assignment 2-6: writing an interpretive essay

Due date: Friday September 30
Format: Please type your essay. Print it and bring it to class. You will need to exchange your essay with someone in class, so if you don’t have an essay, you can’t participate and won’t receive attendance credit for doing non-class-related work.
Length: As much room as you need to fully develop your thesis statement and accomplish your purpose. I will say that essays shorter than 2.5 pages tend to fare poorly in final portfolio review.

Guidelines: Using what you learned from your previous writing about Maira Kalman’s “Back to the Land,” write a formal essay that pulls all the pieces together into a clear and coherent explanation of the piece as a whole. How do Kalman’s main strategies fit together in order to accomplish her overall purpose, given her audience and context — as you understand it? In other words, use your sense of Kalman’s overall purpose to support the interpretation you offer.

As you write, use and analyze evidence from “Back to the Land” — quotations, summaries, paraphrases, and images or descriptions of images — and from class discussion and the writing of others in class to support your critical interpretation. Use this as a chance to demonstrate how your particular understanding of this text has been arrived at critically, so choose your supporting evidence from across the text.

In the writing you turn in, remember that you’re moving from “writing to learn” to “writing to communicate.” In part, this means you should attend to how other people might interpret the Kalman text differently from you (and why). Write to others in a way that addresses what might matter to them. This also means that you should pay attention to the conventions that have developed over time in academic writing. Please remember the helpful overview of components of an academic essay on pages 148-149 in your DK Handbook. Here is a more detailed description of some of the “academic essay” conventions you should try to follow in this paper assignment:

  • Include a thesis statement that reflects your purpose, and maintain that purpose each time you reiterate and evolve your thesis in the essay. You should have already written a working thesis and a statement of purpose for Assignment 2-4, and you should know what I mean by “evolving thesis statement.” If you look at the goals on page 6 in the purple student’s guide, you’ll see the first goal is to “articulate and maintain a controlling purpose.” This is the #1 element that your final portfolio readers will look for, so it’s important that you begin trying to meet this goal in your first drafts.
  • Include an introduction (see DK Handbook pages 234-235), a conclusion (see DK Handbook pages 233-233), and a title.
  • Give ample supporting evidence in the form of direct quotes and paraphrases. To get a quick review of how to work with sources in your paper, see the DK Handbook pages 300-309.
  • Summarize Kalman’s essay as needed to contextualize your analysis. In your “Back to the Land” essay, I would suggest that you give a one- or two-sentence summary of “Back to the Land” in your introductory paragraph (see page 306 in the DK Handbook for an example of a one-sentence summary) and then add more summary as needed to introduce quotes and give grounding to your analysis.
  • Write in the Plain Style. You should know what that is if you have been doing the reading and participating in the discussions. (if not, see “Nuts and Bolts” uploaded to Course Documents and review DK Handbook pages 146-147).
  • Format your paper according to MLA guidelines on page 330 in the DK Handbook. Also read this web page for a description of how to format your margins, spacing, etc. in your word processor. If you are confused about how to double space or page-number your essay automatically, please check out that link.
  • Cite your references in the essay and at the end of your essay.
    • The basic MLA format for in-text citations is shown on page 344 in the DK Handbook.
    • Include a Works Cited page at the end of your paper. See page 340 in the DK Handbook for an example of what this looks like. Pages 364-365 show the Works Cited page citation for “parts of books.”

assignment 2-4: writing a thesis and statement of purpose

Due: Monday September 26
Format: Type the assignment and print a hard copy to bring to class. Do not post anything on the blog or Ning for this assignment.
Length: A sentence for your working thesis, and then two paragraphs (or one longer paragraph) for your statement of purpose.

Introduction: For this assignment, we will begin moving away from “Composing to Learn” and toward “Composing to Communicate” by writing a working thesis and a statement of purpose for your interpretive essay about “Back to the Land.”

Remember that a thesis statement for an essay is not the same as a purpose for writing. As you work on developing a thesis statement, you’ll want to think about the main claim (which should be debatable, concrete, and focused) that your paper will develop or pursue. In contrast, as you develop your statement of purpose, you will be “thinking on paper” to get a clear sense of “what you really want your readers to think, feel, or do as they read your writing and when they are done reading it” (DK Handbook 200). Thus, the thesis becomes an explicit statement in your paper, while the purpose forms the background to “control” what you want to say.

Guidelines: Before you start writing, first read about thesis statements in the DK Handbook (pages 138 139) and the statement of purpose (pages 200-203). Then, develop a working thesis and a statement of purpose for your interpretive essay about “Back to the Land.” (A first draft of the essay is due on Friday 9/30). A few things to note:

  • You should follow the guidelines in the DK Handbook, but your statement of purpose does not have to be as long as the example on page 203. It could be one longer paragraph or two healthy paragraphs.
  • You will not be making a “proposal for action” claim like the thesis in the example on page 139. Your thesis might be something like “In ‘Back to the Land,’ Kalman uses x y z to show…” or “The placement of x and the contrast of y and z help Kalman’s readers understand that…” or “’Back to the Land’ encourages city residents to… through Kalman’s use of x y z strategy.” (or whatever you want to say about Kalman’s piece)
  • Look at the model for an evolving thesis statement. Your goal now is to simply write the working thesis, keeping in mind that the revised thesis statements will come later as you draft and revise your essay.

assignment 2-3: forming interpretive questions

Due: Friday, September 23
Format: Leave a comment on this post

In class on Wednesday, we worked through some observations about “Back to the Land.” (Check out this document to see a list of these observations.)  Then, we tried to explain some of these observations as choices or strategies that Kalman is using to accomplish a purpose, with an audience in mind and a context at hand. For Assignment 2-3, write two (or more, if you like)  interpretive questions about “Back to the Land.” We will discuss these questions on Friday.

You can use the DK Handbook page 108 and page 120 to help you. Please give your questions a lead-in or a bit of context so that we know where you’re coming from and so that you are not just rephrasing an oberservation from the list as a question. For example, don’t simply ask

Why does Kalman compare agrarian lifestyles with city lifestyles?

This question is too broad, and it gives no context for how you believe Kalman defines “agrarian lifestyle” and “city lifestyle.” The question doesn’t add anything to the discussion because it simply takes a binary from the list and poses it as a “why?” question. Instead, do a bit more work by being specific and adding some interpretation to your interpretive question.  To be more specific, you could cite a passage as an example of what you mean, you could define/analyze a key term in your question, or you could explain a point of uncertainty in your thinking so that we know where the question comes from. For example,

It seems to me that Kalman defines agrarian living in connection with democracy–but not just any democracy. The democracy of a simpler, “happier” past. A democracy defined in contrast to the city lifestyles so many Americans lead today. Is there any truth to this vision of America’s simpler, more wholesome/healthy past, or is it just an ideal or a rhetorical move intended to show us readers how their lives and “way of being” (127) has changed over the centuries?

Finally, here are some links I showed in class to give more context to Kalman’s essay:
NPR article on Tea Party and history
Wikipedia on Food, Inc. (the documentary)
Wikipedia on organic farming history etc.

assignment 2-2: reading for purpose, audience, and context

Due: Wednesday, September 21
Format: leave a comment on this post
Length: two or three paragraphs

This assignment will ask you to start forming a sense of Maira Kalman’s purpose, audience, and context in her visual-verbal essay “Back to the Land.”  First, re-read the essay.  For this second reading, try to develop your observant stance into a more advanced, critical stance. To help you read critically, look for the following in “Back to the Land”:

  • A pitch. Kalman’s essay is an argument; it presents information to make some sort of case, even if that argument or case is never stated explicitly.  As you read, look for language that reveals the position or positions the essay seems interested in having you adopt.
  • A complaint. Her essay is also a reaction to some situation, some set of circumstances that she has set out to address.  To help you understand another person’s writing, it can be useful to figure out what caused the person to write the piece in the first place. Look for language that reveals the writer’s starting point. If you can find the position or situation he or she is worried about and possibly trying to correct, you will find it much easier to locate the argument (or the position the essay is asking you to accept).
  • A moment. Lastly, Kalman’s essay (like all pieces of writing) is a response to the world conditioned by the writer’s particular moment in time. In your attempt to figure out not only what a piece says but where it is coming from, history is significant. When was the piece written? (Nov. 26, 2009)  Where? (The New York Times blog in the “Opinion Pages” section) What else was going on at the time that might have shaped the writer’s ideas and attitudes? You don’t have to do hours of research for every essay you read, but on the other hand you don’t want to ignore the context of a writer’s moment.

Now, write two or three paragraphs explaining your sense of what Kalman’s purpose, audience, and context (her rhetorical situation) might be. Your post could address some of the following questions, which might resonate with the critical reading guidelines above.

  • What in the world around her is motivating Kalman to create this piece?
  • What is it about the time she is living in? What historical events or changes are shaping how she sees the world?
  • How does the way she sees the world fit with the ways she sees/imagines her readers? Does she want to draw their attention to some issue or problem they might not be noticing?
  • How does Kalman relate to her readers? Is she confrontational, caring, friendly, or… ? How do you get a sense of her personality or attitude towards the audience?
  • What do you know about Kalman’s audience? Do they need any special knowledge to understand what she is saying? Do they come from a certain area or country, share certain values, or subscribe to particular beliefs?
  • Why does Kalman try to accomplish her purpose through this combination of handwriting and photography?
  • How do the photographs add to or take away from the effectiveness of Kalman’s text? Do the visual elements of the text help her accomplish her purpose? How?
  • What thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors might Kalman wish to change in her audience? How would she like to see her readers respond to the piece?
  • What other kinds of changes might she be seeking?

Keep pushing yourself to find and cite specific evidence from the text as you write this post. Avoid unsupported claims.

It is always possible that Kalman did not consciously choose to do some of the things you observe in her essay, but for now assume that she did and consider how this helps you understand her text.

“The Victory Garden movement began in 1917 in response to World War I food shortages. Since food had to be sent abroad to troops, families were encouraged to grow their own fruits, vegetable, and herbs.”  — from Everyday Health