Senior | North Riverside, IL
What has been the most surprising thing to you about being an English major?
I thought that the further I went into the major, the more steady I’d feel in the work. But really, there’s this cycle of stability and instability that I think shapes English majors: just as we feel comfortable in what we know, in what we’ve read, the process of always-reading lights up something new and makes us question. For me, being an English major has not been about becoming more well-read, or even consciously becoming a better writer. It’s been about being a more careful observer, more attuned to my convictions and the processes that have formed them, and learning how to articulate what I am thinking through a writing-process.
What was the most influential piece of writing you read growing up and how did it affect your decision to become an English major?
I don’t know… To say something was influential while I was “growing up” feels like I’m saying I’m not still in that process. I remember loving survival books at a certain point in my growing up (Julie of the Wolves, Hatchet, especially Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell) -- those made reading feel exhilarating. I remember my fifth grade teacher asking us to think about why how the concept of “island” impacted our understanding of the people that inhabited it and that blew my mind. I think that was an early moment of English major-ness.
Did you always know you wanted to major in English? Describe your path to making the final decision.
My parents used to call me “their reader;” I’d read like, five Junie B. Jones or Magic Tree House books per day, if given the chance. Kids at school called me a “big reader” because I’d read Harry Potter and Shel Silverstein during breaks. I used to steal my older sister’s Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen novels. I read those before young adult themes were really relevant for me, and so their stories took on this tantalizing, almost forbidden quality. All those stories made me want to write; when it came time for college, I thought the best track would be to major in English. I knew that reading stimulated my desire to write, and that’s what I wanted to pursue. I think my path to being an English major is parallel to my understanding of what it means to be a “reader,” which has recently taken on a new significance as I’ve started working on my thesis.
Tell us about the thesis you’re writing for the Honors Program this year.
I fell down the Henry James rabbit-hole last Fall in a class I took with Professor Crain on American Short Story. At the moment, I’m writing about James’s “ghostly style,” focusing largely on his short novel, The Turn of the Screw, which is a ghost story about a governess who goes to a remote English estate to teach two orphan children and is haunted by the spectres of two former employees. It’s really a wild piece of writing, both in the affect it produces and its style. James calls it a “game” in the Preface, and trying to make sense of it has been the most fun I’ve had in my reading experience. I read it for the first time a couple of years ago and felt like it was some never-ending hell-puzzle of interpretation -- I found that was a productive place to start writing a thesis. It’s very much a work in progress, which is something that I’ve learned to value through the Honors process and very much translates to my life outside of James and school.
How is your English major affecting other areas of your life right now?
I just read this in My Emily Dickinson by Susan Howe, which I’m reading for my Poetry & Poetics seminar with Professor Mclane: “Connections between unconnected things are the unreal reality of Poetry.” Over the summer I was reading for my thesis (really, trying to figure out what I wanted to write about) and I came across this in James’s The Portrait of a Lady: “Don’t try so much to form your character -- it’s like trying to pull open a rosebud. Live as you like best, and your character will form itself.” These writers and ideas aren’t really linked -- only in the way that literature makes me feel that all things are, and that makes me feel comforted, malleable, connected. Being an English major inherently affects all other areas of my life, because I’m constantly re-forming the way I think.
Tell us your favorite thing about the department.
“Process” and “unity” are aspects of language and life that many of the classes I’ve taken in the department have thematized, implicitly or explicitly. That’s been incredibly impactful for my time at NYU. People go into undergrad as Econ majors, or Business majors, etc., and they’re trained to do a thing, which translates to a job, or to a clear next step. English majors have no obvious trajectory post-grad, which is, at times, a terrifying and destabilizing thought -- at other times, it’s liberating. I’ve really appreciated the emphasis on process -- the way reading is a way of discovering, and how discovering unearths more kinds of discovering. The thinking that the department promotes is a different kind of training.