Senior | Charlottesville, VA
What made you decide to become an English major?
I’ve had a lifelong passion for reading, and writing sprouted naturally from that. As a child, reading was a favorite pastime - everything from the beautiful worlds of Tolkien & Lewis, the sparkling wit of Austen and Wilde, to the decadent Fitzgerald & punch-in-the-gut Hemingway. If I’m being honest, some of my first writing was Lord of the Rings fanfiction. Then I discovered poetry, and it was all over.
What has been your favorite class in the English department thus far, and why?
That would have to be a tie between Reading as a Writer with Maureen McLane and Queer Austen, a senior seminar with Wendy Lee. Both classes were a definite challenge; the theory readings in each were difficult, and both professors challenged me to grow in my capacity as a reader, to venture fearlessly into new waters while still (and always) remaining close to the text.
Under Professor McLane’s luminous leadership, we read Maggie Nelson, John Cage, Matsuo Basho, and Roland Barthes. She showed us that it was possible to blur the boundaries of genre, to explore the relationship between poetry and prose, between the “I” and the “You.” She taught us the power of patience and the necessity of listening. Not to mention that she took us on an amazing field trip - I won’t spoil the secret, should you be lucky enough to have her, but it’s an immersive, dreamlike space - be sure to bring a notebook!
In Professor Lee’s seminar, we were able to take a deep dive into the works of Jane Austen, reading six of her novels alongside pieces from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Lauren Berlant, and D.A. Miller among many other queer theorists. As previous English major of the month, Nick, said, Prof. Lee pushes you past anything you thought you were capable of, and encourages close reading: slow, thorough attention to detail. She masterfully imparts in her students the skills to tackle difficult readings and to engage with them more deeply than ever before.
What has been the most influential work of literature in your journey as a writer thus far, and why?
Oh, that’s really tough. Probably John Keats’ “Ode to the Nightingale.” The Romantics were the first poets who really lit my fires. Keats especially taught me the beauty of lingering in long sonorous vowels - “verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways” - and of savoring poems like sips of wine with “beaded bubbles winking at the brim.” Maybe thanks to growing up with classical piano, I always read poems aloud to give them more life. This helps me notice any musicality within the lines: breath, phrasing, consonance or assonance, internal or slant rhyme, etc. “Ode to the Nightingale” also influenced contemporary poet/rapper Noname, whose song “Shadow Man” mourns police brutality and gun violence.
Just as Keats wrote while wasting away from tuberculosis (he died at just 25), Noname engages with the nightingale as a symbol of death and departed souls; the ancient Greek myth of Philomena and Procne is so tragic that the bird’s song has been considered a lament ever since. These artists, although separated by centuries, demonstrate how poetry helps us transcend our own lifetimes, and reminds us to still take pleasure in “fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;” in “mid-May’s eldest child, the coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine, the murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.”
This past month has been intense to say the least. Have you been reading anything that has helped you through it?
I’ve been re-reading The Hobbit. Going back to my roots. The movie adaptation may have been a disaster, but that doesn’t mean Alan Lee’s original illustrations have to go unappreciated!
Can you tell us a bit about your Creative Writing Capstone project and your experience in the CW colloquium?
Our colloquium this semester was obviously interrupted, but that hasn’t prevented us from continuing to meet weekly on Zoom and to meet individually with our teacher and advisor, MC Hyland. She is an uncontested wealth of poetry wisdom, along with having years of hands-on bookmaking experience. I still remember on our first day of class that she brought in a dazzling collection of chapbooks from her own personal library, which was inspiring from the get-go. I’m also excited by all of my classmates’ projects, which are incredibly diverse in shape, form, and subject.
My project is a modified cento, a patchwork of many different voices woven together with my own. Initially I wasn’t sure what form the chapbook was going to take, but I knew I wanted to write it all on my typewriter, a big clackety old Royal. There’s something so appealing about its physicality - in Neruda’s words, “the sumptuous appeal of the tactile.” When I sit down to write, I have this heightened awareness of the typewriter as an instrument with keys and hammers; there’s also a new awareness of the resulting poem as a physical object and not just pixels on a screen.
Since the quarantine went into effect, and people are generally more isolated, I thought it would be cool to adapt my manuscript into a series of letters and postcards. I’m mailing poems from the project to interested participants who will then create their own new poem from the one I sent. The ultimate hope is to finish this semester with a kind of living document that demonstrates the power of the cento - a patchwork that continues to stitch itself into new patterns from the same threads connecting us all.
What do you consider the most rewarding part of being an English major?
I loved getting to take a handful of the writing workshops offered by the department’s Creative Writing track. Summer programs like Writers in New York and Writers in Florence were profoundly impactful to my growth as a writer and taught me how to give thorough, attentive feedback to my peers. But honestly, the most rewarding part of being an English major is getting to meet fellow majors and minors, whether in classes, extracurriculars, or at the monthly bagels-and-coffee-hour. It’s so interesting to hear from other students about what they’re reading and working on, inside and outside of school.
What advice would you give to students considering majoring in English at NYU?
Firstly, GO FOR IT. Declare English, if that’s what you love, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more brilliant faculty - not to mention the host of advisors and staff who keep the wheels turning daily, regardless of quarantine. This major is highly personal and encourages critical thinking. It’s not one of those majors where all of the professors are more absorbed in their research than their students, nor is it a major with a bunch of competing egos. The biggest lecture class you’ll take might have forty or fifty students; the further you go along, the more intimate your classes will become. Expect that your professors will know you by name, and that they will expect you to do the reading. Sparknotes, despite its hilarious Twitter account, will not suffice. Expect to fall in love with at least two to three new books or poems per semester.
You are graduating soon--congratulations! Do you have any post-NYU plans yet?
Thank you! I’m very lucky to have already lined up a job for the upcoming year: I’m going to teach middle school English right here in Brooklyn! So thankful to have landed a job offer before The Virus ™ threw a wrench in many employers’ hiring processes. If there’s a lesson to be learned from all this, A) wash your hands, and B ) it never hurts to start your job hunt early in your senior year!