What it Means to Study English at Washington College
But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.
- Toni Morrison, Sophie Kerr Visiting Writer and Nobel Prize Winner
You will learn from celebrated visiting writers and scholars who join your classes or read at the Rose O'Neill Literary House. (Toni Morrison visited in 1987 and read from an unpublished novel titled Beloved). You will engage in a variety of experiential learning opportunities, from class trips to study abroad programs to internships in communications, editing, journalism, publishing and other fields. You will be guided by a faculty mentor and develop independent research for your Senior Capstone Experience. As a critic, editor, essayist, journalist, poet, and storyteller you will become knowledgeable and skilled in analysis, creativity, inquiry, and persuasion.
Washington College is also home to the largest undergraduate literary award in the country: the Sophie Kerr Prize. The prize is awarded each year to a graduating senior chosen for their "promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor." In a world of expanding communication, we need intelligent readers and artful writers to make meaningful connections. Graduates in English, Creative Writing, and Journalism, Editing & Publishing make meaning of the world in words.
The Sophie Kerr Legacy
Sophie Kerr, a successful writer in the early 20th century from Denton on the Eastern Shore, created an endowment for the English department. This endowment enables us to bring to Chestertown and to your classroom well-known writers, editors, and scholars and host literary events and readings throughout the year (check out our 2020-2021 Literary Events). The endowment also supports the nation’s largest undergraduate literary prize (large as in $63,000, larger than the Pulitzer Prize).
What's Different Here? Let Us Count the Ways
The amount English major Shannon Moran received in 2019 for winning the Sophie Kerr Prize, the largest undergraduate literary prize in the country.
That's more than the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, combined. In more than 50 years of the prize, over $1.5 million has been awarded. Watch 2020 Prize winner Mary Sprague, who also took home more than 63k, interviewd by CBS News. And that's only part of the story. Each year the other half of the endowment supports scholarships, books, events with writers and scholars, and experiential learning opportunities for all majors and minors.
The number of internships English majors have completed since 2018.
Recent internship experiences: Apollo Theater (NYC), Capital Gazette (Annapolis), Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), C-SPAN (DC), Delaware Today Magazine (Wilmington), Law Offices (various locations), Library of Congress (DC), Maryland House of Delegates (Annapolis), National Portrait Gallery (DC), Today Media Custom Communications (Baltimore) Triada Literary Agency (PA). On campus: Cherry Tree, The Elm, O'Neill Literary House, Pegasus, Washington College Review.
The number of English majors completing a Senior Capstone Experience or thesis, independent research and writing guided by a faculty mentor.
Recent thesis topics: Weaponry and Thing Theory in Beowulf; Shakespeare in South Korea; Alt Lit and Authorship; Henry David Thoreau as Deep Ecologist; Toni Morrison and Magical Realism; Female Autonomy in The Hunger Games; Imperialism from Joseph Conrad to Tupak Shakur; Revising the Myth of Marianne Moore; Queer Continuity in Woolf and Cunningham; Nature and Poetry in José Martí’s Versos Sencillos.
Justin Nash's PlanClass of 2021 • Smyrna, Delaware • English Major + Studio Art Major
Year 1Favorite ClassENG 494: Special Topics, Poetry and Book Arts
Poetry and Book Arts was likely the most formative class I’ve taken here at Washington College. It exposed me to poetry and writing as a structure and an art form in a way that I don’t think could be replicated anywhere else.
Year 2Learning By Doing Literary House Internship
The Literary House Press internship provided me with the experience of working for a real literary press and introduced me to the many facets of the publishing world. Completing the internship my sophomore year taught me everything I needed to go on and intern at Copper Canyon Press—one of the largest literary publishers in the country—the following summer.
Year 3Looking Forward ToAWP Conference
This year I’m looking forward to attending the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference in San Antonio. I’ve been the past two years and AWP is always a great chance to immerse yourself in writing and literature. I am also the Editor-in-Chief of the Washington College Review.
Year 4Senior Capstone ExperienceIndependent Research with Dr. Kimberly Andrews
My SCE project, “And Can You Imagine? Being So Close to Nothing: The Young Guard of Queer Poetics,” confronts the incredible proliferation of poets writing around sexuality in recent years who are completely untethered from landmark traumas like the AIDS crisis. Where older queer poets have tended to focus on grief, longing, and guilt, this new crop can’t be pinned down—writing in and around as many spaces as they have the newfound potential to inhabit. One of few commonalities is a marked use of the second person, which I’ll be close reading as an indicator and effect of this quantum, uncertain potential.
"The Literary House Press internship provided me with the experience of working for a real literary press and introduced me to the many facets of the publishing world."
- Justin Nash '21
Tamia Williams' PlanClass of 2021 • Millsboro, DE • English Major + Communications and Media Studies Major
Year 1Favorite ClassENG 354: Literary Editing & Publishing
The class allowed students to encounter current, contemporary writers and literary journals while enjoying talks with Dr. Hall, Director of the Literary House.
Year 2Learning By DoingLibrary of Congress Publishing Internship
My background and education from the English Department helped me secure the position. I happily proofread manuscripts, checked citations, and interviewed authors while working at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. for the entire summer.
Year 3Looking Forward ToAssociation of Writers & Writing Programs Conference
I am most looking forward to traveling with the Lit House to the annual AWP conference. I look forward to the amazing readings, interactive panels, and making my wallet cry at the Bookfair.
Year 4Senior Capstone ExperienceIndependent Research in English and Communication and Media Studies
I plan to write one thesis combining the requirements for both English and Communications & Media Studies. I will look at how fairytales and folklore impact identity norms (gender, race, sex, etc.) in literary texts and in motion media (movies, TV shows, etc.).
"My background and education from the English Department helped me secure the position as the Library of Congress Publishing Intern."
-Tamia Williams '21
Vanessa Rupertus' PlanClass of 2021 • Middletown, DE • English Major + Minors in Creative Writing, Justice, Law & Society
Year 1Favorite ClassIntroduction to Poetry (ENG 222)
This class challenged my ability as a critical reader more than any other literature class I’ve ever taken, and while it was beyond difficult, I came out of this class a better reader and by extension, a better writer. My ability to understand the scholarly literature reviews is all thanks to this class, since Dr. Andrews helped cement a foundation to build up from when assessing higher level literature pieces.
Year 2Learning By DoingCherry Tree Literary Magazine
I have screened for the literary magazine Cherry Tree two years in a row (Fall 2018 and Fall 2019). This experience was invaluable since I not only have to identify elements in the submissions that Cherry Tree looks to publish, but I also am able to critique elements of the submissions and learn from the authors writing techniques. Because of this internship, I’m a lot more confident in the do’s and don’ts of writing short stories.
Year 3Looking Forward ToCampus Job: The Writing Center
I’m beginning my job as a Writing Center Peer Consultant this year. I’m very excited to start, since I enjoy helping people craft their ideas in all forms of writing, and it’s a great way to learn about other subjects, such as chemistry or history, through unorthodox means. The seminar leading to this job was invaluable as well, since we had to learn how to utilize metacognition, which helps me evaluate my writing in a more unbiased fashion.
Year 4Senior Capstone ExperienceIndependent Research with Dr. Katie Charles
I will be researching and writing my SCE on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and social class in Victorian society, advised by Dr. Charles. I will also remain active in my leadership roles in Hillel, the Wildlife Conservation Club, and the National Society of Leadership & Success.
"Introduction to Poetry (ENG 222) challenged my ability as a critical reader more than any other literature class I’ve ever taken, and while it was beyond difficult, I came out of this class a better reader and by extension, a better writer."
- Vanessa Rupertus '21
King Arthur: Myth to ModernityCourtney Rydel's First-Year Seminar goes online.
“I’m not doing online teaching,” remarks Courtney Rydel, Associate Professor of English. “I’m doing Washington College teaching; it just happens to be online.”
While no one anticipated swapping their lecture halls for virtual Zoom classrooms this fall, Rydel was certainly prepared. Trading in her traditional chalkboard for technology, she found new ways to engage her students, using tools she’ll continue to use when she’s back in the classroom.
The class, King Arthur: Myth to Modernity, explores original literature from the 12th through the 15th century, and compares it to modern day adaptations of King Arthur and Lancelot, including: film, documentaries, and written works. “It’s a great lens for students to think not only about the past,” she explains, “but also think critically and express ideas about the world around them.”
Traditionally, students were assigned films and documentaries to watch for homework, followed by in-class discussions. With the advent of streaming software and watch parties, the entire class can tune in to a livestream of a movie, with the option to live chat, pause a video anytime, and ask questions as they come up, rather than discussing it the next class period.
Another powerful collaboration tool, Google Docs, enables students to complete writing assignments together, while help is just a click away. Viewing their progress in real time, Rydel can identify students that are stuck on an assignment, before they even think to ask for help. In a traditional classroom setting, professors simply cannot be this proactive.
With Google Docs, collaborative note taking is also made possible; this is a feature she promises to bring back to the real classroom someday, too. Since all students have access to the group’s notes, “regardless of a student’s strengths,” she remarks, “they’re all helping each other.”
Since she no longer needs to be physically in her office to meet with students, Rydel is able to offer an extended schedule of office hours. Whether it’s later in the evening, early mornings, or after hours, it’s easy to hop on and answer student’s questions, anywhere and anytime. Being accessible to her students is now easier than ever. With screen share, she can easily look at a student’s writing during office hours and give feedback, just as she would in an office setting.
During class, it’s also much easier to share images or clips with her students, compared
to the daily hassle of setting up a projector and dealing with technology woes. While
she dearly misses seeing her students in person, she says, “I’m trying to make the
most of the technological environment that we’re in.”
And her students couldn’t agree more. “A little past halfway into my first semester of college, I am a complete and utter Arthurian geek,” Joshua Torrence ’24 exclaims. “I am eating up readings in my textbook and becoming inspired to include Arthurian characters and imagery in my own writing.”
While this year is surely not what any freshman expected their introduction to Washington College to look like, Rydel has managed to create a remote learning environment that’s not only engaging, but one that her first-year students truly enjoy.Meet courtney rydel