EN 249/AAST 249-005 (Undergraduate survey course)
Dr. Cassander Smith, professor
Project Overview: For this major writing project, I am asking you to employ your critical thinking and reading skills to re-write a passage from the short story “Theresa, a Haytien Tale” from the perspective (in the voice) of another writer we have discussed this semester.
Task: This assignment has two parts:
Part I Think back to the Aesop fable about the lion and the man and how the lion is represented in a stone statue as weaker than man. Indeed, the man’s hands are around the lion’s throat. Importantly, the statue is rendered from the perspective of the man. The lion dismisses the statue, saying, “If we lions knew how to erect statues, you would see the man placed under the paw of the lion.” Here, I am asking you to comb back through the many authors we’ve read this semester. Think about the writing strategies those writers used to help build a body of African American literature. Consider, for example, Langston Hughes’s use of blues and jazz rhythms to write poetry. Recall Wheatley’s use of a neoclassical style in her poetry. Recall Frederick Douglass’s use of imagery or Harriet Jacobs’s reliance on sentimentality and hyperbole. What about Charles Chesnutt and Zora Neale Hurston’s use of dialect? Your job is to pick a writer whose style of writing you think you can imitate. Then, you should retell “Theresa, A Haytien Tale,” as written in the style of your chosen writer.
Do not attempt to re-write the entire short story. You can pick a scene, a central moment of action where there is a beginning, middle, and end. For example, you could re-write the beginning of the story when Paulina initially decides to run away. Or you can reimagine the final scene, and expand it, where Theresa is reunited with her family. Basically, you want to think about how the story might change if written from the perspective of an author we can more readily identify as “African American.” When deciding how to re-write your scene, you want to think about questions such as: How does word choice change if I retell this story from the perspective of a writer during the Black Arts Movement? What themes do I emphasize/de-emphasize if telling this story from the perspective of a former enslaved person, like Douglass or Jacobs? How does the significance of the Haitian Revolution and Theresa’s heroism look different depending on the time period of the writer? In class, we have debated the significance of the author’s identity in determining what is/isn’t African American literature. This project is your chance to think more about that. Your re-write need not be long, anywhere from 2,000 to 5000 words, but it should be complete with a beginning, middle, and end.
Of course, this is a project of speculation. So, you will have to make-up details/facts, which is why this is a creative writing exercise. You are to use your imagination; however, that imagination should be guided by the historical information. The details, while imaginative, must also be plausible based on information found in the original text. For example, if a character in the text is a vegetarian, then you cannot say in your re-write that the character eats bacon and grits for breakfast. OR if you do contradict the original text, you should have a good explanation for doing so, which you can explain in the self-reflective essay that will accompany the re-write.
Part II The re-write should be accompanied by a 1000-word self-reflective essay in which you explain and justify the imaginative choices you made in your re-write. The self-reflective essay should make
some kind of effort to walk me through the analytical process you went through in making particular choices when crafting your re-write. The essay should address questions such as: Why/how does perspective matter? That is, how do the contours of the story change when told from the perspective of a different author? What might this new perspective tell us about the original story? What new information/perspective does your re-write provide about the nature of African American literature? How does the re-write rely on information from the original text? What kinds of difficulties did you encounter in doing the re-write and what might be the limitations of engaging in this kind of speculative work? Is it useful or useless? The most important question of all is this: How does your re-write of ‘Theresa, A Haytien Tale’ challenge or confirm common definitions of African American literature? Keep in mind that this is a formal essay, which means it should include an intro/thesis, a body, and a conclusion. Essentially, it is your opportunity to sell me on the value of your re-write.
Goal: You primary goal in this exercise is to offer us a new way of reading and thinking about the body of literature we have labeled African American literature.
Paper Guidelines: The re-write should be 2,000 to 5,000 words – more or less. I am not concerned about the length so much as the quality of analysis. The re-write can be done in any genre – journal/diary, poem, short story, travel narrative. In other words, you need not follow the generic form of the original text. One caveat: Don’t go the route of writing a poem because you think it will be easier. It takes more time to produce a well-crafted three-stanza poem than it does to write a 20 page short story. If you submit poetry, I will grade it based on common poetic aesthetics, i.e. tone, diction, imagery, rhythm, structure, content. The self-reflective essay should be at least 1000 words and should be structured like a formal essay. Please type using Times 12-point, with one-inch margins. Make sure you title your re-write.
|Evaluation: I will grade your assignment based on the rubric below. Basically, I’m looking for thorough and involved analysis in your re-writes. How well does the re-write illustrate that you thought about the original text beyond the surface? How well does the re-write offer useful and plausible possibilities for new approaches to African American literature? How well does the self-reflective essay talk us through your creative choices? I will take into account your level of creativity and analysis, as well as the more mechanical elements (grammar, punctuation, style). Creative Craft||Self-Reflection||Originality/Plausibility||Mechanics|
|A||Creative piece masterfully utilizes specific techniques of the craft of creative writing, i.e. imagery, characterization, point of view, setting, etc. appropriate to the chosen genre, i.e., poetry, fiction, drama, letter, autobiography.||The self-reflective essay offers a thorough, specific discussion of the piece’s conception from beginning to end. It addresses most of the questions from the assignment sheet and displays clear evidence of the student’s analysis and synthesis.||Creative piece offers a unique take on the original text. It makes use of details from the original text and is written in a style/voice that mirrors that of the student’s chosen African-American author. While adhering to details of the original text, the rewrite clearly illustrates the ways in which a story’s content can differ||Grammar, spelling, punctuation are very clean. Paragraph structures in the self-reflective essay are solid. Overall structure of the entire project is logical and clear.|