Class Plan, Tues, 4/20


1) Durham Bulls at DBAP, Thurs, 4/22, 7:00

  • Can you join us?
  • Can you drive?

2) Office hours next week

  • Tues, 4/27, 1:00-2:30, and 4:00-5:00
  • Wed, 4/28, 1:00-3:30

Please email me if you’d like to schedule a conference during those times.

3) Essay Two due at 8:00 AM on Thurs, 4/29. Email PDF to

4) Favorites: Read and discuss


4) Course evaluations

5) Closing_thoughts

6) Moment of Zen: Bull Durham


Closings (r6/jh)


Angela Cai, from  “Untitled”

In retrospect, I see my experiences in grade school struggling to reconcile the high expectations from my Chinese home with the expectations of my American school as microcosm of the contrast between the ideals of “industriousness” and “self-examination.” While painful at times, this will ultimately be written down in my life history as a positive transformation. If you can live in two different cultures in this way you can, in a sense, take the best of both worlds—Chinese industriousness and ambition synergized with American self-awareness and pursuit of happiness. I never would have understood my American culture and appreciated it as much as I do, for what it possesses and what it lacks, without the contrast of Chinese culture in the background. Small talk, formerly a nuisance, is now a pleasant exchange with friendly strangers. My apologies and expressions of gratitude, I hope, carry more weight and thought. I never throw napkins away. And someday, I’ll make my parents proud doing something I enjoy.

Maybe you need to have read the entire essay to understand this, but the really key sentence in this paragraph is “I never throw napkins away.” (It refers back to a story Angela has told earlier about Chinese thrift.) What I love about this closing passage is how Angela mixes a thoughtful set of reflections on what it means to be part of two cultures with a sharp eye for telling, experiential detail.

From Kaveh Danesh, “17”

A year after the divorce, I still get anxious sometimes. It has the ability to seep into me like the vomit seeped into the cracks in the asphalt on the day of the Mariner’s game—just take over, leave me immobile, hopeless. And when I wonder what I should make of this rich history of vomiting—from ten, to 17, to the rest—I’m not sure what to say. I could tell you that I want to be a doctor to help properly diagnose patients, or that I want to be a writer to express the human condition, or that I want to be a medical writer to do both. Those are all true, but they’re not the truth.

I could also tell you that things can change in a heartbeat, so appreciate what you have; or that there are some things you have to do your best to put up with; or that life isn’t perfect. Those are all true, too, but they’re terribly cliché—and I don’t think the whole truth can ever really be cliché.

What I hope to say is something that is neither incomplete nor cliché. . . .

So I’m cheating on this one a little bit, too, because I think Kaveh still needs to figure out what he wants to say that is “neither incomplete nor cliché.” But what I admire about this passage, and about Kaveh’s writing in general, is how someone who is able to render experience in such convincing novelistic detail—who can write as good of a “scene” as anyone can—is also committed to trying to analyze and understand that experience in as plain terms as possible. I like how Kaveh tries to evoke and explain things all in the same piece. It’s an unusual and compelling fusion of artistic and intellectual ambition.

From Yang Zen, “Reimbursement”

“Your Grandmother, just this December flew to Taiwan alone to collect this bonus.”

“For your grandmother, only two things are on her mind. After all, all her children are all well: she lives with your uncle, who has wife and kids. I’m in the U.S., so she doesn’t worry. Your older and younger aunts have married. Therefore, her grandchildren, Xingchun and you are her mind. Now, Xing Chun’s wife didn’t have the first baby because the embryo had implanted in one of her tubes, but now that she is pregnant again, your grandmother wants this baby to survive. That leaves you. You are still young. We can’t see how you will turn out. You don’t have a wife. You can’t support yourself. She is uncertain about your future. Therefore, she wanted to give her half of this bonus to help you pay for your college tuition,” Dad says in frustration, “I have told her that we will be fine. They found the tumor in lungs right after she returned.”

Mom shoots up: “Why are you describing things this way? You shouldn’t give kids this kind of pressure.”

Dad nods his head dismissively: “Ay yah, I say not to make him feel guilty, but to tell him.” Then he takes a slow breath, another shot of vodka.

The government gave $200,000 Yuan to veterans or their families. The half that my grandma wanted to give me converts to less than $8000 American dollars.

That is not enough for one semester.

But. I see — grandma. Sleeping on the train seat, alone, smiling, content.

This passage concludes an essay, written almost entirely as a dialogue between Yang and his parents, that explores how different generations of his family understand their affections and obligations toward one another. What I find so powerful about this piece is that you really need to read to the last line to get Yang’s point—that it is through his father that he begins to understand his grandmother, and his family, and himself (at least a little). I remember that Yang had a hard time figuring out exactly how to end this essay. Well, in the end, he did.

From Ashley Ruba, “Business Suits and Combat Boots”

I danced, pushing into strangers, repeating movements, lost in the early morning hours. It was one o’clock when the party ended and we wearily walked out of the building. Both of us had school in the morning; the cold outside air flooded our bodies, signaling our return to humanity, to our moral inhibitions. That is, until the next mention of the next show. The countdown to buying tickets—a click from a computer to printed barcode on paper. The waiting and planning out rides and necessary hotel accommodations; the anticipation of the school hours before; the waiting in line in the cold or the rain or the sun; the set changes from the uneventful openers to the final favorite band. All the planning and waiting and wanting accumulate into a few hours of sweat and singing and energy. This is what I lived for: a small portion of my life dedicated to forgetting about my life.

I’m cheating on this one a little, too, since this ends not Ashley’s essay but one of the sections in it. But what a great closing line! And what a wonderful set of seemingly mundane examples that lead up to that final insight. The punctuation and rhythm of the closing sentences is stunning—both complex and breathless at once.

Turnings (r6/jh)


Nina DeHaas, “Drunk Enough for Shooters”

”Day Duke,” is defined as when students wake up, get dress, go to class and work hard to excel. Students walk around the exquisite campus, dine in the “Hogwartsesque” cafeteria, and praise the legacy of Coach Mike Krzyzewski. During “Day Duke,” students are worried about their individual scholastic achievements, and accomplish daunting tasks in order to succeed. In addition to school, many students are involved in extra curricular activities, volunteer commitments and even part-time jobs. The students of “Day Duke” are highly accomplished individuals that appear responsible and extremely well mannered.

However, “Night Duke” displays behavior that is contradictory to “Day Duke.” There is a prevalence of underage binge drinking and overall lack of responsibility demonstrated by the “future CEO’s and professionals” of our country. It promotes entitlement, and does away with respect. The men on campus feel an obligation to be “cool,” and often alter their persona to fit in. The nice guy you sit next to in math, is no longer your friend, but instead a “frat star.” This change in persona is seen in women as well. “NightDuke” brings out the “ditzyness” and “promiscuity” of these highly academic and accomplished women.

Why would a guy want to party with a smart girl? They don’t.

This is from an essay in which Nina alternates passages rendering the experiences of “Night Duke” with a more analytic, research-based analysis of the drinking culture on campus. I think this passage vividly shows the contrast between the two styles—informal (italics) and critical (roman)—that she uses.

From Lucy Zhang, “To Be Fair”

As we drove on I-40, nearing Durham for the first time, my parents commented on the great, gentle slopes of the highway. We went up, and the cars ahead disappeared over the top; we went down, and the cars in front climbed. Upon our arrival at Duke, I was struck by the evergreen pines and firs and woody trees of the forest that, depending on your point of view, either stood between you and the horizon or formed a magnificent skyline of their own.

A few months before, I had had my first taste, or rather, sound, of Duke. I called the financial aid office with questions about loans, and as the woman who answered the phone provided me with answers, it particularly took me a moment to register her light Southern inflection. I squealed inside my head, as there is no such thing as a Midwestern accent. Later into that first semester, a weekly events email left me amused. “Trip to the NC State Fair!” it read. Illinois holds a state fair each year too, though I’ve never been. A surprising number of people I knew signed up for the trip to Raleigh, and it soon seemed to me that they went so excitedly partly because they were curious. It sounds fun, to be going to the fair, but what exactly happens there? Fried Snickers bars, a Ferris wheel, square dancing, best pig competition?

Lucy’s essay here is about stereotypes—using the ways in which she has had deal to with the caricatures that people at Duke use in dealing with Midwesterners like her as her main example. But what makes her piece so interesting is that she turns her analysis on herself, showing how she has also drawn on stereotypes about Duke and the South. This is the point in her essay where she makes that self-reflective turn.

From Caroline Hanson, “Shades of Sky”

And what I want to say is that color is important. Nuance matters. There is dark black and glossy black, dull black, black with a glint of light; sometimes it is flat and smooth, sometimes it is textured. To speak nothing of all the shades of gray.

What makes a puzzle interesting and exciting is to carefully consider each piece, to think about where it fits, to recognize that this particular piece might fit in any number of areas. I have “could-be” piles. This black seems in-between the shade of the shadowy base of the building and the shadowy base of the tree; it could-be either. I like that ambiguity.

What an amazing essay this is. It’s about putting together jigsaw puzzles—and also about writing, argument, and the debilitating binary oppositions of our popular culture. Here’s the moment in her essay when Caroline begins to switch from the voice of hobbyist to cultural critic.

Openings (r6/jh)


Christina Pena, from “Riding in Cars with Boys”

March 14, 2008

I should have finally known at the moment the car smashed into the side of our car, a mere foot away from me, that we were a bad idea.

Since Christina has done so much terrific writing this semester, it feels a little stingy to single out just a single sentence, but I think this is the best first sentence I read all semester. First, so much of its humor and impact relies on the italicizing of a personal pronoun—that we—in the midst of a description of a car crash!  And, second, italicizing that we really points to the center of Christina’s essay—which at first seems, on the surface, to be about boys and cars, but is really about relationships.

Ashley Baker, from “Peace through People”

Nothing exists beyond the scarcely populated towns and the untraveled dusty roads of Western North Carolina. Televisions, newspapers, and textbooks are meager glances into foreign lands. Europe is a far off galaxy, the ocean is an infinite blockade, and airplanes are science fiction. Life outside my hometown is ultimately ineffable. Or so it seemed.

As a kid I was told that there is no place like home. For me, there was no place unlike home. At the end of the first twelve years of my life I had visited a mere two states: North and South Carolina.

What I so admire about this passage, which begins Ashley’s essay about her first trip abroad to Germany, is the way in which Ashley both evokes the cluelessness of her high-school days in Gastonia through her use of simple, short sentences, and hints that she now has a more sophisticated perspective. (“Or so it seemed.”) That tension is what drives her essay.

James McMahon, from “Laughing at the Abyss”

When I get up on stage to perform, I stare out into an empty abyss. I can’t see more than a few feet beyond the stage, but I know that something is staring back at me, staring in anticipation of my every move. Keen observations are met with hearty laughs and a rush of adrenaline that holds no parallel. Less interesting remarks are swallowed up into silent darkness, and the only thing I get in return is crushing judgment. I can’t make any move without special consideration of how it will be received. Ultimately, I can’t say with certainty what this particular void wants from me, because no two are the same. Every new venture on stage is a voyage into the unknown.

So I’m cheating a little here. This is the second paragraph of James’ essay on stand-up comedy, but it should have been the first. What’s so powerful here is the metaphor of the abyss, which structures everything else in the essay but also—and this is the great advantage of revision—was something that James only stumbled onto after writing several prior drafts. It was a real pleasure to watch him discover the concept that knitted the whole piece together.

Renata Dinamarco, from “What Size Fish Am I?”

4th grade

Andrea Cepeda: pretty, popular, straight A’s, teacher’s pet. She wore a curly ponytail tie around her wrist, her signature style. She was mean but she was great. Mr. Phillips, my favorite teacher, absolutely adored her. He walked up to her desk one morning as she wrote in her agenda, picked up the agenda as she finished jotting down in her cuter-than-mine handwriting the homework that was just assigned. Holding the agenda in front of the class he said, “Andrea writes in her agenda in complete sentences. The rest of you could learn from her.” I actually bought one of those hair ties to keep around my wrist, never intending to even use it in my hair. From then on I wrote in complete sentences even when signing my name at the top of my notes, but he never sang my praises.

I don’t think Judy Blume could do better. Renata does a wonderful job here of evoking the kind of childhood jealousy, anxiety, and ambition that, for better or worse, drives us all into adulthood. Poor Andrea Cepeda! Perfect in 4th grade, but I wouldn’t want to be her in this essay.



Thanks, everyone, for your thoughtful selection of favorites from the semester. I was actually rather moved to read your responses. In part, this was because you chose our examples so well. You have all done some strong writing this semester and the work of the course is well showcased here! But, more important, I was impressed by the generous and careful ways in which you discussed one another’s writing. That seems to me a key part of what a liberal education should be about—a close, lively, and sympathetic appreciation of the work of others. Congratulations!

I also wanted to add some of my own favorite moments to the mix, but I found that, as I tried to do so, I chafed against the constraints of my assignment. (There is probably a lesson somewhere in this . . .) Because what I have most admired about so many of your essays is the structure of the piece as a whole, and not just a line or passage within them. So the requirement to cite a particular passage began to feel a bit onerous.

So what I’ve done is this: I’ve selected a passage from an essay that each of you has written, thus playing by the rules I set up, but always one that I think speaks to the strengths of the piece as a whole. I found that, in doing so, my examples fell into three groups: openings, turnings, and closings.

Openings are passages that set the theme or mood of a piece with particular vigor or acuity.

Turnings are moments where the direction of an essay shifts powerfully.

Closings are endings that do not simply bring a piece to a halt, but add what it has to say.

I think that in all three cases what I most valued and admired was a sense of surpise—an arresting opening, an unexpected turning, a suggestive closing.

My favorites (although I could come up with many others) follow in the next three posts. Please accept them as small thanks for your work this semester!


r6: Favorites


As a way of celebrating the work we’ve done this semester, I’d like you to you to showcase two passages written by your classmates that you particularly admire.

Here are the rules: You may pick your favorites from any piece that any of your classmates has written over the course of the semester. However, the two passages must come from two different essays, written by two different authors in this class. While you may talk about broad issues of structure or tone, you must anchor your discussion in a 25-150 word quotation from each essay.  But you should also feel free to point to brief moments in a piece that others might overlook but that you find somehow moving, apt, funny, or stylish. Whatever passages you choose, tell us what you want us to notice about them.

Please post your response by 5:00 PM on Monday, 4/19, and try to read the other responses by class on Tues, 4/20.

Class Plan, Tues, 4/13


1) Moment(s) of Zen

What Font Are You?

Fonts in the News: Century Gothic

2) Schedule (proposed)

Mon, 4/19, and Tues, 4/20: Extended office hours

Mon, 4/19: Post r6 by 5:00 PM

Tues, 4/20: Discuss r6 and favorites, semester sum-up

Thurs, 4/22: Bulls at DBAP

Tues, 4/27: No class

Thurs, 4/29: Essay Two due at 8:00 AM

3) Comments on grades

4) Publishing

Campus  journals

Writers Market

Query letters

5) Workshops

After writer reads:

Respond to writer’s questions

Fill out Workshop_5_rubric

Xerox rubrics for jh

6) Reflection

Where do you stand now with your second essay? What’s working? What isn’t? What kind of feedback would you like from me?

Different first page


To delete a header from the first page of a document:

  1. Go to Format menu
  2. Click on Document
  3. Click on Layout
  4. Click on Different First Page



Here are the groups for your last workshop!

Group 3 (same as before)


Group 7 (new)

Ashley B

Group 8 (new)

Ashley R

Please post your draft to your Group by 11:00 AM on Mon, 4/12, and read and comment on the other drafts by class on Tuesday evening.

Class Plan, Tues, 4/06


1) Geoffrey Mock, Duke Office of Communications, Writing Online

2) Copy-editing

Format/Design: Title, header, fonts, spacing, subheads



Query issues in format and style. Correct mistakes in proofreading. Discuss with author.

3) Last writes

Teaser or abstract: Two sentences

Acknowledgments: Who helped you with this piece? How?

4) Save copy-edited version of essay as PDF, Email archival copy to by 8:00 AM, Thursday, 4/08. Title document: <Name_short-title.pdf.>Include title of essay and teaser in body of email.

5) Moment(s) of Zen

What Font Are You?