A place for those who study English literature to express their discontent in everything from the misuse of apostrophes to lack of income. Some say we're pretentious asshats. They may be right. But at least we're well-read.
I’m an English major. It is a language of conquest.
What does it say that I’m mastering the same language that was used to make my mother feel inferior? Growing up, I had a white friend who used to laugh whenever my mother spoke English, amused by the way she rolled her r’s. My sister and I tease Mami about her accent too, but it’s different when we do it, or is it? The echoes of colonization linger in my voice. The weapons of the death squads that pushed my mother out of El Salvador were U.S.-funded. When Nixon promised, “We’re going to smash him!” it was said in his native tongue, and when the Chilean president he smashed used his last words to promise, “Long live Chile!” it was said in his. And when my family told me the story of my grandfather’s arrest by the dictatorship that followed, my grandfather stayed silent, and meeting his eyes, I cried, understanding that there were no words big enough for loss.
English is a language of conquest. I benefit from its richness, but I’m not exempt from its limitations. I am ‘that girl’ in your English classes, the one who is tired of talking about dead white dudes. But I’m still complicit with the system, reading nineteenth-century British literature to graduate.
Diversity in my high school and college English literature courses is too often reduced to a month, week, or day where the author of the book is seen as the narrator of the novel. The multiplicity of U.S. minority voices is palatably packaged into a singular representation for our consumption. I read Junot Díaz and now I understand not only the Dominican-American experience, but what it means to be Latina/o in America. Jhumpa Lahiri inspired me to study abroad in India. Sherman Alexie calls himself an Indian, so now it’s ok for me to call all Indians that, too. We will read Toni Morrison’s Beloved to understand the horrors of slavery, but we won’t watch her takedowns on white supremacy.
Even the English courses that analyze race and diasporas in meaningful ways are still limited by the time constraints of the semester. Reading Shakespeare is required, but reading Paolo Javier and Mónica de la Torre is extra credit. My Experimental Minority Writing class is cross-listed at the most difficult level, as a 400-level course in the Africana Studies, Latina/o Studies, and American Studies departments, but in my English department, it is listed as a 300-level. I am reminded of Orwellian democracy: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. Monica Torres, “Majoring In English,” The Feminist Wire 3/29/13 (via racialicious)
I just received two anonymous asks in a row asking me what careers are out there for English majors. I don’t know how many more times people will feel the need to ask this same question—my answer is virtually always the same.
The answer is, while publishing, editing, teaching, writing, journalism, and working for nonprofits are commonly though of paths, the list of careers out there that are suitable for English majors is endless.
Check out the English major success tag on my blog for career ideas and encouragement and advice for getting through college as an English major. And don’t forget—your advisors and career counselors and English majors who have graduated are happy to talk to you about jobs too!
^ This as well.
I’m an English major in SF. How do I avoid the “lack of income” part of being an English major? It’s not easy to live around the Bay Area (expeeensive houses), but I’ve found that English is what makes me happiest, and I plan on going through with it.
Only I’m scared out of my mind about job prospects. I can’t be a pretentious butthat because I’m not. I can’t go out with that attitude to employers. D:
Ouch. I feel your pain about SF living— I almost moved to the Bay but couldn’t afford it. But kudos to you for sticking with what makes you happy!
In terms of job prospects, I think this is something everyone who doesn’t have a major that’s designed as preparation for a specific career path (like Pre-Med) goes through. I actually graduated last year (part of the reason I let this blog go on hiatus, whoops) and I didn’t have a job for… oh god, like six months? I just didn’t know where to start. It’s definitely scary, I’m not going to lie. But I eventually got creative with my job search— people with good writing skills are necessary in pretty much every field. I got a job writing copy for a local startup, and right now I work at the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting (a non-profit which reports on health issues in California). I’m not exactly experienced in business or journalism, but the quality of my grammar and writing got me the jobs.
Honestly, no two English majors are alike. What initially attracted you to English Lit? What makes you happy about it now? What would be your dream job? Start there and base your job search around your answers. You probably won’t find the perfect job for you right away, but you’ll have a better idea of where you want to go.
Since you’re still in college, this is a great time to get a part-time job (if you don’t have one already!) say, in the English department, or for a local business, to start seeing what kind of work you enjoy.
And, to use an obnoxious business word, you should definitely network! Find local groups related to your interests, connect with the people in your classes, get out there. You never know who might turn you on to a job opening.
(And the “pretentious asshat” part is mostly a joke. We do tend to have that stereotype… but most of the English majors I know are quite lovely.)
I’m sure other people have suggestions… but I hope this helps at least a little!
Best of luck!