Note: Course assignments are the product of extensive intellectual labor; sharing them with others is a significant act of generosity. Please acknowledge Eric Keenaghan’s assignment should you use it in your own teaching, research, and writing. To cite it: Eric Keenaghan. “Final Project: The Lives of Muriel Rukeyser.” Muriel Rukeyser: A Living Archive, http://murielrukeyser.emuenglish.org/2020/09/07/aeng-awss-368-the-lives-of-muriel-rukeyser/
Final Project Specs and Instruction
The final project for our course provides an opportunity to develop a sustained engagement, in either an academic or creative form, with one primary literary text by Muriel Rukeyser. This is a culmination of our semester-long study of this one author, and you will have approximately four weeks to develop and hone your project and maximize your ability to meet my high expectations and your full potential. Approach every prewriting assignment and workshop as opportunities to make progress on your project and to share insights about your peers’ work.
Due to the tight deadlines and quick turnaround for all portions of the project, no extensions will be granted for any part. Late submissions of some prewriting assignments will not be accepted, which will mean automatic failure for that particular assignment (see below.) Apply yourself fully and submit your work on time.
For the final project, you cannot write critically about or engage creatively with the same primary text you wrote on for your midterm essay. If one does, one can earn no better than a “C” for both the proposal and the completed final project.
The list of possible primary literary texts by Rukeyser that you may choose from is below. Choose only one text. Note that a “sequence” denotes a titled suite of poems, some of which may also be titled, that Rukeyser saw as a single unit:
- One poem or sequence from Theory of Flight (1935) (in Collected Poems)
- Chapter from Savage Coast (1936) (PDF on Blackboard)
- The Book of the Dead (1938) (in Collected Poems or textbook)
- “Worlds Alongside” (1938) (PDF on Blackboard)
- One poem or sequence from U.S.1 (1938) (in Collected Poems)
- One poem or sequence from Beast in View (1944) (in Collected Poems)
- The Middle of the Air (1945) (link on Blackboard)
- The Life of Poetry (1949) (textbook): approach as creative nonfiction
- “A Pane of Glass” (1953) (PDF on Blackboard)
- Come Back, Paul (1955) (on reserve at UA Library)
- “Open System” from One Life (1957) (PDF on Blackboard)
- All the Way Home (1957) (link on Blackboard)
- One poem or sequence from Body of Waking (1958) (in Collected Poems)
- “Waterlily Fire” (sequence) (1962) (in Collected Poems)
- The Orgy (1965) (textbook)
- One poem or sequence from The Speed of Darkness (1968) (in Collected Poems)
- One poem or sequence from Breaking Open (1973) (in Collected Poems)
- “The Gates” (sequence) (1976) (in Collected Poems)
See the syllabus and check Blackboard’s announcements regularly for updates on ungraded process materials due for our in-class workshops. Graded prewriting specs described below.
PART I: PROPOSAL
Length: 3 paragraphs (see below).
Weight: 10% of your course grade.
Submission and due date: Tuesday November 19. Bring a hardcopy to class. Late proposals will be docked one full letter grade (as in, “B” to “C”) per day late.
Formatting: Format your submission as specified on the syllabus under “Course Policies: Formatting and submitting written assignments” (pages 8-9).
Instructions and main objectives:
The final project has no prompts, and there are no constraints beyond the simple one that your final project must engage one of the primary texts specified above.
For the initial stage of your project’s development, you will submit a proposal that performs three critical moves, each in a separate paragraph.
Devote at least two hours to reflect on what you wish to do for this final project and review the materials that we have studied. Our class discussions may be a starting point, but I expect everyone to cultivate her own voice, explore her own interests, and demonstrate her original thinking. Do not just parrot what has been said in class: Take those discussions in a new and interesting direction. Start writing the proposal only after you have gathered your thoughts and reflected on your interests.
All students, but especially students working on creative projects, are invited to come see me during my regular office hours to discuss their projects in the early development stages, before or after the proposal stage. Note that if a topic or if a choice of creative project does not sound sufficiently promising, I may advise against pursuing that avenue.
No outside research is required for the proposal, but you could begin to conduct “research” by reading or re-reading the required and recommended sources from the syllabus related to your primary text. Throughout the project development process, use your reading journal as a consolidated spot to jot down ideas, take notes on secondary sources, work through your close readings of passages from your primary text.
When you draft the proposal, stick to the formula sketched out below. The working thesis you propose is especially important since you do not want to abandon your intuitions once you really start researching in depth the primary text by Rukeyser and/or the related historical moment.
Even creative projects involve research and have theses, or meaningful critical insights that the artist wants to convey about the researched problem. Expect your ideas to be finetuned as you proceed with your research and your writing or other creative activity. Thinking is an organic process: Not everything will be figured out immediately, nor should it be.
Paragraph #1 (problem statement): Narrate a “real world” problem or issue that frames your point of entry to thinking about the value of one assigned primary text and why general audiences would find it interesting or significant. In the Humanities, we approach problems of the conceptual variety, rather than the practical kind, since literature and other kinds of art and cultural forms cannot directly change
the world…only how we see and think about the world. That conceptual problem should be prompted by something in your chosen primary text by Rukeyser that is especially interesting to you, as a reader and a critical citizen.
Paragraph #2 (thesis statement): Develop a very brief interpretation of one or two key passages or moments from the primary text that informs your argument about how it specifically redresses the problem you have outlined above. Remember that a thesis ought to articulate how a literary text—in terms of both your story-based focus and your text-based focus (concept, trope, image, form/narration) compels audiences to rethink the conceptual problem. You should not use the literary text merely to illustrate or exemplify the problem that you are narrating. So, articulate the three basic questions that you should consider when developing any thesis— What (character, relationship, or theme) are you focusing on from the primary text? How (trope, image, concept, form/narration) does the author goes about representing the “What?” through her authorial, craft decisions? Why is that “How?” (or manner of representing the “What?”) an interesting and significant approach to the conceptual problem.
Paragraph #3 (plan of action): Detail how you plan to go about supporting your thesis.
What do you plan to research? For critical papers, what other portions of the primary text do you think are significant to consider closely in your analysis? For creative projects, what exactly are you planning to do, what medium or form will your project take (such as dramatic scene, short story, poetic sequence, memoir essay, short film, graphic narrative), and why is that form a strong way of critically commenting on Rukeyser’s address of the problem? For everyone, what questions do you have? NOTE THAT YOU CANNOT SWITCH FROM A CRITICAL TO A CREATIVE PROJECT AFTER THE PROPOSAL PHASE.
(But you can switch from a creative project to a critical one. Just be sure to tell me if you do.)
Grading rubric: Every proposal received by the deadline will receive a brief note with some suggestions and a grade. This prewriting assignment will be evaluated based on its thoughtfulness and state of completion, the general quality of the writing, and the potential for the planned project’s development into a sustained longer essay or creative project: A- to A is for Excellent work with strong potential and a strongly focused approach to the problem and the working thesis; B- to B+ for Good work that needs significant rethinking and focusing for the problem and/or thesis to more fully realize the project’s potential; C- to C+ for Average work that is underthought and messily presented and has limited potential for development into a longer researched paper or creative project; D- to D+ for Poor work that requires going back to the drawing board; and E for especially Poor proposals.
PART II: ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY AND PROBLEM STATEMENT
Number of sources: 3 to 4 on-syllabus secondary sources (either required or recommended), plus the primary text. At least two sources must be designated as “Context” on the syllabus.
All of the secondary sources must be annotated (5-6 sentences each, see below).
Length of problem statement: 1-2 pages, using at least 1 context source.
Weight: 10% of course grade.
Submission and due date: Tuesday December 3. Bring a hardcopy to class. Late work will not be accepted.
Formatting: Format your submission as specified on the syllabus under “Course Policies: Formatting and submitting written assignments” (pages 8-9). Your bibliography must be in MLA or Chicago format. Consult the embedded links to the Purdue OWL website for more information about formatting.
Instructions and main objectives:
For this portion of the project development, you will start conducting “research” about the problem statement and/or the primary text you have selected by Muriel Rukeyser and/or the period of her career when she wrote that text.
All of your researched sources must be secondary sources—that is, they must be either informational or argumentative. In the Humanities, literary texts (poems, novels, stories, plays, films, etc.) are not secondary sources since we use them as the objects of our analysis.
No off-syllabus research is required. All of your secondary sources should be either required or recommended texts from the syllabus. At least two sources must be designated as required or recommended “Context” readings. (In other words, you cannot use only Rukeyser’s poetics or journalism texts, though you may use one or more in addition to the two argumentative context sources.)
For this annotated bibliography assignment, you are required to research more sources than you might ultimately use for the completed final project. I recommend rereading the sources you choose. Do not rely overly much on class notes or note from your initial reading of the source.
For the bibliography’s entries, use current MLA or Chicago format. Annotate each source’s main argument in 3-5 sentences. Your annotation must include a clear account of the problem that the author is responding to and their thesis, which clearly articulates the focus of the author’s analysis and why she argues that focus is an important way of addressing the problem. As you write these annotations, imagine that you are providing a good summary of each article or book chapter to a general audience, good enough so that they will walk away having a strong sense of what the source’s main argument is about even though they may not have read it. So, do not cherry-pick the bits useful for your paper or that you understand. Your annotations will be successful and correct only if you convey the main argument.
Additionally, write one final sentence for each entry that specifies which category you imagine this source falling into for your paper and why you believe this to be case: (a) argumentative (to be used substantially in your critical frame to help narrate your problem statement); (b)
referential (to supply reference information, data, or a definition); or (c) local support (you are likely to cite only one aspect of the source’s argument or analysis, either to explicate a point in your critical frame or to help advance your original close reading of the primary text).
You should include an entry in your bibliography for your primary text, but it does not need to be annotated.
Once you have completed your annotated bibliography, develop a good draft of your problem statement. Cite at least 1 context secondary source (i.e., a secondary source not written by Rukeyser) for this draft narration. It need not be a complete critical frame—that is, you may not yet get to include your thesis statement about the primary text. This problem statement is more a way to generate raw material to use towards deepening your thinking about the project rather than a way to amass pages toward the paper. So, it may be somewhat “drafty,” a little less revised—but it shouldn’t be ramshackle, rushed, careless, or thoughtless.
For creative projects, your problem statement ought to include a final project narrating how your project’s creative dimensions are seeking thematically and formally to critically engage or respond to Rukeyser’s original text. (For instance, if you’re planning on working on a sonnet sequence why is that form the best choice for responding to the problem that interests you in Rukeyser’s original text. You can’t just write a bunch of sonnets because you dig sonnets or like writing them. There has to be a critical reason for that decision, just as Rukeyser made conscious decisions about working in the particular media and literary forms she chose in order to respond to the various social and aesthetic problems engaged by her work.)
You will not receive extensive comments on this prewriting assignment, only margin comments and a grade.
NOTE: When developing your project, you may need or want to find other information beyond your academic research. Do not use open-source reference websites like Wikipedia. Instead, use reputable online reference websites, peer-reviewed academic websites, or other official agency or government websites. Such reference sources do not “count” as one of your secondary sources for either this bibliography or your completed project. However, if you reference any such source you still must cite them and include them in your final paper’s bibliography and/or in this bibliography, so as to avoid possible plagiarism.
The rubric below pertains to the baseline grade. Generally, an assignment will earn a particular evaluation mark if it reflects a majority of the criteria described below for the corresponding grade bracket. Late work not accepted, and will automatically earn an “E.”
A- to A = Excellent quality. Has both components (problem statement and annotated bibliography). Strong writing. Excellent use of sources to establish a problem statement. MLA or Chicago format is correct or mostly correct in the problem statement and bibliography. Excellent annotations conveying each source’s problem, thesis, and main argument.
B- to B+ = Good quality. Has both components (problem statement and annotated
bibliography) and a very promising problem statement. Writing could be strengthened at syntactical level and/or in terms of maximizing coherence and giving weight to one secondary source. Problem statement and/or thesis statement needs more clarification. MLA or Chicago format for bibliography needs some correction. Annotations of sources’ main arguments need some clarification or strengthening.
C- to C+ = Average quality. May be about the same primary text as the midterm essay.
Has both components (problem statement and annotated bibliography)
and a promising critical frame with a problem statement and a thesis statement. Writing generally needs strengthening at syntactical level and/or in terms of maximizing coherence. MLA or Chicago format for bibliography needs correction. Annotations of sources’ main arguments need significant strengthening.
D- to D+ = Poor quality. May have written on the same primary text as the midterm essay.
Missing one component (problem statement or annotated bibliography). Needs significant strengthening in terms of writing, cohesion, and argumentation. Missing one or more secondary sources. MLA or Chicago format incorrect. Annotations poor or missing.
E = Failed to turn in assignment, poor quality in relationship to all assignment criteria, missing one required component (critical frame or annotated bibliography), missing one or more sources, or secondary sources are not annotated.
PART III: THE FINISHED FINAL PROJECT
Page length (academic critical essays): 8-10 pages, plus a bibliography.
Page length (creative projects): Consult instructor for creative project’s length. All creative projects must also be accompanied by critical self-reflection essay (4-5 pages), plus a bibliography.
Number of sources: 2 to 3 on-syllabus secondary sources, plus your primary text. At least one secondary source must be designated on the syllabus as a required or recommended “Context” source. To avoid plagiarism, all additional reference sources must be cited.
Weight: 40% of the course grade.
Submission and due date: Upload your essay to Blackboard via the final project submission portal by Monday December 16 by 12:00 noon. Late submissions will not be accepted. Earlier submissions will be welcome, though. Save your document as a PDF or Word file, and title it with your last name and “ENG 368 Final” or “WSS 368 Final,” whichever applies to your registration. If the format of your creative project cannot be electronically submitted through Blackboard, consult me for submission instructions.
Formatting: Format your submission as specified on the syllabus under “Course Policies: Formatting and submitting written assignments” (pages 8-9). Your bibliography must be in MLA or Chicago format. Consult Purdue OWL for specifics.
NOTE: Your essay or creative project, bibliography, and (for creative projects) critical self- reflection that you submit with your final project must all be part of the same file. Do not submit multiple files. Your final bibliography does not need to be annotated.
Instructions and main objectives for academic critical essays:
This is the finished product of a month-long research and writing process, and it is the culmination of all our studies of Muriel Rukeyser throughout the semester. You want this essay to be your strongest possible work.
You must use 2 or 3 secondary sources, at least one of which must be a “Context” source from the syllabus. Most or all of these sources should come from your earlier annotated bibliography.
A good of rule of thumb is that about three-quarters of the total length of your essay will be devoted to your focused, streamlined and globally coherent analysis of the primary text. (For this paper, that is between 5 and 8 pages.) About one-quarter of your essay should be your researched critical frame. (For this paper, between 2 and 3 pages.) Your research ought not appear only in your critical frame. You should use some research locally in the body of your paper, so as to help develop and augment your analysis of the primary text by Rukeyser.
To realize your essay’s fullest potential, reserve 2 days for revision of the complete essay after you have fully drafted it. Try to take one day off between the time you complete your full draft and the time when you start revising.
Revision should entail more than copyediting or checking for “errors.” Instead, it is a matter of re-visioning how your essay communicates your ideas and ethically serves your readers.
Instructions and main objectives for creative projects:
Other than the form of your project, not much is different from the academic critical essay option. All students who choose the creative option must consult with me in advance, before or after the proposal phase, to establish the parameters for your specific project.
In addition to your completed project, you must include a brief researched critical self-reflection essay (4-5 pages) that investigates a problem in relationship to your chosen primary text by Rukeyser and then discusses how your creative project responds both to that problem and Rukeyser’s treatment of it. This portion of the assignment is like what writers call a “craft statement” and artists call an “artist’s statement,” in which they outline how their poetics critically respond to another text and/or issue. These statements help guide audiences’ understanding of both the aesthetic and critical dimensions of their original work.
Your self-reflection essay must use 2 or 3 secondary sources, at least one of which must be a “Context” source from the syllabus. Most or all of these sources should come from your earlier annotated bibliography.
About one-third of your self-reflection essay should be your researched critical frame which sets up your discussion of the problem and the primary text (1-2 pages). Approximately one-third of your critical self-reflection essay should be devoted to your focused, streamlined and globally coherent analysis of the primary text (1-2 pages). A little more than the last third should detail how your project thematically and formally responds to Rukeyser’s primary text (2-3 pages).
To realize your project’s full potential, reserve 2 days for revision after you have fully drafted it. Try to take one day off between the time you complete your full draft and the time when you start revising. Revision should entail more than copyediting or checking for “errors.” Instead, re- vision how your essay communicates your ideas and ethically serves your readers.
Grading rubric for final project:
The rubric below pertains to the baseline grade for your final project. The grade is based on the completed project, not previous process assignments (which are graded separately) nor improvement over the course of the project’s development. Generally, a project will earn a particular evaluation mark if it reflects a majority of the criteria described below for the corresponding grade bracket. For creative projects, the criteria described below apply to the critical self-reflection essay. In addition, I will evaluate your project based on its own merits and the degree to which it realizes the critique of or response to Rukeyser that you narrate in your self-reflection essay. Missing or late projects automatically fail. Brief comments and a grade will be emailed to you. Note: As previously announced, all students who completed a Response Paper will receive a step-grade bonus (as in “B” to “B+”) to the baseline grade for their Final Project.
A- to A = Excellent quality. Strong writing. Excellent use of sources to establish a problem statement and strong local use of sources, including in the essay’s body/analysis. Strong thesis statement with textual details from the primary text. MLA or Chicago format is correct or mostly correct in the essay and bibliography.
B- to B+ = Good quality. Good use of sources to establish a problem statement, but one or more sources could be streamlined to increase the critical frame’s coherence. Good use of local use of sources, including in the essay’s body/close reading, with possibly coherence issues. Writing could be strengthened at syntactical level. Problem statement and/or thesis statement needs more clarification. Analysis needs to focusing, and/or further development. Bibliography’s MLA or Chicago format needs correction.
C- to C+ = Average quality. May have written on the same primary text as the midterm essay. Missing one or more of the minimum number of required
secondary sources. Coherence in critical frame, especially with integration of sources, needs substantial improvement. Too much weight given to one or more critical sources. Writing generally needs strengthening at syntactical level and/or in terms of maximizing global coherence and cohesion within paragraphs. Thesis statement too disconnected from details about the primary text or unfocused. Primary text treated as an application for the research, rather than as adding to and potentially changing an ongoing critical conversation about Rukeyser and/or the problem. Analysis of Rukeyser primary text needs substantial development. MLA or Chicago format for bibliography and in-text citations needs correction.
D- to D+ = Poor quality. May have written on the same primary text as the midterm essay. Needs significant strengthening in terms of writing, cohesion, and argumentation through research. Missing two or more of the minimum number of required secondary sources. Weak thesis, incoherent or incohesive analysis of Rukeyser primary text. MLA or Chicago format incorrect for bibliography and in-text citation. Missing bibliography.
Missing self-reflection essay (for creative projects).
E = Failed to turn in assignment or poor quality in relationship to all assignment criteria, or any degree of plagiarism or another academic integrity violation.
I = Incomplete. Failed to turn in final project by deadline, but student has demonstrated commitment to the class, does not have excess absences, and has completed all previous course assignments on time. To complete the course, the student is responsible for submitting her work by the University’s mandated deadline. Failure to do so results in the “I” automatically becoming an “E.” Not all students are eligible for incompletes, and students in need of one need prior permission from the instructor before the final project deadline.
Note: Interested students who receive an “A-” or better on their projects are eligible to revise them for possible publication on the blog of the website Muriel Rukeyser: A Living Archive (edited by Professor Elisabeth Däumer, Eastern Michigan University). Publication would be contingent upon whether Professor Däumer’s earlier invitation still stands and each student’s successful completion of the revision by the deadline she provides me.
The authors of published projects, as well as all projects that receive a “B+” or better are urged to share their work publicly at the English Department’s annual Undergraduate Research and Writing Conference, to be hosted in April 2020 (exact date TBD).