Posts filed under English Major Stories

The Questioning & Anxiety Behind Becoming an English Major


The actual decision to major in English came about six months after I had graduated high school and was working on my associate’s degree at a state college in my city. Luckily, I was doing an associate’s in the arts, so there was no need to pick a major quite yet. For a long time, I was set on film or media studies. But a lot of anxiety and thinking was happening at that time, too. I was pretty lost on what I really wanted to study later on in my college career (and that “later” was coming fast).

And then it hit me one day when I was walking to my car from class.

What about majoring in English for my BA? It was something I had thought about a good amount when I was in middle school but it had been pushed to the back of my mind once I started high school. I sort of decided right then that English was what I wanted to pursue as my major and there was essentially no talking me out of it. 

It was a way to study literature and it would also allow me a way to get some further education in creative writing. 

Now, like just about every English major, I got (and still get) the usual questions and comments from my parents, friends and complete strangers when they found out what I was going to be studying: “So, do you want to be a teacher?” “You’re studying the liberal arts?” etc. There was a lot of concern, especially on my parents' part, about choosing to study English.

But I wound up applying to my university’s English program and got in with a minor in creative writing. 

Now I’m a graduate with my BA in English and a minor in creative writing. I’m six months out of school and I’m currently at a job where I get to apply some of what I’ve learned! I hit plenty of road bumps along the way to get to where I am though. There have been plenty of thoughts that have come up that made me overthink my choice in major and doubt myself; here are a few of them: 

Self-doubt: This is probably the most common issue I’ve seen in myself and other English majors. It will really come out of nowhere. I often caught (and sometimes still catch) myself doubting my choice to study English and my abilities in the topic when I was in class or working on projects. I was always seeing amazing work from classmates and thinking “I can’t do that” or “I don’t know anything about that author.” Or I’d see an article talking about how studying English is useless, even though I know that it isn’t. Both of those causes are really punches to the self-confidence and can be extremely hard to shake.

Stress: Just like any major, studying English can be insanely stressful! We most often have plenty of papers/essays/projects due at any one time and trying to figure out the right time to actually get said work done while reading assigned work and doing other things in life can be difficult. 

Outside doubt: We all know what this is referring to. Friends, family, and even people you don’t know will ask you (skeptically) if you’re sure English is the right thing to pursue. And being English majors, we’ve done the research and looked into all sorts of jobs that you can get with the degree. But having consistent doubt and questioning thrown at you about your choice to study English can really drag you down.

Loss of passion: I have loved to read and write for my entire life. Reading for pleasure and to learn was always something that I would do voraciously. And my minor in creative writing gave me the ability to pursue that area of writing in the future. But being an English major, we constantly have to read books for class and then spend large amounts of time dissecting said books. This repeated process over and over can really sap the passion out of the two things that drove many of us into English in the first place.

Many times while I was studying for my BA, I lost interest in reading anything outside of what was assigned for classes, due to lack of time and no drive to read anything for fun. That usually led to me also losing interest in my assigned readings and I wound up having to force myself through the work. 

Feeling inadequate among classmates: Sitting in class and discussing literature can often be really interesting. But sometimes I caught myself feeling that I was in the wrong place, that I didn’t know nearly enough to keep up with my classmates, or that I didn’t have anything to contribute to the conversation with some thoughtful insight.

These are perhaps some of the most common issues I experienced myself and saw in friends. They’re certainly things that can make us second guess why we’re studying English.

English is, unfortunately, one of the more looked down on fields of study, especially because it looks like all we do is read a huge amount and sit around talking about the deeper meaning of texts. And while we certainly do those things a lot, there is much more to what we are studying.

Doubting what I chose to study, something that I really do care about, really did nothing for me. All it did was make the choice I made that much more difficult.

And while these doubts can be difficult to overcome, I couldn’t help but find myself just thinking about the outcome. Once I finished my degree, I knew I would have a set of skills that could be applied to a wide range of different types of work.

That doesn’t always work, but it’s certainly a place to start. The doubts and questioning of yourself that come during the course of pursuing an English degree are completely normal and you’re certainly not alone in them. It took me quite some time to figure that out and once I did, it helped a little to know that I wasn’t the only one who questioned and stressed out over it.

And I think acknowledging the fact that you are not the only one dealing with doubt, stress, and anxiety over your degree will make things a little easier. To leave you with something to think on, here is a quote from Amanda Palmer in her book The Art of Asking: 

“There's really no honor in proving that you can carry the entire load on your own shoulders. And... it's lonely.”


DearEnglishMajor_Paige Lyman.png

Paige Lyman has a BA in English with a minor in creative writing. She's a fan of sci-fi and fantasy and writes prose in her spare time. With a love for storytelling, she's constantly got her face buried in a book and hopes to one day publish a novel of her own. Being the huge nerd that she is, she loves a good discussion on plot, characters, and how to really make a story amazing! (Her own inspiration is to one day craft a world and story as engrossing as Avatar: The Last Airbender). With a love for English and creative writing, she's dabbled in all types of writing and has no plans to stop.

Posted on March 2, 2018 and filed under English Major Stories.

Hannah Benefield: Academic Success Coordinator

Name: Hannah Benefield

Age: 24

College & Majors/Minors: BA Interdisciplinary Studies (Minor in English), MA English and Creative Writing

Current Location: Lakeland, FL

Current Form of Employment: Full-time Academic Success Coordinator at Southeastern University

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I work at Southeastern University as an Academic Success Coordinator for ACE, the learning center. In my role, I wear many hats: I hire, train, and manage the tutors for the learning center, create learning resources for our students, teach success workshops, tutor writing sessions, and function as the success coach for the wrestling team. I love every part of it!

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

When I was a few months away from graduation, I began searching for open positions at my university. I knew I loved academia and wanted to stay at Southeastern. I applied to be the Administrative Coordinator for the dean of Behavioral and Social Sciences and I got the job! I started less than a month after graduation. Even though I worked in a totally different department than my background, I learned so much about what the role of “professor” really looks like and developed administrative skills that made it possible for me to take on my current position.

I actually worked at ACE as a writing tutor in my undergrad! I still had a relationship with the Academic Success Coordinator who came before me (my former boss), so when she decided to move on, she suggested that I apply to replace her. I did and waited a few grueling months for an interview. I got the job only a few weeks before the school year began. One crazy year later, I am in love with my constantly changing and expanding job. My coworkers are dedicated, hardworking, and committed to our student’s success, which makes what I do that much more fun.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

As I mentioned, I worked as a writing tutor when I was finishing my BA which really set me up for where I am now and where I am heading. Not only did I develop my proofreading and editing skills but I also learned how to teach those skills to the students that I worked with. These skills have been invaluable as I’ve grown in my career.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Think of your long-term goal and then find ways to start developing the skills you need in order to get there. Even if you’re in a job that isn’t necessarily “in the field,” practice your skills where you’re at and learn how to market them!

I got involved in as many skill-building and career related activities as a possible! I worked as a tutor, joined a poetry group, served as an editor for the university’s literary journal, participated in open mics and other poetry reading events, freelanced as an editor, and developed relationships with my English professors. College is the best time to get involved and start to make connections and develop skills.

For me, so many good opportunities and relationships continue to come out of those experiences.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Think of your long-term goal and then find ways to start developing the skills you need in order to get there. Even if you’re in a job that isn’t necessarily “in the field,” practice your skills where you’re at and learn how to market them!

Become a perpetual student and always be looking for new resources and new ways to get better at your craft. Be strategic with your hobbies, activities, and opportunities. Just as importantly, say yes to opportunities when they arise. Then write a killer resume or CV to highlight all of the skills that your English degree and extracurriculars equipped you with!

You can follow Hannah on Pinterest and connect with her on LinkedIn.

Posted on January 26, 2018 and filed under Teaching, Teacher, English Major Stories, Interviews, Interview.

Sara Kincaid: Manager of Philanthropic Communications

Name: Sara Kincaid

Age: 33

College & Majors/Minors: University of Missouri-Kansas City; B.A. English – Creative Writing (Minor in Classics); M.A. English – Literature

Current Location: Kansas City, Missouri

Current Form of Employment: Manager of Philanthropic Communications at Children’s Mercy Kansas City

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I just started my new job in the Philanthropy department at Children’s Mercy Kansas City. Children’s Mercy was founded in 1897 by two sisters who dreamed of opening a hospital that took care of all children. Children’s Mercy still lives by this creed today and turns no child away, regardless of their family’s ability to pay. There are few people in Kansas City who have not been touched in some way by this award-winning hospital, myself included.

In my role, I am responsible for helping the various parts of our department (major gifts, planned giving, donor recognition, special events, etc.) communicate with our donors, potential donors and volunteers. I write endowed report updates, content for event programs, call scripts for our donor thank-a-thon, thank-you letters and more. I also edit invitations, programs and a myriad of other content. I work across print, web and digital communication methods to help tell the story of Children’s Mercy and its patients.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

I didn’t get my first full-time job until 2011. I graduated with my Master’s degree right as the recession hit (2008) and there were no jobs anywhere. It took three years of submitting resumes and cover letters with no results. In spite of this, I kept trying.

My first job was at Hallmark Cards. Yeah, that Hallmark Cards. They’re headquartered here in KC! I applied via their website and got a phone call. Their HR department is pretty traditional. They love behavioral style interviewing, just FYI. I did a phone interview first with HR. Then, I went in for a round of in-person interviews and a writing/editing/InDesign test. And then, I got the job! I worked for three years producing business-to-business sales catalogs. I got to work with every product/card line that the company produces. I had a lot of fun there.

“Every job I’ve ever interviewed for has required some sort of writing test or project, by the way. So, be prepared for that.”

Fast-forward to 2017. A former colleague from my previous job (post Hallmark, pre Children’s Mercy) reached out to me via Facebook and urged me to apply for a job with Children’s Mercy. I applied on their website and was contacted later and asked to do a writing project. (Every job I’ve ever interviewed for has required some sort of writing test or project, by the way. So, be prepared for that.)

I went in twice for a series of interviews and then was offered the job! My best advice from this experience is: you never know who’s watching. The person who urged me to apply for the job, as I mentioned, was a colleague at my last gig, but we didn’t really interact much. I think I did one or two projects for her before she left. I was surprised and flattered that she reached out!

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

My previous job at the University of Missouri-Kansas City was pivotal. Switching from the for-profit sector to the nonprofit sector can be tough. There’s a lot of skepticism of people who make that switch. But being an alumna and having really good references helped me land the job.

"The first local bookstore that accepted my book and put it on their shelf!"

"The first local bookstore that accepted my book and put it on their shelf!"

At UMKC, I began to learn the nonprofit ropes. I wrote letters for the chancellor and the vice chancellor, produced newsletters, wrote articles, video content and event scripts, managed multiple websites, ran the alumni association’s social media and anything else they threw my way. This job is absolutely the reason why I got my current position. I learned so much about stewardship and the nonprofit style of communication. Plus, I met important colleagues who educated me and helped me prepare for my ultimate next step.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

Internships were very important for me and taught me a lot about how the working world functioned. I did two internships, one in undergrad and one in grad school. The first was at a local PR firm. The second was with Andrews McMeel Publishing in their PR department. In these positions, I got my first few writing samples for my portfolio.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

I went into the “business” world and not education simply because every time I told someone what I was majoring in they’d ask me (as we’ve all heard): “Oh, so what are you going to do? Teach?” While I love educators and have great respect for them, those questions made me determined to prove that there were many things I could do.

If you’re an English major and you want to work in the “business” world, you have to be prepared to fight. I’ve had to fight hard for every job I’ve ever had. Maybe people in other fields and with other degrees feel this way too. I don’t know. But, from the writing tests to get my foot in the door, to getting opportunities once I’m there, I’ve had to fight, network, volunteer for extra projects and make my voice heard every step of the way. Often people won’t understand the things that we English majors know we bring to the table without us telling them. They think all we do is read novels all day. While that may be true in some respect, we bring our analytical skills, writing skills, a great vocabulary, passion, discourse skills and more. You have to be your own advocate and your own spokesperson out there. No one else will do it for you.

You can check out Sara's blog, Writer vs. the World, here. To learn more about Children's Mercy Kansas City, click here. You can also connect with Sara on LinkedIn.

Posted on January 26, 2018 and filed under English Major Stories, Interview, Interviews, Communications.

Heart and Guts: On Choosing To Leave My MFA Program

When I was accepted into the MFA program at the University of South Carolina, I was living in Florida, working as a copywriter, and applying to MFA programs because, in part, I felt stuck in Florida. I’d finished my MA and in that time had written my first novel and a good chunk of the stories that would become my first collection, God in Neon. I was tapped into the Orlando literary community and all of its wonderful events, but I still felt like I could be doing more. An MFA program—a chance to spend a couple years working on my writing, working on another novel—seemed like the best option. 

By January, I’d found out I’d gotten in. I’d gotten into one other program and been waitlisted at a third. By March, I’d accepted my spot as one of the four in the incoming cohort. I began preparing for a life in Columbia, South Carolina, a city I’d been to exactly once in my life and knew nothing about beyond the facts that the university was there and it was the capital. I was told by my mentor, who had gone to the same MFA program, that it was a cool little Southern town. I believed him. 

In May, I was looking around Craigslist for freelance writing gigs. I wanted a job writing about alcohol or food. As evidenced by other pieces I’ve written here on DEM, I’ve spent time in the service industry and food and booze were and are close to my heart (in the literal sense that I have a bottle of wine tattooed on the inside of my left bicep). Realizing that Florida wasn’t the market to be looking in, I clicked through the New York City CL and, lo and behold, I found a posting for a spirits writing gig. I applied. A few hours later, The Manual followed me on Twitter. Then I got an email from my now-boss. Then we chatted on the phone. In the span of about nine hours, I was hired. 

At the beginning, as with any new job, it took a little time to build up steam. I started with a few pieces a month while learning how to make, maintain, and utilize contacts in the industry. I learned the power of working with PR firms and developing those relationships. I worked to define my palate even more. I wrote and drank and wrote about drinking. It was heartening seeing my pieces being shared not only by the magazine, but by readers that I didn’t know. I reveled when people left dumb comments and then shared the piece regardless. It was the first time I could really see that any press was good press. It bothered me less and less that some dude in LA didn’t agree with my thoughts on this scotch or that rum. If he wanted to say how dumb I was as he clicked the share button, whatever, bro. Go for it.

“In October, I received an email that I had to read multiple times in order to even begin contemplating. It was an invitation to a private cocktail party of sorts. With Anthony Bourdain. The Anthony Bourdain.”

In October, I received an email that I had to read multiple times in order to even begin contemplating. It was an invitation to a private cocktail party of sorts. With Anthony Bourdain. The Anthony Bourdain. The one who, despite him being a bit of a jerk (or asshole or whatever name you’d prefer to call him), was one of my idols in my early college years. He wrote about food and drink and he was from the suburbs of Jersey, just like me. He had wit and he got to travel the world, indulging. I wanted that, I wanted to be him, and here I was with the chance to meet him. The problem was that, at this point, I was in Columbia, attempting to write parts of a novel while teaching and doing eight other things. I couldn’t get up to New York for the party, so I asked if we could do an interview some other way. It was granted and I got to spend eleven minutes and thirteen seconds talking on the phone to Tony (as the PR woman referred to him and, even now, saying that, I feel like I’m part of some club because I called him that). A few months later, I found myself on a plane to Las Vegas and that same night, tasting 75-year-old scotch, poured by the grandson of the man that made it. 

“It is the epitome of a dream job—I get to eat and drink delicious things and, more importantly, I get to talk to people who love what they do. I get to sit and chat with them about their passions and that is as good as any glass of bourbon.”

These sorts of things kept happening with increasing frequency. I was making more contacts, getting deeper into the spirits world (considering I’d only been a “professional” for less than a year), and frankly, loving every fucking minute of it. It is the epitome of a dream job—I get to eat and drink delicious things and, more importantly, I get to talk to people who love what they do. I get to sit and chat with them about their passions and that is as good as any glass of bourbon.

Flash ahead and it is June. School’s over and I’m headed back to the NY/NJ area for some family stuff and to meet with some of the people I’d worked with via email for the past year. It’s Monday morning and I’m walking up out of Penn Station, a journey I’ve taken countless times in my life, but this time, it felt different. I’ve gotten nostalgic for other things—a meal here, a hug from a person there, etc.—but this was the first time I realized that I had missed the City. I’d spent a decade trying to escape from it (with stops in NC, MT, NH, FL, and SC), and this was the first time my brain was going, “No, you need to be here.” I walked the streets, the ones I’d gone up and down so many other times for plays or concerts or just to show visitors the sites, realizing now how much I’d missed them.

Over the next few days, I had my meetings, I drank my fancy cocktails, and I got stuff in line for articles. I did more in two or three days in person than I could’ve accomplished via e-mail in a week. It got me thinking about the viability of staying in South Carolina. In my year at USC, my output consisted of 85% spirits writing and 15% creative writing. I got paid for the spirits writing and it was, at the end of the day what I wanted to do. I’d missed out on any number of special events while in Columbia and, if I wanted to bring my spirits writing game to the next level, I needed to be at those events. 

I spent the flight home thinking about this. I had signed up for three years. USC had chosen me out of however many to bring to their program to let me work on my craft. I’d carved out a life in Columbia. I had friends and a favorite bar and the place you could go on Thursdays to eat the best burgers in town while drinking Yeunglings for $1.25 each. 

“But, then there was the City. I could be living in and around one of the greatest cities in the world, writing about the topic that interests me the most.”

But, then there was the City. I could be living in and around one of the greatest cities in the world, writing about the topic that interests me the most. I already knew some great writers in the area, who would keep me in the loop on all things literary, and I had a place to stay while I got on my feet. 

I went back and forth for the remainder of the flight back to Charlotte and then the drive to Columbia. My roommate was home when I got there and he asked how my week was.

“Weird,” I’d said, dropping my backpack on the ground unloading on him as I did, everything I had been thinking through.

“You’d be moving to New York to write,” he’d said. “Don’t be stupid.” 

He and I both knew he was right. That I’d made my decision. How could I not follow through on that opportunity? Writing in New York is the dream for so many and I was about to pursue that. Yes, I’d made commitments, but if what about following your heart and your guts? What about when every fiber of your being is screaming that you need to do something? How are you supposed to ignore that? How are you supposed to settle the voices inside just because of an agreement? If I stayed in Columbia for the next two years, I’d have a foot out the door, I knew. I wouldn’t be thinking about my own work, wouldn’t be giving my friends’ work the attention it deserved, would care even less about teaching comp and rhetoric. I’d be thinking about the what-ifs, the what would’ve happeneds. Sure, the spirits writing gig would still be there in two years, but, I reasoned, if I’d been able to accomplish this much in a year, what about in the next year if I had the chance to really push it as much as I could? 

The answer, in the end, was easy. I’d made plenty of other decisions in my life that went against my heart and gut. I stayed in relationships longer than was healthy. I chose to do things that went against my better judgment. Not this, time, though. No. Not this time.

And, finally, maybe this will come back to bite me in the ass. It wouldn’t be the first time by a long shot that that has happened. That’s okay, though, because if it does, I’ll figure it out. I’ll make another heart and guts decision, following what’s best for me at that point in my life. 


Sam Slaughter is a spirits writer for The Manual and is based in the New York City area. He is the author of When You Cross That Line and God in Neon. He can be found online at and @slaughterwrites.

Posted on August 4, 2016 and filed under English Major Stories, Articles.

Why I Don’t Regret Being an English Major

Kristin Rivers

Kristin Rivers

“So you wanna be a teacher?”

That is the first question I get whenever I tell family, friends or even random strangers that I am an English major. They don’t ask what I want to do with my writing until I clarify my career aspirations. They don’t ask or give positive feedback about the path I’ve chosen for my life (although some of them try their best). It’s all talk of how jobs are lacking for those with an English degree, how it’s a useless major, a waste of time and money; the humanities are dying out and there’s not much to do with it. Articles in magazines, online and more just seem to stress this supposed fact. 

I graduated just a couple of weeks ago from Smith College with a Bachelor’s in English Language and Literature. The journey as an English major had ups and downs—there were days I felt like I could conquer the world because of the brilliant ideas and interesting turns my professors noted and applauded in my papers. Other days were filled with self-doubt, uncertainty and comparing myself to others based on class discussions of a text or our paper topics. As an introvert, it can be much harder to share your original and insightful thoughts on literature with your peers.

The self-doubt is nothing new. All writers, I finally accepted, have gone through these same emotions throughout their careers. They eventually overcome them and put them aside as I have been able to do lately. But, the journey of staying an English major and fighting for my passion was at times agonizing as it was rewarding. 

I went to a community college for my first two years after graduating from high school. My community college had the option of majoring in Creative Writing as opposed to just English. That’s where my doubts really began to bubble to the surface as I worried—way too much I confess—about my future, my grades and what path I really could take. By my second year, I really questioned if I could make it as a writer, or if I was making a mistake by majoring in something that I now take seriously.

But I chose to take the risk and stick with it because I believed in the possibilities of publishing books one day, becoming a better writer and proving other people wrong. Plus, the classes I took for my Associate’s such as Creative Writing for the Theatre, Women and Literature, and Children’s Literature encouraged my creativity and gave me chances to explore genres or crafts I was not as familiar with.

My mom was very encouraging all those years and assured me many times after high school not to listen to the numerous articles talking about salaries English majors make, the job prospects and so on. I could do anything I wanted instead of sticking to one particular career path. The possibilities were endless, and more people who could actually write well were needed in today’s job market. Fast forward to my final year of college. 

The demons came back.

“I felt like I made a mistake. The love for writing was losing against my dying confidence and worries about my thoughts and ideas both creatively and academically. I didn’t feel good enough.”

I felt like I made a mistake. The love for writing was losing against my dying confidence and worries about my thoughts and ideas both creatively and academically. I didn’t feel good enough. I always loved reading, and writing. I was taking interesting classes. My professors gave me advice.

Was college killing my path as an English major too? 

I attended workshops offered by my college’s English department around creative writing, the publishing world and so on the year before. However, I walked out of them feeling very discouraged. I kept feeling it was hindering, not helping, my endeavors because there were so many hurdles and things to consider: do an MFA, don’t do an MFA, where to publish, what career, what to write that would sell and how to even make a living.

Maybe those of you reading this have been in my position with these numerous worries and hopes. The voices of others telling you what to do or not do, considering changing your major so you had a job lined up with good pay, and assuming a bleak future when you major in ANY of the humanities in college, not just English or Creative Writing. ANY art, in my opinion, has dealt with similar criticisms. 

Poets & Writers Magazine
By Inc. Poets & Writers

The doubts may have been in control during that time, but those lights that appear at the end of those long tunnels always come forth, and they came just in time when I entered my final semester. My confidence was returning by this time. I recently subscribed to Poets & Writers magazine and I had been researching writing retreats and residencies. I was struggling to find time to actually sit down and write while working, taking classes, spending time with friends and so on.  I was finally taking my path more seriously and rekindling the love I once had before I started college.

The English Department at Smith has these talks called “Literary Lunches” each semester that are composed of various professors and guests talking about writing, the new directions they have taken in the classroom, their work and more. 

The final two I attended gave me a clearer picture and the hope I needed after graduation as an English major, and as a writer. These were the final two lunches that changed my perceptions: a panel of professors and writers in the English department talking about being a writer in the world and a talk by the Fiction Writer-in-Residence that school year, Ruth Ozeki, with her friend, author/editor Carole DeSanti. Hearing these professors—and writers—talk about their doubts, triumphs, balancing time to write and strategies to keep writing when going through writer’s block left me very hopeful. I felt inspired, reassured about my future.

The talks provided just the inspiration I needed.  

By the time I graduated, I was walking away with a sense of pride as an English major. I felt like anything was possible and like I didn’t have to stick to the fears that were put in my head. They still happen, but I try to remember why I made the decision to major in English and why I write: because I love it, and using my words to help people and give them hope. 

“By the time I graduated, I was walking away with a sense of pride as an English major. I felt like anything was possible and like I didn’t have to stick to the fears that were put in my head. They still happen, but I try to remember why I made the decision to major in English and why I write: because I love it, and using my words to help people and give them hope.”

Writing and majoring in English is who I am. It is my passion, my most vulnerable and powerful self and the place where I can freely express myself without fear or judgment.

Yes, the sciences are needed just as much as the humanities. But, I believe the arts, English included, are still valuable. We need to answer those critical questions about literature and how to improve our writing and tap into the creative parts of ourselves that were sometimes beat out of us when we were younger. Express ourselves in ways the sciences cannot.

English majors are just as relevant today. We still need creativity, and hope. Dare to be real.

Dare to be an English major despite the doubts.

If you need more reassurance, here’s another piece of advice that helped. Near the end of the semester, the career services lady at our career center told me how the skills English majors have are needed in the workplace: writing, communication and research skills. These skills are useful for ANY field today from environmental lawyer to technical writer and so on.

It can be done.

Do I regret being an English major? No! I could never see myself majoring in anything else (though I wish I would have been able to major in theatre as well because I’ve developed a love for playwriting).

Do I still have the doubts? Absolutely! Ever since I came home from college, I’ve struggled to figure out what job would best fit me, where I would want to live and what path to go in my writing next. Novella or novel? Writing residency or full-time job? Short story or poetry? Writing contests or retreats?

Really, you’re not alone if you have days where you ask yourself, “Why on earth did I become an English major?”

Maybe one day I might reconsider becoming a teacher. But, I honestly don’t want to. For those of you who love teaching and are majoring in English, more power to you! For me, that’s not my calling. My calling is a published author, blogger and whatever else may come a few years from now.

Don’t give up if you are an English major and feel lost. There are resources to help. If it weren’t for the literary lunches or encouragement from my professors, who knows where I’d be right now post-college.

I don’t regret graduating as an English major. You shouldn’t either for the creative gifts you have been blessed with.

We are still needed, so keep fighting and winning against the doubters and naysayers! Don’t regret your passion, whatever it may be!

For us English majors, the fight goes on, but not quietly. Let’s keep majoring and fight that good fight. 

I’ll end with this quote I found online from Neil Gaiman: “The one thing that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”


Kristin Rivers is a recent college graduate, fiction writer and aspiring playwright. She is a lover of books and cats who wants to use writing and words to heal and give hope to others. She recently earned a Bachelor in Arts Degree in English Language and Literature from Smith College and also holds an Associate in Arts Degree in Creative Writing from Holyoke Community College. Kristin is currently researching jobs and writing residencies while working on her first novel in the Christian Romance genre. She also started a blog called The Writer’s Soul to chronicle her post-college journey and inspire fellow writers and has also contributed posts to The Voice, a fansite around her favorite musician and role model, singer-songwriter David Archuleta. She currently lives in Massachusetts. 

Posted on June 22, 2016 and filed under English Major Stories.

A Veteran’s Perspective on Literature & the English Major

War has influenced much of what gets studied in college English departments across the country. Any survey course of British or American literature likely includes poetry from World War I poets like Siegfried Sassoon or Wilfred Owen. Compulsory military service in World War II meant that many writers served overseas, either before or after their writing careers took off. Kurt Vonnegut survived the bombing of Dresden as a prisoner of war, and William Golding participated in the D-Day invasion. Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried was based on his time as an infantry soldier in the Vietnam War.

Beyond just the written contributions of writers in uniform, two events in particular helped shape the contemporary literary scene in post-World War II America: Armed Services Editions of popular works (which democratized access to literature through mass produced pocket-sized editions of novels, short stories, and poetry; see Molly Guptill Manning’s excellent When Books Went to War for a detailed look at ASEs) ensured that soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and coast guardsmen—as well as Allied military and civilian populations— could read their way through The Great Gatsby or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn as they fought across Europe or the Pacific; and the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act (better known as the G.I. Bill) allowed millions of returning veterans the opportunity to attend college or vocational training, an opportunity they most likely would not have had otherwise. Taken together, the ASEs and G.I. Bill helped create a literate middle class.

After Vietnam, the military transitioned from draftees to volunteers. Combined with other factors—a generally robust economy, the drawdown after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and a general apathy towards military service—this meant that fewer and fewer people served or knew someone who served. This translated into fewer and fewer writers with military experience. By the time of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (combat operations which continue in some form to this day), a handful of soldiers and other service members were deploying more and more frequently, and the disconnect between the military and civilian sectors of the population grew less and less able to speak a common language of experience.

A growing number of writers with military service are becoming part of the literary world. A large portion of the earliest writing could be deemed memoir or autobiography and presented their experiences in combat through straightforward and fact-based accounts; think Lone Survivor or American Sniper. At the same time, writers are fictionalizing or poeticizing their time in uniform and are expanding the meaning of “military literature.” Army veteran Brian Turner stands out as one of the preeminent post-9/11 war poets—he is a Lannan Literary Fellow and directs the low-residency MFA program at Sierra Nevada College. Phil Klay is a former Marine whose short story collection Redeployment won the National Book Award. Military writers are also bending conventions of genre; Colby Buzzell turned his blog My War: Killing Time in Iraq into a well-received book, and followed it up with Lost in America: A Dead End Journey, two works which parallel the longstanding tradition of examining the warrior at war and the warrior at home (see Homer: The Iliad and The Odyssey).

More and more attention is also being paid to the millions of men, women, and children who lived through the wars and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries.

Hassan Blasim’s short story collection The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq comes from years of embargo, combat, and separation; Dunya Mikhail’s poetry likewise combines the voice of exile with lyrical and provocative passages; and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is only the most famous of a large and growing body of work from Afghan poets and writers. As more works are translated into English, more college students and readers will have the opportunity to study and learn from those who’ve lived through the terrible consequences of combat.

Military writing is also making its presence known in professional circles.

At the most recent Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in Los Angeles, there were no fewer than twelve events featuring military writers who’ve served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or both. Veterans have also started projects such as The Veterans Writing Project, designed to promote and publish writing by those who’ve served; Military Experience and the Arts, which works to combine writing with visual art, dance, and therapy; and Line of Advance, one of many veteran-focused literary journals. Additionally, sites like Randy “Charlie Sherpa” Moore’s Red Bull Rising serve as aggregators of military and veteran writing contests, submissions, and events. Peter Molin runs Time Now, a source for critical analysis of a broad spectrum of military writing, including works from Iraqi, Afghan, and other overseas voices.

Much of the discussion on these sites (and others) focuses on ways forward, and a popular topic is the “civil-military gap”—the aforementioned inability of two segments of the American population to meaningfully communicate.

With fewer and fewer people serving or knowing anyone who has, misconceptions and prejudices abound on both sides. When much of the populace draws their knowledge of the military from movies (with varying levels of accuracy) or from lingering resentments handed down from a generation that lived through the Vietnam War, and when the shrinking number of veterans self-isolate or denigrate those who never served in uniform, how do we make sure we can still talk across the divide?

Perhaps colleges could include more contemporary writing by veterans. The canon could be updated to include writing men and women (who are making up more and more a critical portion of the military) who’ve deployed overseas or who’ve lived through invasion and occupation. Much of the same issues examined by Hemingway or Remarque or Homer are still relevant but could be contextualized through current writers.

A newly revamped Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is allowing a new generation of veterans an entry into the academic world. Contrary to what may or may not be popular conceptions of who these men and women are, they don’t all have PTSD, haven’t all seen combat, and aren’t all war mongers. (In fact, very few are.) Instead, these incoming college freshmen are generally older than their peers, have varied backgrounds and skills, and are eager to begin new chapters in their lives.

Conversely, veterans could look to their classmates for lessons from their own experiences. Many of them have served in other capacities, either in their communities or across the country and world. They are teaching in underserved schools, working in the medical fields, or volunteering in numerous ways. They are also the writers creating new and exciting works, often alongside the military writers.

“After all, what does literature do but teach us about what it’s like to live as someone else?”

College English courses could provide a unique venue in which to challenge the assumption that, because of different life experiences, veterans and civilians have an inherent difficulty in communicating. After all, what does literature do but teach us about what it’s like to live as someone else? How else can we understand anyone other than ourselves except through art and empathy? Perhaps by incorporating some of the growing community of military writers (as well as other communities; this could be a concept easily applied to women writers, writers of color, or queer writers) we could expand the notion of who is creating work worth reading and begin to learn again how to talk with our neighbors.


Travis Klempan is a Colorado native who joined the Navy to see the world. He found out most of it is water so he came back to the Mile High State. Along the way he earned a Bachelor's of Science (not Arts) in English from the Naval Academy and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing & Poetics from the Jack Kerouac School. He is currently pursuing teaching opportunities—adjuncting, substituting, and teaching at sea. He's also working on several pieces of writing at any given time, including a novel, a collection of fables, and a musical. He does not ski but makes a great road trip companion.

You can read the Dear English Major interview with Travis Klempan here! 

Posted on June 12, 2016 and filed under Articles, Featured Articles, English Major Stories.