Coruse Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

This course is an introduction to writing prose for a public audience—specifically, prose that is both critical and personal, that features your ideas, your perspective, and your voice to engage readers. The focus of our reading and your writing will be American popular culture, broadly defined. That is, you will write essays that critically engage elements and aspects of contemporary American popular culture and that do so via a vivid personal voice and presence. In the coming weeks we will read a number of pieces that address current issues in popular culture. These readings will address a great many subjects from the contemporary world to launch and elaborate an argument or position or refined observation. And you yourselves will write a great deal, attending always to the ways your purpose in writing and your intended audience shape what and how you write.

The end result of our collaborative work will be a new edition, the seventh, of Culture Shock!, an online magazine of writings on American popular culture, which we will post on the Web for the worldwide reading public to enjoy. You will write essays at once critical and marked with personal voice and perspective, offer them in class workshops for response and suggestions, and then revise and edit your own and each other's work for publication in our magazine. A requirement for a passing grade for the course is to have at least one piece accepted for publication in the magazine. Members of the class will serve on editorial boards to decide what gets published, on design teams to create and format the magazine, and on marketing teams to publicize it. Frequent writing and revision, class workshops, discussion of assigned reading, and work on the magazine will constitute our work together throughout the semester. The fruit of our labors? An online magazine, and publication for everyone involved.

Another writing teacher once wrote, "Writing emerges from writing." That is to say, we become capable writers both by writing ourselves and by reading and reflecting on the writing others have done. Reading what other writers have written, along with the frequent practice of writing, is what inspires us to write and helps us have something to say. We will, then, do a great deal of reading as well as writing as we strive to understand better what is at stake when we set ourselves to the task of writing.


Please see readings for more detailed information about the following listed items.

Latterell, Catherine G. ReMix: Reading and Composing Culture. 1st ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005. ISBN: 9780312430184.

Lunsford, Andrea A. Easy Writer: A Pocket Reference. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005. ISBN: 9780312433093.

Easy Writer is your reference for matters of format and correctness. It will also provide you with guidelines and instruction on the spirit and mechanics of using and citing sources accurately in your work. We will use the MLA in-text citation system in this course. It is essential that you also have ready access to a good current college dictionary.


One of the primary texts for the course will be the writing all of you do and what all of us have to say about that writing. We will spend a good bit of time in class workshops, learning from and responding to the writing done by members of the class. Your purpose in those workshops will be to support each other's writing efforts by offering careful and thoughtful responses as readers, pointing out the writer's successes and offering constructive suggestions for improving the work. What you submit to the workshops will be understood to be work in progress; you will use the responses of readers (including me) to revise, refine, and polish selected pieces of your writing before submitting a final version to be graded.

Course Requirements

Writing successfully depends to a great degree upon your ability to read with scrupulous care, attention, and insight. Careful reading of all assigned material, including workshop submissions by students in the class, will be one of the foundations of your work for the course. You will be expected to have completed all assigned reading on the day a text is discussed in class and to prepare for class workshops by reading carefully and attentively the work other class members have submitted and writing a response to the writer which you will give to him or her at the conclusion of the workshop. Occasional brief and informal in-class writing will help you stay disciplined about getting the reading done on time. In addition, there will be a couple of occasions over the semester for you to make brief oral presentations to the class, both formal and informal.

To help you engage more deeply with the reading you do, you will keep a reader's notebook—a place for you to write informally to explore the reading, raise questions, follow up on implications, record your responses. Most of the notebook writing will be done outside class, but our occasional in-class writing will also be part of your notebook. The purpose of the notebook is to use writing as a way to engage more deeply with the reading, to prepare you for class discussion, and to generate ideas for further writing. I will collect the notebooks at random, a few at a time, so please always bring your notebook to class with you. I will give you a handout next week that explains the process of keeping the notebook in greater detail.

In addition to responses to the reading, I ask that you attend at least one public reading or other relevant event on campus or in Cambridge and write a response/review of it. I'll announce events I think are appropriate; you are encouraged to do the same. If there is an event you would like to attend and you aren't sure whether it will be appropriate for this purpose, ask me.

The more public writing you will do for the course—that is, the writing that is aimed at a public audience and that might be included in our online magazine—will be essays which you will submit on a regular basis throughout the semester, and which you will collect in a portfolio of revised and polished writing, at least 20 pages, to submit at the end of the semester. There will be one directed assignment when all of you will be working on a similar kind of essay; in addition, you must submit three other essays of approximately 5-6 typed pages each. You will choose your submission dates from the list of possible dates I will give you. Within the parameters of an assignment, you will be free to choose what you want to write about. I will, of course, be happy to help you find a subject if you need that help. All of your essays will be discussed in class workshops with other members of the class; you will also meet with me from time to time in individual or small-group conferences to discuss revision possibilities. And, as I've said above, at least one of your essays must meet your peers' and my standards for inclusion in our magazine.


Our schedule is tight, so all written work must be handed in on time. No exceptions, unless for real and serious emergencies, in which case you should get in touch with me at once. Extensions for emergencies will be granted only once per student per semester.


Your responsibility in the class is to be not only a writer, but also a reader and responder for other members of the class community. It is essential, then, that you attend class faithfully and come to each class fully prepared to participate in discussions of assigned reading and in writing workshops. Lateness for class, if extreme or chronic, will be counted as an absence. You must notify me as soon as possible when a real and serious emergency keeps you from attending class. More than three unexcused absences will result in your course grade being lowered; more than five will result in your being withdrawn from the course. Missing class on a day when you have work up for workshop discussion will count as two absences.


I will evaluate your work by responding as carefully and thoughtfully as I can to all the writing you do for the class, but I will not grade individual pieces of writing. At the end of the semester, you will submit to me a portfolio containing all the writing you have done for the course, including at least 20 pages of revised and polished essays and your reader's notebook, so that I can assign you a grade for the course. In deciding on semester grades, I will consider the overall quality of all the written work you submit in your portfolio, the degree and consistency of your effort throughout the semester, the success you demonstrate in revising your work, how actively you participated in class discussion and activities and the quality of your classroom contributions, and how well you served as a reader and responder for other writers in the class. I will of course be happy to talk with you at any time about your work and your progress in the course, and I promise to let you know at once if I think your performance has fallen to the level of a C or below. Passing the course with a C or better will give you CI credit.

All required work (assignments and assigned revisions, notebook and in-class writing, reading assignments) must be completed satisfactorily in order to receive a passing grade for the course.

MIT Literature Statement on Plagiarism


Use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgement—is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available at the Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Web site on Plagiarism.



Malcolm Gladwell, "Brain Candy"

Chuck Klosterman, "Campus Confidential"

Hugh Gallagher, "College Essay"

Writing and reading profiles due
2 Wired style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age (excerpts)  
3 In ReMix, introduction for students, xxxi-liii and "Identity" chapter, 3-83  
4 Library session  
5 Oral presentations on online magazines First essay submission day
6 Oral presentations on online magazines (cont.)  
7 Workshop of essays submitted 2 days after Ses #4 Second essay submission day
8 In ReMix, "Community" chapter, selections  

Workshop of essays submitted on Ses #7

Malcolm Gladwell, "The Coolhunters"

Merchants of Cool (video)

Revisions due for essays workshopped on Ses #7

Third essay submission day

10 In ReMix, "Tradition" chapter, selections  
11 Workshop of essays submitted on Ses #9

Revisions due for essays workshopped on Ses #9

Fourth essay submission day

12 In ReMix, "Romance" chapter, selections  
13 Workshop of essays submitted on Ses #11 Fifth essay submission day
14 In ReMix, "Entertainment" chapter, selections

Revisions due for essays workshopped on Ses #11

Proposals for investigative essays due

15 Workshop of essays submitted on Ses #13  
16 In ReMix, "Technology" chapter, selections  
17 Presentations by Culture Shock! teams

Revisions due for essays workshopped on Ses #15

Sixth essay submission day: investigative essays

18 Workshop of essays submitted on Ses #17 Seventh essay submission day: investigative essays
19 Workshop of essays submitted on Ses #18  
20 Editorial board meetings Revisions due for essays workshopped on Ses #18
21 Team meetings for Culture Shock! Revisions due for essays workshopped on Ses #19
22 Oral presentations  
23 Oral presentations (cont.)  
24 Last class meeting: celebratory reading and refreshments Portfolios due