Maps and Legends: (Re)placing Composition

Jared Leising, Cascadia Community College


This is an outline of a syllabus for English 101 that focuses on reading, analyzing, and creating community literature and media. We explore the writing of the bioregion via the anthology Reading Seattle, supplementary readings, and visual texts. By doing so, this course approaches sustainability from the viewpoint of learning to value the places in which we live through listening to and telling stories about those places. In short, developing a civic consciousness in one's place-or as Bruce Barcott says in his introduction to Northwest Passages: "All deep history is local...Land that has meaning is much more difficult to destroy. Keep telling stories and the land stays alive. And so do we."

Additionally, "maps" serve as analytical tools for the analysis of readings, as well as invention tools for the essays students create. Because maps tell stories, offer perspectives, and make arguments, maps also act as a metaphor for the writing assignments students are given. Similarly, the writing that students do in this class creates maps to where students have been (writing stories from memory), where they currently are (writing profiles from observations of places), and where they're headed (writing reviews-something to prepare them for English 102).

Learning Goals

In general, students who engage in this composition course will develop critical and creative reading and writing skills and in particular academic writing. This will be undertaken by writing practice and discussion. Writing practice includes invention, planning, drafting, revising, editing, and reflective writing. Discussion will cover assigned readings and writing projects. In terms of sustainability concepts, students who engage in this composition course will develop a better understanding of how small actions can lead to large impacts (non-linearity), as well as, an awareness of how the "creative imagination" can inspire personal and collective commitment. The sustainability skills students will acquire include the abilities to listen and hear with intellectual openness, outside of their usual ways of thinking; to be sensitive to cross-cultural perspectives; to work collaboratively in groups as an essential communications skill. Student will also develop skills of observation and empiricism - observing outside usual ways, by observing deliberately. The student will demonstrate the ability to reflect on knowledge, values, and commitment through a variety of media, including literary and artistic expression.

Context for Use

This composition course focuses on writing and reading in genre: memoir, profile, and review. All writing assignments require the students to write about bioregional topics and their audience is the class and the instructor. It could also be adapted for an American literature course or a creative non-fiction course.

Possible Use In Other Courses: geography, psychology, music, film, anthropology

Description and Teaching Materials

Timeframe: One quarter or 10-11 weeks.

Class Intro

  • "The Map" by Elizabeth Bishop
  • "Sunrise and Seamonsters" by Paul Theroux
  • An Atlas of Radical Cartography published by the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest Press
  • Adbusters magazine
  • Reading Seattle: Forward, Intro, and 152-158
  • Six-word Memoirs
Memoir: Essay 1 -

Students are asked to choose a significant event in their life that happened in the biogregion. The event should be one that can be remember well enough to narrate and describe. Students will develop and practice storytelling skills in an attempt to engage their audience by telling a memorable and entertaining story that reveals something significant about themselves.


Supplementary Texts

    • Cruddy by Lynda Barry (especially the maps)
    • "Lost Mariner" by Oliver Sacks
    • Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
    • "Shooting Dad" by Sarah Vowell
    • "The Wallet" by Allen Woodman


    • Memento, A Boy's Life, Girl, Interrupted

Grading Criteria/Questions to Consider: Is it a well-told story? Are there vivid presentations of scenes and people? Is it clear why this story is significant to the writer? Does the essay include a meaningful title? Is it well organized? Are there a significant number of grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax errors? Has the writer completed a draft and peer review?

Profile: Essay 2 -

Students are asked to choose an intriguing place in their community and based on first-hand observations and note taking, present what they've learned about that place in an attempt to inform and entertain their audience.


    • Alki Bye & Bye (website down)
    • City of Seattle Maps
    • Reading Seattle: 40-45, 55-58, 65-72, 21-30, 86-90, 127-131, 91-105, 147-151, 241-250
    • St. Martin's Guide or Concise Guide: "Soup" by anonymous and "The Last Stop" by Brian Cable

Supplementary Texts

    • "I'm From" by Georgia Ella Lyons


    • Site Specific: Las Vegas, Dark Days, Vernon, FL, Hands on a Hard-body

Grading Criteria/Questions to Consider: Is there enough information about the place for the reader? Are there vivid presentations of scenes and people? Has the writer offered a perspective on the place? Has the writer chosen an appropriate role for themselves in the essay? Has the writer chosen an appropriate organizational plan (topical or narrative) for their subject? Does the essay include a meaningful title and epigraph? Are there a significant number of grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax errors? Has the writer completed a draft and peer review?

Review: Essay 3-

The students choose an album by a musician, composer, or band from this bioregion that they'd like to review, then assess the music, giving their readers all of the background information, reasons, and evidence they need to accept their evaluation.



    • Hype!

Grading Criteria/Questions to Consider: Is what they're reviewing well-presented? Does the writer make a clear, overall judgment? Does the writer use appropriate reasons and convincing support? Does the writer try to anticipate their readers' objections and take into account alternative judgments? Does the essay include a meaningful title? Is it well organized? Are there a significant number of grammar, punctuation, spelling and syntax errors? Has the writer completed a draft and peer review?

Teaching Notes and Tips

This material constitutes material for a course that relies heavily on an instructor understanding their particular students. Not all of this material is used for every course. For example, this quarter I'm showing "Memento", an excerpt from "A Boy's Life, Site Specific: Las Vegas", and an excerpt of "Hype!" Like the videos/films, don't try to cover all the material listed in teaching the course. The texts act as models, prompts and tools for writing. Finally, here are a few quotes I include in my course syllabus as a way of mapping out the themes of the course.

"A map is not a territory, it's a mental environment."

- Adbusters magazine

"Words themselves are places to be visited and revisited. What then is a place? . . . Language itself is a city or network of loci."

- Meredith Quarterman

"I don't know who I am, but I know where I'm from."

- Wallace Stegner


Essay Rubrics: I'd recommend these be developed by the particular instructor based on standards developed by the individual, department, or institution. However, with the three assignments, I've included questions to ask when evaluating student work.

Daily Journal Assignments (that include but are not limited to): Six-word Memoirs, Mapping your Life as a Writer, Mapping Past Events, Writing an "I'm From" poem, among others. Please feel free to contact me about these short assignments many of which come out of the "Resources" list.

References and Resources

There are references and resources grouped around each essay assignment mentioned in the Description and Teaching Materials section.

Here are others:



Textbooks/Supplementary Texts

    • Donahue and Trombold's Reading Seattle
    • Axlerod and Cooper's Concise Guide to Writing

Supplementary/Alternative Textbooks

    • Northwest Passages edited by Barcott (out of print)
    • The Rendezvous Reader edited by Carpenter, Gilovich, and Kessler (out of print)
    • St. Martin's Guide to Writing (various editions)