12th Annual Undergraduate Writers’ Conference
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Conference Director: Norah Ashe-McNalley
Keynote Speaker: Deborah Harkness
Professional Writing/Moral Reasoning
USC Schwarzenegger Institute
USC Levan Institute
Analytical Essay (135 submissions)
The Fading and Falling Women of Israel: An Exploration of Rama Burshstein’s Fill the Void
Robin’s analysis of the gendercide depicted in Burshstein’s film Filll the Void analyzes the film’s critique with the essayist’s grim humor. The paper manages to be engaged with critical discourse on the film while also being resolutely personal. The prose is so lush in this film analysis, immersing the reader in the world of the film within richly woven sentences, while delivering a compelling and chilling analysis of the cultural crisis to which the film responds.
The Tragedies of Others: Images, Power and Politics
By introducing the premise of the 2014 film Night Crawler—which features a protagonist paid to take dramatic and violent photos that he later sells to major news outlets—Fish is able to raise a number of thought-provoking questions about the benefits, risks, and ethical stakes of capturing and presenting violent images. Integrating an array of works by scholars in fields such as psychology and journalism, Fish examines some of the effects these violent images have on viewers and then focuses her essay on the “ethical limitations of the action of capturing a moment of vulnerability or suffering”. Despite the somewhat troubling subject matter, Fish provides an essay that readers will want to finish: her analysis is insightful throughout and her ultimate call “to approach the practices of taking and sharing images critically” will strike readers as altogether necessary.
The Women Made Them Do It: The Fallacies and Truths Behind Shakespeare’s Villainous Women in Hamlet and Macbeth
Janella Lee offers an innovative contribution to Shakespearean analysis, presenting a feminist interpretation of Lady Macbeth of “Macbeth” and Gertrude from “Hamlet”, two characters who, in her assessment, have been presented in ways that solidify associations between their status as villains and their femininity and sexuality. Her work responds to a community of scholars who, from her perspective, have relegated Gertrude and Lady Macbeth to peripheral roles. Lee presents the argument that film adaptations have perpetuated these misinterpretations and that a reinterpretation would not only be more accurate, but would liberate those characters from roles that limit their agency and tie their villainy to their womanhood.
The Margins of a City
Proey Liao elucidates the relationship between socioeconomic and geographic marginalization as it plays out in China’s urban landscape. In this beautifully written analysis, Liao presents multiple forms of evidence, from visual representations to demographic data, and crafts a compelling and important argument about how changing economic, industrial conditions in modern China impact the spaces which migrant workers inhabit. Liao outlines the shifting social meanings and lived experiences of migrant workers living both in the margins of China’s social world and in the tangible, physical margins of the city. Liao offers an important contribution to scholarship on space and place and an analysis that will hopefully help to build a dialogue between architects, urban planners, and policy-makers; this work sets the stage for those drafting, planning, and constructing urban landscapes to affect broad, social change.
Researched Essay (110 submissions)
From Farce to Art: Sources and Evolution of the Shakespearian Twin Trope
Cleland sets out to examine the comedic use of a common trope: twins separated at birth who somehow find one another later in life. But, what starts out as a simple way to make the audience laugh eventually develops into a way of examining the bigger questions in life: what is fate, what does morality encompass, are we really capable of exercising free will… But, Cleland’s article also brings high-brow authors like Shakespeare down to size as he points out that even the greats built on the work of those who came before them. There is no “literary vacuum” in which great authors work, and amazing story-telling comes from borrowing from, expanding on, and ultimately building a literary canon through a sort of creative collaboration. Overall, Cleland’s argument is careful and meticulous. He walks the reader through well-articulated examples, all the while drawing intricate parallels to support the claims he makes.
Asteroids Know No Borders: International Solutions for an International Menace
Bessey examines our collective position as “citizens of Earth” in this exploration of the threat posed by asteroids. While acknowledging that the damage that humans cause to the Earth is certainly a worthy topic of exploration, the author turns her interest to potential dangers that we aren’t causing – namely, the very real possibility that large asteroids could impact our home. In conducting this study, the author has done much more than simply fulfill yet another course requirement. She seems to have genuinely learned about humility in the face of forces bigger than humanity. The author rightfully acknowledges the impact of such study on scientists as it teaches them humility and the scope of our own vulnerability to forces much greater than us. While Bessey certainly gets her readers thinking about this very particular problem, she also examines related issues like the possibility that an impending collision might encourage more powerful states to be more willing to redirect asteroids to different impact sites, thereby effectively sacrificing weaker states for the benefit and survival of stronger ones. In doing so, she gets her reader thinking about the impact of these potential impacts in ways that last long after the article has come to a close.
Where One Font Sent the World into an Uproar, a New Font Seeks Redemption: Enter Comic Neue
Farmer’s essay analyzes Comic Neue, a font that attempts to rehabilitate an earlier and much-maligned creation, Comic Sans. Whereas Comic Sans has become what Farmer calls “a cultural cliché for overzealous amiability,” Comic Neue possesses a streamlined aesthetic. Shifting effortlessly among rhetorical registers, Farmer’s essay explores the topic of font design with both wit and critical rigor. It is not often that student essays make me laugh out loud. Nor do I frequently re-read paragraphs simply to admire their prose. Simply stated, writing this good deserves to be celebrated.
Professional Writing/Moral Reasoning (103 submissions)
From Bronze Soldier to Cyber Crimes – Conflicts between Estonia and Russia
Chen’s essay thoughtfully examines ethnic tensions between Estonia and Russia, culminating in a 2007 cyber attack that alarmed the international community and, Chen contends, should have initiated a more intense focus on cyber defense among leading world powers. In an increasingly technological age in which cyber terrorism is a threat to global security, Chen assesses Estonia’s strained relationship with Russia in the wake of the attack and convincingly argues for increased international cooperation in state-building, sovereignty, and safety.
The Test of Times: Interpreting New York Times v. Sullivan Amidst Social, Political Unrest
Offering a sophisticated analysis of media coverage on racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, Elezra argues that, despite news outlets’ ethical obligation to publish the “truth,” the utilitarian imperative to promote social change should trump the publication of pure “facts.” With great sensitivity and nuance, Elezra traces the historical implications of the Supreme Court case, New York Times v. Sullivan, which created an “actual malice standard” that largely protected the media from paying for false reporting, and maintains that journalistic fallacy is appropriate for a larger social good, which, in the case of Ferguson, is racial equality.
The ‘Gorilla Economy’: The Emergence of the Rwandan Development Model
Michael Prusak offers a comprehensive and insightful analysis of the progress Rwanda has achieved economically and politically since the devastation of the 1994 genocide. He crafts an article that reports on accomplishments and changes, looking optimistically at the potential impact of continued reform in Rwanda and the influence the country can have in the region. His well-researched piece harnesses abundant evidence to deftly paint a picture of the transformation currently underway in the country, pointing to successes and innovations in the cultivation of human resources, healthcare, education, and government transparency. The writer also makes well-balanced predictions about what lies ahead, and emphasizes the challenges and opportunities facing Rwanda’s leaders as the country continues to move in the direction of a genuine democracy.
Creative Work (152 submissions)
Openly Black, a memoir in freeverse
“Blonde haired, blue-eyed/ Jesus is ridiculous,/ like blasphemy stained/ into glass./ And black Jesus?/ Nothing but prideful/ retaliation.” Remaya Campbell’s Openly Black, a memoir in freeverse, is a unique and propulsive poetic experience. Intensely personal yet universal in its concerns, rooted in specifics but epic in scope, Ms. Campbell’s 82-poem progression is both a funny/heartbreaking coming-of-age story and a sobering meditation on race in Obama’s America. Ms. Campbell’s clear-eyed writing is as exciting as it is haunting. Technically “unfinished,” this impressive collection leaves its reader wanting more: more revelation, more cleverness, more hard-fought, gangly wisdom.
Jack Foraker’s short story, Using, brings to mind the work of George Sanders or David Sedaris. Mr. Foraker’s characterization evinces the same deadpan credulity for the absurdities of modern American life, the same interest in modern delusions of selfhood, the same bemusement for the various belief systems, creeds, and life paths competing for our attention and loyalty. The work asks us to consider how desperately we, and especially young people today, cling to even the most outlandish self-image rather than face a real moment in the world unarmed by a defensive egotism, impenetrable boredom, or the delusion that we can talk to the animals and that the squirrels are out to get us.
The Things We Did In Texas
A poignant story about the difficult pilgrimage one young woman takes to honor the dying wish of her true love. Set in late 19th century Texas, the writing is evocative and reminiscent of a traditional American western, but the author’s choice to tell the love story of two women in love gives this work a deeper, more nuanced dimension. A beautiful, fresh reimagining of the male-dominated Western.
This is a story about the memory of a family member’s death. Or it’s a story about telling a story about such a memory. Or it’s about the facts around the stories, and how they end up mingling to create the truth. Combining vivid characterization, evocative moments, and precisely rendered locations, Moore crafts an intriguing narrative that dissects and subverts the practice of storytelling. She evinces an exceptional eye for details and when to use them to evoke a response, in both her characters and the reader. Standing out in particular are the evocations of color that resonate and echo throughout the story. Moore’s execution of such striking sensory elements in her writing underscores the quality and maturity of her prose.
USC Schwarzenegger Institute
Proposal to Change the Regulations of Bottled Water to Reflect EPA’s Standards of Tap Water
Malnutrition in the United States and How to Improve the SNAP Program
The Importance of Humanities to Humanity
USC Levan Institute Ethics Essay Contest
Ethics Essay Contest winners were also announced at the Writers’ Conference. Click here to view the winners.