Lawyers and Literature

Course Evaluation | Spring | 2017

Your evaluation for the course will be based on what you write for the course. You may pursue any one of the following (or a combination of any of the following so long as you secure permission of the instructor):

an essay in which you "write the course"

a portfolio of writings about the works (and authors) you have been assigned to read in the course

a traditional research paper (on a topic discussed with and approved by the instructor)

a work of creative non-fiction in which you exploring the purpose, meaning, and use of stories in your education as a lawyer

a portfolio of personal and reflective, critical, commentary on the foundational premises of Lawyers and Literature, the use of the stories and poetry we read, and the instructor's writings about the course presented on the course website.

A date will be announced–in class–by which you must inform the instructor which of these approaches you have elected to pursue.

There is no maximum page limit for the writing you elect to do for the course. Papers of less than 20 pages will be viewed with suspicion. Portfolios are typically more expansive than "papers."

What do you mean by an essay in which we are expected to "write the course"? Writing the course is both simple and somewhat tricky to define. You write the course by reflecting on your engagement with the readings. Writing the course is tricky in that an engagement with the readings is more than registering what you like and dislike, something more than moving from story to story describing what happens in the story (character, plot, resolution). Some students have an intuitive grasp for the creative possibilities in "writing the course"; others are quite deaf to the idea and end up doing it rather badly. For a student paper that exemplifies this idea of "writing the course" see: Deirdre Purdy, Lawyers & Literature as My Mother Lay Dying–Spring, 1997, 22 Legal Stud. F. 293 (1998)] [online text]

Papers presented in Lawyers and Literature will be evaluated on the following criteria:

—soundness and quality of the writing;

—depth and development of the ideas presented;

—engagement with assigned readings (or, more precisely, a thoughtful selection of the readings);

—the long tradition of "essay" writing

—development of a creative structure for the writing (drawing on what is now referred to as "creative non-fiction").

For a discussion of a student's proposed paper in Lawyers and Literature drawing on these evaluative criteria, see: Talking with Rebecca and Clara about Their encounter with Fictional Lawyers.

I am available for discussion and consultation on any of your writing (for the course and beyond), and will be available to read and comment on your writing throughout the course.

Given the nature of the writing you are being asked to do, it seems prudent to begin your writing for the course as soon as possible, i.e., now.

If you are concerned about the quality of your writing, and want to learn something about writing that you can put to use in Lawyers and Literature, I highly recommend Peter Elbow's Writing With Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 1998). Elbow's book will, I think, be of use in the writing you do for Lawyers and Literature and, arguably, in all your writing. Writing With Power is available on for $14.42 (with free shipping if you have Amazon Prime). If you want to think about how to write and how to improve your writing, this might be a good way to spend $15. If you want to peruse Elbow's book, I'll be delighted to lend you a copy.

For a starter course on Peter Elbow's thinking about writing, see: Notes on Peter Elbow's Writing Without Teachers

For a video preview of Elbow's strategic thinking about writing, see: Elbow Talking About His Work

You should, of course, avail yourself of resources on writing available on the course website. These resources have been collected to help you think about the writing you do in the course, and in particular this idea of "writing the course."

Introspective Writing

Things We Carry Into Legal Writing

The course website presents a good deal of information and background on various kinds of writing that might figure in your writing for the course. If you have questions about any of these resources, or about your writing, you should talk with me about what you are trying to do and the difficulties you face in doing it.

You should begin your writing for the course now. The pitfalls of waiting until the end of the semester to undertake the course writing or course paper in a fit of binge writing should be obvious. While I do not present any formal structure required for your course writings, you should not take this to mean that I am indifferent about your writing, or that I do not expect the highest quality of writing.

We will, as we progress through the course take something of a journey together. In "writing the course," you may want to say something about the nature of the journey we (and you) have undertaken. And if the course has not been anything so grand as a journey, then you will need a different metaphor, another way of talking about what has happened, and about what you have read and what you, in your writing, are trying to do with it.

Along the way in the course, we will pause, rethink the stories we are reading, and see how they fit together, see what you can make of the stories as you write using the stories. The question the course poses is basically this: In what sense do the stories give you something to write about? What new way of imagining yourself do they offer? Indeed, what will you attempt to do, as you set out to do something with the stories? Where will your writing take you? Where do you want your writing to take the reader?

In writing the course, you may find occasion to describe what happened in the course; you will also be making a judgment, an evaluation, about the way we've gone about the work we try to do in the course.

It will take a good bit of courage to look, honestly and without despair, at what you've written for the course, to realize that you have taken short cuts, cheated yourself, that you passed up a chance to say what you most wanted (and needed) to say, or that you ended up saying things in your writing that you did not mean. And yes, you might keep in mind that this failure, in your own writing, in our conversation that we undertake in class, indeed, the failure of the itself, are failures that we might come to see as an education.

Pedagogical Concepts
Underlying "Writing the Course"

Andragogy (a theory of adult education)


Andragogy and Self-Directed Learning:
Pillars of Adult Learning Theory

Andragogy (Adult Learning)
[8:27 mins.] [video]

Active Learning


Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research

Student-Centered Learning

Addressing Faculty Questions about Student-Centered Learning


Essay Writing

The Age of the Essay

On Essays
[Cynthia Ozick, author of the assigned "Puttermesser" story]

The Personal Essay—A Form of Discovery


Narrative Essay

Narrative Essay

A Brief Guide

Prewriting Exercises for Personal Narratives

Creative Non-Fiction

Wikipedia—Creative Non-fiction

Lee Gutkin Talking about Creative Non-Fiction
[8:00 mins.] [video]

Lex Williford on Creative Non-Fiction
[13:35 mins.] [video] Pt2 [14:36 mins.] Pt3 [13:58 mins.] Pt4 [10:25 mins.]

Susan Orlean Shows How to Find Subjects for Creative Non-Fiction
[9:13 mins.] [video]

Critical Thinking|Reading|Reflection

The Critical Project
[James R. Elkins]

A Note on Essays: "[I]f essays are works of 'reading,' they are also works 'wrought,' a thinking that occurs through the material fabrication of language, a work and a working in language, not simply a working through intellectually or emotionally—language not as a summary of findings but as the inventor of findings." [Rachel Blau DuPlessis, f-Words: An Essay on the Essay, 68 (1) American Literature 15, 19 (1996)(DuPlessis goes on to note that: "The choice of the essay mode is no guarantee of quality, just of desire. One wants scruples, suspicion, and examination, not an unconscious revelation of vacuum, not addictive narcissism." Id. at 26)]

Again, DuPlessis: "Writing an essay comes from curiosity and need—the need to examine opinions and contradictions and to interrogate cultural materials, especially those taken for granted. The essay has an ethos of intense examination." [Id. at 27 (I might note that I've never experienced the need or the urge to use the word "interrogate" as DuPlessis deploys it; yes, "interrogate" is a fashionable term in academic circles but I seldom see the use of the term as an improvement over the more straight-forward—"question".)]

"Essay is the play of speculation, polyvocal, quirky, maenadic, suspicious. The test of the essay is whether it opens a space for the reader. It is interested and agnostic, situational and material, presentational, investigative, and heuristic. It presents that which is seen 'under the conditions established in the course of writing' . . . . What is taken by some as rhetoric or style or manner . . . is in the essay a way of knowing. A Path. In some old woods, in the middle of something. The path of rhetoric is the path of knowledge. The digression is the subject. The polyvocal collage. The thick plurality. . . . The probing, the backtracking, the outbursts, the resistances are the essay's findings." [Id. at 28]

Since we sometimes talk about the personal essay, I pass along DuPlessis's reservations about the term—reservations which I share: "[T]he term personal, when applied to essay modes, offers a made-in-Hollywood site for my resistance. I have real trouble with any oversimple characterization of the essay as personal or autobiographical. The adjective personal can suggest the individual, quirky array—or even disarray—offered up as the opposite of objective or expository prose. Personal may be an easy way of summarizing the upstart quality . . . that fuel the essay with situated, nonobjective thought. Yet somehow this term can be translated into a soft relativism, a genial selfhood, or questions of 'voice.' . . . . Still, to talk about the essay's material practices and its emphases on positionality provides a broader way of engaging the functions of what others call 'personal.' " [Id. at 30. ("[I]f the essay is functioning in the way I am attempting to set forth here it is arguably a very unegotistical mode, for it maintains a notion of service, of the exemplary use of the ego or its experimental dissolution within a cultural project. . . . Far from being exercises in narcissism, in gaining a personal voice, essays are practices in multiplicity, in polyvocality, in intercutting other opinions, in offering heterogeneous, faceted perspectives. . . . In short, essays are not a way of gaining a voice but of losing one in the largeness of something else." Id. at 32)]

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