Essays

The essays listed here comprise both classic essays and contemporary essays. The classic essays are in the public domain, that is, their use is not bound by copyright laws. These essays (or excerpts) are reproduced entirely. The study questions and vocabulary exercises for each essay are not in the public domain. But enough of legalities.

When the project is complete, these essays should provide sufficient readings for most freshman composition courses, as they are taught in colleges and universities in the United States. Each link for the classic essays contains the essay itself, with study questions, vocabulary, and a writing assignment. Each link for the contemporary essays contains study questions, vocabulary, a writing assignment, and a link to the essay, usually on the author's blog. There is also a PDF version available for those who wish to print.

Public Domain Essays

  • John Donne, "No Man Is An Island"

    John Donne, an English metaphysical poet and preacher, discusses the need for human suffering and how human beings are interconnected. Notice Donne's focus on how affliction helps bring people closer to God. In fact, he writes that man is "made fit for God by that affliction." As you read the meditation and attempt the writing assignment, think about the relevance of this perspective to our lives.


  • Susan B. Anthony, Speech Delivered After Being Arrested and Fined for Voting

    A prominent leader in the movement for women's suffrage (the right to vote), Susan B. Anthony is recognized as one of the great women in American history. Although laws existed that did not allow women to vote, Susan B. Anthony voted in the presidential election of 1872. For voting in this election, Anthony was fined $100.00. The speech that is reproduced in this section was delivered to all twenty-nine towns and villages of Monroe county, and twenty-one towns Ontario county, New York. As you read Anthony's speech and answer the critical thinking questions, keep in mind how the situation for women in the United States has changed over the past 130 years.


  • Helen Keller, "Chapter II" from Her Autobiography

    When she was only 18 months old, Helen Keller became ill. That illness left her without the ability to see, hear, or speak. Despite these physical limitations, Keller led a long productive life, graduating from Radcliffe College and becoming a writer, as well as an outspoken political advocate. Her story has been an inspiration to many for generations. This excerpt, from Chapter 2 in her autobiography, relates how she managed a crude form of communiction after her illness but before her teacher, Anne Sullivan, came into her life.


  • Benjamin Franklin, "Old Mistress Apologue"

    While it is not an essay, Benjamin Franklin's letter illustrates some useful techniques of persuasive or argumentative writing. Notice where he includes the main point and how he numbers his reasons. He is also careful to consider both sides of the issue. Franklin's use of euphemism may provide good material for classroom discussion on purpose, audience, and appropriate use of language.

Contemporary Essays

  • David Foster Wallace, "This is Water"

    David Foster Wallace was an American writer and teacher. He wrote several works of non-fiction, as well as fiction, notably, Infinite Jest.


  • Liz Murray, Breaking Night

    Liz Murray is the author of Breaking Night, her memoir where she describes her childhood and teenage years, and how she went from homeless to Harvard. Currently, Liz Murray is a motivational and inspirational speaker who is active in causes to feed hungry children. Her story was made into a movie, Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story, directed by Peter Levin, 2003. After a couple of years of drifting in and out school, Murray gained admission to New York's Humanities Preparatory Academy, in Manhattan, and graduated high school in two years. She earned a New York Times scholarship and was admitted to Harvard University, from where she graduated in 2009, after caring for her terminally-ill father.


  • Salmon Farming in Vancouver and Barramundi Aquaculture

    This unit discusses the controversy with salmon farming, specifically salmon farms in British Columbia, Canada, off Vancouver Island. Barry Estabrook, a former editor of Gourmet magazine, wrote the article "The Anti-Salmon: A Fish We Can Finally Farm Without Guilt" for The Atlantic Monthly. Estabrook briefly discusses some of these problems in his article, along with a possible solution. Proponents of farm-raised salmon contend that raising salmon in a farm is a form of sustainable aquaculture with limited impact to wild salmon populations and the environment. Opponents of raising salmon in open-ocean farms claim that these farms hurt wild populations and the environment. Estabrook speaks with Joshua Goldman, CEO of Australis Aquaculture, and describes how Goldman is trying to raise what he calls "the better fish" for humans and the environment.


  • Ubuntu, African Philosophy

    Kevin Hurt, an English teacher and coach from Washington state, defines Ubuntu and helps teachers and others apply the concept of Ubuntu in everyday life. The essay was written as a blog post for a specific purpose and audience. As you read the essay, consider the assumptions that Hurt makes about his audience and the specific facts about philosophy and contemporary African history that Hurt expects his audience to have. Videos of Bishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela are also included.


  • Megan Garber, "Making the Business Case for Long Stories at Slate"

    Megan Garber is an assistant editor at The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. In this essay, Garber examines the popular perception that long, in-depth journalism is a dying art. Note that she presents both sides of the issue, although the popular notion, perhaps because it IS the prevailing view, receives only a little treatment in the introduction. This essay requires a certain amount of sophistication and media savvy from its readers. Completing all of the vocabulary and reading the essay at least two or three times should give you enough background to understand the issues Garber discusses.


  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "I Have a Dream" and Letter from Clergy

    During the civil rights era in the United States, a group of white clergymen wrote a letter to The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. encouraging him to withdraw his support for peaceful demonstrations. This letter represented popular opinion at the time, especially among the white majority. Dr. King responded with his now famous letter from Birmingham City Jail, where he writes, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Reproduced here is the clergymen's letter to Dr. King. Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech is included. Notice the connection between the letter and the speech.

    In the reading is a link to Dr. King's famous letter.


  • Andrew Tanick, "Our Employee Posted What?"

    According to corpcounsel.com, "Andrew Tanick is a partner in the Minneapolis office of Ford & Harrison, a national law firm with 18 offices and over 175 attorneys, exclusively representing management in labor and employment issues. He has represented and advised businesses of all sizes in employment litigation and employment policies and practices for over 20 years." In this essay, Tanick explains the issue of Internet usage and its implications in hiring and possibly terminating an employee.