Building a Nuanced and Authentic Understanding of the Essay

Reconsidering James Baldwin in the Era of #BlackLivesMatter

First-year students face a tremendous challenge and learning curve related to the essay.

High school has too often left students with an inauthentic and narrow view of the essay as a template; mechanical and scripted—the introduction, the thesis sentence, the body paragraphs, and the conclusion.

College writing and ultimately academic/scholarly writing as well as essay writing beyond the walls of academia are all far more nuanced and complex than the template essay, which is practiced almost nowhere by writers and which almost never serves as a transition or foundation for authentic writing.

James Baldwin offers a powerful model for essay writing since he was primarily a literary writer, a writer of fiction, who also wrote compelling and highly crafted essays and non-fiction—often blurring modes and genres as he worked in the field of journalism.

Essays often share some aspects of mode (narration, description, exposition, argument), citation and use of sources and research…

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