Saturday, November 05, 2016

Running into the flames (and dragging my students behind me)

Putting a textbook on the syllabus without having first read it is risky, which is why I rarely do it. Next semester, though, I'm teaching Creative Nonfiction, a class in which it's important to get a taste of cutting-edge essays, so I went ahead and adopted The Best American Essays 2016 before the book was even in print. Now comes the moment of truth: I finally have the book in my hands and a few hours to kill. Will it work?
The writer has to be like the firefighter, whose job, while everyone else is fleeing the flames, is to run straight into them. Your material feels too hot, too shameful, to even think about? Therefore you must write about it.
That's Jonathan Franzen in the Introduction, a rich and rewarding essay about the writing of essays. I normally wouldn't ask students to read the Introduction to an anthology, but in this case, it does exactly what I want from a reading assignment early in the semester. I haven't finished the book yet, but the essays I've read vary in style and substance but not in demonstrated willingness to take risks, to move beyond the stuffy constraints suggested by the very word essay

I knew I was taking a risk when I put the book on my syllabus, but in this case, it looks like the risk will pay off.    

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