Your task in the examination will be to write an essay on your vision of the American literary canon. In order to fulfill that task, you will probably need to consider the following:
What factors should be kept in mind when selecting canonical texts and authors?
If you used the criteria you have outlined, what authors or works would be included or excluded from the canon? Are there any authors, works, or class of texts that deserve more or less attention than they are presently receiving?
Why do literary canons matter--or do they?
The topic you will be addressing represents an "authentic question," in other words, it is the kind of question that professions in the discipline regularly struggle with in their research, publishing, and teaching. You are being initiated into a discipline and admitted into the community of scholars. Although the work done by scholars is more demanding than the kind of work traditionally undertaken by students, it is also infinitely more exciting and rewarding. You give up the security involved in knowing the "right answer," and in exchange you are well repaid by the joys of being able to think your own thought and offer a unique contribution to the world of ideas.
Remember: this is not your last word on the subject of the literary canon. Hopefully, this assignment will launch the formal beginning of a "long conversation" on literature, a conversation that will take place in classrooms, in dormrooms, in living rooms, and (perhaps most profitably of all) within your own mind. Think of this exam as a gift that keeps on giving.
Suggestions for Writing a Successful Essay
Resources for Your Project
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