english question 342

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  1. Read the two brief author bios
  2. Study the quote posted beneath them
  3. Follow the Writing Task instructions for developing a response to the prompt, then
  4. Respond to a minimum of two classmates’ posts


ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: Philip Roth (1933-2018) was an American novelist. Over nearly 60 years he authored 27 novels and several works of nonfiction. Roth first gained attention in his mid-20s with Goodbye Columbus, an irreverent portrait of American Jewish life for which he won the National Book Award. Roth’s fiction is regularly set in Newark, New Jersey and frequently blurs the line between reality and fiction. It is known for being intensely autobiographical, and energized by dialogue and elements of social and political commentary. Roth’s books are provocative explorations of sex, assimilation, American culture and the struggle between the bonds of religion and ethnicity and the dictates of community vs. individual expression. Along with many other literary honors, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the National Humanities Medal by President Obama, and the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement in fiction. Eight of Roth’s novels and stories have been adapted as feature films, including Indignation (in theaters August 2016) and the upcoming American Pastoral.


jamaica-kincaid.jpgABOUT THIS AUTHOR: Jamaica Kincaid (b. 1949) is a novelist and academic. She has authored five novels, five books of nonfiction, and numerous stories and essays. She was born Elaine Potter Richardson in Antigua, a small Caribbean island in the West Indies. She divides her teaching time between Claremont McKenna College in California and Harvard University. Kincaid grew up in relative poverty. Her mother removed her from school at age sixteen to help support the family and a year later, sent Kincaid to an upper-class suburb of New York City to work as an au pair. (Links to an external site.) Kincaid reinvented herself after arriving in New York and didn’t go back to visit Antigua for 20 years. While working as an au pair, she enrolled in evening classes at a community college. When her first writing was published in 1973, she changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid, explaining her decision (Links to an external site.) as a way to “do things without being the same person who couldn’t do them—the same person who had all these weights.” Kincaid’s work explores such themes as colonialism, gender, sexuality, mother-daughter relationships, racism, class, power, and adolescence.


The topic for Discussion 1 begins with close consideration of the following Philip Roth quote. It’s from his book, Reading Myself and Others, (Links to an external site.) an anthology of essays, criticism and interviews and it appears too on our course syllabus:


“I read fiction to be freed from my own suffocatingly narrow perspective on life and to be lured into imaginative sympathy with a fully developed narrative point of view not my own. It’s the same reason I write.”

WRITING TASK: Instructions

Your initial discussion post will be divided into three parts. Label each segment with the appropriate heading, as follows:

  1. Paraphrase & Explanation
  2. Application
  3. Personal Reflection

Your first discussion post should be detailed, thoughtfully organized, developed, and direct responses to the prompt(s). Minimum length: 250 words.


A) The quote is brief, but the thinking behind it is complex. Roth introduces some intriguing concepts with the phrases, “freed from my own suffocatingly narrow perspective on life,” “imaginative sympathy,” and “fully developed narrative point of view.” What do each of these mean? For Roth, what is valuable about reading fiction? About writing? Create an attentive, paraphrase of Roth’s quote in your own words. Accurately capturing the intent and meaning behind these ideas. (Review an explanation of paraphrasing here: Writing Paraphrases.) (Links to an external site.)

B) After your paraphrase, write your 1-2 sentence explanation. In these sentences you will “unpack” (i.e., further explain and clarify) the ideas in the quote.


How might Roth’s ideas about the capabilities of literature apply to Jamaica Kincaid’s story, “Girl?” Be specific. Where relevant, summarize, paraphrase or quote brief excerpts from the story in your response to support and illustrate your points. (If you need review, consult Quoting, Paraphrasing and Summarizing (Links to an external site.) and How to Use Quotation Marks. (Links to an external site.)


What’s your personal take on Roth’s way of thinking about fiction? Have you ever read something that made a strong impression on you, or perhaps impacted you in the ways referred to by Roth?

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