Essay Two

Writing as a Critic


Critics are people whose own creativity is sparked by the work of others, who are moved to write in response to what they read and watch and listen to. They are people who are passionate about ideas, who want to talk with others about books, music, politics, art, and culture.

I’d like you to finish this course by writing an essay about a text that matters to you in a voice that feels your own. And since this is a course in critical writing, I want you to relate your thoughts about this text to what other writers have had to say about it.

By text I mean an artifact that has been crafted to convey meaning. A text is something that you can quote directly and your readers can access independently. A book is a text, but so is a movie, a song, a photo, a drawing, an advertisement, a video, a letter, a website, an email, a tweet, and the like. The text you write about can be in any medium: print, digital, video, audio, graphic, architectural, sculptural, etc. You can even write about a performance or event—so long as it has been “textualized” or recorded in some way. What’s essential for this essay, though, is that you choose a text that grabs your attention as a reader, that prompts interesting thinking and writing on your part.

Because what this essay should really center on is your mind at work. We read a good essay for the perspective that an author brings to her topic, for the pleasure of listening to her voice as a writer. We read, that is, as much for the writer as for the subject. In writing this essay, then, you face two challenges: To say something of interest about a text that engages you, and to say in it a voice that feels your own. Your style should suit your aims as a writer.


But there is still one more challenge. For critics do not only write about texts, they also work with them—that is, they draw on and respond to the ideas of other writers. I will thus expect you to find at least two or three other writers who have commented on the text you are writing about, and to respond to what they have to say about it. You’ll thus need to identify both a focal text (think, a stand-up skit by Fozzie Bear) that you want to write about, and several critical texts (think, heckles from Statler and Waldorf) that you want to work with. Your goal will be to contribute to the conversation those critics are having about your focal text. You will be writing, that is, about Fozzie but in response to Statler and Waldorf.

Think in terms of a mid-length essay—around 2,000 words or so. You will have the second half of this course to work on this piece. As with your first essay, I’ll ask you to spend a good amount of time getting started—first by locating a focal text that really interests you (p5), and then by locating some critics who have written about it (p6). You will then turn to the work of responding to your focal texts and what the critics have had to say about it, taking your essay through three drafts. My expectations for your work will thus be high—both in terms of what you have to say and how you go about saying it.

Finally, I will ask you to digitize your essay and post it to Medium (p8). We will close the semester with a class arcade in which everyone presents their digital essays.

Good luck! I look forward to reading your work.


  • Mon, 4/04, 11:00 am: p5 (focal text)
  • Mon, 4/11, 11:00 am: p6 (secondary texts)
  • Mon, 4/18, 11:00 am: e2d1
  • Tues, 4/19: Conferences
  • Mon, 4/25, 11:00 am: e2d2
  • Tues, 4/26: Worskhops
  • Mon, 5/02, 11:00 am: p7 (revising plan)
  • Mon, 5/09, 11:00 am: e2d3 (final)
  • Mon, 5/16, 11:00 am: p8 (digitized essay)
  • Tues, 5/10: Arcade