The Relevance of the Essay

Inland Empire Girls has been keeping us on track this summer with our sibling assignments. This week she posed this assignment:

"As we near the start of the school year here is the assignment. Write about a school experience that was significant to your school life. Describe the experience and why it was significant."
Entering college was a wakeup call when it came to learning to write compositions. I remember entering English 103 at the University of Idaho and finding out exactly what the term essay meant, and what my teacher's expectations were in writing an essay.

Unfortunately, what I was taught in high school didn't resemble this form of writing. English 103 at the University of Idaho focused a lot on learning how to write an introductory paragraph and learning the form and basics of essay writing.

I passed English 103, and entered English 104. This class provided me one of those "Ah-ha" moments as a student.

I don't remember the teaching assistant's name that taught the class, but I do remember the day he brought in the Rolling Stones Magazine. He was kind of a hippie looking guy, and it didn't surprise me that he would bring in this magazine to share with the students in class.

But, what he did next was share some writing from the magazine, and, in doing so, he gave us a really good example of what essay writing was all about.

I was blown away.

I'm not sure it was ever explained to me in any of my English classes that essay writing was a type of writing, and that there were people who actually wrote essays on purpose.
This is the definition of an essay: a short literary composition on a particular theme or subject, usually in prose and generally analytic, speculative, or interpretative.

Essay writing had a purpose. It was not a writing exercise students were forced to repeat over and over again with much repetition. People actually wrote essays and earned money for doing this writing feat.

I wish I could go back and find this TA and thank him for this revelation. I would like to thank him for the wisdom he showed to this group of freshmen writers who needed to give their writing a bit of purpose, a bit of relevance.
I can even recommend a couple books if you would like to explore the genre of essay writing. Two of my favorites are "Having Everything Right: Essays of Place" by Kim Stafford, a collection of essays which revolves around the history, folklore, and physical beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Kim Stafford writes poetic and evocative prose as he reflects on such subjects as Indian place names, bears, and local eccentrics. (As described on amazon.com)

Another recommendation is Barbara Kingsolver's book of essays titled "High Tide in Tucson"."

Displaying a diverse background and multiple interests, Kingsolver has written about subjects as varied as the biological clock of hermit crabs, tourist wanderings in Benin, and visiting an obsolete Titan missile site. The recurring themes here are the wonder and excitement of parenting; the respect for all creatures, religions, and points of view; and the importance of the natural world in our lives. She weaves these themes throughout her essays and presents readers with a vision of beliefs too often undervalued in our modern world. The author, a skilled observer of both people and nature, claims "to want to know and to write, about the places where disparate points of view rub together?the spaces between." These essays are her attempts to open the doors for her readers to see into those spaces.

Penny Stevens, Fairfax County Public Library, VA

If you have never read really good essays, because you still remember having to write those essays back in school, I encourage you to try either of these essayists books, or search for some of your own.

Then you, like myself, will realize that essays do have a purpose, and are very relevent.
To read more on this sibling post, here is Inland Empire Girl's post about becoming a poet, here, and Raymond Pert's post will one day be here.


Inland Empire Girl said...

What a great post. I never knew this story about essay writing with you. Stafford's book is such a great recommendation for examples of essays. I love his writing.

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