“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers”

By: Emily Dickinson

‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

James Baldwin

James Baldwin


Mini Biography




“Sonny’s Blues”

Sonny's blues pic

“Sonny’s Blues,” 1957

YouTube Recording of “Sonny’s Blues”

Assignment #1

  1. Read and annotate James Baldwin’s “Sonny Blues.”
  2. Above, you will see a digital PDF of the short story. Please use this version if you do not have The Story and Its Writer with you.
  3. You might find it helpful to play the audio recording of the short story in the background as you read “Sonny’s Blues.” Remember that you must annotate the text, so I would strongly advise against listening to the recording without the text in front of you.
  4. It might be helpful to listen to the musician that inspired Sonny to play jazz. See below.

Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro

Peck's movie poster

In class, we will watch Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro documentary based on James Baldwin’s Remember This House. I cannot express how vital this piece is to understanding who James Baldwin was and why he wrote the texts he did. I hope you enjoy listening to Samuel L. Jackson read Baldwin’s words throughout the film.

Free Script of the Documentary via Scripts.com: Full Script Without Minute Markers

  • If you’re having trouble finding your place in the PDF, here’s a reference point I found that might help. Minute 44:38 (the clip from Imitation of Life by J.M. Stahl, 1934) is on page 27 of the PDF.

Assignment #2

  • Take notes while you view the film in class.

Assignment #3

Complete the following review questions for “Sonny’s Blues” & I Am Not Your Negro. You may work in groups of three to complete this assignment. Please upload your responses to Google Classroom.

Note: Format your Google doc based on our MLA guidelines, include each member’s name in your header, and add signed honor codes on the last page.

  1. What do we learn about Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X through the eyes of James Baldwin?
  2. How does Peck contemporize Baldwin’s words through his film?
  3. After watching Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, what is Baldwin’s story of America? Be specific here.
    • Although Baldwin speaks of the black experience in an America styled by socially acceptable white standards, how can you relate the experiences of other racial, ethnic, or cultural groups living in America today? (e.g.- You may discuss large geographical areas or specific communities: Chinese American, Caribbean American, Jewish, African, Latinx, Hispanic, Chicano, Indian, East Asian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European, etc.) How would these other groups describe their experience in America?
  4. What connections can be made between Baldwin’s story of America and other texts or videos we’ve examined this year? Please widen your scope and provide specific examples.
  5. Define the following vocabulary words:vindictively, insular, denigrate, repulsive, menace, coaxed, chasm, parody, malice, obscurely, grimly, earnest, afflicted, revival, sullen, belligerent, imposed, apprehensive, dispersed, contempt, confiding, corroborated, evocations, evoked, sardonic.
    • Once you define each term, add the line from the text below the definition so that you can see the term used in context. 
  6. Why does the use of the word it in the opening paragraph make for an effective opener for the reader.  To what does it refer?  What might the narrator’s use of the word it in the first paragraph suggest about the narrator himself?
  7. In the second paragraph, the narrator uses an extended metaphor of a “great block of ice” that “got settled in my belly.”  What different feelings is this metaphor meant to convey?  
  8. What does the description of Sonny in the 3rd paragraph tell us about him?  With what other character in the story is the word “privacy” associated?  How in the final scene of the story is Sonny’s need for “privacy” explained?
  9. What conflicting emotions does the narrator reveal in his encounter with one of Sonny’s former friends?  What does this suggest about the narrator? Explain the use of the pronoun he when Sonny’s friend says, “how would he know what I mean?”  What is the friend suggesting about the narrator?
  10. Compare the description of the barmaid with the descriptions of the revival singers and the woman with “her face scarred and swollen.”  What do the women in these descriptions have in common? What is the function of these descriptions in the story?
  11. Identify four places in the opening four pages of the story that reflect a state of hopelessness.  What is the cause of this hopelessness, and how does Baldwin reveal the cause to us?
  12. Why does the narrator finally write Sonny?  How does the story of the narrator’s family and the loss they suffer enhance the meaning of the ending of the story?
  13. We first meet Sonny through the letter he writes to the narrator.  What does this letter reveal about Sonny and about his relationship to his brother?
  14. What does the description of Sunday afternoon reveal about the narrator and Sonny’s family?  How does this family compare to Sonny’s figurative families at the end?
  15. What parallels can be drawn between Sonny and his uncle?  How, according to Sonny’s mother, is Sonny like his father?    
  16. The narrator says, “I had begun, finally, to wonder about Sonny, about the life that Sonny lived inside.”  “…I was trying to find out something about my brother.” “And, after the funeral, with just Sonny and me alone in the empty kitchen, I tried to find out something about him.” As Sonny is telling him of his dream to become a musician, the narrator comments, “I sensed myself in the presence of something I didn’t really know how to handle, didn’t understand.”  And again, he comments about Sonny, “I suddenly had the feeling that I didn’t know him at all.” Review the scene in which Sonny and the narrator are together; look for possible explanations for the narrator’s difficulty in knowing Sonny. Record parts of the text that hint at explanations.
  17. Study the uses of the words hear and listen.  What various meanings does this motif on listening have in relation to Sonny’s character?  In relation to the narrator? In relation to the blues? 
  18. Sonny’s mother tells the narrator, while asking him to take care of Sonny, “It ain’t a question of his [Sonny] being a good boy…nor of his having good sense.  It ain’t only the bad ones, nor yet the dumb ones that gets sucked under.” Who does Baldwin suggest are the ones that get sucked under, and why do they?
  19. Analyze the final image in the story: “For me, then, as they began to play again, it [the glass of scotch and milk] glowed and shook above my brother’s head like the very cup of trembling.”
  20. Which thematic ideas appear in both I Am Not Your Negro and “Sonny’s Blues”? Please explain each thematic idea you include.
  21. What reflections and lessons can you take away from Baldwin’s words?
    • Note: Since you are completing this assignment in groups of three, you might want to write three individual responses or discuss this question with your group members before you write one comprehensive answer.



Zora Neale Hurston

zora neale hurston pic


Who was Zora Neale Hurston?

As you take a moment to explore Hurston’s hometown, be sure to view Eatonville from multiple lenses and to take notes. Click on the Google map included below, visit the town’s official website, skim the NY Times article about Eatonville’s historical legacy, and watch PBS’ biography on Hurston. Remember that it is important to fully understand an author’s background prior to reading their work. (Please note: The images below are hyperlinked. Click through and have some fun!)

Discover Hurston Below

Where’s Eatonville?

Eatonville Florida Map

Eatonville’s Official Page

The New York Times on Eatonville

NYT- Eatonville

In a Town Apart, the Pride and Trials of Black Life – The New York Times

(Sometimes The New York Times forces you to subscribe, if you cannot access the school’s subscription to the publication, please click the link above where I’ve posted a PDF of the article.)


PBS’ Biography of Hurston


Florida Today’s Photos of Zora Neale Hurston

florida today

Assignment #1:

After you’ve discovered Zora Neale Hurston and her hometown, Eatonville, FL, create a video explaining what you’ve learned. You may use any platform you choose (i.e.- Snapchat, TikTok, IG, etc.) but your video must answer the questions below. Please post your videos on this Padlet.  Note: Since this is a public site, I have made the Padlet password protected. Click on your reading schedule to find the password. As the moderator of the Padlet, I also have to approve your posts before they appear on the page.)

Made with Padlet

Questions to Answer:

  1. Who was Zora Neale Hurston? (Include pivotal moments in her life and career)
  2. How did Hurston’s birthplace influence her writing? (Include major themes, use of dialect, etc.)
  3. Now that you know that Hurston was an anthropologist, how might her work in the field have influenced her writing?

Short Works

How it feels to be colored me- hurston

“How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” 1928 (Without Helpful Notes)

“How It Feels to Be Colored Me,” 1928 (With Helpful Notes)

sweat 2

“Sweat,” 1926


Assignment #2

  1. Read and annotate “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.” Note that I have attached two copies of Hurston’s essay above. The first copy is a plain PDF of her essay sans helpful tips. The second copy is from a textbook and provides helpful side notes in addition to defining difficult vocabulary words. Please use whichever copy makes you feel most comfortable.
    • I highly suggest printing out the essay before you annotate it as reading the printed word is far gentler on the eyes.
    • Also note that your annotations may be in any format you choose (i.e.- directly on the printed essay, on a separate Google doc, on lined paper in your notebook, etc.).
  2. Complete the critical analysis question in Google Classroom. Click on “Classwork,” go to the appropriate assignment, and post your response.
  3. Thoughtfully respond to two of your peers’ posts before logging off.


Assignment #3

  1. Read and annotate “Sweat.” As we’ve discussed in class, it is far better to print the short story if you have the ability to do so. There is only one hyperlinked copy of the PDF above. Although the short story starts on page four (4), I strongly encourage you to read Hurston’s biography. Every time you read about her life, it’s another opportunity to familiarize yourself with a writer who walked brazenly into public spaces and demanded respect.
    • Please remember to annotate your read of this text.
  2. Complete your assigned literature circle roles. A literature circle is a teaching tool used to piecemeal an analysis of a difficult work. Students in the class will be assigned specific roles. Each student will work diligently to accomplish their task and return to the following class period ready to lead a Harkness discussion. Please find the roles below. I will post assignments specific to each class period on your private reading schedules.
    1. Playback Pro
      1. Your job will initially be the most important.
      2. As we read the text, you must explain major plot shifts and help your peers understand what is happening in “Sweat.”
      3. Then for homework, write a well-written summary of the text.
    2. THE Merriam Webster
      1. Define and provide explanations for the following terms:
        • mirth
        • truculently
        • meekness
        • cowed
        • sow
        • agape
        • introspection
        • retrospection
        • (include the short story’s footnotes)
      2. Be prepared to explain your findings during the discussion. You may find that the class will define a word or concept during day 2’s discussion. It is your job to add that term to your list with the class’s definition.
    3. “Theme” is Your Middle Name
      1. Compile and explain the major thematic ideas in the assigned piece of literature
      2. Remember that your voice as well as your notes will be vital during the Harkness discussion
    4. Characters Bend to Your Every Whim
      1. Create a characterization chart that includes every character in the literary word. You must conclude whether each character is static or dynamic.
      2. Be sure to trace major shifts in a character’s development
    5. Anthropologist Extraordinaire
      1. Think deeply about the intersections between culture and geography
      2. What do readers learn about the characters’ environment based on the way they treat one another? Communicate? Eat? Dress? Live?
      3. Remember that later in her life Hurston became an anthropologist. Her writing, even her earlier pieces are filled with such rich descriptions that you should record for your classmates.
    6. Harkness Guru
      1. It is your job to create critical thinking questions for our Harkness discussion on day 2
      2. Compose at least ten (10) open-ended questions that prompt your peers to dig deeper
      3. Although you will personally lead the discussion, all of your peers should help you do so. They must each participate and offer insightful information that pertain to their own assigned roles.
    7. The Next Dr. Seuss
      1. It is your job to illustrate the literary work.
      2. You get to choose the medium, but your task remains the same. Create images that encompass the major scenes of the text.
      3. Please create at least three different images
    8. Connection Wizard
      1. We’ve read and discussed so many different pieces this year. Your job is to make connections between the assigned literature and previous works and ideas.
      2. For instance, for “Sweat” you should make connections between Langston Hughes’ work, the Harlem Renaissance, and The Great Gatsby
      3. My hope is that you don’t stop at the three ideas above. Push yourself to think outside of the box.
    9. Literary God(dess)
      1. Consider yourself an expert in literary devices and figurative language
      2. Your job is to note all analogies, figurative comparisons, and the like in addition to the author’s stylistic tendencies.
      3. Help your peers dig deeper by pointing our details they may have missed.
      4. Don’t stop by pointing out four or five metaphors– really push yourself to find the hidden gems in the author’s work.

Remember that each person must participate in the Harkness discussion.

Please post your required material before the start of your class period.