Dorothy Clark Hobson Essay Contest

The 2019 Dorothy Clark Hobson Essay Contest encourages students of The W to write a scholarly paper or personal essay related to the Common Reading Initiative. Winners of the Hobson Essay Contest receive a cash prize and are recognized in November.

The author of the first-place essay will receive $250.00; the second place winner $150.00, and the third place winner, $100.00. The contest winners, as special guests, will be recognized in November and their essays will be published on this web page.

 

When Breath Becomes Air Essay Topics

TOPIC I

Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air begins with the full knowledge that his memoir will end in his death. But Kalanithi’s words speak to us as if he is still alive.  We are allowed to see inside the mind of someone who is facing death with courage and curiosity, and wants to leave his experiences and memories behind for others to experience vicariously.  He wants us to know who he was—and knows his words will give him a type of immortality.  Have you ever read letters or diaries or listened to family or community stories about someone who became “alive” for you as you listened or read?  Has this experience made you feel as if you really did “know” this person, even though this person has died? If so, describe your experience and the person, and draw some parallels between the experiences Dr. Kalanithi describes and the experiences, personality, and character you came to know about the person in your own memory.

TOPIC II

How did Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air impact or perhaps influence your thoughts about medical treatment in general? Did Dr. Kalanithi’s experiences make you think more deeply about the relationship between a doctor and a terminal patient? What does the very real experience of Dr. Kalanithi’s death show us about how a person COULD face death? Does his attitude remind you of any personal experiences? Have you ever had a loved one who entered hospice care (end of life care)?  Does reading this book help you understand your and your loved one’s experiences more clearly? 

TOPIC III

Literary analyses of Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air point out that this book attempts to answer the question: “What makes a life worth living?” Do you think that his memoir answers that question? What are some things he chooses to do, even as he faces death, that help us understand his answer to the question? Does the book make you think about how you would face a terminal diagnosis? How do you think of death—as something a long time from now--as something painful and scary—or as part of the normal cycle of life? Do you think of death as the end or as a beginning?

Judging Criteria

Essays will be judged on the following criteria by a faculty and staff committee:

  1. Adherence to contest requirements and essay topics
  2. Connection to Paul Kalanithi’s ideas and themes in When Breath Becomes Air
  3. Clarity and organization
  4. Grammar and mechanics, and especially
  5. Specific details and thoughtfulness

 

Submission Guidelines

  1. Only one submission per currently enrolled full-time undergraduate MUW student will be accepted.
  2. All essays must be submitted electronically as Word documents to the Common Read Initiative Committee (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) later than midnight on March 2, 2020.
  3. Essays must be between 700-1250 words in length.
  4. The cover page of the essay must include the following information: first name, last name, e-mail address, telephone number, and the following statement: “I testify that this essay is my own original work, and I understand that if my essay is selected as one of the winning essays, my essay will be posted to the CRI website and published in other appropriate venues, if available, without any other remuneration other than the published prize.”
  5. No identifying information, such as the author’s name, should appear anywhere else other than on the cover page.

Dorothy Clark Hobson Essay Contest

The 2020 Dorothy Clark Hobson Essay Contest encourages students of The W to write a scholarly paper or personal essay related to the Common Reading Initiative. Winners of the Hobson Essay Contest receive a cash prize and are recognized in March.

The author of the first-place essay will receive $250.00; the second place winner $150.00, and the third place winner, $100.00. The contest winners, as special guests, will be recognized in March and their essays will be published on this web page.

 

Educated Essay Topics

  1. In Educated, Westover writes: “Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come to believe the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create.” How do you know something is true? What is something you once believed was true, that you later learned was not? Are you willing to take someone else’s (a parent, a teacher, a religious leader) words as truth? Why or why not?

  2. How might Westover’s life been different had she chosen not to leave home and attend college? What risks did she face and what fears did the author have to overcome in order to leave home and pursue her higher education? How did Westover change as a result of her formalized education?

  3. Over the course of this book, the Westover family deals with a number of accidents: Westover’s brother Tyler falling asleep and driving off the road, Westover’s brother Luke catching on fire, and later, a very serious accident for their father. Early on, Westover writes about “all the decisions that go into making a life — the choices people make, together and on their own, that combine to produce any single event.” What do you think she meant by this? How does this insight apply to your own life?

  4. By Chapter 22, Westover writes that her life was often “narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.” What is the significance of this realization? Do you identify at all with this?

  5. At Brigham Young, Tara recounts going to a professor for moral advice, and instead being encouraged to apply for a very competitive study abroad program at Cambridge University, which she’d never imagined she could qualify to do. “He’d seemed to say, ‘First find out what you are capable of, then decide who you are,’” she writes. Has anyone ever given you advice to do something beyond what you thought you were capable? Did you follow it?

  6. Looking back over the book, what did you learn about family and forgiveness and trauma? What did you learn about education?

 

Judging Criteria

Essays will be judged on the following criteria by a faculty and staff committee:

  1. Adherence to contest requirements and essay topics
  2. Connection to Tara Westovers’s ideas and themes in Educated
  3. Clarity and organization
  4. Grammar and mechanics, and especially
  5. Specific details and thoughtfulness

 

Submission Guidelines

  1. Only one submission per currently enrolled full-time undergraduate MUW student will be accepted.
  2. All essays must be submitted electronically as Word documents to the Common Read Initiative Committee (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) later than midnight on March 1, 2021.
  3. Essays must be between 700-1250 words in length.
  4. The cover page of the essay must include the following information: first name, last name, e-mail address, telephone number, and the following statement: “I testify that this essay is my own original work, and I understand that if my essay is selected as one of the winning essays, my essay will be posted to the CRI website and published in other appropriate venues, if available, without any other remuneration other than the published prize.”
  5. No identifying information, such as the author’s name, should appear anywhere else other than on the cover page.

Common Reading Initiative

2020 Selection: Educated: A Memoir

Educated cover

A New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller will be the 2020-21 Common Read at Mississippi University for Women.

Recommended by a cross-campus committee of faculty and staff, Educated: A Memoir is an unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University.

From the publisher:

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

 

About the Common Reading Initiative

The Common Reading Initiative (CRI) at Mississippi University for Women draws on our rich literary heritage and builds on The W's tradition of excellence in teaching to:

  • Develop intellectual community among students, staff, and faculty outside the traditional classroom,
  • Foster intellectual curiosity, inquiry, and responsibility among all groups,
  • Deepen understanding of issues raised in significant books, and
  • Provide opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to engage socially in meaningful ways.

 

Book cover used with permission of Penguin Random House.

About the Author

Tara Westover

Tara Westover was born in Idaho in 1986. She received her BA from Brigham Young University in 2008 and was subsequently awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned an MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 2009, and in 2010 was a visiting fellow at Harvard University. She returned to Cambridge, where she was awarded a PhD in history in 2014. Educated is her first book.

 

Photo used with permission of Penguin Random House.

Previous Selections

 

When Breath Becomes AirWhen Breath Becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi
2019 CRI Selection

The World's Largest ManThe World's Largest Man

Harrison Scott Key
2018 CRI Selection

PersepolisPersepolis

Marjane Satrapi
2017 CRI Selection

brown girl dreamingBrown Girl Dreaming

Jacqueline Woodson
2016 CRI Selection

Coming of Age in MississippiComing of Age in Mississippi

Anne Moody
2015 CRI Selection

The Secret of MagicThe Secret of Magic

Deborah Johnson
2014 CRI Selection

RiversRivers

Michael Farris Smith
2013 CRI Selection

OutliersOutliers

Malcolm Gladwell
2012 CRI Selection

Truth BookThe Truth Book

Joy Castro
2011 CRI Selection

Family BibleFamily Bible

Melissa Delbridge
2009 CRI Selection

Prince of FrogtownThe Prince of Frogtown

Rick Bragg
2008 CRI Selection