ENGL 121 Sections

01. Thinking and Writing about the Law.

Andrew Ehrgood


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

Randi Epstein

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 and for scientists. 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, an opinion piece, and a book review. 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. Assigned readings will model an array of writing styles by a diverse group of authors: Harriet Washington, Lewis Thomas, Atul Gawande, Robert Sapolsky, Oliver Sacks, Anahad O’Connor, Burkhard Bilger, Amy Harmon, Linda Villarosa, and others. 

Guest speakers will include Heather Won Tesoriero, executive editor of Audible Originals; legal and bioethics scholar Dov Fox, author/narrator of Donor 9623; Susannah Cahalan, author of The Great Pretender; UCSF’s Dr. Ina Parks, MD, author of Strange Bedfellows; and Dr. Gerald Friedland, MD, professor emeritus at the Yale School of Medicine and a frontline physician during the AIDS epidemic.

03. Writing about the Past. MW 2.30pm-3.45pm

Rona Johnston Gordon

This course will explore how we write about the past. The questions we ask of history tell us much about who we are now. The evidence can be painful, incomplete, or alien. We must be truthful, for damage is done today when the past is distorted. How can we write well about history, in ways that are honest and creative?

Over fourteen weeks you will explore why you are drawn to write about the past and how others have written of past lives. You will have many opportunities to experiment with your own writing and to learn from the writing of your fellow students. In a project developed in class, you will craft an elegant and meaningful response to the past that will force your reader to think again.

This course will bolster your self-awareness as a writer about the humanities. The skills you will practice will ensure the receptive reader enjoys your engaging, informative, and persuasive writing.

04. Writing about Finance, Entrepreneurship, and Responsibility.

Heather Klemann


05. Writing about Music. TTh 1.00pm-2.15pm

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 Kelefa 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.

06. Writing Cultural Criticism: Style as Argument. TTh 11.35am-12.50pm

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 of persuasion.

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.