21W.012: Food for Thought Fall 2016
Essay Assignment #1
“Cooking and writing are both dependencies of conversation. What unites cooks and writers is that their work flows from the river of human talk around a table. People cook to bring something to the table; people write to keep something that was said there.”
One’s life experiences with food–tasting it, eating it, eschewing it, preparing it, sharing it with family and friends, following a particular diet, watching people cook—are rich sources for the writing of autobiographical essays. Your assignment for this first essay is to write a memoir about one of your own experiences with food.
Like Chang Rae Lee does in his memoir “Sea Urchin,” you might tell about a memorable experience that is deeply connected to your culture and to a particular moment in your life, or like Toni Morrison and Clarissa Towle, you might tell the story of an evocative family meal. Or perhaps, as Veronique Greenwood does in her piece about ramen, you will tell about your relationship to a particular food and reflect upon its place in your life. You will similarly use the techniques of narrative—scene, setting, plot, and maybe dialogue–to bring your memories and experiences alive for your readers in a first-person essay (6-8 pages).
In class we will read and discuss a range of memoirs written by both student and professional writers. We will analyze their narrative techniques and consider different ways you might structure your own memoir. You will also do a few brief in-class writing exercises to generate narratives and ideas. Whatever you choose to write about and however you decide to shape your memoir, itwill be helpful to think about what your real “story” is: what has made an experience so evocative and memorable for you. Drawn from an autobiographical writing assignment by my MIT colleague Lucy Marx, here are some very useful questions—ones you can think about during the process of exploring your ideas and drafting your essay:
- Will you write relatively “pure” narrative or will you choose to use your personal experience to reflect more generally and explicitly on some issues that it raises?
- How will the piece be organized? Will you link together a series of memories in more summary form or will you focus on a few scenes and try to convey them by recreating actions and dialogue?
- How much talking to the reader will you do, offering commentary on what happens from your current point of view?
- What will you learn of significance from your experience, and how will this emerge?