WRTG 3020 Topics in Writing: Narrative and the Self

Instructor Contact:

Lara Jacobs, MFA

Email: lara.jacobs@colorado.edu

About the Course:

This course examines the relationship between narrative and the self. We often think of this dynamic as passive–a writer recording an experience or an aspect of his/her/their identity that already exists in the world. In our readings and in our writings we will consider the agency of stories–how writing can create an identity on the page that doesn’t exist or isn’t recognized in the outside world. Through analyzing published texts, crafting our own work, and engaging in discussions and in writing workshops, we will explore the power of language, rhetoric and genre to generate a self.


Identify genre conventions and apply them to your own narrative.

Critique assigned texts to build rhetorical knowledge and dissect the complex relationship between speaker, subject and audience.

Rhetorically analyze personal, analytical, argumentative and multi-genre texts, comparing and contrasting narrative forms to develop your own essays.

Evaluate the writing process from ideation to edit to expand critical thinking and to communicate clearly and effectively.

Create and record a podcast to apply narrative strategies to digital media.

Required Texts:

Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter

·       Publisher: Graywolf Press; 1st edition (June 7, 2016)

·       ISBN-10: 1555977413

·       ISBN-13: 978-1555977412

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

·       Publisher: Graywolf Press; 1 edition (October 7, 2014)

·       ISBN-10: 1555976905

·       ISBN-13: 978-1555976903

How to Write An Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

·       Publisher: Mariner Books; 1st edition (April 17, 2018)

·       ISBN-10: 1328764524

·       ISBN-13: 978-1328764522

Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli

·       Publisher: Coffee House Press; Later Printing edition (April 4, 2017)

·       ISBN-10: 1566894956

·       ISBN-13: 978-1566894951

Additional readings or links posted on Canvas


Written responses to and analysis of assigned reading materials and short writing prompts 20%: 

To develop your close reading and critical thinking skills, you will write weekly responses. Topics will relate to readings, creativity, skill development, critical thinking, essays and conventions to familiarize you with writing frequently. Your post should be between 200-250 words. To encourage you to take stylistic and ideological risks in these assignments, 70% of your grade will be for completion.

You can miss one post without penalty. 

Personal Narrative (4-6 pages, double-spaced) 20%:

A narrative essay in which you draw from personal experience to persuasively tell a story. While your essay is grounded in your personal history, you may include other perspectives or sources to help establish a larger relevance. Although your essay doesn’t need an explicit thesis or argument, implicitly there must be a central theme.  Remember that while the personal must have aspects of the universal–such as feelings of loss, moments of learning, the perspective of age–your universal “truth” must also be grounded in your personal experience. You will choose a narrative structure–chronological, thematic, vignette. Avoid general and generic thoughts on friendship, change, memory–instead, focus on telling your story as specifically and as vividly as you can. Remember to show AND tell. Write your essay with sensory details, considering what aspects of your narrative are important to emphasize. Be specific, be definite, be concrete. Each sentence MUST contribute to the purpose of your essay.

Rhetorical Analysis (5-7 pages, double-spaced, includes in the style of..) 23%: 

Select specific entries in Grief is the Thing with Feathers or Citizen to trace a theme through the text. Analyze how the rhetorical devices, speaker, intended audience and context contribute to Porter’s or Rankine’s purpose.  Avoid summary. Quote evidence from the text to support your thinking.

Inspired by Claudia Rankine’s Citizen or Max Porter’s Grief Is the Thing With Feathers write 2-3 pages, double-spaced in the style of either author.

If you choose Porter, you will find your own language and form for grief and write from the perspective of one or more voice. Consider how Porter portrays loss–the details, the images, the tone, the emphasis on storytelling.

If you choose Rankine, you will find your own language and form for being a citizen. You will balance your own experience, memories, and images. Consider how Rankine incorporates outside sources that further her argument and are thematically related.

Rhetorical Analysis–15%

in the style of–8%

Multi-genre Podcast: 30%:

After reading Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends you will choose a theme to create a podcast. You will ask questions to develop your argument and approach your topic from personal, researched, and argumentative lenses. You will record three episodes.

Grading breakdown:

Scripts for three episodes: 20%

Podcast recording including introduction: 10%

Peer Review 7%: 

Written feedback of your classmates’ work. You will receive guidelines for your feedback for each essay workshop. Comments that focus only on proofreading or do not demonstrate that the reviewer has thoroughly read the work will not receive full credit.

Assessment Percentage
Peer Review 7%
Written responses to and analysis of assigned reading materials and short writing prompts 20%
Personal Narrative 20%
Rhetorical Analysis 23%
Multi-genre Podcast 30%
Total 100%


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Monday – Friday
9:00am to 4:00pm


We are located at the corner of University Avenue and 15th Street in a white brick building.


1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
178 UCB
Boulder, Colorado