Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session



Course Description

In this era of globalization, many of us have multi- or bi-cultural, multilingual or bilingual backgrounds, and even if we don't have such a background, we need urgently to understand the experiences of people who do. You will very likely work outside the United States at some point in your future; you will almost certainly work with people who speak more than one language, whose ancestry or origins are in a country other than the U.S., who have crossed borders of nation, language, culture, or class to amalgamate into the large and diverse culture that is the United States. In this class we will read the personal narratives of bilingual and bicultural writers, some of whom have struggled to assimilate, others of whom have celebrated their own contributions to a culture of diversity. You will write four personal essays of your own for the class, each of which will receive workshop discussion in class and response from me; you will then revise the essays to polish them for possible publication in Angles: An Online Magazine of Exemplary Writing from the Introductory Writing Subjects, or submission to a writing prize competition. One of your essays will be an investigative one, where you will focus on a subject of your choice, investigate it thoroughly, and then write with authority about it. The process of the class will encourage you to both improve your writing significantly and gain a greater understanding of experiences of people who are in some way like you as well as those who are in some way different.

The course is an introduction to writing prose for a public audience—prose that features your ideas, your perspective, and your voice to engage readers. The focus of our reading and your writing will be cultural diversity. That is, you will write essays that critically engage elements and aspects of people both like you and different from you. In the coming semester we will read a number of pieces that address issues of diversity, or, as I've termed it in the course title, border crossings—cultural, national, racial, class, and linguistic. These readings will address a great many issues from the contemporary world to narrate personal experience, or 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.

You will write essays that you will offer in class workshops for response and suggestions from both me and other members of the class, and then you will revise and edit your work and submit it again. Frequent writing and revision, class workshops, and discussion of assigned reading will constitute our work together throughout the semester. I hope the result of our reading and your writing will be increased understanding of the experiences of people who are like you and those who are different.

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.


Across Cultures: A Reader for Writers, Eighth Edition, by Sheena Gillespie and Robert Becker.

Easy Writer, Fourth Edition, by Andrea Lunsford

Across Cultures is your source for the primary reading text for the course. I will supplement the textbook selections with handouts or e-reserves as necessary, appropriate, or desirable. Easy Writer is your handbook for the course. When conventional citation of sources is called for, we will use the MLA in-text citation system in this section. Finally, it is crucial that you have ready access to a good 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 (though not "rough drafts"); you will use the responses of readers (including me) to revise, refine, and polish your writing before submitting a final version.

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 in your Reader's Notebook. 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—will be four 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 5-7 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.


Using someone else's language and/or ideas without proper attribution is academically dishonest. As members of this class and the larger scholarly community you are expected to abide by the norms of academic honesty. While a good deal of collaboration is encouraged in and out of class, failing to acknowledge sources or willfully misrepresenting the work of others as your own will not be tolerated. Everything you submit must be your own work, written specifically for this class. Plagiarism can result in withdrawal from the course with a grade of F, suspension or expulsion from the Institute.

The booklet Academic Integrity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A Handbook for Students (This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.PDF - 1.4MB) explains these issues in detail, and you are responsible for understanding its contents. You are also welcome to consult "Avoiding Plagiarism" on the Writing Center's online site.


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 two 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. So don't take casual cuts, and come to class faithfully and on time and prepared to participate fully in class activities.


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 HASS-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.