Course Description

This course is designed to help you explore theories and practices relevant to writing that serves the public interest. In this section, we’ll pay keen attention to ways in which digital communication has become critical to activists, artists, non-profits, and government officials/agencies. In addition, we’ll touch on ways in which the proliferation of social media platforms and digital multimedia forms influences our theoretical understanding of the nature and import of analog forms of public writing.

One way to think of writing that serves the public interest is to think of it as writing that is done in order to effect some sort of change in the world.  As a member of this class, you will select a topic that you’re personally invested in—one that you believe also has relevance for others—to work with for the duration of the semester. This topic might be something linked to conversations about safety and public health, civil rights, the environment, community development, education, the arts, &c.

You will be asked to approach your topic from several angles, to write about it in several genres, including design-based genres that force you to ask: what counts as writing? You will produce projects that bring together visual and verbal components; you’ll craft infographics and capture/curate a series of interviews. Because professional writing is often conducted in collaborative, team-based settings, this course will also require a significant amount of teamwork and ‘good citizenship.’ Mid-semester, you’ll be assigned to an affinity group. Your group’s work will begin with an analysis of how your topics are/may be intertwined; before semester’s end, your group will design some kind of complex web space that presents the best of your semester’s work all in one place. The diversity of this work will (hopefully) aid us in the semester-long project of developing capacious, generous, personalized definitions of our course’s key terms: writing and public.

As a writing intensive class meant to help you work on the mechanics of your writing, this class also entails public engagement with the processes of creation and revision. You’ll post to this class blog and comment on others’ posts. You’ll often have a say in what types of reading we focus on. Workshops and discussions will take up a significant portion of our in-class time. I hope there will be a lot of respectful disagreements and a lot of thoughtful observations about how others have chosen to put things together. We’ll have to see how it goes. 

*  The complete syllabus is available here as a pdf.


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