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Prepared for Writing About the Harlem Renaissance by Jeremy Braddock

Your portfolio will be a collection of your writing that represents what you have accomplished this semester, and as such should include what you feel to be your best work. It should show two things most of all. The first is that you are able to think critically about the texts we have studied. Second, the portfolio should show that you can express these ideas in essays that develop an original idea in a coherent and interesting fashion.

The two ideas are obviously related: your ideas should be sophisticated enough that they require writing to explain them. Plot summaries and highly descriptive essays are not acceptable.



  1. A Table of Contents, and, if you like, a letter to me explaining what you tried to accomplish in the portfolio, and with instructions about where and how to return it to you. If you don't want your portfolio returned, let me know.


  2. Fifteen pages of original writing that you feel best represents what you have accomplished in the course. This requirement may be met any way you wish, with the following stipulations. It must contain at least two essays, versions of which you have already turned in to me. You may choose to turn in revisions and reworkings of the shorter and informal writing assignments as part of the portfolio, but these will be subject to criteria specific to their length. That is to say, they should not be about a topic that is too general to be seriously considered in a page.


  3. All previous versions of essays that I have read. Staple these to the back of your finished essays, when applicable.


Revision may be something of a misleading word. What I want you to do is better described as rewriting. What many of you are now discovering with frustration (but I hope also with some sense of pride) is that you are now much better writers and critical thinkers than you were in January. Preparing your portfolio is going to take a lot of work, and I do not expect you to take it lightly. You may feel that you should drastically or entirely rewrite a paper. Do so. In many cases, there will be more that you want to say. Many of your essays would do well to be much longer. By no means should you be in love with the five paragraph essay.

I advise once again that you use the Writing Center. They are paid to help you at any stage of your writing. To make an appointment, call 898-8525.

With all this in mind, I recommend going back to your papers asking of each four kinds of questions:

  1. How does my introduction function? Does it set up the problem I want to discuss? Does my paper have an argument? Is this stated in a clear way?


  2. How is my essay organized? Do the paragraphs address ideas that are important to the problem I am trying to address? Does each paragraph need the previous paragraph in order to establish what it is trying to accomplish?


  3. What is the project of each paragraph? Is this project apparent from the beginning? Is the first sentence weak? (Is it plot summary?) What else can I say? Am I saying anything that is unnecessary or redundant?


  4. Does my concluding paragraph give a sense of where I have come since beginning the essay?

Be attentive to how you use the texts. Plot summary is one thing, but quoting sections from a book or lines of poetry is absolutely essential. It draws you into your subject and enables you to discuss the details that make a text what it is. Remember that every single word that an author uses is the result of a conscious choice on her part.

One last point that is no less important. Consider how your title represents your paper. It is the first thing your reader will know about your paper. A boring, smart-ass, or overly vague title will be a real turn-off. Be creative, but keep your audience and your paper in mind.


Your papers should have page numbers, one-inch margins on all sides, and be rendered in the 12-point font of your choice. They should also have footnotes and bibliographies where appropriate (no, this doesn't count toward your page count, smart guy!). See the handbook for a guideline to formatting footnotes and bibliographies.

I will be attentive to the way in which you use language. You should avoid obsessive use of the passive voice and modulations of the verb "to be." I will also grimace upon reading long, messy sentences. My muscles will contort at sentences that begin, "Another point is that . . . " I will shriek in godless fury if you use unjustified, generalized terms like "oppression" in order to avoid a more difficult phrase or concept, or if you set up arguments with phrases like "since the beginning of history" and "throughout mankind."

I will take an extremely dim view of spelling and grammatical errors.

Read your paper out loud. If you have that kind of friend, read it to a friend. I can't stress highly enough how important this can be.


This is less important, but just so you know. I did not discuss using the library before, because it was more important for you to come up with your own ideas, without feeling burdened by the jive-ass critics of the ages. However, in many cases it will be useful to consult other writing, either to augment your own thinking, or to use as something you want to argue against. Here are some resources at your disposal. Hang on to this, as it may help you in the future.


  • Franklin. The catalog of books and periodicals at Van Pelt. It's an excellent library. Learn to use it.


  • Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. This is a big green series of volumes located in the reference room at Van Pelt. It is an index, by subject, of most of the major magazines published in the United States for the past 60-odd (I think) years. It may be helpful if you are trying to relate a text to a contemporary event or problem.


  • The New York Times Index. The same as above, but for the Times. Also located in the reference room. There should be one for the Los Angeles Times as well.


  • Film Literature Index. This is a really indispensable resource for anyone writing on film. It is an index that includes more serious articles on film, which you will not find in any of the other databases. Located in the reference room of the library in the Annenberg Center. Many of the periodicals that it catalogs are here too.


  • Wilson. An on-line version of the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. It doesn't go back as far, but that may not be important. You can access it from the library homepage.


  • MLA Bibliography. An on-line index of scholarly writing in literary and film studies. A lot of what you'll find here may be pretty dense. But it often will you give you a reference for something that you won't find anywhere else. You can access this also from the library homepage.


  • The African American Seminar Room in Van Pelt.