Experimenting Essay


Please read the two attached essays that experiment with essay format. They are both by professional authors, but they are both breaking away from the traditional “introduction, body, conclusion” format that most academic essays require. For this assignment, we are doing something different than what you are used to doing for other courses:

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• Luc Sante’s “I Was Born,” published in Harper’s Magazine, January 1998

• Geeta Kothari’s “If You Are What You Eat, Then What Am I?” published in the Kenyon Review, Winter 1999

In regard to subject matter, you could probably write about anything you want. However, your essay must (1) experiment with a format that is NOT traditional, and (2) address an aspect of Quality of Life.

You do NOT need to incorporate outside research this time. I really want you to focus on experimenting and doing something different and fun. For more specific ideas, here are my suggestions:

1. Consider the behavior, traditions, or activities practiced in your family or community. Choose one type of conduct that might seem confusing or disturbing to visitors from another country or community. Then write about that conduct or behavior—conveying how you feel about it without making explicit judgments. To experiment with form, you might put the information in the form of a story, maybe incorporate dialogue, or present the information from multiple perspectives (or voices). Each paragraph could be in the voice of a different individual. Some students have even written from the perspective of their dog, as if the dog was able to write the essay. Be creative.

2. Like the Kothari essay, write a series of scenes describing your participation in a particular task or duty. Or write scenes in which you examine particular roles in a family tradition. Arrange the scenes in a pattern that shows how you have evolved or matured and demonstrate how this process has affected your quality of life or the quality of other people’s lives around you. Some students have taken this approach and led up to a surprising “twist” at the end.

3. Sante’s essay is one of my all-time favorite experimenting formats. Like the Sante piece, you could write a series of short narratives, each beginning with the same basic first sentence but then taking different directions. Then arrange these narratives in a pattern that will help readers make sense of them. You could also write about a particular situation where there are several options, and then write a series of very short stories with the various endings based on the different choices that could have been made. In other words, each paragraph could tell a different rendition of the same story, tell the same story from different points of view, tell the same story with different endings, or any number of other approaches. Your essay should illustrate how quality of life is affected differently based on the possible choices or directions.

No matter what approach you take, you must remember that there should always be a point or purpose—a significance—to what you write. There should be a message in your writing that is delivered through the story itself. Remember that your message should be implied, not directly stated. You should NOT have a clear introduction or a conclusion paragraph. Your paragraphs or sections should deliver the message implicitly and impact the reader in some significant way so that your reader learns the lesson without being told. Please let me know if you have any questions about this.


Approximately 3-4 pages, depending on how creative and descriptive you get

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