Monday, September 26, 2016

Masterclass: Backpack Literature by XJ Kennedy and Dana Gioia Chapters 1-3

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          In continuation of the post of September 5th, I’ve completed the first three chapters of the textbook Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing 4th edition by XJ Kennedy and Dana Gioia. It’s as informative and engaging as the authors promised.

          Even if you don’t want to complete the writing exercises, I highly recommend reading the text filled with pieces by Somerset Maugham, Aesop, Bidpai, Chuang Tzu, John Updike, William Faulkner, Edgar Allan Poe, Jamaica Kincaid, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Anne Porter, Katherine Mansfield, Alice Walker, and Raymond Carver. (At the end of each writer’s piece there is a list of questions. Answering them will make you both a better writer and a better reader.) Then read the Writing Effectively points, Checklist, and Terms for Review at the end of each chapter—that’s an education in itself.

          The Writing Effectively section lists items to consider for each chapter’s topic. The Checklist is a series of questions to ensure you aren’t leaving anything important out of your work. The Terms of Review are concisely defined.  

          In the future, if I need more information or inspiration about plots, points of view, or characters (the topics of the first three chapters) I’ll pick this book up first for clarification.

          Then there are the Writing Assignments and the More Topics for Writing sections at the end of each chapter. You can choose to complete any or all of them, whatever you feel you need to improve your writing. I read them all, considered my answers, but only had time to write one piece for each chapter.

          My completed writing assignments:

I wrote down the answers to most of the questions after each piece in all three chapters because they forced me to pay attention. This attention to detail is important in every piece of writing whether you are the reader or the writer—and an active reader makes for a better writer.

          For Chapter One, rather than analyzing another writer’s plot, I worked on writing my own fable.

          For Chapter Two, I wrote a different point of view piece. I chose to write from Homer Barron’s point of view in “My Affair with Miss Emily.” No specifics to avoid spoilers.

          For Chapter Three, I wrote a short essay on what motivates the narrator to overcome his antipathy to the blind man in “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver. This was my favorite of the short stories which surprised me as I had strong negative feelings about one character. No more specifics to avoid spoilers.

          I made the right choice to audit this class. The chapter lessons are clear, comprehensive, and well illuminated by the various writers. The questions and assignments are thoughtful and creative. Also, the Writing Effectively points, Checklist, and Terms for Review at the end of each chapter are worth the price of this textbook.

          I’m looking forward to completing chapters 4-7 which I’ll discuss in my post on October 24th.

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