An Inquiry Through Race and American Literature

In the past Cynthia Jones was engaged in collaborating and crafting professional development workshops at the American Social History Project-Center for Media and Learning (CUNY). The following activity was designed to begin an exploration of race through literary texts.

CONTEXT: Diverse literary texts provide opportunities for making connections an race and hearing multiple voices and perspectives.

Students will:
• Read and interpret texts in a variety of genres (poetry, novel, essay, interview, speech) by drawing on their experience and their interactions with other readers. develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
• Examine the contributions of writers.

THEMES: Race; identity; racism; diversity; color


Prof Jones Article Graph


Step 1. Choosing a Work of Literature
Individually, browse the readings of either Packet One or Packet Two (literary excerpts) and choose ONE piece of writing on which to concentrate. NOTE: Within the group, try to cover a variety of writers, though different individuals may choose the same piece of writing, and some pieces may not be selected.

Step 2. Analyzing the documents – works of literature
Individually, read your literary piece, and write a brief reaction about the selection.

You can also focus on the following:

• What key words stand out for you? Why?
• What are the recurring themes?
• What do you feel the writer is expressing in this work?
• What literary techniques (repetition, imagery, metaphor, rhyme, subject matter, personification, etc.) are used by the writer?
• Are there any historical contexts within the selections?
• What observations or insights do you have about the selection?

Step 3. Presenting the literary texts
Present your selection to the members of your group. Tell them about the basis for selection of the literary work; share your thoughts on the questions raised in the preceding step.

As a group, consider and discuss the following:
• What similarities or differences do you notice in the selections?
• What can we learn about race from them?

Step 4. Creating a race-based literary piece
Create a “found” poem – select key words or phrases – that incorporates your understandings about race.

Step 5. Discussing applicability
As a group, discuss how you might use and modify this activity and its resources to address race in the classroom.

• D. R. Miner, “Takaki-Morales Response”
• “A Different Mirror: A Conversation with Ronald Takaki”
• “Diverging Paths,” Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, The Heath Anthology of American Literature, 3rd edition, Volume 2, p. 701-3
• “Our America,” Jose Marti, Heath, p. 746


Prof. Jones

Cynthia Jones began her tenure at Hostos Community College in 1977 as an adjunct in the English Department teaching ESL reading courses of beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. She was appointed as a full-time Lecturer in 1981 and has taught the full range of English course offering such as Developmental Reading, Core English, Expository Writing, Literature & Composition, and an elective, Literature of the Black American. She particularly enjoys teaching developmental courses and the English elective.

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