Response #10 – Lisa Knopp’s “Perhapsing: The Use of Speculation in Creative Nonfiction”

In this short essay, Knopp offers us a way to write toward things we can’t possibly know for sure, but may want to include in our writing. “Perhapsing” is a way of thinking our way into the interiority of others, or of speculating about events in the past.

Perhapsing is a valuable tool for any writer. Of course, anytime there is speculation in a piece of nonfiction, it raises questions about boundaries and ethics. For this response, write about how you might use this tool. Then, address what you see as possible ethical issues a writer may want to avoid.

Week #11 – April 3-April 9

This week’s agenda:

  1. Response #8 — Due on Tuesday, March 31
  2. Exercise #8 — Due on April 2
  3. Please also note that your Essay #4, Due April 16, is posted here:

I know it has been a hard couple of weeks. Many of us are living far from loved ones. I hope this assignment will be an opportunity for some of you to reflect on a person who is important to you.

Please let me know if you have any questions.




Thank you!

Essay #4 – The Portrait or Profile

Due Thursday, April 16: A well-written profile essay gives the reader a vivid portrait of a person, It should be balanced and honest. It’s great if we end up liking the person by the end, but it doesn’t need to be a tribute. Work to make the profile balanced and sensory, capturing the details that will help readers feel as though they really know the subject.

Every person is interesting – it’s our goal as a writer to find what makes them so.

This essay should be:

  • roughly 5-6  pages
  • double spaced
  • Size 12 or 14, Times New Roman




Exercise #8 – List of Characteristics

In your last exercise, and in the Toth essay, different  people were characterized along a single theme. For this exercise, think of a person you’d like to profile for your Exercise #4. Make a list of 30 or more traits for that person. Try to avoid synonyms. Try to find the contradictions, complexities.

You can paste your  list directly into an  email to me by Thursday, April 9.

Response #8 – Max Apple’s “Roommates”

In this short essay, Apple gives us a profile of his grandfather. It is clear that he loves his grandfather, and the title suggests that they had a good and close relationship. But Apple doesn’t shy away from giving us a textured, full picture. Note in particular the word choices in the second paragraph: “argued”; “not a gentle…”; “screamed at his fellows in the bakery”; “lover of strife.” In his sleep, he explodes “in anger” and curses in both English and Yiddish. The goal of a profile is to get the reader to know the subject, without sugar coating. By showing peoples’s flaws as well as their more positive characteristics, a reader will grow to know them.  

I would also like to point out the turn on page 64. Given its content, we might have expected this to be about the grandfather’s aging and inevitable decline. When Apple’s wife is diagnosed with a neurological disease, it is his grandfather who becomes a caretaker; perhaps not what we expected. That little turn is a surprise for the reader.

In your response below note any aspects about the essay you find compelling. Do either the author or his grandfather make you think about relationships in your own life? How do you feel about the grandfather by the end?

Please post by Tuesday, April 7


Week #10 – March 27-April 2

This week’s agenda:

  1. Response #7  – Due on April 2, by 5:00 PM
  2. Exercise #7 – Also due on April 2 by 5:00 PM
  3. Read Chapter 8 in Writing True.  This chapter is about new media. Look for a related blog post about  this later this week.

Please note, the essay #3 Slack workshops will all be scheduled for April 9. These essays and peer review assignments will be posted later this week.

Thank you!

Exercise #7 – The Classification Essay

Classification essays, are essays that  organize by categories that fit under a specific classification.  Technically, the things categories can be anything, but for this assignment, I’m going to ask that you write specifically about people, since this will lead into your essay #4 – The Portrait or Profile.

Using  Susan Allen Toth’s essay “Going to the Movies” as a model, write a four section classification about people you know, have known, or know about. In her essay, Toth uses men she once dated, but you might use anyone – family members, celebrity crushes, teachers you’ve had, people from the neighborhood where you grew up, friends.

Here’s a website with a list you might find helpful:

Due by Thursday, April 2. Please email to


Response #7 – Susan Toth’s “Going to the Movies”

Susan Toth’s “Going to the Movies” feels like a good transition as we move into our next assignment, which will be writing about other people. It combines elements of memoir and literary journalism/event.   Structurally, it feels similar to the Gretchen Legler essay, in that it is  organized with numbered sections. (Though, unlike the Legler essay, which uses disparate collage like pieces in the sections, the sections in Toth’s essay follow the same pattern: a guy, movies they watch together). And, like Biss’s essay, Toth merely gives us facts, without commenting or editorializing,  all of which lead us to the meaning she intends.

And, to the point  of the next assignment, Toth reveals to us each of these men she once dated. In this case, she doesn’t rely on descriptions, or dialogue, or even action, really. Like a Rorschach test, the characterizations of these men are revealed primarily through their taste in films.

So, let’s discuss the meaning of this short essay. In your response below, discuss what you believe  is Toth’s intended meaning? How does she achieve this? This is a “classification essay,” an essay that structures by way of a list. Let us know how you feel about this type of structure, and what you feel about the essay itself. Please focus on what you might apply to your own writing.

Week #9 – March 20-26

Hi Everyone.

There is nothing new to add to the agenda for this week. Just a reminder that the  Observation and Reporting Essay #3  is due on  Thursday, March 23 and your responses for Essay #2 should be posted to Slack by  March 26.

Also, I will be contacting each of you this week to set up individual conferences for the week of March 27. These conferences may be held either in my office or through skype.

Hope you all had a great break!

Dr. Farmer


Week #8 – March 2-6

Hi Everyone,

Just to let you know, I’ll be traveling to San Antonio this week for the annual AWP Conference. AWP stands for Associated Writing Programs, and this is an annual conference that brings together writers, teachers and professors of writing, publishers, and other industry people. It’s four very full days. As we head into spring break, my main goal will be to catch up on all grading. Thanks for bearing with me.

I also want to make sure you know about our English Department contests. These contests come with money prizes: $100 and $150 respectively. There’s so much great writing coming out of this class – I’m convinced one of you will win. And who among us couldn’t use 100 or 150 dollars? So, please consider entering. I’ve posted the info sheets for the two contests related to nonfiction below, but there are other contests for fiction, and scholarly writing. Deadline: March 8. Find more info here:   UAF English department contests

Download (PDF, 1.72MB)

On to the agenda for this week:

  1. Response 6 and Exercise  6 are combined this week.  Due by Thursday, March 5 by 5:00 PM.
  2. Check out Essay #3 if you haven’t already. (I’m not expecting you to do work over spring break, but it could be that that something you do over the break might be appropriate for the essay – so keep that in mind)
  3. Slack posts for all Essay #2 peer responses should be posted by, Friday, March 6, by 5:00 PM. Please keep in mind that this means you’ll be reading and responding to three of your classmate’s essays by then. It might be wise to spread them out and not try to read them all too close to that deadline.

I’ll be posting the next agenda by Sunday, March 15.