Essay Contest

2023-24 Community Read

Dorothy Clark Hobson Essay Contest

About the Contest

The Dorothy Clark Hobson Essay Contest encourages undergraduate students of The W to write a scholarly paper or personal essay related to the Community Read. Winners of the Hobson Essay Contest receive a cash prize and are recognized on February 29th at the Honors Forum Series featuring Dr. Jody Skipper, author of Behind the Big House. The contest winners, as special guests, will be recognized there and at the Undergraduate Research Symposium, where their essays will be read and published online and in the institutional repository, Athena Commons. Essay contest winners will receive cash prizes:

  1. First-place is $250.00
  2. Second place is $150.00
  3. Third place winner, $100.00.

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 the authors ideas and themes
  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 Community Read Committee ( no later than midnight on February 16, 2024.
  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 Community Read 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.

Essay Prompts

Prompt 1

On his tour of the Whitney Plantation, Clint Smith visited the site’s memorial that contains the names of a hundred thousand people enslaved in Louisiana. He writes, “It was staggering to even consider the enormity of the number of people, and to consider what that number meant in the context of my own life. I thought about all of the descendants of these names and the lineage of Black Louisianans who came after them. How the intergenerational progeny of the names on the walls were possibly people I passed on the street, people I had gone to school with, people checking out their food next to me in the same grocery store. Perhaps they were members of my own family. Lineage is a strand of smoke making its way into the sky even though we can’t always tell where it’s coming from . . .” (83). How does the lineage of slavery continue in your community and your family’s story? What does it mean to you to discover and investigate that lineage?

Prompt 2

In the book’s epilogue, Clint Smith says, “Across the United States, and abroad, there are places whose histories are inextricably tied to the story of human bondage. Many of these places directly confront and reflect on their relationship to that history; many of these places do not. But in order for our country to collectively move forward, it is not enough to have a patchwork of places that are honest about this history while being surrounded by other spaces that undermine it” (289). What places have you visited that engage in a truthful reckoning with the history of slavery? What places have you visited that do not? (Here you might even think about your own hometown.) How do you make sense of this “patchwork” of places as we undertake the “collective endeavor” Smith calls for “to learn and confront the story of slavery and how it has shaped the world we live in today” (289)?

Prompt 3

At Blandford Cemetery, the site of 30,000 Confederate graves, Clint Smith attended a Memorial Day event hosted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. There he heard a modern-day iteration of Lost Cause ideology, which emerged in the late 19th century and “attempted to recast the confederacy as something predicated on family, honor, and heritage rather than what it was, a traitorous effort to extend and expand the bondage of Black people” (140). How do you think that people like Paul C. Gramling Jr., the commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who organized the Memorial Day event, and others like him can begin to admit the actual aims of the Confederacy and tell a more truthful and complete story about the brutality of slavery and about Confederate soldiers and their descendants?