Writing the Lawyers and Literature Course

James R. Elkins | Spring | 2016

Writing for the Course

Writing Exercises | Prototypes | Exemplars | Thinking about Writing

Week 2 & 3: The Fictional World of Lowell Komie

Video (Thinking About Yourself as a Writer): Writers on Writing with Charlie Rose

Writing About Stories: You learn as a law student how to write about what we call cases (more accurately, appellate opinions) and to make legal arguments based on these cases. In "Lawyers and Literature," you need to start thinking about writing about stories. Unfortunately, we do not have a companion course on "How to Write About Stories." (This course might prove more valuable to lawyers than you might suspect.)

There are many ways to write with stories, and to write about them. I encourage you to find your own way. For my efforts to do this kind of writing, you might want to peruse my writing about Lowell Komie's stories. The place to begin is "Lowell B. Komie's Lawyer Stories," the preface to Lowell Komie's The Legal Fiction of Lowell B. Komie (Swordfish Chicago, 2005). For a longer essay on Komie's fictional lawyers, see James R. Elkins, Meditations on the Odd Lives We Live, 31 Legal Stud. F. 885 (2007). For revised versions of this published essay, see:

The Law World Gets Real

Meditations on the Odd Lives We Live

A Letter to Lowell Komie

Professor Louise Harmon's Reading of Komie: Louise Harmon, a colleague whose writings I have read, admired, and published for several decades now has written a marvelous piece about Komie's stories. I recommend that you read it and note how she uses Komie's stories in her essay.

Louise Harmon, Illuminating the Dark: The Stories of Lowell B. Komie and the Pursuit of Meaningful Work, 31 Legal Stud. F. 851 (2007) [online text]

Stories and How They Invite Us to Write: We talked about reading Kafka's parable with the idea that you read the parable and then learn that immediately upon finishing the reading, that you have being assigned to write an essay on or about the parable, and the question is, how would you start thinking about that writing.

I suspect that very story we read comes with its own hints and possibilities for writing. I am reading J.S. Marcus's "Centaurs" and in the first page of the story find some interesting possibilities. The narrator says, "I like the idea of private failure." We don't have to have any idea of what that idea means in the context of the story to find it interesting. I suspect it might be interesting enough to write about. Think about a writing with the title: Private Failure.

Shelia, the narrator, in "Centaurs" talks about going to a "mandatory law-school party" and a "mandatory tea at the Dean's house." Consider this for a writing: Law School: A Three Year Mandatory Party.

Sheila conjures up what I take to be an image of Pan, the Greek God, when she describes the editor of the law review as "half saint, half goat." Do you know any law school versions of Sheila's "half saint, half goat"? If you do, then you have something to write about.

In what sense is "Centaurs" a writer's response-you, of course, being the writer-to Kafka's "Before the Law"?

Is "Centaurs" a failed dream story? If so, perhaps it can be related to Kafka's "Before the Law" in some way that provides the basis for a writing.

Another suggested writing topic: What I Always Wanted to Be. This topic takes us back to the first sentence of "Centaurs": "The smartest man in our law-school class told me he wanted to be an actor." And then later, Sheila admits that she too "wanted to be an actress" and more recently has "toyed with the idea of becoming a cheif executive officer. How does becoming a lawyer play out in the pantheon of people you have wanted to be?

How about this: Inertia and Boredom in the Life of a Law Student. Sheila says, "Inertia seems to be getting me through law school. I don't move much. I wait for a professor to intimidate me into the subject at hand: arson, divorce, whatever." And then later, she says, "[i]n law school, you can feel boredom go from the benign to the maligant." There are pages of writing to be had in this idea of inertia and boredom.

And finally, in the closing paragraph, we have Sheila thinking, and I've followed the exact contours of her thinking to create a title for a writing: Transformations, Sublimations, Things Becoming Other Things.

Whether all of the stories turn out to be this fertile with ideas for writing, we must wait and see.

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