Senior (Spring '20 Grad) | New York, New York
What made you decide to become an English major?
I always think of that quote from The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: “She’d become an English major for the purest and dullest of reasons: because she loved to read.” That was basically it!
What was your favorite class in the English department, and why?
I’ve taken three classes with Elliott Holt (Reading as a Writer, The Art of the Book Review, and the Creative Writing Capstone Colloquium)—can I say they all tie for my favorite class? I think the common denominator in those classes, besides Professor Holt being a great teacher, was that we got to ask ourselves, “Why do I like this?” (Or rather, “Why do I not like this?”) It’s not something you often get to do as an English major. Whether you loved the book so much that you want to be buried with it, or hated it so much that you want to burn it, isn’t relevant to the conversation most times. But I think it’s an interesting question to ask, because it can be surprisingly difficult to pinpoint exactly what made something enjoyable to you. Like and dislike can be very gut feelings, and we’re not often asked to examine the why of it, and in such specificity. Also, it’s nice to bask in the pure beauty of a sentence sometimes—to luxuriate in the sound of it, the music, the flow, to pull apart and examine the alliteration, the assonance . . . another thing you don’t do in most English classes!
What has been the most influential work of literature in your journey as a writer thus far, and why?
It’s so hard me for to pick just one thing. But if I’m going with the most influential work for me in recent memory, that’d be Circe by Madeline Miller. It’s an absolutely captivating work of literary fantasy. Which is an interesting genre in of itself, as I haven’t read a lot of literary fantasy. But what I appreciate about Circe, more as a writer than a reader, is that it’s a reminder that good art takes time—both in time spent on the work, and time spent on this earth. You can tell that Miller chose every word with such intention, and that’s probably why she takes nearly a decade to write her books. You also feel that Circe could not have been written by someone very young—there’s a certain depth and pain and hard-won wisdom there that comes from having lived a lot of life.
I’ve worked in the publishing industry for a while and I see the emphasis it can place on the one-book-a-year schedule and on debuting extremely young writers. Being very much entrenched in that environment has made me set certain bars for myself—I’ll write a book in three weeks, then think, do it faster next time. And I’ll think, why are you putting this pressure on yourself? You’re barely out of college. But then I’ll read a book like Circe and think, this is art. And good art takes time. Take the time.
What do you consider the most rewarding part of being an English major?
Reading books I never would have read otherwise was definitely a super rewarding part of being English major. And a lot of those books broke down preconceived notions I had of their time periods. I’d be assigned a book, look at its publication date, and think, okay, everyone back then was kind of upright and uptight, right? Then I’d read the book and it’d be the raunchiest, dirtiest thing ever, and I’d be so taken aback, but so amused.
I also had a lot of preconceived notions of who I was as a writer too though, and it was really rewarding to kick them. I had this dichotomy in my head that I was a person who wrote to entertain, and I could not also be someone who wrote to analyze. I always felt like I was faking my way through my classes. Eventually though, there comes a point when you have to realize that you’re actually good at the thing, or you have to at least pat yourself on the back for being such a good con artist. Now I can see that I’ve written some pretty good and pretty complex papers over the years, and I’m proud of that.
You completed the creative writing track in the major and your final creative writing project--amazing work! How was your experience?
I loved it! I usually only write YA (especially genre fiction) and I’m a severe over-writer, which is why I gravitate towards novels over short stories. But I decided to take my capstone as an opportunity to try something different, so I worked on a collection of short stories that are a little more “literary.” (Which is not to say that YA or genre fiction isn’t or can’t be literary!) I think you can learn a ton as a writer by constantly trying out different things—different genres, different tenses, different story structures. I also loved that the capstone class required us to work through multiple revisions with our professor. You usually don’t learn how to revise in a creative writing class.
You just graduated: congratulations! Do you have any future plans you would like to share with us?
I feel very lucky that I started working at the company I’m with now before the hiring freeze hit publishing. My company does IP (intellectual property) projects, meaning we come up with story ideas in-house and hire outside talent to write it, and I love getting to watch a book get built from the ground up, from brainstorming meetings to cover mock-ups. Some books I’ve been working on are releasing soon, so that’s exciting. We also do a lot on the film and TV side, so because of the pandemic, I’ll be pitching stories that take place in a single setting and have a small cast of characters—production companies want to be able to basically quarantine the whole cast and crew during filming. It’s funny how just the logistics of production are affecting the kinds of stories we can tell. I’m also working on my own books and looking to query one of them soon. Fingers crossed!
This year has been intense to say the least. Have you been reading anything that has helped you through it?
When everything started shutting down and we were facing off with the reality of how truly bad the pandemic was, I felt like there were two types of story-consumers: those who fully leaned into what was going on, and were watching all these post-apocalyptic and plague outbreak movies, and those who just wanted something light and escapist. I was totally the latter. My favorite books to read became middle grade ones—there’s something so peppy and honest about the voice, and the stories are so cute. It’s nice to be with characters whose main conflict is that they want to be on the baseball team, but their mom won’t let them.
What advice would you give to students considering majoring in English at NYU?
Do the readings. I know, I know! That’s such basic and obvious advice. But lectures hit different when you have.