The Unintentional Reader: Is It You?

In my first year writing course at the University of Washington, Tacoma, students have completed their first of three essays for this quarter, a brief piece of writing known as “the personal essay.” The theme of the course is “Create Your Own Adventure,” so their topics varied from cooking to snowboarding. A bit of explanation: instead of assigning them specific topics this quarter, they are free to choose their own within the parameters of three general categories: 1. The Personal Essay; 2. Rhetorical Analysis essay; and 3. Argument essay. By the time they leave the course, they will have gained a bit of experience in writing the kinds of essays which they may encounter in some form in their other courses.

This week, we have been discussing the meaning of “rhetoric,” applying our analytical lens to essays in The Best American Essays, 7th College Edition edited by Robert Atwan (2014). Believe it or not, those of you out there who did not particularly enjoy your first year writing course, we’ve been having some great conversations about context, audience, and the making of meaning.

One of the toughest concepts for any writer–myself included–is the notion of “audience.” When you’re a first year college student taking a composition course with 19 other first year college students, who can your audience be outside of your instructor and a few classmates? How can I make this writing “real” for them? My experiment (if I can get them to buy into it) is to allow me the privilege of sharing excerpts from their work on this blog. I want them to meet their “unintended reader.” Who is this mysterious person who stumbles across an essay in a happy set of circumstances? I want to meet this person! At any rate, the idea that someone outside of our classroom may read their work sounds like a good way to give them a sense of an actual audience rather than a manufactured one.

For this to work, I need your help: my students need readers!

So I am inviting you–YOU, the mysterious entity who is reading these very words–to stay tuned for some interesting pieces of writing from some highly motivated first year college students. The deadline for their work will be in a few weeks, so here is how I plan to prime the pump in the meantime. As this blog will be posted on Facebook, I will be inviting all of my friends to agree to help with this project for the benefit of the students. To participate, you need to do two things: read their posts and leave a comment.

I will be back next week with an update: in the meantime, happy reading!

Author: Nicole

I am an Associate Teaching Professor at the University of Washington, Tacoma where I teach courses in literature and writing. My first book, entitled Virginia Woolf and The Power of Story, was published in the spring of 2017. My most recent book, FemPoetiks of American Poetry and Americana Music: A Woman's Truth, was published in June 2021. This book focuses on three poets--Anne Bradstreet, Phillis Wheatley, and Emily Dickinson--and three singer-songwriters--Brandi Carlile, Rhiannon Giddens, and Lucinda Williams. I am also a singer-songwriter with four albums: Little Queenie (2016) No Limits (2017), Songs for Unsung Women (2017), and By Your Side (2021). My fifth record, With Any Luck, was released on February 14, 2023, 12 new original songs. Find it on Bandcamp!

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