The Art of the Essay: Study & Practice
The essay’s spirit has been obscured by deadening formulae and standardized tests, but it is a literary form of dazzling range and vivacity. In the first session of this two-part master class, we will survey classics of the form from the early modern period and onward, noting how writers as disparate as Francis Bacon, David Hume, Samuel Johnson, William Hazlitt, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, and Elizabeth Hardwick have defined and revised the shape and scope of what we now call The Essay. Having learned from masters, we will then compose essays of our own, which we will workshop in the second session of the class.
Jeff Nunokawa has been a professor of English at Princeton University for nearly thirty years. He’s written and taught widely, on topics ranging from Victorian literature to the history of the essay to the intellectual uses of social media. At present he’s at work on a book that may be called something like Mid-Century Middle Class, about being brought up middle class, middlebrow, mid-century by old-school New Deal, mixed-race, mixed-feelings-about-the-melting-pot parents. He is also writing a book about first sentences in literature, from Homer to the present. Nunokawa began his career teaching middle and high school, and he has been honored and happy to be in contact with middle and high school teachers at the Bread Loaf School of English, where he has taught since 1999.