. 1 Thu.

Macbeth, act 1

Essay 2 due.


Office Hours: 10:45 - 1:30, in Cudahy library. (I’ll be working on some of my own research, but please feel free to find me. I’ll either be in the big study room with the high ceiling or meeting with another student by the vending machines.)

You should probably do the following while reading Macbeth especially if you want to be sane:

  • Remember that you are reading a play, a text whose action is supposed to be performed in some sort of public space. You will be well served if you attempt to imagine the text being performed in a three-dimensional space, whether that space is a traditional theater or something more like a finished film. Visualize the characters interacting with each other, with the audience, and with their environment.
  • As you read, make sure to check out the glosses & notes at the bottom of each page. Use a dictionary to look up any other words that you don’t understand.
  • Make a mental note about which character is speaking and if he/she is speaking to one or more characters. (Pronouns in the text should help you figure that last bit out.)
  • Although stage directions are scant, they should also help you figure out what’s going on.
  • This is most important, in many ways: be sure to re-read the text after you have attempted the above steps. Things should make more sense to you—and (I hope) the play will therefore become more entertaining & rewarding.

Have fun!

Nov. 6 Tue.

Macbeth, act 2.

Response Paper 2 due.


Office hours are in the Library until noon. I’ll be in the high-ceilinged study room; if I’m not there, I’m probably in the vending area & meeting with another student.

Nov. 8 Thu.

Macbeth, act 3


Regular office hours—but in the library.

Nov. 13 Tue.

Macbeth, act 4.


Office hours, etc., will be in the Library: look for me at the tables by the new periodicals!

I’ve added the details for response paper 3 to the assignment description.

A counter to my “show, don’t tell” admonishment: I’ll be posting about this later this week.

Nov. 15 Thu.

Macbeth, act 5.


Remember: Office hours are in the library.

Whatever you do, *don’t write like Lewis Lapham* (though the contest in that linked article is awfully amusing).

Nov. 20 Tue.

Working with sources (readings TBA).

Response Paper 3 due.


I’ve added a PDF that addresses some common issues with formatting, quotation, and citation, when it comes to a “research paper.”

Nov. 22 Thu.

Thanksgiving break: no class.

Nov. 27 Tue.

UPDATE: Office hours and class are canceled.


On Thursday we’ll finish Macbeth, discuss research & writing, and start out on the poetry handout.

Nov. 29 Thu.

See the previous class for details about today. The draft is due Tuesday (12/4). Here’s the poetry handout.


Office hours @ Beck’s!

Dec. 4 Tue.

Essay 3 draft due. Office hours will be in my office; I’ll also be having chat-based “panic” hours, Monday evening, 7:30 - 9:00 PM, on AIM. My “handle” is j0hnb4ll.


Here again is the PDF that addresses some common issues with formatting, quotation, and citation, when it comes to a “research paper.”

Also: some thoughts about Macbeth.

Office hours: will be in my office (surprise!), but will only be the scheduled time—10-11:30 AM.

HEY! Cat in the Hat will be up tomorrow AM. I’m tired & going to bed. (9:20 PM)

Dec. 6 Thu.

Last day of class.
Course evaluations.
Discussion on your essay topics, etc.


We’ll finally get around to discussing the poetry handout from November 29

Enjoy The Cat in the Hat!—or at least the words.

Office hours are on an “emergency” basis today.

Dec. 11 Tue.

Essay 3 due.


I should have all those lovely e-mails out by Sunday afternoon. Technology sucks.

Here’s a description of the “process option.”. For those of you who weren’t in class on Thursday, you have two options for your final paper: revise as usual—or choose to write the process essay.

If I haven’t already sent you an e-mail with my comments on your draft, I’ll take that into account on your final grade. Consider “working without a net” a worthwhile pursuit, as it’s a good idea to revise your writing even when you’ve received no feedback. You should always be looking to improve your writing.

(Maybe that’s a cop-out on my part, but maybe not.)

Technology still sucks. If I haven’t e-mailed you by now (5:30 AM, Monday, Dec. 10), I probably won’t be able to. I also won’t be able to do the “panic session” chat this evening.

I’ll be in the office tomorrow, about 9 AM to 4 PM. I might need to step out during that time, but I’ll make sure to update my office hours as a blog post on the main page by 9 tomorrow morning.

So, to you whom I’ve not e-mailed: feel free to stop by if you need a bit more time—or send e-mail to the new address to the right. (I can give you until Thursday evening, say 6ish.) In either case, you’ll want to send your final essay stuff as an attachment to this address, the same one you should send a note to (look in the right-hand column).

Questions? Send me e-mail: .