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Signet Scholarship Essay

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Signet Classics Announces Winners of the 18th Annual Scholarship Essay Contest


New York, NY, July 2014—Signet Classics, the imprint of New American Library devoted for more than 40 years to publishing inexpensive paperback editions of more than 300 of the world’s greatest literary works, has announced the winners of the fifteenth annual Signet Classics Scholarship Essay Contest. The Grand Prize Winners, listed in alphabetical order, are:


    • Eunice Kim
      Eunice Nayoung Kim is in the 12th Grade at Stuyvesant High School, New York, NY
    • Brighid Niccum
      Brighid Niccum is in the 12th Grade at White Bear Lake Area High School, White Bear Lake, MN
    • Jamison Murphy
      Jamison Murphy is from Savannah Arts Academy, Savannah, GA
    • Kathryn Ryan
      Kathryn E. Ryan is in the 12th Grade at McDowell Senior High School, Eerie, PA
    • Rachel Davy
    • Rachel E. Davy is a homeschooled student from Hoffman Estates, IL

Read the winning essays from previous years »

Essay Subject: Beowulftranslated by Burton Raffel

Topics for the essay contest:

  1. In the introduction to the Signet Classics edition of Beowulf, Burton Raffel writes: “Most attractive to us, of all the many-sided excellences of Beowulf, is the poet’s insight into people.” Cite examples of this.
  2. Why is boasting important in Beowulf? Are the listeners expected to consider these tales of personal achievement as factual truth? How else might this style of discourse serve to express the values of the society? How does this oratory style relate to the behavior we expect from contemporary public figures?
  3. We see Beowulf at both the beginning and the end of his life: first as a vital, physically imposing young warrior and later as a frail old man near death. What qualities does he display in each of these two, distinct life stages that reveal him as a great king and leader? Choose two or three incidents from the narrative to illustrate your point.
  4. What significance—literary, spiritual, social, psychological—do you subscribe to the popularity of monsters in literature and film? Why are we fascinated by stories about deformed, violent, or malevolent figures who wreak havoc on human life? In Beowulf, what makes Grendel and his mother particularly troubling and “monstrous” to the close-knit warrior society they attack?
  5. How do the three monsters—Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon—differ from one another? You may want to consider their physical characteristics and capabilities, where they live, their methods of attack, the nature of their battles with Beowulf, and their motives. Do you find one creature more abhorrent than the others? Why?
  6. Describe the ways in which the sea and its inhabitants are portrayed in Beowulf. What do these descriptions tell you about the role of the sea in the lives of the Anglo-Saxons? What do they suggest about the Anglo-Saxon view of the natural world and the universe in general?


The Signet Classics Scholarship Essay Contest was established in 1996 to encourage greater interest in reading among high school students by offering tangible assistance to the winning students and their schools. It is open to qualifying high school juniors and seniors in the United States. “We are proud to be involved in a unique scholarship program that encourages student appreciation for the great classics,” notes Craig Burke, Vice President and Executive Director of Publicity for New American Library.

Entrants are required to submit a 2-3 page double-spaced, typewritten essay, answering one of four questions relating to the designated competition book. Essays must demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the themes in the book; clear, concise writing; and logical, well-supported arguments. Judges also consider style, content, grammar and originality. Five Grand Prize Winners are each awarded a $1,000 scholarship and a Signet Classics Library for their school (or local public library, in the case of home-schooled students), valued at $1,600.

The designated title for 2012-2013 was 1984 by George Orwell. The book selected for the 2014-2015 Signet Classics Scholarship Essay Contest isPygmalion and My Fair Lady, by George Bernard Shaw.

For more information on the 2014-2015 Signet Classics Essay Contest, click here.

Entry forms and full information about the contest will also be available in high school English departments, or by writing to:

Penguin Group (USA)
Signet Classics Scholarship Essay Contest
375 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014

New American Library is a division of Penguin Group (USA), part of Pearson Plc, the international media group, and includes the imprints Signet, Signet Classics, Onyx, Roc and NAL Trade Paperbacks.

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