May 2014 English Major of the Month
Nealie OglesbyHometown: Detroit, Michigan
Year in school: Sophomore
1.) What made you decide to become an English major?|
I think 9th grade was when I realized that English was what I wanted to study. It was the only class I ever really enjoyed in high school, up until senior year when I had a bigoted teacher. I hated school overall, but somehow never considered a class that just required reading to even count as school. Being able to read books and talk about them, and then get a degree after that is basically the best thing to ever happen to me.
2.) What is your favorite book?
This question always hurts my soul, but I have a trio: The Godfather, Wuthering Heights, and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix have been my holy trinity since I was 13.
3.) What was the last book you read that you really enjoyed?
I read Corregidora for one class this semester and Frankenstein for another. It’s tied between those two.
4.) What is your least favorite book?
Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Camus’ The Stranger. Also Nabokov’s Lolita, but my hatred for that is more for its misinterpretations than for the actual text.
5.) Any minors or fields of interest outside the English major?
I’m minoring in creative writing right now. If I could, I’d go back and get a second minor in math, just because I always think of it as the polar opposite of English. I do love that in literary interpretation, there’s never one answer, but sometimes I’d like to work with something more formulaic and concrete.
6.) Do you have any issues, problems or gripes with the study of English or academia more generally?
I used to have a lot of dysphoria with English—mainly when I read about the native languages of slaves being expunged and violently replaced with English. It’s very frightening that this still occurs, too—indigenous languages are going extinct due to globalization and western expansion. In that sense, I have a lot of disdain for it, but Audre Lorde spoke of language and words as being a part of her arsenal, and I’m trying very hard to adopt a mindset of reclamation and personalization when it comes to the English language. I also dislike that the majority of the canon English texts hasn’t changed over time to include more marginalized voices, but thankfully NYU seems pretty rigorous in its diversification of the curriculum.
My main issue with academia in general is how grossly inaccessible and omissive it is. I consider myself quite smart and had a really hard time getting my foot in the door at this school, but all I can think about is that there are probably thousands of people ten times more brilliant than me in worse circumstances. I guess the thing about academia as an institution that upsets me is that in order to accumulate knowledge, to research, to contribute to the academic community, it requires a sickening amount of privilege. And I know that our academic institutions are only a reflection of society as a whole, but knowledge leads to growth on both an individual and a social scale, and therefore should be free.
7.) What opportunities does being an English major open to you?
Because so much goes into producing texts, I’ve learned not only about literary theory, but about history, politics, and so forth as well; everything from Marxism to queer theory to academic feminism to history of scientific progress. It seems to touch on almost every discipline out there. So far this semester I’ve seen Angela Davis, Janet Mock, and Laverne Cox speak, and have then gotten to incorporate their conversations into class discussions. English so far has been a huge web of interconnectedness and exploration and I think that’s been a really valuable opportunity for my own personal growth.
8.) What has one of your favorite experiences been as an English major?
Probably seeing other people preparing for midterm exams earlier in the semester. Meanwhile, since I’m taking only English classes, all of my midterms and finals have been papers. Literary criticism, research, and analysis have always been so fun and creative to me, it almost feels like cheating.
9.) What kinds of courses would you like see offered more in the future?
Courses on genre fiction, young adult literature, kidlit—things that academics tend to disregard. It saddens me that sci-fi and fantasy are generally considered less valuable when compared to realism and literary fiction, because I think they all have a place on our shelves. If there can be classes dedicated to Shakespeare and Faulkner, then there can be classes dedicated to Octavia Butler and Philip K. Dick. If there can be entire classes focused on single epic poems, there can be one or two classes on Lord of the Rings. If there can be classes on the American short story, there can and should be classes on comic books, graphic novels, manga, and so forth because I think that there’s just as much to learn about disillusionment from the American dream in Spider-Man as there is in The Great Gatsby.