Writing through Parody

English 101, “Writing through Parody”

Course Description

Do you get your news from The Daily Show? Would you rather read The Onion than The New York Times? Satire has a long history, but it is as refreshing and controversial today as it was in ancient Greece.

The best parodies are funny because they fully exploit the conventions of the genres they mock. In this course, we will read and write a wide range of genres, including personal narratives, news articles, editorials, essays, speeches, and sermons, in conjunction with parodies of those genres. We will use satire as a way of interrogating generic conventions, even as we practice and sometimes subvert those conventions in our own writing.

This is a writing and thinking intensive course: we will practice (re)writing a number of genres for different audiences and revising our work throughout the semester.

Course Goals

By the end of this class you will

  • Understand the nature of parody
  • Understand how genres function through conventions, ranging from structure and paragraphing to tone and mechanics
  • Write in several genres, including parodies of various genres, adapting your writing style to different audiences
  • Consider writing as an ongoing process, which includes generating ideas, drafting, revising, and polishing
  • Practice critiquing others’ works in constructive ways through peer review workshops
  • Develop strong research skills by analyzing primary and secondary sources and synthesizing them with your own ideas

 Required Texts

 They Say, I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

All other readings will be available on Course Reserves http://web.library.emory.edu/using-the-library/course-reserves/

Writing Workshops: We will devote four class sessions to reading each other’s work. These workshops are critical to fulfilling our course goals, so missing them may result in a lower participation grade. You are expected to come to class having read and made comments on your fellow students’ work so that we can devote class time to discussing each other’s drafts in small groups. These workshop sessions will be essential to helping you revise your work for your final portfolio.

Course Assessment


You will receive a participation grade that includes attitude, in class writing, and willingness to contribute to discussions and writing workshops.

Daily Assignments

Twenty-five short writing assignments will be given for homework as preparation for our next class session. These will be completion grades: you will receive a zero if you do not post these on Blackboard before class starts on the day they are due, but will otherwise receive full credit.

News Article Assignment

The goal of this assignment is for you to learn the conventions of journalistic prose and apply them to a topic of your choice. To avoid the temptation to plagiarize, you should not write about a current event, unless it is one that you personally witnessed (e.g. a campus sporting event). You can write your news article about an historical event, such as the battle of Gettysburg, or a fictional one, such as the execution of Sydney Carton, so long as it uses voice, tone, and style appropriate to reporting the news. You may use an event from a film or television show as the basis for your news article. This piece should be 500-750 words.

News Article Parody

After writing your news article you will have the opportunity to transform it into a parody. The goal of this assignment is to subvert, exaggerate, or otherwise humorously exploit the conventions of journalistic prose. For your parody to be successful it is important to strike a balance between adhering to and defying genre conventions. In other words, your parody must be recognizable as a news article, so you should follow some of the conventions while subverting others. Most news article parodies retain the proper style and format, but depict content that would not appear in most newspapers. You may change your topic when you write your parody, but should consult me when doing so. This piece should be 500-750 words.

Essay Assignment

The French word from which “essay” is derived means “to try”—not to have the last word on, but to investigate, explore, or wander. Essays are not, however, random musings, but rather follow a particular line of thought. As our class readings suggest, different kinds of essays follow different conventions. The goal of this assignment is for you to write a specific kind of essay—topical, polemical, personal narrative, photo essay, etc.—by following the appropriate conventions. Your essay should focus on an idea, belief, tradition, or practice about which you are passionate. Your essay might draw some philosophical conclusions from an anecdote. Or it might take the form of a meditation on a single idea. It might consider various angles on an important issue. Whatever form your essay takes, it should have a purposeful structure and vivid details. This piece should be 500-750 words.

Satirical Essay Assignment

After writing one essay in earnest, you will write one in jest. The goal of this assignment is for you to gain a deeper understanding of how the conventions of the essay can be exploited for satirical purposes. Like the examples we read in class, your satirical essay might make what appears to be a serious defense of something absurd. Or your satire might make a serious point by inverting a widely held system of values. The tone of your essay might be more “Horatian” and playful or more “Juvenalian” and biting. This piece should be 500-750 words.

Analyzing Academic Prose Assignment

To help you practice identifying the conventions of academic prose, you will write a 500-750 word analysis of a scholarly article. You must discuss at least three conventions of academic prose, locate specific examples, and explain their importance within the article. This is not a summary assignment; you do not have to write a synopsis of the article.

Writing Academic Prose Assignment

To practice writing academic prose, you will transform your essay into a researched argument. You will take the central idea of your essay and read what other people have said about it. Then you can position your own argument within this “conversation.” The goal of this assignment is to help you become familiar with the conventions of academic writing, which you will use in research papers throughout your time as an undergraduate. This piece should be about 1,500 words.

Speech Assignment

You will write a 500-750 word speech, sermon, or other piece of oratory. The goal of this assignment is to produce a piece of writing intended to be spoken aloud rather than simply read. Your speech should have a clear purpose—to inform, persuade, etc.—and a specific audience. Every speech is delivered in a particular venue for a specific occasion.

Final Portfolio

Throughout the semester we will discuss revision strategies, and at the end of the semester you will compile a portfolio that represents your best work. You will revise three of your graded drafts for your portfolio, which must include your Academic Prose assignment, two other assignments of your choice (one satirical, one non-satirical), and a one-page reflection. Your reflection should explain the major revisions you made and why you think they make your pieces more effective, as well as demonstrate how these three pieces fulfill our course goals. You will write your reflection letter as an argument: you must cite examples from your portfolios as evidence to convince the reader that you have met the learning outcomes for the course. Your revisions should not be limited to correcting sentence level or grammatical errors, but should involve the overall structure of your piece. You might eliminate sections that were unsuccessful and replace them with something better, or change the sequence of paragraphs in your piece. Your reflection should be 1,000-1,500 words.

How grades are calculated

20%  Participation/Daily Assignments

5%    News Article

5%   News Article Parody

5%   Essay

5%   Satirical Essay

5%   Analyzing Academic Prose

5%   Writing Academic Prose

5%   Written Speech

5%   Oral Speech

40%  Final Portfolio

Grading Scale

Percentage Points Letter Grade
95.00-100 4.0 A
90.00-94.99 3.7 A-
86.00-89.99 3.3 B+
83.00-85.99 3.0 B
80.00-82.99 2.7 B-
76.00-79.99 2.3 C+
73.00-75.99 2.0 C
70.00-72.99 1.7 C-
66.00-69.99 1.3 D+
60.00-65.99 1.0 D
0-59.99 0.0 F

Final Exam

There will be no final exam for this course. During the last week of class, I will hold conferences to discuss your revisions as you finalize your portfolios.


BBG=Bedford Book of Genres

DW=daily writing

Date Topic Readings Writing
W 8/26 Course Introduction
F 8/28 Introduction to Parody “From The Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse,” Mikhail Bakhtin p. 51-68 DW: “What is parody?”
M 8/31 The News 1. BBG p. 126-142

2. “Pressure Grows to Create Drugs for ‘Superbugs’” Barry Meier

DW: “Why does the news matter?”
W 9/2 1. “Police look for motive in killing of Houston area deputy” Peter Eisler

2. “Long Elusive, Mob Legend Ended Up a Recluse” Adam Nagourney and Abby Goodnough

3. “Hiker missing for 9 days found alive in California forest”

DW: brainstorm news article topic
F 9/4 “Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship” Ian Urbina DW: “What is the most important convention of a news article?”
M 9/7 Labor Day No class
W 9/9 Parodying the News 1. “Iran nuclear deal: Satirical website The Onion accidentally breaks story about the US offering missiles to Israel” Tom Brooks-Pollock

2. “Scientists Trace Heat Wave To Massive Star At Center Of Solar System” The Onion

3. “ACLU Defends Nazis’ Right To Burn Down ACLU Headquarters” The Onion

DW: “Does parody help or hurt the ‘real’ news?”
F 9/11 1. “U.S. Vows To Defeat Whoever It Is We’re At War With” The Onion

2. “Museum Of Repressed American History Conceals New Exhibit On Tuskegee Experiments” The Onion

DW: brainstorm news parody topic
M 9/14 Essays and Personal Narratives “Notes of a Native Son” James Baldwin News article draft due
W 9/16 “Roger Federer as Religious Experience” David Foster Wallace DW: “How did writing your news article help you work toward our course goals?”
F 9/18 1. BBG p. 77-86

2. “Run to the Devil: The Ghosts and Grace of Nina Simone” Brian Phillips

DW: “What is the central irony of Simone’s life?”
M 9/21 “A Room of One’s Own” Virginia Woolf p. 3-40 DW: brainstorm essay topic
W 9/23 “A Room of One’s Own” Virginia Woolf p. 41-77 DW: “What tone does Woolf take?”
F 9/25 “A Room of One’s Own” Virginia Woolf p. 78-112 News parody draft due
M 9/28 Satirical Essays “A Modest Proposal” Jonathan Swift DW: “How did writing your news parody help you work toward our course goals?”
W 9/30 “King Leopold’s Soliloquy” Mark Twain DW: “What are the risks of satire?”
F 10/2 No class
M 10/5 “Martha Stewart Explains Her Drone” Henry Alford DW: brainstorm satirical essay topic
W 10/7 Revision Strategies I “Shitty First Drafts” Anne Lamott; “The Maker’s Eye: Revising Your Own Manuscripts” Donald M. Murray Essay draft due
F 10/9 Workshop Workshop Drafts Comment on peer drafts
M 10/12 Fall Break No class
W 10/14 Workshop Workshop Drafts Comment on peer drafts
F 10/16 Academic Prose How to Write Anything

p. 72-94

DW: “What role does audience play in academic writing?”
M 10/19 They Say, I Say p. 1-51 DW: How was writing a satirical essay different from writing a news parody?
W 10/21 They Say, I Say p. 55-101 Satirical essay due
F 10/23 They Say, I Say p. 105-138 DW: “What makes a good academic argument?”
M 10/26 BBG p. 143-175 DW: “How can you preserve your own voice in academic prose?”
W 10/28 Parodying Academic Prose 1. “The Genealogy of ‘Carol Brown’: An Intertextual Reading of Parodic-Travestying Song” Alan Jacobs

2. “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” Alan D. Sokal

DW: brainstorm research topic
F 10/30 “‘Le Concentrisme’ and ‘Jean du Chas’: Two Extracts” Samuel Beckett DW: “How might you apply the skills you practiced in your analyzing academic prose assignment in another class?”
M 11/2 Revision Strategies II “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers” Nancy Sommers

How to Write Anything

p. 432-439; 444-449

Analyzing academic prose assignment due
W 11/4 Workshop Workshop Drafts Comment on peer drafts
F 11/6 Workshop Workshop Drafts Comment on peer drafts
M 11/9 Speeches and Sermons 1. “I Have a Dream” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

2. “The Ballot or the Bullet” Malcolm X

DW: “How do these speeches provoke emotion?”
W 11/11 “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Frederick Douglass DW: What is Douglass’s main point?
F 11/13 1. “Nobel Lecture” Toni Morrison

2. “The Solitude of Latin America” Gabriel Garcia Marquez

DW: brainstorm speech topic
M 11/16 1. “A Left-Handed Commencement Address” Ursula Le Guin 2. “Vice Presidential Nomination Address” Geraldine Ferraro Academic prose assignment due
W 11/18 1. “The Gettysburg Address” Abraham Lincoln

2. George W. Bush’s 2002 State of the Union

DW: “How does each president address national tragedy?”
F 11/20 Ironic Oratory 1. Juneteenth Ralph Ellison p. 49-56

2. Blind Man with a Pistol Chester Himes p. 73-79

M 11/23 Stephen Colbert’s speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner DW: “How is writing a speech different form writing other kinds of texts?”
W 11/25 Speech draft due
F 11/27 Thanksgiving Break No class
M 11/30 Student Speeches Work on portfolios
W 12/2 Student Speeches Work on portfolios
F 12/4 Student Speeches Work on portfolios
M 12/7 Student Speeches Ironic oratory draft due
M 12/15 Final portfolio due

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