Friday, January 22, 2010

What we mean when we say English majors will "learn how language works"

One critical component of the undergraduate English curriculum in all three tracks--literature, creating writing, and professional writing--is to develop students' understanding of what genres are, how they take shape and get reworked by writers, and what rhetorical and cultural functions that genres serve. Here are two recent New Yorker essays that explore contemporary genres. First, humanities scholar Daniel Mendelsohn examines the increasing popularity of the memoir genre, asking not only the question of why so many people are writing memoirs these days but also why so many readers find this genre to be compelling. In short, Mendelsohn speaks to the cultural significance of this genre as he explains what the popularity of memoirs tells us about ourselves. Second, novelist Junot Díaz considers the importance of narrative as a genre in the political arena. Countering the notion that politicians tell stories only to "spin" an issue or deceive the public, Díaz maintains that the ability to tell compelling narratives is important for politicians because stories are the basic tool that we all use to make sense of the world around us.

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