Senior | Philadelphia, PA
What made you decide to become an English major?
I’ve always been a reader. I got into medieval literature during my first year of college (when I was still at the University of Virginia) and was instantly drawn to the idea of studying material that had not only been preserved for hundreds of years, but was created in an environment where the act of writing itself was prohibitively difficult. The work has this bizarre personality to it. I find those kinds of texts fascinating, and they are definitely what made me decide to start after an English major. What brought me to NYU English, though, was the program in Dramatic Literature. I am most interested in theatre and theatre theory, and wasn't getting what I needed out of my department in Virginia (it was still awesome, though!). The Drama Lit program was the spot-on perfect combination of my need for more theatrical material and my desire to keep in the English world during undergrad.
Are you pursuing any minors, internships, or fields of interest outside your English major? How do you feel they interact with or enhance your study of English?
A lot of what I do happens outside of the English department. At NYU, I am pursuing an undergrad minor in Performance Studies (in Tisch). In the city, I have worked with a variety of theaters and theater companies in the city including The Bushwick Starr, Target Margin Theater, and This is Not A Theater Company with NYU Prof. Erin Mee. Studying English definitely plays into my theatrical work. I am primarily a director, and I often come back to visual art, music, and religious ritual as I’m putting a show together. But, text of some sort is almost always the main source of images, ideas, actions, and individuals to bring into the same room as the audience. With Medieval lit, I’m always fascinated by what possessed the writer to write: obligation to a noble? religious fervor? entertainment? You can never just look at the text itself. I definitely apply that same thought process when I’m dealing with a dramatist's work and bringing it to stage.
Has living in New York City or studying abroad affected your studies of or engagement with literature in any way?
I’ve definitely discovered why literature is unique from other art forms after moving to the city and being exposed to so much diverse art. The role of imagination is so unique. Books/plays etc. deal in the art of world-creation, of describing a new environment that the reader can imaginatively engage with. That space doesn’t have to operate by our rules, and can go as deep as the author wants; we can know that the old man is carrying a cane, but we can also know that the cane is made of birch, and that the old man still fondly remembers the christmas morning when he got the cane. All fair game, and all part of the art. Other mediums are very different. Visual art deals in concrete aesthetics. Theatre (separate from drama) deals in the audience member’s reaction to being exposed to physical stimuli. Those things offer immediate, in-body experiences. Literature offers an escape into an abstract world of ideas and emotions and everything else, generated by words. It's totally in and of the mind. Only after experiencing the diversity of output in the city did I realize that.
What’s your favorite book, and what’s your least favorite? Is there anything they share?
Like choosing between children! Recently Dynamo by Eugene O’Neill has been near the top lately, and I think Life of Pi by Yann Martel falls near the bottom. Both take a bizarre look at religion’s place in the modern world. O’Neill’s play deals with a disillusioned Christian zealot who begins worshiping a hydroelectric generator, and demonstrates his commitment by throwing himself on the machine’s electrified brushes in a moment of religious ecstasy. Really odd stuff. On the same level as some of the weirder medieval religious dramas. Let's just say that I find that Martel’s novel is much less memorable in its criticism.
Which fictional character would you most like to meet? What would you two do?
Hermione Granger (the coolest of a certain fictional trio.) Magic-related things, including but not limited to broom-flying, transfiguration, and playing with the time turner.
What classes have been the most rewarding to you, either in the department or outside of it?
Drama in Performance with Erin Mee was excellent. The course has you see one theater piece a week, which you then write on and discuss at length in class. The most notable thing about it is Erin’s approach to the discussion. You’re asked to analyze what you see in the way you might approach a piece of literature, rather than share reactions/opinions. It strengthened me as a theatergoer, and opened my eyes to a lot of excellent work that exists outside of the mainstream. Julia Jarcho’s Advanced Playwriting seminar was also excellent. You are free to explore your own process (in whatever form it takes) as you move towards a completed final play, and encouraged to take advantage of the class’s feedback on your work as you go along. Julia also curates a great reading list, guides you towards plays/films/etc. that help in shaping your work, and offers invaluable advice from the perspective of a talented working playwright.
If you could create your own class, what would it be?
Right now, I would run a course on King Lear. You would spend time with source texts in Geoffrey of Monmouth, Holinshed, Spenser, and the source plays, do a thorough once-over of Shakespeare’s play, then move onto related contemporary work (Akira Kurosawa, Howard Barker, Young Jean Lee, etc.) Hannah Arendt would definitely be involved at some point. Shakespearian father/daughter pairs would sneak in (The Tempest, Pericles, Hamlet.) Maybe some Judith Butler if we had time. I think it would be interesting to meditate for a few months on such an influential text.
What advice would you give to students considering majoring in English at NYU?
Please do! In this city (especially if you’re going into the arts or arts-related field) it’s important to be well-read. Also, branch out into weird topics that you’ve never touched before! I remember one of my professors at UVa saying that you have to read everything so you know what you don't like. Everything is worth checking out once. I’m biased, but you’re going to find the best, most memorable stuff in modern drama and medieval poetry.