I first decided to study English because, in high school, I was interested in little else. I would receive 100’s in the subject, particularly in the area of creative writing, while history, math and science were earning less than mediocre marks. Naively, when it came to choosing a college major, I thought English was an easy out, a cheat of sorts, something I had already “excelled” at. (See the very naive Kim sitting at her “word processor” at SUNY Fredonia, October 1988.)
As an adult, I now realize that, while I enjoyed the escape of literature and a creative use of language, this was no cheat. There was something intriguing within the pages beyond the story, something worth paying attention to, and the call was real. I simply couldn’t identify it, nor did I stick with it long enough to discover what that call was. Still, it has lingered all these years, enough to make me consider revisiting a formal English education in my mid-thirties.
Most of my high school teachers sought to bring English to life with their selections. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, King’s Different Seasons, and Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind were on our reading list. Still, when my peers groaned through Beowulf and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, I enjoyed them all. At the college level, I remember little and skipped often. There might be a correlation there. Determined to get through the major without taking Shakespeare just to see if it was possible, I was instead introduced, in depth, to Chaucer’s life, humor and influence on language. It was fascinating. It helped too that my professor was a bit crazy… a white-haired woman never without her enormous, floppy, purple velvet hat. Through it all, theory was never discussed.
As a returning student, until last semester’s Intro to Lit class, I was unable to define what made literature worthy of study. I used to determine the worth of a book by how it made me feel and how it related to my life. This definition fell short when, as varied as my life has been, a story was nothing like my own and yet I still found it to be “good.” It wasn’t until I learned about abstract thinking that I appreciated reading critically, interpreting, dialoging with the text and other critics. Suddenly, I was moved beyond the mechanics of a story or the author’s history and into a world of contexts and meanings that came from beyond the text itself. With little experience in theory, I have only had the opportunity to cover Shakespeare’s The Tempest (he finally caught up with me) and Morrison’s Beloved. I have had a brief overview of New Criticism, Postcolonialism, and Feminism. My limited experience with these “isms” introduced me to a whole new realm in which I still have much to learn.