Seminar: The Personal Essay As Creative Nonfiction

Course Details

Course Number
ENGL 6113
Section Number
ENGL 6113
Fall 2012
Bea Wood Hall
Classroom Number
Days & Times

Monday, 6:30-9:20 PM

Dr. Robert Johnson III (view Profile)


The Liars' Club
The Songlines
Woman Warrior
Mortal Lessons
The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby
Slouching towards Bethlehem
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Desert Solitaire

Course Objectives

The “personal” essay dates back to Montaigne, maybe beyond.  However, in the 1950s, 1960s, and later, in the US, in the hands of some writers, such essays began to meld the techniques of journalism and fiction in ways that had not often been seen.  By the 1970s or so, such writing was taking on new labels: e.g., “New Journalism” and “Parajournalism.”  Eventually, as a generic term, “Creative Nonfiction” prospered. 

 We shall be trying to trace a bit of the history of the genre, identify its alleged characteristics, and investigate a series of works that have been          associated with the CNF label.

Additional information about course objectives can be found on the department webpage,

Course Expectations

Members will attend regularly, prepared to participate in the ongoing discussion.  Written projects will be begun early and polished to graduate-school standards.

Grading Standards

 The grade will be created from the following elements:


1.  Preparations (up to 10 pts.)  Each week, I will assign a set of preparations for our next meeting.  At the beginning of each class, I will stamp any preparations that are complete.  At term's end, each stamped set will be worth one point.  Incomplete, unstamped preps, will not score points.


2.  Participation (up to 20 pts—1 point per response.)  I will ask that you keep a brief log (sample form attached; or you can turn in a typed list), noting, after each evening's work, your participation.  What questions did you pose?  What discussions did you support?  We all sometimes will listen more than we speak, of course.  But please be accumulating a log that you can hand to me at class's end.  In it, be prepared to describe for me how (at least twenty times) you spoke to issues raised in class, answering questions, asking them, making comments. . . .  List your responses, please, by evening date.


3.  Teaching Notes (up to 30 points, total: 1-5 points for each set, up to 6 authors) While reading through the application texts, please be taking notes.  As requested by due date, then, please supply me with a typed, double-spaced list in which you present those style issues and thematic concerns that you think are key to defining each text’s distinctive version of CNF.  Offer samples to establish your claims.  For each text, please try to be creating about a two-page bundle of basic teaching notes.  Include those elements that you think you would need prepared to offer a one-day lesson about the writer at the sophomore level.  At class's end, this portfolio, fully assembled, will offer you an invaluable tool if you ever have to present these writers in sections of your own. 


4.  Seminar Paper (40 pts) Each member will develop a typed, double-spaced analytical essay that accomplishes the task described below.  During the final two sessions, class members will present a brief (5 to10 minutes) oral summation (not a complete reading) of their papers to the group (I will offer a sign-up sheet, later in the term).  The written paper will be graded as an essay.  But, this is NOT a class in public speaking, so the talk will be graded according to its organization and completeness.  Please work from an outline that you can supply, before class, on the evening of your talk.  Points: 0-30 for the paper; 0-10 for the presentation, and discussion.  Length of written paper: c. 10 typed pages plus “Works Cited” section.


Task Please pick one:


A.  Investigate a five-page (or so) section of a text you have read outside this class’s work.  The author should be someone who has been labeled a writer of CNF.  Photocopy and annotate that section, to be turned in with your essay.  Then, compose an MLA-style essay in which you accomplish the following:


1.  Offer a brief introduction to the text.  Then tell me how it fits into          the writer’s career.  Explain, briefly, how critics have reacted to the text.


2.  Then, analyze what you believe to be the key elements of the writer’s CNF      association, as expressed in the section of the text. 


B.  Same general task, but focus on a writer outside the US whose prose displays CNF characteristics.  Educate your reader about what CNF is called and what reputation it has garnered in the writer’s culture.


C.  Generate a ten-page CNF essay of your own that mirrors the style and interests of one of the writers we will study.   At essay’s end, summarize (for at least two pages) how and why your work has roots in the other writer’s work.  Cite specific qualities, techniques, attitudes that link your work and the referenced writer.  Length for this choice: c. 12 pages plus “WC.” 


As with choices A and B, this essay should be heavily revised and begun early in the term. 


In this class, the following numerical equivalents for final grades are used: A = 100-90%; B = 89-80%; C = 79-70%; D = 69-60%; F = 59-0%.  For grade sources, see above, “Course Requirements.”

Submission Format Policy

MLA style.

Note: You may not submit a paper for a grade in this class that already has been (or will be) submitted for a grade in another course, unless you obtain the explicit written permission of me and the other instructor involved in advance.

Late Paper Policy

Unless arrangements are made, no late work can be taken.

Plagiarism Policy

Plagiarism is the use of someone else's thoughts, words, ideas, or lines of argument in your own work without appropriate documentation (a parenthetical citation at the end and a listing in "Works Cited")-whether you use that material in a quote, paraphrase, or summary. It is a theft of intellectual property and will not be tolerated, whether intentional or not.

Student Honor Creed

As an MSU Student, I pledge not to lie, cheat, steal, or help anyone else do so."

As students at MSU, we recognize that any great society must be composed of empowered, responsible citizens. We also recognize universities play an important role in helping mold these responsible citizens. We believe students themselves play an important part in developing responsible citizenship by maintaining a community where integrity and honorable character are the norm, not the exception.

Thus, We, the Students of Midwestern State University, resolve to uphold the honor of the University by affirming our commitment to complete academic honesty. We resolve not only to be honest but also to hold our peers accountable for complete honesty in all university matters.

We consider it dishonest to ask for, give, or receive help in examinations or quizzes, to use any unauthorized material in examinations, or to present, as one's own, work or ideas which are not entirely one's own. We recognize that any instructor has the right to expect that all student work is honest, original work. We accept and acknowledge that responsibility for lying, cheating, stealing, plagiarism, and other forms of academic dishonesty fundamentally rests within each individual student.

We expect of ourselves academic integrity, personal professionalism, and ethical character. We appreciate steps taken by University officials to protect the honor of the University against any who would disgrace the MSU student body by violating the spirit of this creed.

Written and adopted by the 2002-2003 MSU Student Senate.

Students with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you believe you have a disability requiring an accommodation, please contact the Disability Support Services in Room 168 of the Clark Student Center, (940) 397-4140.

Safe Zones Statement

The professor considers this classroom to be a place where you will be treated with respect as a human being - regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, political beliefs, age, or ability. Additionally, diversity of thought is appreciated and encouraged, provided you can agree to disagree. It is the professor's expectation that ALL students consider the classroom a safe environment.

Contacting your Instructor

All instructors in the Department have voicemail in their offices and MWSU e-mail addresses. Make sure you add your instructor's phone number and e-mail address to both email and cell phone lists of contacts.

Attendance Requirements

Regular attendance and participation will be expected.  After the first cut, each additional cut can lower the final mark one grade.  Two late arrivals count together as one cut.  Exceptions will be made ONLY for certifiable illnesses or for "authorized" absence, specifically as described in the university Catalog.

Other Policies

See "Being Old-Fashioned" sheet supplied in class.

Writing Proficiency Requirement

All students seeking a Bachelor's degree from Midwestern State University must satisfy a writing proficiency requirement once they've 1) passed the 6 hours of Communication Core and and 2) earned 60 hours. You may meet this requirement by passing either the Writing Proficiency Exam or English 2113. Please keep in mind that, once you've earned over 90 hours, you lose the opportunity to take the $25 exam and have no option but to enroll in the three-credit hour course. If you have any questions about the exam, visit the Writing Proficiency Office website at, or call 397-4131.

Campus Carry

Senate Bill 11 passed by the 84th Texas Legislature allows licensed handgun holders to carry concealed handguns on campus, effective August 1, 2016. Areas excluded from concealed carry are appropriately marked, in accordance with state law. For more information regarding campus carry, please refer to the University’s webpage at

If you have questions or concerns, please contact MSU Chief of Police Patrick Coggins at