Fall 2023

Letter Writers and Epistolarity

Listed in: English, as ENGL-270


Benigno R. Sanchez-Eppler (Section 01)


In this course you will read letters and write letters. We will explore the letter as a complex instrument of self-expression and communication with others, as literary artefact, as carrier of affect, intention and ideas, and as a record of individual and communal growth.  Letter writing will be experienced as a performance that deploys persona, tone, voice, purpose, persuasion, and will focus on the tension between transparency and decorum. Your discoveries and the development of your thoughts will be circulated as letters written among a small circle of correspondence.  

Readings will include letters written by Paul, Seneca, Martin Luther King, Biddy Martin, Dorothy Osborne, John Keats, Rainer Maria Rilke, Lou Andreas-Salomé, Sigmund Freud, Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva, Robert Oppenheimer. The reading of epistolary novels will focus our attention on fictional uses of the form (Daddy Longlegs, Dangerous Liaisons, Screwtape Letters).  The theoretical concerns underpinning our work will include the phenomenology of reading, interpellation and ideology, the textuality of relationships, and the possibilities or limits of establishing presence at a distance.  We will also pay attention to the current evolution of letter writing in the time of e-mail and social media, and social isolation.

Final capstone projects will be organized as researched and curated presentations of selected on-line manuscript letters, or as a compiled and analyzed collection of personal or family letters, or as epistolary fiction. 

In addition to the regularly scheduled classes, this course includes a required weekly small group meeting, scheduled at a time when the participants can attend. Every other week, groups of 3 to 4 students will work with the professor as a “co-editing cluster.”  On the alternate Mondays, groups of 5 to 8 students will meet as a “clique” to discuss—without Prof. Sánchez-Eppler— the readings and the issues arising from the course materials.”

Fall semester. Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler.

How to handle overenrollment: null

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Emphasis on written work, independent archival research, co-editing group work.


Other years: Offered in Fall 2023