Jiyoon Park

Need a Writing credit?

“Reading and Writing the Modern Essay” (ENGL 120) may sound like a boring title, but don’t be fooled. While other introductory writing courses of the ENGL 114, ENGL 115 variety have flashy titles like “Rebels, Outcasts, and Heretics” or “The Grotesque,” no other Yale introductory writing course permits students to write about nearly anything — to discuss one classmate’s fascination with earbuds to another’s loving praise of Woads, all in the same day’s class. The course isn’t about writing on a single theme for the entire semester — it’s about exploring the vast shelves of your experiences, the memories you still visit, the arguments you’ve always wanted to carefully articulate.

Glancing around the room, ENGL 120 students can find first years straight out of their idyllic post-high school summers, jaded seniors who finally found schedule space for the class, and even the occasional non-Yalie working adult who chose ENGL 120 over a dozen other tantalizing options. While the writing load seems a bit daunting at first — students write six essays over the course of 12 weeks — the six pieces push us to swim through the peculiarities that make us us. We aren’t shackled to whatever cool-sounding topic we chose during shopping period, fresh out of winter/summer break highs. Some may be intimidated by the workshop style of the class, especially for papers that reveal their writers’ vulnerabilities; the small classroom becomes a warm, inviting space for learning how to express the power of those intimate moments.

Maybe you need something off your chest. Perhaps you need to broadcast an unspoken opinion that needs saying, but you’ve just never found the platform for it. ENGL 120 not only lets us say it but also improves the way we say it. In the initial summer days of my first year, many nostalgic classmates wrote about the beauties of their hometowns. From the mom-and-pop New York bagel shop tucked into the frenetic, quintessential American city to the dear, familiar high school days of sandy Israel, so many needed to endearingly wax about the homes they left. A later assignment asked us to profile a person; we learned from our classmates about characters they found here in New Haven or personas from faraway places.

You quickly acquire a penetrating survey of the people who surround you at Yale — and of yourself. We hear not only the diverse contents of workshopped essays but also how the Yale student body speaks, writes and presents itself. The choice of topics and their writing styles instantly reveal plenty about people. However, writers also learn about themselves. For every prompt — whether it calls for a life-changing experience or merely a strong opinion — we learn about what we prioritize. We involuntarily disclose how we think, how we argue and how we attempt to move or convince our classmates. And when our classmates point out our successes and failures in communicating a topic that we care about, we improve how we argue or tell a story.

Regardless of whether you are the second Hemingway or a CS Science Hill-er, take ENGL 120. We all have ideas to share and moments to reflect on. Trying to do so in a seminar-style environment — where students write about anything in a creative nonfiction style — benefits many. The class is not just about improving argumentation. It encourages writers to find their back-burner passions and enables them to experience a range of reactions to their ideas — ideas that usually aren’t fully articulated in college dining halls or in late-night dorm talks.

ENGL 120 is truly about learning how to convince, move or entertain people and finding what you want to contribute to our campus discourse.

Allison Chen allison.chen@yale.edu