Fordham English Senior Presents at the 9th Annual Undergraduate Research Workshop

English Department Senior Adam Fales (FCLC '17) presented a paper, "Herman Melville's Body: Archives, Absence, and Historical Literary Practice," drawn from his honors thesis research this past weekend at the 9th Annual Undergraduate Research Workshop at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.  

Established as the Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies in 1978, and renamed in honor of its benefactor Robert L. McNeil, Jr., in 1998, the McNeil Center facilitates scholarly inquiry into the histories and cultures of North America in the Atlantic world before 1850, with a particular but by no means exclusive emphasis on the mid-Atlantic region.

Adam is writing his thesis under the direction of Professor Shonni Enelow, and his visit was sponsored by Professor Jordan Stein, who serves as Fordham's liaison to the McNeil Center.  As part of the workshop, all students are paired with a graduate student mentor, and Adam worked with Fordham English Ph.D. candidate (and fellow Kansan) Christy Pottroff, who is currently a 2016-17 Andrew W. Mellon Early American Literature and Material Texts Dissertation Fellow at the McNeil Center, and who delivered a formal comment on Adam's research at the workshop.

Fordham students are eligible to apply for undergraduate workshops and dissertation fellowships because Fordham is one of more than three dozen schools and libraries that make up the McNeil Center consortium.  Students who may be interested in presenting their work at the McNeil Center in the future should contact Professor Stein (jstein10@fordham).

Interview with Fordham English Major, Patrick O'Connell

What can you do with an English degree? The simple answer is, many things. But what does that mean? The Fordham English Major provides students with skills that can be put to use in a variety of different fields. One of these students is Fordham senior, Patrick O'Connell, who will be going on to Duke University School of Law after he graduates in May. Duke is one of the top ranked law schools in the country with a 19% acceptance rate. In this interview, we discuss Patrick's experience as a Fordham English major and how it prepared him to go on to a prominent law school.  -Erin Coughlin

EC: First of all, I want to congratulate you. You were accepted early decision to Duke Law, weren’t you? 

PO: Yes, that’s correct. Thank you.

EC: Of course, that’s a great accomplishment.

PO: It’s nice to know now, and not be worrying all semester. It does make Senior Slide a little bit more tempting, though.

EC: And Duke Law is a top Law School, so that’s very impressive. I wanted to talk to you in a general sense about why you became an English major, what the experience was, and how it ultimately led to your decision to go to law school. Who was your freshman advisor?

PO: My English advisor was Dr. Maria Farland and she was a great help, not only in how the English Major goes, but in drafting my personal statement, speaking with people about Law school. There’s been a lot of contact and [she’s been] very helpful. I also had her for a class. We have a good relationship.

EC: When you started undergrad, did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?

PO: In my senior year of high school, I took a couple of Creative Writing courses, mostly workshops. Small classes, 12 kids to a class, and I loved it. When I got to Fordham, I was more interested in Creative Writing. Then in my freshman year summer, I went abroad to London for a Creative Writing course through Fordham, at Heythrop College. It was called “Outsiders in London,” and it was taught by Professor Mira Nair. She taught at the Lincoln Center campus and also at NYU. That was another great experience with the Fordham English Department. I’m not sure when it switched from Creative Writing to Law. There wasn’t one epiphany moment, but I guess my experiences with college-level English courses, with more in-depth analysis and more persuasive writing techniques, and thinking about where I could apply them for a career, and law stood out. It seemed like a logical progression. As early as sophomore year, I was doing internships at law firms in various fields, and getting experience. Once I started seeing law in action, and shadowing different attorneys at different practices, it was cemented [as] something I would pursue.

EC: [Do you feel like] being an English major provided you with a malleable set of skills that could be applied to a variety of fields?

PO: Here’s a quick example. My internship for my junior spring was at a really small firm that was putting a lot of emphasis on their blog. I have a marketing minor, so when I was hired, the combination of English and Marketing was something that was appealing to them because, as an undergrad, you can’t really contribute to the legal aspects of a firm, but you can do other things. They had me do blog posts for them on a regular basis, but it was a divorce firm, and even though I didn’t know much about divorce law, the skills that my English major had given me as far as writing interesting pieces, structuring pieces, using the right type of source material, as well as basic research skills [were] key. Some of those blog posts are still out today. Generally speaking, the skills for an English major are ideal.

EC: Do you have an idea which area of law you’d be interested in?

PO: At this moment, I’m thinking Intellectual Property. My last internship was at an IP firm. In a general sense, I find that work, rewarding and engaging.

EC: Intellectual property is going to become an even bigger issue in years to come, in terms of all this content that’s available, who does it belong to, and who profits from it? I know you mentioned Professor Farland and Professor Nair. Are there any other professors in the English department who were helpful to you along the way?

PO: So many. I can’t give a shout out to all of them. Dr. Angela Monsam is wonderful. I’ve had her for two classes, and she along with Dr. Susan Greenfield wrote me recommendations for law school. Dr. Monsam knew me for all of my sophomore year and then we stayed in touch. I would go to her office hours. A recommendation from someone who knows you means so much more, and I think anyone reading a [recommendation] can tell if you’ve built a relationship with the [recommendation writer]. Dr. Greenfield’s class, “Homelessness" was a service learning class featured on Fordham’s website in Fall 2015. That was a unique opportunity, too. As part of the class requirement, you had to work 30 hours of volunteer time at Part of the Solution, which [offers] everything from a soup kitchen to legal representation to the people of the Bronx. Through that service learning class, I interned at POTS in the legal department.

EC: That sounds like Professor Greenfield. I’m not surprised she taught a class like that. Do you feel that the department in general has an approachable feel?

PO: Absolutely.

EC: I know that while you were looking at law school, you were also looking at Teach for America? Do you feel you would have equally prepared for that?

PO: Oh, sure. I found out about Duke before my interview was scheduled, so it never went through, but you have to go into your interview with a lesson plan prepared, and the one I was thinking of preparing was going to be English based. I was going to do close reading of a passage. I would likely have been an English teacher.

EC: I know law school was your priority, but it speaks volumes that you were prepared for two pretty different career paths.

PO: Definitely. I’m not so sure that Teach for America would have led to a career in that sort of work, but it would have been an incredible experience, and I’d recommend that to everyone who isn’t sure about exactly what they want to do after college, but still feel the need to give back. If I hadn’t gotten into Duke, I would have been pursuing that.

EC: On that note, what do you hope to take with you into the world that you picked up at Fordham? And also what advice would you give to students who are contemplating an English major, but aren’t really sure what its uses are?

PO: For me, the what is pretty specific and direct. As most people would assume, there’s a ton of reading and writing [in an English major], and there’s a ton of reading and writing in law school. I hope to bring good study habits, close reading, and similar skills that I’ve practiced many times. It will be ramped up, of course, but I think those skills will directly correlate with what I’m doing in law school. For people considering an English major, but aren’t sure what to do with it, law obviously is not the only route, and again, when I chose English, I thought I would be a writer. If you’re thinking English, but aren’t sure how to make it marketable, pick up minors. I’m graduating with a marketing minor and an economics minor. I completely know the feeling when you’re at a Christmas party with your family, and your uncles and aunts say, “What are you going to do with an English major?” It’s sometimes hard to explain what you’re going to do with it, but it’s a lot easier to market yourself if your academic record shows some breadth and balance. 

-This interview has been edited and condensed.



Poets Out Loud: Carl Phillips, Lisa Sewell, and the Future of Poetry

The first Poets Out Loud reading of the new academic year took place on Tuesday, September 29th. Students, faculty, and members of the high school outreach program gathered in the 12th floor lounge to hear renowned poets, Carl Phillips and Lisa Sewell, read their work. Heather Dubrow’s enthusiastic introduction immediately established a warm and welcoming atmosphere that lingered throughout.

Reading from his new book, Reconnaissance, Carl Phillips spoke in a voice not unlike his poems: soft, compelling, almost dreamlike. The thirteen poems he read touched on myth, on love beginning and ending, on desire and dreams. He filled the pauses between poems with brief, often humorous commentary, such as when he referred to the title of his poem, “Meanwhile and Anyway,” as “the sign of someone struggling with a title.” Recalling that his students often ask how he knows a poem is done, he said, “I think you just know, or I do.” When he finished reading “At Bay,” a poem composed entirely in one sentence, he said he recommends this practice to his students. “Try it. It’s free. And it’s safe.”

Lisa Sewell introduced her latest volume, Impossible Object as a “loose project” wherein each poem was inspired by, and sometimes named for, another book. In a time when more and more people are reading electronically, Sewell chose to emphasize the idea of books as physical objects with a unique ability to transform. Whether recalling her 17-year-old-self reading Virginia Woolf in the poem titled "To the Lighthouse," the aftermath of her father’s death in another titled "King Lear," or the destruction wrought by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake in “A Narrow Road,” Sewell’s work examined the intense, “seemingly physical” effect books have on our lives and on the world. A PowerPoint presentation accompanied her reading, displaying illustrations, book covers, and in a segment inspired by the Japanese presentation form PechaKucha, a series of 20 photographs.   

Attendees were encouraged to evaluate the event on a notepad that made several rounds through the audience. One teacher wrote, "This is a wonderful event. It's a treat to bring students for a meeting with the poets." Fordham student, Hend Saad, wrote, "It was very interesting to see how listening to a poem gives it a whole other dimension that is not evident if one merely reads a poem." 

A Q&A followed the reading, and both poets answered questions about how the Internet has affected poetry. Phillips recounted his experiences with Twitter, praising it for helping him discover new poets and literary journals he might not know otherwise. Sewell noted that the Internet has made exciting new forms of poetry, like Flarf, possible, while hypertext continues to revolutionize how people create and study literature.  

When answering a question about whether innovation is still possible in poetry, Phillips and Sewell agreed that innovation is always possible as long as people keep writing. Traditional forms will probably survive, but they might change and transform. “Do variations,” Phillips said. “Create a form, and justify why this form is necessary.” Again, Twitter came up. After all, what is a 140 character limit, if not another restraint, like the kind sonnets are made of?

The next Poets Out Loud reading, featuring Jennifer Michael Hecht and Ron Wallace, will take place on Monday, October 19th at 7pm in Lowenstein's 12th Floor Lounge.  

- Erin Coughlin