April 2014 English Major of the Month
Tom MackayHometown: London, England
Year in school: Junior
1) What made you decide to become an English major?|
Honestly? Bruce Springsteen. In Senior Year of High School we had to write a 4,000-word essay on a topic of our choice. I decided to write my paper on the characters in Springsteen’s songs, in relation to other American writers such as Kerouac. Poring over Springsteen’s lyrics when I was a teenager was when I first began to realize how this sort of analytical work didn’t have to exist in such a narrow field. I’d say pretty much every major decision I’ve made in my life so far has been somehow linked to Springsteen. Asking myself “what would Bruce do?” in tough situations seems to have worked so far.
2) Any minors or fields of interest outside the English major?
I’m minoring in MCC which has complimented my English major in really interesting ways. A lot of the work done in my minor has really built upon the tools I’ve learnt in my English classes. Although you’re only allowed to take 4 courses as part of the minor, I’ve been lucky enough to have enjoyed some of my favourite courses at NYU in the MCC department. Notably, my classes with Robert Wosnitzer, who—apart from cruelly ruining Disney movies for me — helped me realise the real significance of this kind of analysis, in how it helps critique the dominant ideologies that surround us.
3) What is your favorite book?
This semester I’ve taken Peter Nicholls’ incredible Melville seminar that has really revealed to me how much I adore Moby Dick. I’m not sure the context in which most English Majors encounter it, through American Literature I, helps endear it to many students. Having the luxury of really working over the ludicrous number of strands that Melville weaves together in that text, while also realizing the huge scope of Melville’s vision, has been a real pleasure. Other than that, I’ve found myself returning to Hemingway’s collection of stories, In Our Time, over and over again.
4) And your least favorite?
It would have to be Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Reading it in American Literature I was definitely a low point of my NYU academic life. I’ve not been a fan of the ‘sentimental novel’ ever since.
5) What activities do you do outside the classroom?
I’ve played in a lot of different soccer leagues around the city. Apart from being a good way to explore the different boroughs, it’s also given me an insight into international democracy. The first team I played on in New York consisted of players from eleven different countries. We were very much ‘The Bad News Bears’ of our division: severely lacking in technical ability, but with a lot of heart. I’ll also be running the New York Marathon again in my Senior year for the ‘Pat Tillman Foundation’.
6) What classes have you enjoyed the most in the department?
It’s often been the classes I haven’t expected to enjoy that I’ve ended up enjoying the most. Most noticeably, John Guillory’s ‘British Literature II’ helped me realize how an intimate empathy with dogs can really help when encountering Romantic poetry. If you also like to hear your Professors sing British hymns — and invite you to join along — then this is definitely the class for you. Other than that, I’ve taken a ridiculous number of classes with my fellow countrymen Patrick Deer and Peter Nicholls. Hearing the dulcet tones of my motherland has helped invigorate me on many rainy Monday mornings. Beyond their brilliant classes, they also have a wonderful gift of taking whatever you say and rephrasing it to make it sound infinitely more intelligent.
7) Any plans for this summer?
I’ve worked on the ‘Tour de France’ for the last few years and will be doing the same again this year. It’s an incredible sporting event, which conveniently begins in England this year. I’m trying to incorporate my interest in sports writing into some sort of blog about my experiences.
8) What field do you hope to go into after graduating?
I’m yet to find a field that incorporates my love of sport, punk music, Bill Murray, modernist literature, and karaoke. Until that happens, I’m leaning towards teaching.
9) Do you have a favorite piece of poetry?
If the first verse of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Backstreets’ isn’t poetry then I don’t know what is. Besides Springsteen, I memorised Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ for my British Literature II class last semester, and that has definitely been the poem that has resonated with me the most throughout my life. To learn it, I walked around Washington Square listening to a recording of it by Ricky Tomlinson —a relatively unknown actor in America — that was in one of my favourite films as a kid: ‘Mike Bassett: England Manager.’ I’d definitely recommend people hearing his rendition on YouTube.
10) Any shout-outs or comments?
Aside from all the wonderful professors that I’ve already mentioned, I have to thank all of the incredible TAs I’ve had. I really think they’re the hidden gems of the English department and deserve a huge amount of credit for the work they do to refine the writing of students. Apart from they’re instructive value, they are without fail delightful people, and I’d encourage any English Major to the make the most of their office hours. Your writing will improve immeasurably and you’ll leave rejuvenated about choosing to study English. For that reason, I have to give special thanks to Amanda Retartha, Caitlin Hurst, and Ada Smailbegovic.