Beck Series: Writers That Inspire
The series provides students the opportunity to hear, study with, and engage some this country’s finest writers, such as:
- Viet Thanh Nguyen
- Alison Bechdel
- Kim Edwards
- Ted Genoways
- Luke Lorentzen
- Min Jin Lee
Why study English at Denison?
The English department at Denison offers a wide variety of classes that engage with human experience, recent and historical as well as local and global, and it offers students the opportunity to specialize in creative writing, literary studies, and/or narrative journalism.
The departments’ Beck Series brings 10-12 visiting writers to campus each year, providing students the opportunity to hear, study with, and learn from this country’s finest writers. Some past Beck Series writers include Eudora Welty, Alice Walker, Tom Stoppard, Min Jin Lee, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Karen Joy Fowler, and numerous others.
The one-of-a-kind narrative journalism program combines literary attention to storytelling with in-depth, fact-based research. The program hosts Between Coasts, a national journalists’ forum and an online magazine that features narrative journalism written by Midwesterners about the Midwest.
The English department is particularly attentive to the challenges all college graduates face in building careers after graduation, so the department has built partnerships with organizations to provide internships to English and Narrative Journalism students, and the department works with Denison’s Knowlton Center for Career Exploration to help English students understand how the experiences they have in the major translate into valuable skills for the workplace.
What do English majors learn?
Most people know that a degree in English teaches critical reading and writing skills. But studying and writing literature also cultivates a wide variety of skills that employers value because they are not easy to learn in the workplace. In the rapidly evolving world of the 21st century, college is not a place to learn a trade that may become obsolete; it is an opportunity to grow as a human being and develop a variety of attributes that are transferable and adaptable to different contexts in life: personal, professional, and civic. Here are some examples of skills English majors at Denison learn:
Research in neuroscience shows that reading imaginative writing increases social cognition and empathy, enabling readers to understand the experiences of people whose backgrounds may be very different from their own. To quote one study, “Readers of fiction can transcend the here-and-now to experience worlds, people and mental states that differ vastly from their local reality.” This kind of cultural understanding will help you better navigate an increasingly diverse and globally oriented world.
Reading and writing great literature cultivates the imagination, which helps us see past the horizon of what exits to explore yet unrealized possibilities. Imagination is the seedbed of innovation, and imaginative reasoning allows you to see the hypothetical possibilities in something as simple as a workspace or a new piece of technology and in something as complex as a social and political system. Our colleagues at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln put it nicely when they write, imaginative reasoning “allows us to re-envision what is possible and to dream up audacious solutions to seemingly insoluble problems.”
People respond to stories, so stories are often the best way to communicate complicated ideas. Indeed, Nobel Prize-winning economist Arthur Schiller recently argued that the world needs more English majors who can tell the stories we need to better understand the complexities of the global economic system. By reading, analyzing, and writing stories, English majors learn how to capture someone’s attention with a good story, which opens up the possibility to convey important information
Literature tells stories of people at particular places and times, so it allows readers to identify and analyze the relationships between the personal, everyday experience of an individual and the complex social, political, and historical phenomena that give shape to their lives. Thus, reading literature helps people synthesize and think critically about information from a variety of places, historical periods, and cultures and from different spheres of experience—educational, familial, religious, economic, etc.—to develop coherent arguments aimed at solving problems.
Students of English learn to read difficult texts and to read beyond the surface of a text to understand not just what a text says but how it works. Students look closely at word choice, sentence structure, and organization to analyze how texts create meaning. Students also learn that texts can communicate much more than their authors may intend, which makes it important to consider the many possible interpretations in any act of communication, whether it’s a short story or a research presentation in a boardroom.
Yes, you can get a great job as an English major
Don’t let the myth of the unemployed English major deter you from studying what you love. English majors are as employable as other other college majors. Over the course of their working lives, humanities graduates earn as much as STEM graduates.
A Denison education presents you with the precious opportunity to spend four years enriching your emotional and intellectual life in addition to preparing you for the working world. And remember, throughout your life you’ll be sharing your story with employers, clients, and friends. As an English major, storytelling can be your particular super power.
The faculty of the English Department seeks to help students improve their abilities to read, write, and think critically and creatively. Through the study of literature and the instruction of writing in various forms, we endeavor to promote in our majors and minors both a deep understanding of our discipline and an active use of its practices. As a faculty, we recognize and encourage among ourselves a variety of pedagogical and critical approaches to literature and writing. Moreover, we feel that our students should experience and comprehend these different schools of theory and application. Thus, in the course of their studies in our department, students are exposed to the traditional canon of British and American literature as well as to noncanonical texts in the Anglophone tradition; asked to apply a variety of critical approaches from traditional close reading to recent postmodern methods of investigation; required to write with style and acumen; and motivated to examine, question, and challenge their own moment and situation in literary and cultural history.
The English curriculum is intended to serve the general needs of the liberal arts student and also provide discerning programs for the more specialized needs of students who want to major in English with an emphasis in literature, creative writing, or narrative nonfiction writing. In the last thirty years, English literary studies have changed in response to new theoretical and cultural models as well as greater attention to Anglophone international and non-canonical literature and genres. In our courses and major we approach the study of language and literature as a dynamic, living, and lively pursuit, one that integrates political, social, philosophic, cultural, and aesthetic values. We have designed a program that meets a variety of needs and enables students to pursue a variety of personal and professional goals, whether defined by individual or collaborative intent, subject breadth or depth, instructional model, source engagement, writing development, or other pedagogical features. The faculty in English participate actively in the General Education Program, the Writing Program, Women’s and Gender Studies, Black Studies, Queer Studies, International Studies, Environmental Studies, and service learning opportunities.
All students may enjoy readings and lectures made possible by the endowed Harriet Ewens Beck Fund, which has brought such writers as Susan Orlean, Ted Kooser, Alice Walker, Bill Bryson, Maxine Hong Kingston, Adrienne Rich, Louise Erdrich, and Antonya Nelson for visits or residencies each year. The curriculum in English is also enhanced by a variety of opportunities for students to pursue publishing their works locally in a variety of student-edited journals. ARTICULĀTE (a forum for cultural and literary criticism) and EXILE (a journal of creative writing) are among the publications associated with students in English.