Empire State Building
this assignment asks you to turn your gaze to your local community—the place where you live or spend significant waking hours each week. Whether you live in a tiny township or a giant city (or somewhere in between), you’ll be asked to find and report on an aspect of your environment/community that is specific and unique. Your subject may be a newly emergent trend or tradition, like the artisanal toast craze in San Francisco that John Gravois explores in “A Toast Story.” Or you might use this assignment to memorialize a local tradition that seems on the brink of disappearing, as Harry Mathews does in “Country Cooking from Central France.” You might choose play the role of reviewer/cultural critic by visiting a local restaurant, café, gallery exhibit, concert, or theater performance, then describing and assessing your experience. You don’t necessarily need to report on an event. It might be helpful to think of this assignment as an entry in an offbeat travel guide to your hometown. Are there public spaces around your home that interest you but often go overlooked? Think about skate parks, cemeteries, back alleys, public art—that one weird painting hanging in your local post office that you’ve noticed while in line to buy stamps. If our class were to visit your hometown and ask you to show us around, where would you take us first? What about a place that only a local would know about? You might find good material at a concert, book fair, festival, local cultural landmark or institution, a favorite local hangout, museum, eatery, or community center. Whatever you find, you should prepare to participate in research: go to the library, read the newspaper, and talk to people—especially locals and long-time residents, owners of business, historians, and active citizens. Once you’ve selected your subject, consider your narrative voice, or how you choose to present yourself. Are you a local expert, interested outsider, or passionate partisan? Some combination of the three? It’s up to you. However you choose to write it, engage. Come to the situation with questions you hope to have answered and a willingness to probe the answers for more questions. Don’t eliminate one truth in favor of another; instead, let your essay allow for contradictions. Let yourself be present in the essay by bringing in your own voice, complications, and contradictions. There’s no need to make complete “sense” of what you find. If you need any help thinking of a subject for your essay or structuring your essay after you begin, don’t hesitate to email me."