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American Author Project (10th Grade): Assignment Details

Research Paper Assignment

English II

Outside Reading/Research Assignment

             During the sophomore year each student writes a research paper. This assignment's objectives are to teach you how to use the library, how to research online, how to cite sources correctly, and how to organize a long essay that combines your insights with the ideas of other critics. In late winter, when this assignment is due, you will get explicit guidelines regarding the format and expectations of this assignment.

             Each student will pick one American novelist or dramatist and read two or three of his/her books—two novels for Regular English, three novels for Honors—by early January.  In addition, you should purchase or else have access to a solid biography of your writer that you will also read and research during the year.  When reading your books (with pencil in hand!), you should try to identify the characters, settings, symbols, structure, themes, and other elements of storytelling that will help you to review the novel when you start your research and critique. As you read your novels, you are expected to open your critical eye and prepare yourself to write intelligently about the ideas and narrative techniques in the story.

             Early in your reading you will likely become interested in a recurring attitude or philosophy of the narrator or characters that strikes your imagination. One key to a lengthy assignment like this—one that takes time for ideas to germinate—is to find a topic that other critics have noticed in your writer's stories. John Steinbeck, for example, uses the Arthurian romance as an allegorical structure in many of his stories. In Of Mice and Men, George represents knightly courage and devotion, Lennie is his squire.

             You should visit the library this week or check MBA’s databases and peruse some critical articles on your writer; this way, while you read your books, you stand a better chance of seeing the kinds of ideas other critics have studied. Your ideas can form a dialogue with their ideas; feel free to agree and disagree with many of these critics.

 Novelists and Playwrights:

Sherwood Anderson (1920s-1930s) An important figure in literary Modernism and a major influence on William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway, Anderson’s greatest works are the linked collection Winesburg, Ohio.  Anderson developed an innovative stream-of-consciousness style and recorded the ‘small tragedies’ of small-town life in the early twentieth-century Midwest.  [Winesburg, Ohio; Poor White; Many Marriages]

Henry David Thoreau (1840s-1850s) One of America’s most beloved and influential writers and philosophers, Thoreau’s Walden and other nonfiction essays such as “On Civil Disobedience” helped to define the era of Transcendentalism in mid-19th Century New England and inspired thousands of dissidents, from pre-Civil War Abolitionists to Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and contemporary environmental activists such as the ‘Whale Warriors.’  [Walden, or a Life in the Woods (counts as 2); read a biography]

Raymond Chandler, crime fiction (1920s-1930s) One of the first great masters of ‘hard-boiled’ detective fiction, Chandler’s work captured the zeitgeist of early twentieth century Los Angeles through the escapades of his intrepid detective Phillip Marlowe.  His work also led to the popular ‘film-noir’ genre in cinematic masterpieces such as The Big Sleep. [The Big Sleep; Farewell, My Lovely; The Long Goodbye] 

Willa Cather (1890s-1930s) A Virginia native whose family moved to Nebraska during the great Westward Expansion, Cather’s great novels O Pioneers! and My Antonia depict the life of settlers on the great plains in the late 19th Century. [O Pioneers!; My Antonia; Death Comes for the Archbishop]

Kate Chopin (1880s-1890s) An important figure in American Realism and Southern literature, Chopin’s controversial novel The Awakening was banned in its own time but has become an American classic and is the most widely taught novel in American colleges and universities. [The Awakening; At Fault; a selection of short stories] 

Tennessee Williams (1940s-1950s) The most important American dramatist of the post-World War II era (if not of the entire 20th century), Williams’ great plays such as A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and The Glass Menagerie analyze changing cultural and sexual mores in the mid-20th Century American South and Midwest. (Honors read 4 plays; regulars read 3 plays) [A Streetcar Named Desire; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; The Glass Menagerie; Sweet Bird of Youth; The Night of the Iguana]

Lorraine Hansberry (1950s-1960s) An important American dramatist and singular figure in mid-20th century African-American literature, Lorraine Hansberry’s greatest play, A Raisin in the Sun, depicts the rise of the African-American middle class.  Hansberry was also deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement, having worked closely with important early Civil Rights figures such as Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Dubois (honors read 4; regulars read 3). [A Raisin in the Sun; The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window; Les Blancs; To Be Young, Gifted and Black(a collection of interviews)]

Stephen Crane (1860s-1890s) As America’s first great war correspondent and travel writer, Crane’s Realist fiction had a profound influence on 19th Century American literature that echoes in the work of 20th Century masters such as Ernest Hemingway.  His subjects range from urban tragedy in New York’s seedy Bowery district (Maggie, A Girl of the Streets) to the Civil War (The Red Badge of Courage) and his adventures sailing to Cuba, as depicted in shorter pieces such as “The Open Boat.” [Maggie, A Girl of the Streets; The Red Badge of Courage; The Open Boat and Other Tales of Adventure]

Arthur Miller (1940s-1960s) Miller’s greatest plays depict the changing shape of the American Dream in the mid-20th Century (Death of a Salesman) and some of that era’s darker chapters, such as the ‘blacklisting’ days of McCarthyism in the ‘50s (The Crucible). (honors read 4; regulars read 3) [Death of a Salesman; The Crucible; All My Sons; A View from the Bridge ]

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920s) The definitive novelist of the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the ‘Jazz Age,’ Fitzgerald wrote brilliantly about his experiences as a ne’er do-well Ivy Leaguer (This Side of Paradise), a cynical screenwriter (The Last Tycoon), and a perennial social climber, as depicted in The Great Gatsby—often cited by critics and scholars as ‘The Great American Novel.’ [The Great Gatsby; Tender is the Night; This Side of Paradise; The Last Tycoon]

Dashiell Hammett (1920s-1930s) Like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett changed the face of popular culture and literary fiction with his hard-boiled detective novels such as The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man.  [The Maltese Falcon; The Thin Man; The Glass Key; Red Harvest; The Dain Curse ]

Ernest Hemingway (1920s-1950s) One of America’s most celebrated and derided novelists, Ernest Hemingway was the quintessential ‘man’s man,’ writing about the code of machismo and celebrating outdoor pursuits, war and combat, bullfighting, fishing, and other manly exploits in his greatest novels.  A master of high-Modern, ‘minimalist’ prose and symbolism, Hemingway was also a decorated war hero in World War I, a fearless correspondent covering the Spanish Civil War and World War II, an amateur Nazi U-boat hunter off the coast of his home in Cuba, and, above all, a celebrity. [A Farewell to Arms; The Sun Also Rises; For Whom the Bell Tolls; The Old Man and the Sea (if you haven’t read it before)]

Jack London (1890s-1910s) [only one student per class can choose this author] One of America’s most popular novelists and one of the singular figures of 19th Century American Realism, Jack London is best remembered for classic novels such as Call of the Wild and The Sea Wolf—deceptively simple yet remarkably rich and symbolic works that continue to delight and enlighten audiences over a century after their publication.  London was also deeply immersed in Socialist politics. [The Sea Wolf; Call of the Wild; a selection of stores]

Ernest Gaines (1970s-1990s) One of the most prominent literary writers in the African-American literary canon, Gaines translates his experiences growing up in rural South Louisiana into penetrating and gripping narratives such as Of Love and Dust, A Gathering of Old Men, and A Lesson Before Dying. [A Lesson Before Dying; A Gathering of Old Men; Of Love and Dust; The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman]

 Tim O'Brien (1960s-present) Perhaps the most acclaimed novelist of the American serviceman’s experience in Vietnam.  O’Brien’s best novels include The Things They Carried, Going After Cacciato, and In the Lake of the Woods.  [The Things They Carried; Going After Cacciato; In the Lake of the Woods]

 Flannery O'Connor (1950s-1960s) The definitive author of ‘Southern Gothic,’ O’Connor is most famous for her ironic, sometimes grotesque and gruesome short stories (Everything That Rises Must Converge) and her terrifically creepy Southern Gothic novel, Wise Blood.  O’Connor is also notable as an avowed Catholic writer who used her stories to depict God’s grace in the lives of exceedingly mortal human beings. [Wise Blood, The Violent Bear It Away; a collection of short stories]

Katherine Anne Porter (1930s-1950s)  Best known for her extraordinary short stories (collected in Flowering Judas and Pale Horse, Pale Rider), Porter wrote brilliantly about the border culture of Texas and Mexico in the early 20th century and about the cultural mood in the rise to World War II in her one great novel, Ship of Fools. [Ship of Fools; Noon Wine; Old Mortality; Pale Horse, Pale Rider]

J.D. Salinger (1950s) Perhaps America’s most beloved, mysterious, and controversial writer, Salinger is most famous for The Catcher in the Rye and for his notorious reclusiveness.  His short story collection Nine Stories is especially admired. [Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey; Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction]

John Steinbeck (1930s-1950s) California’s greatest novelist, Steinbeck is best known for his epic about the lives of ‘Okies’ who migrated west to work as farm laborers during the Dust Bowl days, The Grapes of Wrath, and for his California ranching family saga and Biblical allegory, East of Eden. [The Grapes of Wrath (counts as 2); The Red Pony; Of Mice and Men (if you haven’t read it)]

Kurt Vonnegut (1950s-1990s) A wildly popular comic writer, science-fiction author, and satirist, Vonnegut’s most famous works include Slaughterhouse V, Breakfast of Champions, Mother Night, and Cat’s Cradle. [Slaughterhouse V; Cat’s Cradle; Breakfast of Champions; Mother Night]

Eudora Welty (1950s-1980s) One of the South’s preeminent short story writers, Welty won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Optimist’s Daughter. [The Optimist’s Daughter; A Worn Path; A Curtain of Green; The Ponder Heart ]

Richard Wright (1930s-1940s) An important novelist in the African-American literary canon, Wright’s novels capture the lives of poor blacks in the early 20th century (Black Boy) and the conflicts experienced by young African-Americans drawn into the cultural and political battles surrounding the Red Scare (Native Son). [Native Son; Black Boy; Uncle Tom’s Children]

Larry McMurtry (1960s-1980s) McMurtry is one of Texas’ most popular and acclaimed novelists.  His epic Lonesome Dove, one of the best-loved cowboy novels ever written, depicts the westward movement in the 19th Century, and his novels of mid-20th century life in rural Texas such as Horseman, Pass By, Terms of Endearment, and The Last Picture Show have garnered large audiences and inspired award-winning films.  [Here are the two novels you can read: Lonesome Dove (counts as 2); Horseman, Pass By] {students might read another writer of the American West}

James Baldwin (1950s-1960s) Baldwin was a prolific novelist and essayist who wrote about issues of African-American identity and sexual politics in the 1950s and 60s.  His best known works are Go Tell It on the Mountain and The Fire Next Time. [Go Tell It on the Mountain; The Fire Next Time; Another Country ]

Joseph Heller (1940s-1960s) Heller’s masterpiece Catch-22 is the definitive satirical novel of World War II.  Himself a veteran bombardier flying missions over Western Europe, Heller hilariously captures the fear involved in working one of the war’s most dangerous jobs, as well as the absurdity of military bureaucracy and war in general. [Catch-22 (counts as 2); Something Happened] {students might read another WWII novelist}

James Fenimore Cooper (1820s-1830s) America’s first bestselling writer, Cooper’s ‘Leatherstocking Tales’ novels of Indian culture and outdoor and military adventure in frontier New York during the French and Indian Wars are still beloved by readers—especially his best known work, The Last of the Mohicans. [The Last of the Mohicans(counts as 2); The Deerslayer ]


·Regular English students need special approval from their teachers to choose one of the following writers:

 Colson Whitehead (1969-present) [Honors English choice] Colson Whitehead is the author of the novels Zone One; Sag Harbor; The Intuitionist, (finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award); John Henry Days (Young Lions Fiction Award, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize); and Apex Hides the Hurt (PEN Oakland Award). He is best known for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning novel, The Underground Railroad, and his best-selling novel, The Nickel Boys. A recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship, Whitehead lives in New York City.

Cormac McCarthy (1960s-present) [Honors English choice] A native of Knoxville and an alumnus of the University of Tennessee, Cormac McCarthy is regarded by some critics and scholars as America’s greatest living writer.  His work is divided into three periods: his Appalachian novels (The Orchard Keeper, Suttree, Child of God, Outer Dark), his Westerns (All the Pretty Horses, Blood Meridian, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain), and his late-career page turners, such as No Country for Old Men (later made into an Academy Award-winning film) and The Road, a post-apocalyptic journey epic that won the Pulitzer Prize and has been translated into a forthcoming film starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron. [All the Pretty Horses, Blood Meridian, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain]

Toni Morrison (1970s-present) [Honors English choice] One of America’s four 20th Century Nobel Prize winners, Morrison reflects the influence of William Faulkner in her lyrical, intricate novels, the most widely read and studied of which are Song of Solomon and Beloved, a Gothic ghost story recently rated as the most important contemporary American novel by a panel of experts assembled by the New York Times. [Song of Solomon (counts as 2); The Bluest Eye; Sula]

Robert Penn Warren (1940s-1950s) [Honors English choice] One of the South’s most acclaimed poets and scholars, one-time Vanderbilt professor Warren helped to found the Fugitive literary magazine, the Agrarian movement, and the New Criticism, a method of studying literature that has had an enormous influence on the study of English, especially at MBA.  Warren’s greatest prose work, All the King’s Men, is based on the life of Louisiana politician Huey Long and critiques American populism and political corruption. [All the King’s Men(counts as 2); World Enough and Time]

William Faulkner (1920s-1960s) [Honors English choice] Doubtlessly the South’s greatest storyteller and arguably the 20th Century’s most important writer, William Faulkner captured the glory of the Old South as well as its greatest shame and its subsequent decline through Reconstruction and the rise of the 20th century middle class.  His works range from highly experimental masterpieces (Absalom, Absalom!; The Sound and the Fury; As I Lay Dying) to more readable tales of Mississippi life in the transition from pre-Civil War plantation culture to the Modern, ‘New South’ (The Unvanquished, Sanctuary, Go Down Moses). [The Unvanquished; As I Lay Dying; Absalom! Absalom! (counts as 2); Intruder in the Dust; Light in August(counts as 2)]

Pat Conroy (1960s-1980s) [Honors English choice] One of the South’s most beloved storytellers, Conroy is best known for his sprawling family drama The Prince of Tides, his military college whodunit The Lords of Discipline, and The Great Santini, his autobiographical novel of growing up as a military brat.  Conroy’s Romantic, lyrical prose makes him the definitive writer of the South Carolina low-country, and his love of sports (especially football and basketball) features heavily in his novels, which focus on the changing cultural landscape of the South in the ‘60s and ‘70s. [The Lords of Discipline, The Great Santini, The Water is Wide]

E.L. Doctorow (1970s-present) [Honors English choice] Most commonly associated with ‘postmodernism,’ Doctorow is famous for his integration of actual historical figures and events into his intricately plotted novels.  His most famous works are Ragtime, a sprawling epic of early-20th Century life, and Billy Bathgate, a look at organized crime through the exploits of the Dutch Schultz gang. [Ragtime; Billy Bathgate; The Book of Daniel; Loon Lake  ]

Ralph Ellison (1950s-1960s) [Honors English choice] Though he only published one novel in his lifetime, Ralph Ellison stands as one of the most enduring and influential novelists in African-American literature and 20th Century American literature as a whole.  Invisible Man is one of the most highly regarded literary novels of its time, and one of the most powerful critiques of racism in America ever put to page. [Invisible Man (counts as 2); Juneteenth; read another book by an African-American writer]

John Irving (1970s-present) [Honors English choice] America’s best-selling literary writer, John Irving’s style reflects the influence of Charles Dickens with his interest in quirky characters, sprawling narratives, and social activism through fiction.  His great works—The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, and A Prayer for Owen Meany, to name a few—chronicle the weirdness of 20th Century American culture and take on major social issues such as abortion, Vietnam, feminism and gender identity politics, and more.  [A Prayer for Owen Meany; The World According to Garp; The Cider House Rules]

Jack Kerouac (1950s-1960s) [Honors English choice] Poster-boy of ‘The Beat Generation,’ Jack Kerouac was required reading in the 1950s for young people interested in rebelling against the conventions of society in the Eisenhower ‘Cold War’ era and were an important influence on the cultural revolutions of the 1960s.  Populated by jazz-loving hipsters, vision-seeking mountain climbers, and a cast of thinly-veiled real life literary heroes such as Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and William S. Burroughs, Kerouac’s most important works include On The Road, The Dharma Bums, The Subterraneans, Visions of Cody, and Desolation Angels. [On The Road, The Dharma Bums, and one other]


  Some Jewish-American Writers 

Bernard Malamud (1950s-1960s) One of mid-20th Century America’s greatest Jewish novelists, Malamud was most concerned with Eastern European immigrant Jewish culture in New York.  But he is best remembered for his allegorical baseball novel, The Natural.  Other important works include The Fixer and The Assistant. [The Assistant; The Fixer; The Natural]

Chaim Potok (1950s-1970s) American author and rabbi, Chaim Potok was born in the Bronx to Jewish immigrants from Poland.  Potok's first published novel, The Chosen, and his subsequent novels reflect much of his own life, from the realistic portraits of New York's Jewish communities that he knew as a child to his deep commitments to scholarship and Judaism.  [The Chosen; My Name is Asher Lev; The Promise]

Philip Roth  (1960s-2010s) Philip Roth has written extensively on the modern Jewish experience. Roth's early novels commented on his Jewish upbringing in the Newark suburbs with a remarkably honest and controversial critical perspective. [American Pastoral; Goodbye, Columbus : And Five Short Stories; The Human Stain]






Deadlines for Regular English students:

  • Determine author by end of the week 2
  • Novel #1:  read by Thanksgiving
  • Novel #2:  read by the 2nd or 3rd week of the second semester

 Deadlines for Honors English students:

  • Determine author by end of the week 2
  • Novel #1:  read by Thanksgiving
  • Novel #2:  read by the first week of 2nd semester
  • Novel #3:  read by the 3rd week of the second semester

 Requirements for Regular English:

  • Two primary sources
  • Six secondary sources

 Requirements for Honors English:

  • Three primary sources
  • Eight secondary sources

Basic Steps for the Sophomore Research Process

1. Start with the LibGuide as the home base for your project.

2. Find reference books and non-fiction books about your topic.

3. Search for articles in databases for general, literary, and historical information.

4. Use a new project on Noodletools to cite and create notecards for your research.