Micro-Lesson | Waverly Fitzgerald: Essay Experiments

Posted Tue, 9/08/2015 - 1:50pm by  |  Category:

Micro-LessonOriginally I was going to call the class “Hermit Crab Essays” because I was inspired by the strange and wonderful form which is pretty popular right now in literary journals, and which was given this name by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola in their book about writing, Tell It Slant.

A hermit crab essay is an essay that adopts an empty shell from some other discipline/realm (it’s ideal if it’s a written form) and uses it to contain new content, just as hermit crabs find abandoned shells to occupy. We will read many essays that try out unusual formats for approaching familiar subjects, or passionately-held convictions in a new way.

For instance, this cool essay by Sonya Huber called Shadow Syllabus. This is not strictly a hermit crab essay as Huber doesn’t use the actual, rather dry format of a syllabus to convey her thoughts. Instead she uses a list (we’ll try those too!) to address the issues that come up for her as a teacher and student and those she knows will emerge for her students.

To write a hermit crab essay, write a list of written forms, for instance, a field guide, instructions, a recipe, or a multiple choice test. Then take a subject, especially a subject you have found difficult to write about, and try writing it using this format. Give it a little time. Usually wild and wonderful things happen. If not, try again with a new form.

At the end of this class, you will have five starts of essays using various inventive formats (including hermit crab essays). Think of this class as a chance to go into the essay lab and try combining different ingredients. Some of them will work; some of them might not. I hope you will also leave the class with one essay you started in class polished into a high state of shininess so it will be ready to share with others.


Waverly will teach “Essay Experiments” beginning Sept. 9.