And so it’s the middle of June. The mortarboard caps have been thrown in the air, sensational senior week beach trips have been carried out…now it’s time for college orientation season to begin! We all remember that awkward day of bonding games, peppy tour guides, and motivational speeches, but how much does that day really prepare you for what’s ahead, especially as a Humanities major? What advice or tips would you give to incoming Humanities students as their college experience truly begins with orientation day? Comment and let us know…and then go tell that to any recent graduates in your life about how to deal with what’s coming next!
Confession: Last summer, I made Faulkner my own summer reading. Or at least I tried…it was a struggle. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the complex characters and sinuous narrative of Absalom, Absalom! because I absolutely did. The problem was that it was summer.
From the time we enter high school and start receiving summer reading lists, we’re expected to be the same scholars in the summer that we are during the school year. It’s an institution that makes sense for high school students, especially those in AP classes where there’s already too much material to get through in the year before the exam, but in college, the situation is quite a bit different. Instead of taking 5 AP tests all in different subjects, as an undergraduate, your major is your absolute focus, the area your brain spends in thought for a whole year. When you’ve spent your semester reading Wallace Stevens, James Joyce, and William Shakespeare all at the same time, when you reach for intense scholarship in your field during the semester, it’s okay to allow yourself to be a different kind of scholar in the summer. There are so many other ways to be just as interesting a scholar without forcing yourself through a novel just because you think it’s something you should be reading.
Instead, read something for fun! Reread a childhood favorite, open Fifty Shades of Grey sans embarrassment, or relax poolside and flip through gossip magazines. Or, travel somewhere of historical/literary/personal significance and watch throughout the year how much that experience comes back to deepen your understanding of a particular subject. Write in a diary, stay up late and talk about existential issues with your friends, sit and people-watch for an afternoon; though it may not seem so, doing these things makes for a scholar with an interesting and broad perspective of humanity.
So if you’re someone who wants to read Faulkner for fun this summer, by all means, have at it. But for those looking for a way to take a break and be a different sort of scholar for a few months, now is your time.
Written by Emma Irving
Originally posted at The Ink Plot
Community, for a writer, is important. “Writer” is an identity often shunted aside in favor of more socially acceptable options, which means that finding others who share in your love of language and a well-crafted sentence is paramount. I have identified as a writer since grade school, so I have come to accept that people will raise eyebrows or hear “Starbucks Barista” dubbed over my words when I tell them what I want to do after graduation. While I do not believe, as they do, that my future in my field is nonexistent, it is frustrating to hear those doubts repeated so often. Occasionally, I struggle to remember that I am not the only person accustomed to hearing these remarks.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity, through the generosity of my university’s Creative Writing Department, to attend the largest annual gathering of writers in the country: the AWP Conference. There, I found a writing community that I could scarcely have dreamed existed.
I had heard stories of the conference from students who attended in past years, but being immersed in it was a wild experience. Here were people who have faced the same struggles as me; who strive toward the same dreams and goals; and who have found and succeeded at the very careers that some would have me believe cannot be found.
Better yet, some of those successful people were the panelists who shared their advice for writers aspiring to similar success (or just similar projects). I attended panels on careers in writing; on troubleshooting faulty plotlines; on writing unlikeable characters; on writing violence; on writing sex. No subject is taboo when you strive to allow the truth to leak from your pen. Authenticity supersedes awkwardness.
Even now, weeks after returning to the daily grind of my classes, I cannot quite force my thoughts on the conference to coalesce. They are like clouds I watch while lying in the grass, constantly shifting: first a rabbit, then a dog, then a lion. Even if I were to give a full account of every panel, interaction, booth at the Book Fair, even of the hours spent away from it all in the Caribou Coffee shop two blocks away from the Convention Center, I could not possibly convey the magnitude of the experience. The words overload and overwhelming fall short of the array of daily options, after which it was all I could do to drag myself into the shower and then collapse into bed, making sure to set my alarm early enough to do it all over again the next day.
The conference also allowed me to meet undergrads from writing programs around the country through the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors (FUSE), and to plug into my own Widener writing community more. My professors have never exactly been boring suits in front of a blackboard, but I still learned a lot by going out to dinner with them and talking about something other than the book we’re reading in class or how to improve my story/poem/essay to earn an A. It’s good to be reminded every once in a while that “professors are people, too.”
I have been fortunate in my life to find support for my creativity first at home, and then in the small Creative Writing Department here at Widener, among the students with whom I workshop in classes and work on the literary journals, but that is a mere microcosm of the community I found at AWP.
The FUSE conference, which took place at Bennington College in Vermont this November, was a unique opportunity to interact with like-minded people who aim to produce excellent literary journals. FUSE, or the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors, is a national organization that serves to connect student editors from schools across the nation, giving them the chance to share ideas, offer advice, and support each other in their endeavors.
The conference consisted of presentations by students, faculty, and guest speakers about editing, publishing, and other general concepts related to creating a literary journal with undergraduates. There was also time set aside for attendees to take a look at the various journals being represented, and to show their own.
While there, I had the opportunity to take part in a presentation on community outreach, but more importantly, I was able to listen to the thoughts, ideas, and strategies of other literary journals. I came out of the event with a substantial list of things The Blue Route staff should consider doing in the future, and I suspect that editors from other schools did as well. As one of the speakers pointed out, the main competition for a literary journal isn’t other literary journals. In reality, we compete with the distractions of the electronic world around us as we attempt to reel in readers. Because of this, having a network through which we can promote each other, encourage readership, and improve the individual journals we’re producing is an extremely valuable thing.
Some of the ideas presented were not necessarily specific to literary journals alone. Some might be well applied to groups like Widener’s own English Club. Students talked about write-ins, open mics, and blind dates with books, all of which are fantastic ways to participate in the literary world, building a reading and writing community in person, not just online or on paper. This conference was meant to assist in building that community. Throughout the event it became clear that there are many ways to do that, and literary journals play an important role.
by Emily DeFreitas
Does your school have a literary journal? Are you interested in learning more about FUSE? Check out their website at http://www.fuse-national.com/
Producing a literary journal is a task that requires not only great time and effort, but also a group of people dedicated to collaborating to create the best collection of poetry, prose, and other works possible. This idea of collaboration is one that the students in the Writing program at Goddard College latched onto to produce their first edition of the literary journal “Duende,” out last month, and the results are amazing.
Duende is a product of collaboration on a national level. Unlike most undergraduate literary journals, which are run by students from one campus, this journal’s staff are located all across the United States, from Oregon to Pennsylvania and everywhere in between. The staff only meets face to face once each semester; I can only imagine how tricky communicating about a complex piece of poetry is without that in-person dynamic!
A quote by Federico Garcia Lorca appears at the bottom of the artfully designed home page, explaining that duende “is a force…of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s of the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation”. This simple philosophy of collecting and sharing works of art teeming with raw soul and passion made me eager to explore their first issue to see exactly the kinds of works desired by Duende’s editors.
Within the visual art category, I was most enthralled by Deanna Lee’s collection of hand-drawn pieces rooted in the exploration of the line. Lee shows that groupings of abstract lines can both evoke contrasting characteristics (weightlessness vs. heaviness, for example) while all maintaining a sense of life and action. I love the sense of movement in Lee’s work, and every time I look back at these three drawings, I feel as if they’ve moved somehow, shifted as my perspective on them shifts.
Switching to the prose section of the journal, another interesting aspect of Duende’s collaborative spirit is unveiled. Categories like “prose poem” and “hybrid prose” are attached to these varying works. I love Duende’s philosophy that regardless of genre, good writing is good writing and needs to be shared. My favorite work in this prose section is Justin Torres’ flash-fiction piece. Beautiful diction juxtaposed against edgy, sometimes jolting scenes, Torres’ concise story needs to be read more than once in order to pick up on all the social and moral issues presented.
Duende tells that they are “especially interested in collaborations between two or more writers, or between writers and visual artists”, and my favorite piece in the poetry section involved both visual and written art. The prose-poem This is How We Dream and its accompanying artwork present an interesting pair of works to be compared and contrasted. Pairing pieces of art together is a tricky thing to do in order to emphasize the best parts of each work, but I find the contrasting colors of the visual art and the theme of dream versus reality in the poem to work incredibly well together.
Coming together for the sake of promoting written and visual art is the goal of most every literary journal produced by undergraduates, but Duende does it exceptionally well. Uniting students nationwide through Goddard College’s Writing program, combining genres of work to create bold new styles, and encouraging artists of various mediums to work together, Duende is a truly innovative journal that I cannot wait to hear more from.
You love words, so you’ve decided to follow your heart and take on that liberal arts degree, but you’re having trouble deciding between a major in English and one in Creative Writing. You don’t really want to do both – a double major sounds like too much – and you’re still partly afraid that your friends are right when they joke about spending the rest of your life asking “Would you like cream and sugar in that?”
The question to really ask, more than what major to pursue, is what you want to get out of it, or do with it, in the long run. What skills are you looking to learn? What kind of reading gets you going?
If what you loved about your high school English classes was the opportunity to read the classics, then English is probably more your pace. The English major is designed to look critically at “Literature with a capital L,” as one of my professors describes it. Your classes will involve close reading, craft analysis, and a lot of critical thinking about works written by men who are probably long-dead.
But what about after college? In the professional world, Milton and Shakespeare might not seem particularly applicable, but the skills you learn from studying them will be. Aside from the more obvious benefits of being able to compose a coherent email, you will be able to effectively communicate thoughts and connect with people.
According to an article by Business Insider, Logitech CEO Bracken Darren likes hiring English majors because “these soft skills come from personal aptitudes and attitudes that are often attained after years of studying the liberal arts…. There’s a thoughtfulness about culture that isn’t emphasized in majors outside literature and the arts.”
If you find yourself more interested in constructing your own work, your home is probably in the Creative Writing department. Your classes will involve reading more recent work within a genre. Milton and Shakespeare are all well and good, and you’ll certainly take your fair share of Lit courses, but they won’t be enough to make you shine in today’s tough market if you’re actually trying to make it as a writer. What classical writers have “always done” and what defines Literature isn’t always what people are doing today.
Professionally speaking, your options will be more specific, and from some perspectives, limited. If you’re looking to write for a living, or are interested in the publishing business, then Creative Writing will look just as good on a résumé as English, but employers outside of the field might respect it less. How does being able to construct a solid narrative or stick to a rhyme scheme make you the right person for the job? This major will teach you critical thinking as well, but it will nurture your creative side even more, and urge you to explore new styles.
No matter which major you choose, it’s hardly an either-or decision. If you choose Creative Writing, most schools will require several English classes; in an English major, you can use your electives to explore Creative Writing and its possibilities.
by Sierra Offutt
You’re sitting in front of endless college applications as a recent high school graduate, and the options of majors are swimming around you, pulling you from thought to thought, begging you to make a choice; to brand yourself with a “life path” that seems permanent. Your parents are telling you to follow your heart, while your peers are advocating for something practical. (But what’s more practical than following your heart?) Now you realize that your choice of a college major is, in some abstract way, a defining piece of who you want to be and what it is that you value. You begin to notice that your peers value practicality over passion and will force themselves to love something they don’t even like. But their vision of practicality is cloudy. There are things you weren’t told.
After a little research you start to notice that by picking English as a major, you’re just as likely to land a job after graduating than nearly everyone else.
“English majors aren’t actually faring as poorly in the job market as the cultural dialogue would have us believe. According to 2010-2011 data from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, cited by The Atlantic, right after graduating, English and history majors reported 9.8 and 9.5 percent unemployment, respectively, while economics and political science graduates came in at 10.4 and 11.1 percent. “Practical” computer science degrees didn’t make graduates much more employable, with the comp sci unemployment rate coming in at 8.7 percent. And that’s just employment outcomes right after school; the picture may get rosier as time goes on, as employers generally prefer liberal arts grads, according to a 2012 survey.”
You realize that you possess a specific skill set not learned in a text book.
“Around a year ago, I surveyed more than 100 senior business leaders to get their views on the current state of talent and talent management. Eighty-four percent of them agreed that they would rather hire a person who is smart and passionate, even if the person does not yet possess the specific skills they need. One point of which we can all be certain is that the skills in use today won’t be sufficient to meet the needs of tomorrow. What matters is knowing how to accumulate knowledge and put it to smart use
And then it hits you that some of the most successful people in our culture were once in your shoes.
“…former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney opened up about the fact that he was once (gasp!) an English major.”
“Other English majors in media include ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer, NBC News anchor Andrea Mitchell, and former TODAY Show host David Garroway — not to mention countless print and online journalists. One of the most successful news media executives — Grant Tinker, former NBC CEO and TV producer — studied English at Dartmouth University before taking a job as a management trainee at NBC, Business Insider reported.”
By now you’ve come to the conclusion that humanities majors are an essential part of our society’s way of life. They are the voices of reason amongst the chaos and confusion of life. They provide the brief moments when everyone steps aside from their busy, practical lives and remembers how it feels to be human.
by Kimberlee Roberts
with special thanks to Dr. Janine Utell for inspiration and education on the subject.