Essay 3: Literary Research Essay

Essay 3: Literary Research Essay (Due: by 11:59pm on May 30, 2018)

For Essay 3, you will produce a literary research essay of 1500-2000 words. You will analyze 2 primary sources from the course readings and 3-4 secondary sources. Your secondary sources will include a combination of scholarly criticism, newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries, and visual and performance art (movies, plays, songs, videos, or dance).

Your essay should be a close, critical analysis of the literary works, and the goal of the outside research is to bolster your analyses of the texts. This is NOT a biography. This is NOT a summary. This is NOT a book review.

This IS your original analysis of the texts supported by: 1) the author’s background, 2) the socio-political context of the work’s setting, 3) the socio-political context of when the piece was first published, 4) literary analyses by other authors, and 5) any relevant literary theories that align with your interpretation. This main difference between Essay 3 and Essay 2 is the inclusion of secondary sources. This requires you to gather and synthesize evidence from several sources to develop a thesis. The research paper is a synthetic essay.

You may choose from one of the following essay prompts:

  1. Select one play, and compare it with one poem or short story from our course readings. What are the common topics or themes explored in the texts? Which literary elements and devices work to convey the theme of the work?
  2. Compare and contrast two of the plays from Facing Our Truth: 10-Minute Plays on Trayvon, Race, and Privilege. Is there a common theme that can be applied to both plays? Or, does each playwright approach the same topic in a different manner,arriving at a different theme?

After selecting your readings and choosing the prompt, you must decide which kinds of secondary sources will be most useful to include in your argument:

  • Literary analyses by other authors on your chosen literature will allow you to be in conversation with them. You may agree or disagree with their perspectives, but you should include them still if they discuss the same topics as you. To find literary analyses, the following links are a great place to start:
  • The socio-political context of when the literature was published can provide clues on how to analyze it. In a similar way, if the writing itself is situated in specific place and time period, you need to have an understanding of this context in order to thoroughly analyze the work. You will examine newspaper articles, magazines, encyclopedia entries, and related visual and performance art to support your analyses related to the socio-political context. For example, a newspaper article about the Trayvon Martin trial and “This is America” by Childish Gambino could be used to support an analysis of any of the plays in our anthology. Here are some links to online databases and news sources that may be helpful:

Grading Criteria:  I will evaluate your essays using the “Martin Literary Essay Rubric” available here and on Blackboard.

***UPDATE: As I mentioned in class, here are two resources specifically on the plays in the Facing Our Truth anthology.

  • Video: Playwrights talk back to the audience after 2014 premiere at the Segal Theater, The Graduate Center, CUNY. They introduce themselves and the motivation behind their plays in the first 20 minutes, and you can listen for the entire hour to search for any more useful information.
  • Podcast: The New Black Fest’s Artistic Director Keith Josef Adkins talks about the anthology that he commissioned and his communication with the writers. In the first 10 minutes, he includes a lot of the backstory. Check it out, and see what you can find that is useful for your essay.


Below are some additional resources that may be helpful for the writing process: