Loyola University Maryland


Essay Contest for The Fire Next Time

James Baldwin The Fire Next Time Book Cover

Each year, Messina and the Class Dean’s Office co-sponsor a Common Text Essay contest for the newest members of the Loyola Community. 

Answer one of the two prompts below using only the Common Text and your intellect. That is, no outside resources are needed in this exercise in reflection and discernment. The goal is original thought inspired by careful reading. Your essay should be no longer than 5 double-spaced, typed pages.

To be eligible, please submit an original essay based on the prompt below to the Messina Office at messina@loyola.edu no later than 11:59PM on August 14, 2018. Three prizes of $350 each will be awarded.  We will celebrate the winners during Fall Welcome Weekend at the Common Text Convocation on August 31, 2018. 

Essay Contest Prompts (choose either A or B): 

Essay A 

Baldwin, in “My Dungeon Shook,” writes, “Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration. There is no reason for you to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them.” (8) Think for a moment about what it means to be accepted into a society that previously held you at bay and about what it means to be integrated into this very same society: describe how Baldwin’s 1963 letter to his nephew outlines the differences between the two. Given that integration legally happened in this country in 1954 (with the Brown v. Board decision), why does Baldwin argue that the social and political condition for black people had neither improved or changed?  What evidence does Baldwin give to support his assertion that black people need to accept white people? Why does he see these two points (white people accepting black people vs black people accepting white people) as being mutually exclusive rather than being part and parcel of one another? In what ways did the history of our country both limit and support acceptance and integration?

Essay B

In his “Letter from a Region in My Mind,” Baldwin writes, “Now there is simply no possibility of a real change in the Negro’s situation without the most radical and far-reaching changes in the American political and social structure. And it is clear that white Americans are not simply unwilling to effect these changes; they are, in the main, so slothful have the become, unable even to envision them. It must be added that the Negro himself no longer believes in the good faith of white American—if, indeed, he ever could have.” (85) Think for a moment about the political and social landscape of 1963 (as outlined in both letters) and describe the type of change that Baldwin argues needed to happen but did not. What evidence does Baldwin offer to support his assertion that white America is not willing to implement the types of changes that he believes need to happen. Why do you think that Baldwin believes that black people probably never believed in the good faith of white America? It has been 55 years since the release of The Fire Next Time, briefly describe whether or not the changes that Baldwin described have actually happened.


Contact the Messina Office at 410-617-2669 or visit www.loyola.edu/Messina for a list of academic and support services available to Loyola students, including resources to help you make the transition to campus and college life.

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