October 2015 English Major of the Month
Hometown: Grass Valley, California
What made you decide to become an English major?
When I was going into college it wasn’t really ever a question for me what I was going to study. I knew I wanted to eat, sleep and breathe books. I loved reading and writing more than anything else, and I had since I was a child. I think that stories and literature are the backbone of culture, and like any art they’re a vital part of the human experience. Reading and thinking about literature allows me to understand myself, the world, and the rest of humanity better, not to mention it is frequently just plain fun. I want to be surrounded by books for the rest of my life, so there’s no better field of study for me.
Are you pursuing any minor, internships, or fields of interest outside the department that enhance or intersect with your study of English?
I’m also getting a minor in Creative Writing, and my experiences in both the English and Creative Writing departments definitely help form my conception of literature as a whole. It’s really interesting to see the different ways that Creative Writing classes and English classes approach literature. In English you usually consider how the author employed different devices and what that means for the work as-is. When you’re looking at a work as a creator, however, the text itself is malleable. You instead ask why the author chose that device, if it worked, and how it could be improved upon. Learning to interpret and engage with literature makes me a better writer, and thinking about things from a writer’s perspective definitely gives me a deeper perspective of published works.
What is the Owen's Prize?
It’s a departmental prize for an outstanding freshman or sophomore English major, which I was awarded last semester.
Has receiving the prize affected your life, study of English, or time at NYU?
The way I see it, I’m just doing my best at the thing that I love. I was very grateful to receive the prize, and for me it reinforced the feeling that studying English is really what I’m meant to be doing. It’s something that matters to me, so being recognized for doing it well is a great affirmation that it’s right for me.
What classes have you most enjoyed, either in the department or outside?
I took American Literature II last semester with Professor Harper, and it was an incredible class. We read so much, the lectures and discussions were always engaging, and I really got a deep understanding of the various American literature movements in the last 150 years. Even though it was a survey class, we were able to really go deep into the readings. It was also the class that got me to read all of Infinite Jest, an accomplishment I probably wouldn’t have achieved otherwise. I also had the spectacular Sex, Gender and Language with Professor Vasvári. I like taking linguistics classes because being in social sciences can be a nice change of pace from the humanities, but they’re still based in language and therefore very complimentary to my love of reading and writing. Professor Vasvári’s class in particular was fascinating and really opened my eyes to how much language use intersects with personal identity and culture.
If you could create your own class, what would it be?
I’d really love to have a class that looks at more contemporary works, from the 21st century, to try examining our current literary moment and how culture informs and reflects it. I spend my free time reading contemporary books and talking about them with my friends, so I think it would be a really interesting experience to have class-wide discussions about works being published and widely read today. I also love classes that look at works outside the typical canon. While my professors at NYU have generally done a very good job of including works by diverse authors, I would love to have more classes dedicated particularly to works that have historically been devalued because of identity politics.
What's your favorite book right now? Least favorite? Do they have anything in common?
At the end of summer I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and it’s pretty hard to get out of my head. It was a fantastic book, the plot complex and nuanced, and its strongest point was the way it painted a picture of modern-day America. It included portrayals of all kinds of mythology, which I always love. One of the greatest parts of literature, I think, is the way that it’s always creating and reflecting culture, so I love it when authors take classic stories and adapt them so they’re relevant for the current moment, which Gaiman did flawlessly. My least favorite book in recent memory is Moby Dick. It veered too far into philosophy and away from plot for me.
If you could travel to any place from a book (real or fictional), where would it be? What would you do there?
I know that the obvious answer is Hogwarts, but I honestly cannot think of anything better. The beauty of fiction is that anything can happen in it – so how could you not want to go somewhere with real magic?
Any advice for student considering majoring in English at NYU?
If it’s your calling, definitely go for it. Studying English gives you the opportunity to expand your mind and your understanding of the world in a way which I think few other disciplines are able to do. In reading and thinking about literature you are able to interact with worlds, emotions, and people who you would never encounter in your daily life. Being an English major means you’re reading all the time and trying to understand complex ideas and interactions, none of which is easy. But in my experience it is absolutely worth it.