English 1121 Essay #1

Literacy Narrative  (“Why I … “)

A literacy narrative is a personal story about reading or composing in any form, or context, or any language. In “Why I Write,” for example, George Orwell focuses on his early love for writing and how his interest developed into adulthood as he became a journalist interested in challenging standard views. Joan Didion, in turn, explores her use of “the camera eye” in writing and the power of grammar and sentences to produce specific effects and meaning.  Jose Olivarez, for his part, speaks of his experience as a “weightless” youth who comes to gravitate toward poetry to explore his heritage and speak truth to power.

With the examples of Orwell, Olivarez, and Didion in mind, write a 4-5 page double-spaced, typed essay that reflects on a literacy you possess and the people and experiences that helped you attain this particular talent. Your literacy narrative should explore the process of becoming literate, which we can define as being proficient in a certain skill or medium of communication, in whatever subject you choose (ex. dancing, rapping, reading, writing, coding, cooking, painting, learning a new language, etc.).

A successful narrative will include the following: an explanation of your subject, if necessary; a definition of the language within the subject of literacy (ex. the “language of basketball” might include audibles, hand gestures, physical movements, a firm grasp of the game’s rules, knowledge of how to properly prepare for a game, etc.); address a moment (or moments) of struggle in your attempt to become literate in your subject and how you overcame those challenges.

For support/evidence, you’ll need a significant amount of sensory detail (sights, sounds, feelings), as well as careful descriptions of places and people. Include specific memories of your engagement in your hobby/skill set. Each body paragraph should contain one well-developed example of your development.

Also BE SURE to make references to points discussed in one or more of your class readings (via quoting/summarizing) that connect to your own literacy narrative.


  1. Choose an activity on which to focus. Think about something you are really good at and how you developed your talent.
  2. Think about supporting examples and organize your ideas into body paragraphs.
  3. After you have your main ideas, backtrack to the introduction. Think about how you can attract the reader’s attention from the start. What will you need to explain to your reader? Also consider what your thesis (central argument or point) should be. What are you trying to convey about your participation in this conversation or community and engagement with this hobby?
  4. How is your story of your particular literacy related to that of Orwell, Olivarez, and/or Obama?
  5. In your conclusion, consider the impact of this literacy.

To Begin:

  1. Choose an activity on which to focus. Think about something you are really good at and how you developed your talent.  As an alternate topic, you could simply focus on your educational development and the challenges and successes you’ve had.
  2. Think about supporting examples and descriptive episodes and organize these ideas into an outline.
  3. Identify the essay(s) (and quotes) you will refer to in YOUR essay.