English major needs creative writing track

Illustration by Rachael Obermiller

By Zoe Jennings

As an English major I have encountered countless jokes, plenty of stereotypes and many misguided questions about the usefulness of my major. Regardless of all the skepticism, I am quite content being an English major: the curriculum here at Lewis & Clark is rigorous and foundational, and I will no doubt learn many useful skills for life and for my future career. However, some of the required curriculum just doesn’t feel relevant to what I want to study and pursue after college.

I don’t know exactly what I want to do in the future, but I know creative writing is something that interests and excites me. However, the English curriculum at LC doesn’t set me up well to succeed in a creative writing field. To be sure, it is very possible to take creative writing classes here, and one can learn a lot from each one.

Due to the sheer number of literary history classes required, and the few other electives we get to take, it is challenging for someone like me — who wants to take creative writing classes — to find a way to fit them all into my major curriculum. This means I will end up having to take some of these creative writing classes as general electives outside of my major.

I am sure the required classes I end up taking will be interesting and extremely informative. Nevertheless, it’s frustrating that I have to go down one path of study that doesn’t suit what I’m interested in, and have to spend my other classes outside of the major learning about what I am interested in. I came here thinking I could have an actual concentration in writing — that’s what the English department website advertised: “A concentration in writing and literature incorporates both creative writing courses and literature courses according to a particular student’s interest. A concentration in British and American literature combines courses calculated to strengthen the student’s understanding of literary history and the major writers in British and American literature.” However, it turns out the major curriculum is a just the British and American literature track for everyone, regardless of one’s interests. There aren’t actually any real “concentrations,” one can simply take the three classes of their choosing as their electives, unstructured.

Granted, the required English classes provide a solid, foundational education in the traditions of literature. We are required to take Major Periods 205 and 206, which span from medieval to the mid 20th century, two 300-level pre-1800 British Literature classes, one 300-level American Literature class, and another 300-level class of our choosing. After that there are three electives to take and finally the senior seminar.

Department Chair Rachel Cole explained the rationale of the general major requirements.

“If you don’t know how this art form has been used in the past, and you don’t know how the artists of today are having a conversation with the artists of the past, then you’re just going to miss so much of the richness of a text,” Cole said. I completely agree with her in this respect, but when she touched on why the 300-level classes are required, I began to disagree.

“(The requirements) help direct students to classes that we don’t think they would take otherwise,” Cole said. However, I wouldn’t take pre-1800 Brit-Lit classes on my own because they’re simply not relevant to me and what I want to do in the future.

I also disagreed with the department’s vision of the senior seminar.

“It’s to give you a sense of what professional work, professional research in this discipline looks like … how to enter a conversation about literature with professionals within the discipline, how to do your own research. That’s the trajectory,” Cole said.

Is this the best trajectory for every English student at LC? It certainly isn’t the trajectory I’m aiming for, but I will be required to take these classes nonetheless. The prescribed goal of the major alienates those of us interested in creative writing from other students who are more interested in literary history and criticism, as well as from the major itself. I don’t feel connected to many of my fellow English majors because of this, and it’s as though I’m rebelling against the system and my teachers by taking creative writing classes.

I came to LC hoping to major in English with a concentration in writing and literature, only to find out that this is not really possible in the way I had been led to believe. Either there should be two separate concentrations for English which pertain more specifically to what students are interested in, or there should be fewer specific requirements, which just feel restrictive to someone like me, so we can tailor our major curriculum to our interests. This way, everyone will feel like they belong in their major, and can be surrounded by other students like them.

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