Students with Style

Though we don't actually use this iconic book, we hope my course ENG 265-Style still does it proud.

Though we don’t actually use this iconic book, we hope my course ENG 265-Style still does it proud.

So many different “styles,” depending on what you’re writing and for whom.  Yet in ENG 265 – Style, I’ve tried to define a “standard” style, a style of writing you’d read in some of our greatest publications—The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Esquire, Vanity Fair, the Virginia Quarterly, Smithsonian….  These so-called “general interest” magazines or quarterlies, address an intelligent, curious audience, and what they publish features a “style” not only deep with fact and insight, but also with sentences lean, varied, and interesting.   Sentences that move.  It’s real-world writing. People actually read it, and writers get paid for it, as opposed to much of the academic writing we make students do in college.  There we valorize the rational, clear, linear—not necessarily bad all the time, but often dull, and finally not as clear as it could be.  Writing with style, this writing circles, jumps around, suddenly stops and starts, seems random (it’s really not)—just like great conversations with friends, where we hardly ever talk like this: “So-and-So, I’d like to talk to you about three things: 1)…2)…3)….”  We don’t love that.  But often I’ve heard someone say, “I love him. He’s so random.”

In ENG 265-Style, we read the greats—James Baldwin, E.B. White, Wole Soyinka, Edward Hoagland, Junichiro Tanazaki—and the very, very goods—Bonnie Rough, Jeff Lockwood, Jonah Lehrer, Susan Casey—but my students have also produced some of my favorite writing.  I regret I haven’t saved all these pieces over many years of teaching this course, but below are a few of them, given for your pleasure and so my current students can look at samples of what their peers have created.  Many of the pieces below are drafts, but you can see their incipient fineness, their style.  They’re included this way on purpose, so students can see something very important: how things begin.  Sometimes I’ve left my comments in, usually in red, and in one case a comment another student made in the class’s workshopping process.  Enjoy.

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