Icons of style and elegance. That’s how Garrison Keillor describes English Majors on the Prairie Home Companion. It might not be how you would expect a blog about English Studies to begin, unless of course you listen to the show. Besides first-rate story telling across genres, ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ regularly gives the English Major pride of place. Such splendid recognition is fantastic, but then, the program itself is really a paean to English Studies. The work of understanding and creating through skill and pleasure in language is immortalized through its P.O.E.M., ‘Professional Organization of English Majors.’ For me, in the real thick of the academic year, it is a light-hearted reminder of why I am studying for a degree in English.
Instead of coming to you from the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater, like ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ does, I am coming to you from amid the most amazing stack of homework you can imagine. This morning, in the midst of a little wobble, I skimmed notes from previous study support seminars and read my colleagues’ blogs. While contemplating how to get the results I want in exams, and to manage the volume of work, it came as a relief to realize that PHC has some truth in its jests.
English Studies, and English Majors, really are a professional organization. Sometimes when disciplines are associated with ‘creativity’ and ‘art’ it is easy to lose sight of the ‘professional’ outcomes. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I live, creative writing professionals are among the highest paid professionals in the region. I don’t think anyone pursues English Studies for the financial rewards, but it is quite right to view the pursuit of this credential with the professional gilding it deserves.
While studying, I am always aware of the guild of English professionals around me, and the special skills and knowledge they have. It is interesting to me that the skills I need to manage my study work load and outcomes are the very same professional skills and knowledge my mentors have mastered. For me, studying English has helped me structure and define a creative, personal, and professional process for which I am rewarded each day in many ways. Right now, when I literally cannot see over or around the stack of reading and notes on my desks, it helps to really embrace the process of studying English, especially specific skills like close reading, and take pleasure in the task.
When you really think about it, language is astonishing. We are cocooned in it every day, in every aspect of our lives. To me, language and literature is the most intricate, remarkable, fascinating, dumbfounding, and exciting kind of expression. Developing the ability to wield it confidently and creativity is an incredible gift. That’s why I study English. There is a professional tool kit that comes with English Studies but, for all the skills and tools the authors or scholars we read have with language, you can tell they are also having a bit of fun with it. Right now, as exams approach and study time is running out, it helps to note how much I enjoy the actual work of studying English Literature, and how the skills I admire in others are the ones we acquire through the work of daily study. The skills, in other words the process of working with language that studying English involves, is one of the big reasons studying is so pleasurable. It is a comforting thought when the amount of work and level of detail can feel daunting.
To everyone immersed in English Studies, surrounded by texts, and notes, and to everyone thinking about studying English in the University of London International Programmes, remember the words of Garrison Keillor and the P.O.E.M., ‘You can’t go wrong hiring an English Major, icons of style and elegance everyone.’
caowrites is studying BA English through distance learning