THE CREATOR’S SUBJECT

Field Research
February 18, 2020
First Critical Essay The American Literary Canon
February 18, 2020

What it is

In “The Creator’s Subject” section of this course, we are exploring a few of the many areas that creators mine for their artistic subjects, and along the way, we’re giving shape to our identities as writers. The Creator’s Subject assignment will invite you to engage in the same kind of observation, though instead of generating stories and poems, you’ll use your observations as a mirror to reflect on your identity as a writer, and some of your potential subjects.

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The Creator’s Subject assignment has two parts: Observation and Reflection. In the Observation section, you’ll be asked to record observations of the everyday physical world around you—just like the Alien Anthropology assignment, but this time with a focus on a few specific topics. In the Reflection section, you’ll be asked to write thoughtful, detailed responses to a series of questions about your observations and your identity as a writer. Each section is described more fully below.

Observation
Like the Alien Anthropology assignment, this section of The Creator’s Subject assignment will ask you to record field notes—raw, detailed notes/descriptions of physical, tangible people, places, events, or objects. Unlike the Alien Anthropology assignment, you’ll be asked to locate physical things (objects, people, places, events, etc. that you experience directly with your senses) that somehow speak to you on the following five topics:

History. Locate a “something” that, for you, says something important about your individual history, or about a cultural history that you are a part of. Try to avoid the obvious and the sentimental—shy away from writing about the teddy bear that you cried on through all of your heartbreaks. See if you can find a “something” that you wouldn’t immediately think about in connection with your individual/cultural history.

The borders of your identity. Locate a “something” that says something about your identity, but that you don’t particularly identify with. Maybe this “something” is an object that makes others think of you, but that you don’t think represents you very much, or very well. It exists on the fringe of your identity, and represents a gray area of yourself that is/is not who you are. Describe it, focusing on the details that illustrate this gray area.

Place. Think of a place that you know very well, and describe it twice, from two different points of view: 1) describe it through the eyes of someone who has never been to this place. If possible, don’t write using your memory—go sit in the place, and write from there. What would they see? How would they interpret the significance of this place? 2) In your second description of this same place, describe what you see that they would they be unable to see. In other words, describe the place from your own, unique perspective. As you write, think about how two different versions of the same place emerge, how we define “place,” and how places define us.

A personal obstacle. Locate a “something” that represents a personal obstacle you have coped with, or do cope with. Describe it, being careful to avoid describing the obstacle itself, how it felt, what you learned, etc. Just describe the “something” itself, and nothing more. Be as detailed as possible.

A personal passion. Locate a “something” that represents a personal passion of yours—an interest, a social cause, an activity, whatever, that consumes you when you’re engaged in it. Stick to describing the “something” itself; don’t get into explanations, anecdotes, etc.

Reflection
After you’ve completed the Observation section, use the writing you did in that section as well as any assigned readings and writing exercises we’ve done to write thoughtful, detailed responses to the following questions. You can simply type the question and your response beneath it, like a simple Q&A.

You are free to use any writing you’ve already done to help complete this assignment. You are also encouraged to use any assigned reading to illustrate any points you want to make.

What do you see?

Look at what you wrote about in the Observation section, the Alien Anthropology assignment, and any other writing exercises you’ve done so far in this course. What kinds of things do you tend to see/remember? Look for common threads or consistencies in your writing: do you tend to notice/remember certain types of people, places, events, objects? Do you tend to notice/remember things that make you happy, sad, angry, confused? What other common threads do you see?

What obstacles have you dealt with in your life?

Briefly summarize 2-3 specific events from your life that represent major obstacles you have overcome. As you write about these obstacles, give some thought to what you learned from your struggles. Reflect on what you still wonder about, don’t know, or are still curious about, too.

What do you feel strongly about?

Look at your responses to the previous questions. What social issues are represented in your responses? (You might have to be a strong divergent thinker for this one.) Be specific and detailed: don’t simply write “My responses all deal with my racial identity.” Instead, write “I seem to write a lot about how my racial and cultural heritage impact my everyday life. It’s similar to how Hughes deals with race and history in his poem, ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers,’ except that in my writing…”

Who are you as a writer?

Study your responses to the questions above. How would you describe the writer that your responses reveal? Brave? Tentative? Humorous? Angry? Passionate? Bored? Shy? Outgoing? If someone you didn’t know read through your responses, what might they think your main interests are?

How would you characterize your voice as a writer?

Study the writing you’ve completed so far in this course, including the writing you’ve done for this assignment. See if you can identify one or more of your personal subjects, and what makes your voice distinctive and unique, by filling in the blanks in the statement below. Try to be as specific and concise as possible. Feel free to write more than one.

I write about _ with _.

Examples: I write about the hardships of physical handicaps with a silly sense of humor.

I write about unfair labor practices with angry sarcasm.

I write about travels to distant places with a sense of nostalgia and longing.

I write about lonely people I have known with curiosity and compassion.

I write about the everyday possessions that define us Americans with humorous outrage.

How The Creator’s Subject should look

Observation

You should have five entries. Title each one with the prompt (“History,” “Place,” “A Personal Obstacle,” etc.). Leave enough space between each entry so that it’s easy to tell where one ends and another begins. There is no length requirement for your entries—being exhaustively detailed is the most important thing.

Reflection

You can type this section as a simple Q&A: Type the question you’re responding to, followed by your response. There is no specific length requirement. I’m less concerned with length than I am with content—it’s what you say that’s important, not how long it takes you to say it.

How The Creator’s Subject is graded
This assignment is worth 50 points of your course grade.

In grading this assignment, I’ll check to be sure that you’ve followed through on all of the guidelines and requirements described above, and have proofread your writing to clean up errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, assignment formatting, etc.

To earn all 50 points, adhere to the requirements described in this handout (including formatting requirements). In the Observation section, I’m looking for exhaustive detail of the five “somethings” you’re describing that uses all five senses, and displays a sense of open-minded curiosity. In the Reflection section, I’m looking for in your reflection is thoughtfulness and detail. Simple, obvious, one-sentence responses aren’t very thoughtful or detailed. Think hard about the questions, study the writing you’ve done; be curious, and explore yourself. Illustrate your ideas with examples and explanations.

I also expect to see strong evidence that you are applying the course concepts, skills, and vocabulary that you’ve learned in previous modules. In other words, from now on, approach ALL writing assignments like exams that require you to illustrate what you are supposed to have learned.

What to turn in
Be sure everything’s properly formatted and that you’ve followed all the instructions, guidelines, and requirements above. Submit your assignment as a single document on our course site by the due date.

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