Introduction to American Literature (EN 2357) Assignment: Literary Proposal

Introduction to American Literature (EN 2357)

Assignment: Literary Proposal


Introduction: The limits of representation

In this course we’ve encountered literary figures from the 18th century to the present day; our goal in doing so is to become familiar with a representative sample of American literature. At the same time, the syllabus is only representative: innumerable American writers well worth our consideration do not appear on it. You goal in this assignment is to research one of these figures and write a proposal to me arguing for his or her inclusion on the syllabus the next time I teach this class.


During this project, you’ll consider questions such as the following: what facets of American literary history might the inclusion of a given author emphasize? What gaps in the syllabus might he or she fill? How might the author’s works connect to other course readings?


  1. How do I get started?

If you do not already have a writer in mind, you might start by asking yourself which authors have most interested you this semester. Does the Norton include writers contemporary to, for example, Phillis Wheatley, who might address similar topics or write in the same genre? If you loved reading W. E. B. Du Bois, for instance, you might begin by learning more about Booker T. Washington, his primary interlocutor. If you need help getting started, I’d be more than happy to make suggestions via Zoom or email.

Once you have a writer in mind, read some of their writing so that you can decide which of their works you’ll propose. For instance, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote many essays, but I chose “Self-Reliance” because it pairs well with Thoreau.

  1. How do I write the proposal?

I encourage you first to think about the genre of writing you’ll be composing: a proposal. A proposal can take many forms, but for our purposes consider it a formal message from someone who has analyzed a problem (how to improve the course’s reading list) to someone who has the decision-making power to address that problem.

Your proposal will combine a description of your writer, his or her works, and the critical conversation surrounding those works with an argument about why that writer should be included in the syllabus.

You’ll want to think about how you wish to structure your proposal. There are many ways to do so, but most students structure theirs in one of two ways:

  • Description – Argument. This two-part structure leads with the descriptive aspects of the proposal and concludes with an argument that is grounded in the description.
  • This structure interweaves description and argument.

Remember, your project will have many of the same attributes as other successful forms of writing

It will:

  • Have structure: an organizing principle that connects the beginning, middle and end
  • Include description and argumentation
  • Avoid clichés and abstractions
  • Include active verbs, well chosen words, metaphors, and figures of speech


  1. How will my project be graded?

Here is the grading rubric for this assignment:

A: Your proposal is meaningfully structured. Its descriptive aspects are fully developed: it features a rich and detailed knowledge of the writer and his or her works. Its argumentation is also fully developed: its claims are supported by textual evidence and demonstrates an awareness of the generic conventions of the proposal. Where pertinent, you draw on concepts or ideas from class readings or lectures. There are no surface errors in your prose.


B: Your proposal is meaningfully structured. It includes clear description and argumentation. These elements are not quite fully developed, however. The description missed some opportunities to detail the author and his or her work. The balance between description and argumentation might be off: it might say a lot about a writer without giving much reason for including him or her in the syllabus or it might make an argument for inclusion that neglects description. You do not do enough to connect your writer to the class. There a few minor surface errors in your prose.


C: Your project lacks a clear structure. It includes both description and argumentation, but one or both are significantly underdeveloped. The research is inadequate. There is little awareness of the generic differences between a research paper and a proposal. There are surface errors in your prose.


D: Your project lacks a structure, showing little awareness of writing conventions. It also is significantly lacking in description or argumentation. It demonstrates a lack of research. The surface errors of the prose are frequently distracting.


F: It is very difficult to see that the piece of writing you submitted is in fact in response to this prompt. The writing features few if any elements of a writer’s craft. The surface errors of the prose make it extremely difficult to read.


  1. 4. Nuts and bolts

Projects should be 1500 words with one-inch margins on all sides of the paper. They should be double-spaced and written in 12-pt Times New Roman font. They should also follow MLA8 conventions for citations, pagination, etc.