Fridays, 9:30 to 11 a.m.

This description has been updated March 26, 2017.


  • Avg. 4.5-5 hours of homework each week
  • Five, 500-word reading responses
  • Two essays with drafts (3-7 pages, double-spaced)
  • Contribution to class Zine.

This essay-writing course will provide both the nuts and bolts to writing the essay as well as a deeper exploration into the world of the essay, while examining empathy across  a wide range of artistic modes including, literature, visual art, dance, architecture, performance and cinema.

The first semester will primarily be a deep dive into the world of the personal essay using Philip Lopate’s seminal text, The Art of the Personal Essay, as well as contemporary works from writers such as Leslie Jamison, Alexandra Horowitz, Rebecca Solnit, and George Saunders. Students will be engaging with a history of literary forms with the aim of developing analytical thinking and writing skills. Assignments will be in the form of reading responses, the demonstration of research strategies and professional writing exercises where students work as contributors to a class Zine that we publish. We will spend time talking about the Zine as a collective literary mode and political tool with the aim of giving each student their own choice of how they can best contribute in terms of content, design and editorial.

The semester will also include subject matter that seeks to blur the lines between different mediums, i.e. where do we locate the ‘literary’ in cinema? Or dance? And, can the same story be told across different modes?

Following this lead, the second semester will consist of a broader engagement in a self-selected artistic practice guided by our first semester explorations and personal expression. For instance, instead of reading Montaigne, we will read a Roland Barthes essay on photography. In addition, we will be watching a wider range of films and videos as well as having encounters with painting, sculpture, dance, architecture and performance art. All of the assignments in the second semester will be creatively driven, designed foremost to the students’ different ways of thinking. One need not be interested in art as a practice to benefit from these exercises that require time, planning, risk-taking and mindfulness. Some will be deliberate engagements with a mode such as the “Create a Portrait” assignment, or the “Two Trees” assignment. (both of which allow for a written, analytical choice.) and some will be independently driven such as the final project. Each assignment will also require a one-page written self-reflexive essay. Students will curate their own work over the semester and make selections as a group for a year-end exhibition.

Cost: $250 for the year

Instructor: Lee Ferdinand. Mr. Ferdinand teaches filmmaking at Columbia College Chicago. He has an MFA in Film and an MA in English Literature, and an extensive background in cinema in Chicago.