Literature is central to the human quest for meaning. It’s a unique vehicle for finding ourselves, for navigating our course in an often confusing and complex world. Because it speaks to our imagination, literature allows us to approach the moral, ethical, social, and political dilemmas of the human situation in an integrated way. The beautiful and the well-argued, the felt and the reasoned, the actual and the possible, the message and the medium: students of literature—undergraduates, graduates, and professors—do not treat these spheres as distinct aspects of human existence. In our department, they bring them together.
We take seriously the high promise of literary activity in the quest for meaning. This promise can only be kept, we believe, if our students develop a broad range of skills, including:
- Nuanced judgment
- Advanced reading, writing, and research skills
- Critical self-reflection
- Producing and communicating knowledge in open-ended, highly interactive settings
- Sustained attention, deep focus
- Understanding and working with theories of interpretation
We believe that these skills are best fostered when our students analyze and produce a wide range of writing. For students interested in creative writing, we offer the opportunity to study poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and playwriting. For students of literature, we offer the opportunity to study works that stretch from Beowulf and Shakespeare to Jane Austen and Toni Morrison, from canonical to minority literatures, and from strictly literary to non-literary writing that helps us understand literature.
To enable our students to take advantage of these riches, we have designed a course of study that combines expertise in the core areas of English with the freedom of constructing a plan of study that is tailored to our students’ interests. Excellence in writing is a dedicated focus of our program of study. We feature a minor in writing and are in the process of developing a concentration in creative writing within the major. Over the years, our distinguished alumni have contributed greatly to our ability to recognize student achievement. We are fortunate to be able to award an array of prizes to our very best writers.
The faculty in our department is stellar. We are a community of scholars and writers who are widely published, with national and international reputations that are the envy of many other English departments. One of our great strengths is our dedication to the individual student, in the undergraduate as much as in the graduate programs. We keep our classes small (many are capped at twelve or fifteen students), we provide attentive advising, and we cultivate an environment in which students and professors not only learn together, but occasionally relax together (during our annual bowling night, for example).
I am proud of what we offer. My colleagues and I see education as a holistic process involving the entire person, and we combine this classic liberal arts orientation with an emphasis on skills and abilities that are eminently transferable. To us, it is not surprising that our students compete for some of the best jobs in education, communication, publishing, and journalism as well as advanced degrees in law, medicine, and business.
Wolfram Schmidgen, Department Chair