ENG101.029 -- English Composition I

Prof. Eileen Joy (Fall 2003)

Essay 1

Interview Narrative

Fig. 1. Kosovar Refugee, Kukes Camp (Albania, 1999)

Draft Conferences Wed., Sep. 17 - Mon., Sep. 22
In-Class Draft Workshop Wed., Sep. 24
Final Draft Due Wed., Oct. 1
Format 4 pages minimum, double-spaced, 1"-margins

FIRST, you are going to interview someone, ideally an older family member (but an older acquaintance will also work), in order to ask this person (your interview subject) to tell you a story about his or her life. More specifically, you will ask your subject to tell you about a time in his or her life when, because of a particular incident or event or experience or ordeal (etc.), his or her perspective on life underwent a shift or change. Another way of asking this might be: tell me about a time in your life that changed you, or changed the way you think about yourself or about life in general. The change does not have to have been traumatic or earth-shattering (although it can be). The key is simply the word, change (i.e., a basic, if even subtle, shift in the way your interview subject now looks at the world as the result of a particular event or experience). The older the interview subject, the better, because the older you are, the more time you have had to reflect upon your experiences, and reflection is an important component of this narrative.

SECOND, you are going to translate your interview subject's story into a third-person perspective narrative (much like newspaper feature writers who tell other people's stories all the time, and gracefully combine objective reporting with the thoughts and feelings of their subjects--they both "tell the facts" and also "tell a story"). In other words, if your interview subject's name is Gloria Somebody, your narrative might begin, "Gloria Somebody will never forget the day her younger brother left for Vietnam. From that day forward, nothing was the same for her," etc. Even if you are related to your subject, do NOT put yourself, in any way, shape, or form, into the story. For example, do not begin, "My Aunt Gloria's life changed the day her younger brother left for Vietnam," etc.

NOTE:    In order to have the best possible material, choose a subject who is not shy about telling their story and with whom you can talk more than once. Get your subject to talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk as much as possible, and don't be shy yourself about asking for extra details. You might even want to record the interview, so that you can listen to it more than once while working on your essay. And, after working on a first draft, you might discover that you need more details, and you will want to go back and talk to your subject again (as many times as necessary). I would even suggest letting your subject read a draft of the paper at some point (or: read it to them out loud), as he or she is most likely to notice places where something important has been left out. Remember: you are not just writing down what your subject tells you, word for word--it is your job to shape what they give you into an interesting story.

Allyn & Bacon: Although your narrative is not technically autobiographical, it is biographical in nature. Therefore, please consider Chapter 7 in your Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing, "Writing an Autobiographical Narrative," pp. 167-76 & 186-88, an important guide when drafting this essay.

Grading Objectives (this is what I think about when I am evaluating your essay for a final grade)

  1. The story must have a beginning, middle, and an end. Ideally, there will be a conclusion that is reflective upon the change or changes wrought in your subject because of his or her experience (this is where you share how your subject's perspective on his or her life, or life in general, changed--how did they feel when everything was happening back then; how do they feel now?).
  2. The story must be as descriptive as possible, full of concrete and specific details that appeal to the reader's five senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell) and will help to create visual pictures in the reader's mind. Think of your subject's story as a film that you are putting together "scene by scene."
  3. The story must have a clear perspective, meaning that the reader never loses sight of the feelings, thoughts, and emotions of the person who is at the center of the story--your interview subject. Stories are not just about the things that happened, but are about the people to whom those things happen. Otherwise, there's no meaning. Don't forget that.
  4. The story must have an interesting title!

Sample Student Papers:

Jennifer Hasty, "Sunrise, Sunset"

Greg Eddings, "A Soldier's Duty"

Roger Rosinski, "Where Dreams Come True"