ENGL 121 Sections

Spring 2023 Sections

01. Writing about Legal Affairs. TTh 1.00-2.15

Lincoln Caplan

Law is integral to American life and lore. Legal affairs are the means through which society works out how law shapes virtually every aspect of life.

The goals of this course are to help students deepen their skills as readers by reading and talking about writing on legal affairs, and strengthen their writing and confidence in it by thinking and writing about stories and subjects that strongly interest them.

The course is a cousin to a seminar I have long taught or co-taught at Yale Law School, with an important difference: that course is for law students and assumes knowledge about law; this one assumes no knowledge of law and is for students with a wide range of interests in the topic.

The reading is organized around different subfields in legal affairs and different kinds of legal processes: court coverage, criminal law, law’s civil side, legal history, and more. The writing will be essays calling for students to engage with legal subjects from different perspectives.


02. Writing about Medicine and Public Health. TTh 1.00-2.15

Medical and public health stories shape the way individuals view health and disease, and coverage sometime influences scientific research or health policy. This course will give students the chance to join this conversation by writing about medicine and public health for general audiences. To do this well, students must develop a keen sense of audience as they translate complicated science, explain its ramifications, and provide historical context. Students will write breaking news stories, blog posts, a researched feature article, and a personal essay. They will also have the chance to interview a patient and write a profile that combines the physiology of the disease with the impact of illness on wellbeing. In class, we will analyze essays, book chapters, podcasts, film and news stories for craft.

03. Writing about Big Tech. MW 1.00-2.15

Lindsay Gellman

Introducing the New

If you’ve recently booked an Uber, ordered something on Amazon, tapped out a text on an iPhone or Android, or scrolled past a TikTok—welcome. You’re living in the world of Big Tech.

As a thoughtful and curious Yale student, you’ve probably spent some time thinking about the ways that technology giants impact our lives. How they’ve shaped food delivery. Shopping. Fitness. Remote learning. Even dating.

Then there are some quieter ways that Big Tech is expanding its influence that might not be the first to come to mind: Amazon’s vast data-storage systems, which throw off enormous quantities of energy. Issues of privacy that abut advances in genetic genealogy, such as when you look up your family tree with a company like Ancestry.com. Algorithms that accelerate the sort of radical content that a user is served on a platform like Facebook or YouTube.

In this writing-intensive course, we’ll take the world of Big Tech, in all its excitement and complexity, as our subject matter. We’ll orbit these issues from a variety of vantage points and perspectives, sharpening our argumentative powers as we go.

04. Writing about Finance, Entrepreneurship, and Responsibility. TTh 11.35-12.50

Heather Klemann

How do we put ideas about modern financial markets and corporate strategies into words and images? This course examines the art and efficacy of white papers, cases studies, investment memos, and open letters in corporate America. Each unit of the course considers assignment-specific questions: Who is the primary audience? What is the objective of the genre? What stylistic, organizational, and rhetorical practices does the genre deploy? Alongside these more customary business genres, we will consider creative journalism that brings to life the seemingly data-driven, mechanistic worlds of finance. Through guest speakers, workshops, readings, and in-class discussions, we will practice building concise and persuasive arguments, and, alternatively, dramatizing details, description, and dialogue to tell Wall Street stories.

05. Writing about Cities. MW 11.35-12.50

Pamela Newton

Big cities present a unique set of opportunities and challenges. They are hubs of art and culture, finance, and fine dining. They serve as canvases for architects and urban planners. At the same time, they are sites of injustice, inequality, and division along lines of race and class. Cities constantly challenge us to forge communities on a large scale, learning how to live harmoniously with each other. In this course, we will explore city life through reading and writing about cities in several non-fiction modes. Major assignments will include a literary personal essay, an opinion piece/editorial, a journalistic feature (which can be a profile), a film review, and a policy memo about city infrastructure. We will supplement our readings with other kinds of “texts” (images, films, recorded talks), and we will welcome guest speakers to our class to share their professional experiences writing about cities. Given our proximity to New York City, much of our material will be centered on that particular metropolis (we may even take a field trip), but the course is concerned with city life on a national and global scale. We will also look for opportunities to use New Haven, the city around us, as a source and a test case for our ideas. Through our study and practice of non-fiction writing for a range of audiences, we will seek to join an ongoing conversation about the past, present, and future of the modern city.

06. Writing about Music. TTh 2.30-3.45

Adam Sexton

It has been said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture – and indeed, evoking melody, harmony, and rhythm with words can challenge even the most observant and eloquent among us. In this section of English 121, students will read and discuss writing on music by not only scholars and critics (e.g., Margo Jefferson and Kalefa Sanneh) but also journalists (Joan Didion and Susan Orlean), novelists (Zadie Smith and Jesmyn Ward), and many others. The focus will be on popular music, very broadly defined, and among the concepts to be investigated are taste and “cool.” Written assignments will include a critical review of a performance or recording, a literary essay on a musical topic, a profile of a musician, and an academic paper. The goal of the course is for students to improve their skills at observation, description, and analysis of culture.


07. Cultural Critique: Style as Argument. TTh 11.35-12.50

Kim Shirkhani

An examination of how exemplary critics, such as David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, Joan Didion, Roxane Gay, Emily Bernard, Eula Biss, Kelefa Sanneh, Ariel Levy, Jia Tolentino, and others, use elements of style—diction, tone, rhetorical schemes and tropes, narrator, structure—as both a mode of investigation and a means of communication. Our close attention to how these writers use style as argument will help students develop crucial rhetorical skills that focus on the emotional and experiential as much as the logical or factual elements ofpersuasion.
Units will be organized around readings that highlight a particular stylistic approach—critique via personal narrative, artful analyses of cultural framing (society’s narrative instinct), and more in-depth critiques that interweave personal narrative or perspective with research and analysis. Students will close read model essays for craft, research cultural objects that interest them, and produce their own cultural critiques designed to question and persuade not merely with style but by way of style.

Prerequisite: English 114, 115, 120, or another writing-intensive (“WR”) course at Yale.

May be repeated for credit, as long as your second section teaches a different genre or style of writing. (But you can’t count more than one section of English 121 for credit toward the English major.)

Questions? Before or during preregistration for spring courses, contact the instructors or the course director, Andrew Ehrgood.