Essays are an opportunity to engage the ideas, arguments, and themes of the course up to this point in a sustained way.

Essays are an opportunity to engage the ideas, arguments, and themes of the course up to this point in a sustained way.



  • Choose one paper topic and compose an essay that responds to the major questions and concerns raised in the prompt. All papers must follow MLA style citation, be typed, double-spaced, titled, and be at least 5-7 pages.



  • You must perform close-readings of the text in your paper. To do this, you will have to review the novel/book/story and search for relevant places in the text(s) that respond to the question/theme of interest. Remember, close reading is a form of literary analysis that examines key scenes and language from the text. (e.g. Look how Wheatley uses biblical allusions in her poem, “On Virtue”! Here’s my interpretation of that moment…) Effective close readings will include direct quotes of key words, phrases, and scenes for the explication of their literal and/or symbolic significance.


  • Your paper should not be a plot summary. As you consider how to respond to the paper prompt pay careful attention to language, tone, audience, and metaphor, by thinking meaningfully about an author’s word choices and their creative decisions. Be nosy. Support your imaginative readings. Show receipts.


  1. Improvisation (in theory and in practice) has appeared across a number of our class texts and songs. As we have learned, improvisation is not without structure or form but often involves repetition as a key modality. Analyze the role of improvisation across a literary text. How have we seen improvisation represented on the page? What literary devices and/or strategies are used to portray this approach to writing and its sonic resonances?


  1. Early jazz forms are resistance music. Choose one text and analyze the role of self-autonomy and survival operating across the text. What for example could singing, performing, and hearing the blues explain about the challenges of living free in an unfree land?


  1. Contradiction, deferral, paradox, humor and melancholy are central to a blues poetics and form. Examine a group of blues poems across one of Langston Hughes’s works. How and where do you see these themes at work?


  1. Consider syncopation and/or its root “syncope” as a tool for (re)reading one literary text. What kinds of interruptions, gaps, or disruptions in the “rhythm” of the text help us interpret syncopation? Explain what major scenes depict this relationship for you.


  1. Examine ragtime as a symbol of identity in James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of An Ex-Colored Man. How does the narrator use ragtime to negotiate his “passage” into and out of varying racial, national, and class identities?


  1. Music is cited explicitly in a number of texts we have read. How does the novel, poem, or text of your choice, amplify the qualities of either text and/or sound? What comparisons/contrasts need to be made between the actual performance of the music and the textual representation?
Jazz studies