Junior | Bronxville, NY
What inspired you to major in English?
My family is a very bookish family – I grew up having books read to me, I started reading on my own at age four, and I have always loved diving into a story, devouring it, and moving on to the next one. In third grade, I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up and throughout middle and high school, I figured it meant that I would have to study books and eventually major in English. I have never looked back since and it’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made.
What have you been reading or thinking about lately? Are there any books or pieces you keep coming back to?
I commute and I use my time on the train to read, so I’ve been reading a lot lately. My taste varies, so I will hop from a YA novel to Chinua Achebe to a murder mystery without thinking twice about it. Right now I’m reading Beloved by Toni Morrison and she’s really inspired me to come back to other African American literature I’ve read like The Color Purple and Our Eyes Were Watching God. I also have a vested interest in YA and my favorite author in that genre is Sarah Dessen – not everyone knows her, but she’s written twelve books and I always come back to a role model. My best friend loves her too, so her books are not just the place I call home, but a place I can share and use to bond with my friends.
Congratulations on winning the Burns Prize! Can you tell us a little more about what it is, and what it meant for you to win?
Thank you! The Burns Prize is awarded every year for the best essay on the Scottish poet Robert Burns, who lived during the second half of the eighteenth century. He came from a farming family, but he was very well-educated and became a poet with increasing radical nationalist ideas. I wrote my paper on two of his poems, one from before he began working for the British government as a tax collector (“To a Louse”) and one from after (“Such a parcel of rogues are we”), contrasting his style and beliefs from either side of what I identified as a major turning point in his life. I was really excited to win because I have never won an award for something I have written before and it gave me a deep sense of accomplishment and gratitude for all the help I received from my Brit Lit II professors and TA.
Have you had any jobs or internships that relate to your English major? How have they informed your academics and writing?
I have been working in the children’s room at my public library for the past four and a half years and last summer I interned with W.W. Norton & Company in their trade editorial department. I’ve learned that I really like working with a community and sharing and discussing books with people who love them. As a writer, both jobs have helped me take a look at what kind of books I might want to write, what’s out there right now, and how I can make an impact by doing something new. Working at Norton also gave me insight into the publishing process and the steps I’ll (hopefully) have to go through someday to get my work out into the world.
You work with The Blotter, the English Department’s newsletter; what’s one insight you’ve gained from working so closely with the department?
Writing for the Blotter has encouraged me to get out there and go to more events sponsored by the department – you can learn so much by attending a reading or a lecture outside of your free time. You sit in a room with like-minded people hearing all these brilliant thoughts and ideas and, when it comes time to write an article, you are really able to work through and understand them as you translate them for the people who couldn’t attend the event. In short, I’ve learned that there is so much to the English department outside of what you do in class and it’s important and fulfilling to attend related events when you can.
If you could create any class, what would it be?
I’ve been thinking recently that we need a kind of Slam Poetry class, where we focus not just on reading and writing poetry, but on performing it. I’m actually not a slam poet (or even much of a poet) myself, but I attended a Minetta reading last year and I was amazed by how powerful poetry becomes when it is read out loud. Some professors include recitation of poetry or show videos of poems being read in their classes, but I think we should explore that with a whole class dedicated to the topic so that students can learn how to be one of these performers themselves.
You’re also a Contemporary Literature Series Fellow. Can you tell us about what that entails, and why you wanted to get involved?
The Contemporary Literature Series holds events, like the annual Faculty Spotlight, and brings contemporary authors into classes that are studying them. For example, last year, Susan Howe and Hillary Chute came to Professor McLane’s Reading as a Writer class to discuss their respective works with the students, who had just read them for homework. This year, there’s also a CLS Lab, an offshoot of the series that brings poets and authors to a small group of students about ten times in the semester to discuss their work and different aspects of working in the literary world. I originally wanted to get involved in the series because I wanted to start doing things with the English department outside of class and participate in events any way I could and being a fellow and a participant in the lab has helped me do just that.
I know you have also taken some classes in the creative writing department; what genres do you work in, and are there any particular topics you’re interested in exploring through prose or poetry?
I’m on the Creative Writing track, so I’ve started taking creative writing classes this year. Though lately I’ve been writing a lot of random snippets of poetry when I’m walking down the street or riding the subway, my main genre is realistic fiction. I tend to take feelings and see what happens when I literalize them – for example, when I’m angry, I always have the desire to throw things but I almost never follow through, so I wrote a short story once about someone destroying her apartment in anger and I tried to figure out where she ended up. I’m also interested in writing longer fiction about college. It sounds autobiographical, and maybe it is, but I have come across so few novels about college life that I think it’s an area ripe for exploration.
What advice would you give to students considering majoring in English at NYU?
If English is what you really love, then you should absolutely major in it! The English department is the best department! It’s hyperbolic, but I mean every word. All of the faculty and the students who I have met are super friendly and enthusiastic about their work and it’s extremely comforting to be around people who go through the same things as you do, as both a writer and a reader. Every single person in the English department is here because they love what they do. The department has become my home and I could not imagine a life without it.