Close (Racial) Reading Paper

ENGL110 Honors themed around racial identity- Brett Seekford -- See link to full syllabus here 


For this first paper assignment, you will choose one (or possibly two) texts read during the first half of the semester and analyze—that is, closely read—it in order to craft an argument about what the author aims to achieve or reveal with his or her work. Since these readings all focus on Black identity and Blackness, your argument should ultimately focus on this form of racial identity and make a claim about a central theme in your chosen text based on the language and rhetoric employed by the given author(s). In other words, what is the author saying about a particular theme—and what leads you to believe he or she reaches such a conclusion? Given this framework, your essay must remain rooted in the text, meaning you should extensively cite textual evidence to support your point. In taking up questions about an issue facing Black people or a facet of Black identity, this paper will offer an original interpretation about the function and articulation of Blackness in American life.

While I encourage you to stick to one text, you are welcome to use more than one reading in a comparative manner if you believe it will help you develop your argument. That said, it is suggested that you balance two works only in the event that you are working with shorter pieces. For instance, it would be ill-advised to try to write a comparative essay of 4-5 pages encompassing Passing and another work since there is so much material to analyze in Larsen’s novella. You can also analyze a text not assigned on the syllabus, but you will need to let the instructor know of your choice early in the process.


The following are the basic requirements for crafting a strong paper. You must complete each stage of the writing process, meaning all drafts and peer work, to receive a passing grade:

  • Paper proposal, two drafts, peer letters, and participation in the peer workshops
  • 4-5 full pages in length
  • A central argument guiding the paper
  • Extensive analysis of excerpts or passages from your chosen text(s)
  • At least two scholarly, peer-reviewed sources used to inform your argument
    • You are encouraged to use literary criticism on a given text if it proves relevant to the theme you are exploring, but you might also look at other scholarship that addresses similar questions or the broader theme even if it does not directly reference your chosen text (i.e., work on Black feminism, slavery, etc). 


The following texts will be read as part of our class, and you may write on any of them. Underneath each citation, you can also find a list of some of themes used in each work to gauge your interest. If you think you will want to analyze texts that come later in the semester, such as Passing or Get Out, you will need to read (or watch) ahead in order to meet the deadlines for drafts. Again, you are free to deviate from this list if you have read other work that you would like to study. Use these options as the basis for selecting your text:

  • King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” African Studies Center – University of Pennsylvania, University of Pennsylvania, 16 April 1963,
    • Themes: politics; racism/white supremacy; ideas about “change” and “progress”
  • Jones, LeRoi. Dutchman. 1964. Dutchman and The Slave: Two Plays by LeRoi Jones, Harper, 2001, pp. 1-38.
    • Themes: race relations; white women and Black men (gender); anti-Black violence
  • Morrison, Toni. “Recitatif.” Confirmation: An Anthology of African American Women, edited by Amiri Baraka and Amina Baraka, Morrow, 1983, pp. 243-261.
    • Themes: race as construct; gender; stereotypes and audience expectations
  • Larsen, Nella. Passing. 1929. Penguin, 2018.
    • Themes: gender; colorism; class; belonging and culture
  • Get Out. Directed by Jordan Peele, performances by Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, and Catherine Keener, Universal Pictures, 2017.
    • Themes: psychological effects of racism; white supremacy; white womanhood; the legacy of slavery

Length: 4-5 full pages

Proposal Due: Friday, September 18th (Journal Entry due via Canvas)

Draft #1 Due: Sunday, September 27th (via Canvas) 

Peer Letters Due: Monday, October 5th (via Canvas)

Final Draft Due: Sunday, October 11th (via Canvas)


Below, you can find the breakdown of your grade for this paper, which encompasses your final draft and peer letters. All other assignments (i.e., first draft, peer workshops) will be graded on a pass/fail basis. Again, you must complete all parts of the assignment to receive a passing grade.

Final Draft 15 points

Peer Letters 10 points

25 points

A loose rubric with guidelines for achieving specific grades can be found on the next page, although the hope is that you focus less on the grade and more on effectively interpreting the text that you choose to study.

Grading Criteria

“A” Paper

  • Offers an intriguing, original argument about a given text rooted in textual evidence
  • Cites and interprets direct textual evidence in a unique, creative manner
  • Incorporates outside scholarly sources that help build the main argument and put the text in a larger context
  • Productively summarizes and analyzes sources in conversation with the main argument
  • Adheres to an effective and cohesive organization with transitions between paragraphs
  • Demonstrates intensive revision between drafts
  • Polished, concise, and engaging style

“B” Paper

  • Offers a strong argument about a given text largely rooted in textual evidence
  • Cites and interprets direct textual evidence regularly
  • Incorporates outside scholarly sources that support the main argument
  • Introduces all sources through summary and analysis
  • Organized sensibly and deliberately with decent transitions
  • Revised according to class comments
  • Features occasional mechanical errors but consistent voice

“C” Paper

  • Offers an unfocused argument loosely based in textual evidence
  • Cites textual evidence but does not regularly interpret it
  • Incorporates outside scholarly sources
  • Introduces sources in passing but with limited summary and analysis
  • Disjointed organization
  • Halfhearted attempt at revision
  • Prevalent and careless mechanical errors and inconsistent voice

“D” Paper

  • Fails to offer any noticeable argument
  • Neglects textual evidence in favor of generalizations and platitudes
  • Fails to meet the required number of sources or engages little with the ones cited
  • Rarely if ever introduces sources
  • Incoherent organization
  • Little to no revision
  • Ridden with senseless errors and lacking in any distinctive voice