Forget the myth, English majors can do well with their degree

Alex Emerson

Transcript Correspondent

Turns out majoring in English has earned a bad rap.

That generally accepted impression is a myth, according to a couple of Ohio Wesleyan English professors who pinched hit for a missing speaker scheduled to lead a Thursday discussion titled “What Did I Do with My English Major?”

The event’s focus aimed to help students understand what they can do with an English major after graduation, as well as pointing to the resources OWU has available for them.

Nancy Comorau, an associate English professor and Patricia Demarco, an English professor, led the conversation after OWU alumna Kristina Wheeler (’16), who was going to preside, was unable to attend for personal reasons, according to Comorau. Wheeler, who has an English degree, is an editorial and production assistant at The Ohio State University Press.

The discussion was informative despite not going as planned. Comorau and Demarco talked about paths for English majors, including graduate school, professional school and career paths.

There’s a myth that majoring in English is a bad idea, which isn’t really true.

“There’s this idea that when you say you’re majoring in English, people say ‘OK, well are you going to teach?’” Comorau said.

English majors have an advantage with careers in communications because they know how to write and many internships are available in any field that involves writing, Demarco and Comorau said. Demarco talked specifically about the writing and editing experience involved in a political internship.

“Working in politics is great editorial work. Even in local politics, nothing gets released without going through lots of revisions and edits,” Demarco said.

For the English major interested in creative writing, or in graduate school, a Master of Fine Arts degree is an option, which involves rigorous coursework. A master’s is typically necessary in order to teach a subject like creative writing at a university, Comorau said.

OWU offers English majors resources that give students real-world experience. An example is the Sagan Academic Resource Center where students help other students edit writing assignments.

Not only that, the Sagan Center also improves the people skills of students working there because they interact with people all day, said senior Brandon Stevens, a member of Sagan.

Other helpful organizations include the Sturges Script, a student-run blog made by associate English professor Zackariah Long, The OWL, OWU’s literary magazine and The Transcript.

If you’re an English major worried about how much money you’ll make, you could have the wrong idea about that as well.

“English majors tend to outpace other majors in terms of money … English majors make less at first and more money later on,” Demarco said.

OWU professor’s novel honored again

Alex Emerson

Transcript Correspondent

An award-winning, Civil War era-novel about a boy’s search for his father led by a mysterious black horse and written by an Ohio Wesleyan creative writing professor has once again been honored.

The Ohioana Library Association chose Robert Olmstead’s book “Coal Black Horse” as one of 90 books by Ohio authors to celebrate the organization’s 90th anniversary. The winners are divided by decade on the “90 Years … 90 Books” list going back to the founding of the library association. The books can be found on the organization’s blog.

Olmstead’s book is on the list for 2007, the year it was published.  He said he is in good company.

“I have a good relationship with Ohioana. Looking at the list, it’s surprising to see how many great authors are from Ohio,” said Olmstead, an English professor and OWU’s director of creative writing.

This isn’t the first time “Coal Black Horse” has received critical acclaim. The book received the 2007 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction. In 2008, it earned an Ohioana award for fiction and the American Library Association award as the Best Book for Young Adults.

Olmstead’s story takes place during the Civil War in the wake of the battle of Gettysburg after a boy’s mother has a premonition her husband was killed. She sends her 14-year-old son out to search for him astride an unusual black horse, which leads and protects the boy throughout their journey.

Olmstead said he happened upon the idea for the plot while living in Gettysburg.

“I’m more interested in what runs through the history than the history itself. I was living in Gettysburg as a tourist and had no intention of writing a historical novel,” Olmstead said. “But as I explored the town, its history drew me in irrevocably.”

The book was aimed at focusing on the relationship between American people and war.

“More Americans died in the Civil War than in all of America’s following wars combined,” he said. “This legacy of war, this inheritance of violence literally passes down through families. America has been fighting wars as long as my students have been alive.”

“Coal Black Horse” is the first book of a trilogy. The second novel is “Far Bright Star” and the third is “The Coldest Night.”

“Far Bright Star” has also received recognition. Chauncey Mabe, a writer for the Chicago Tribune, said it is “guided by Hemingway,” and that “a writer as skillful and subtle as Olmstead deserves to be judged on his own merits, influences be damned.”

The last two books continue to explore an inheritance of violence. The protagonist in each story is the child of the protagonist from the last book, living through a different war, Olmstead said.

Olmstead plans to publish more books in the future.

(Editor’s Note: after this interview our correspondent enrolled in Olmstead’s fiction writing class)

Lynette Carpenter, Recipient of the Adam Poe Medal

Dr. Lynette Carpenter – educator, novelist, scholar, activist, and animal lover – is retiring after serving on the Ohio Wesleyan faculty for 30 years.

A native Texan, Dr. Carpenter received her B.A. from the University of Texas and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Indiana University, where she also minored in Film Studies. Before coming to OWU, she taught in the English Department at the University of Cincinnati while serving as Associate and then Acting Director of Women’s Studies at the same institution.

A versatile teacher, Dr. Carpenter offered courses in expository and creative writing, 19th- and 20th-century American literature, women’s literature, the Gothic, and film. Her scholarly works include two books on women’s ghost stories (with Wendy Kolmar) as well as essays on American film, on authors such as Edith Wharton, Shirley Jackson, and Edna O’Brien, and a pathbreaking study that identifies the girl detective as a lineal descendent of the Gothic heroine. She also wrote for Ms., the highly influential feminist magazine, and published an art book with photographer (and OWU faculty member) Jeffrey Nilan, The Road Home / The Home Road.

In an appropriately Gothic twist, Dr. Carpenter adopted a second identity shortly after arriving at Ohio Wesleyan. Under the pen name D.B. Borton or Della Borton, Dr. Carpenter has published 11 mystery novels in two series: the Cat Caliban series and the Gilda Liberty series.

More recently, she expanded her literary repertoire by publishing a work of comic science fiction, Second Coming, as well as two new mysteries, Smoke and Bayou City Burning. While compulsively readable as whodunits, Dr. Carpenter’s novels are typically characterized by precisely rendered historical settings, resourceful heroines, and a puckish sense of humor.

Dr. Carpenter’s pedagogical, scholarly, and literary accomplishments have not prevented her from being a dedicated colleague, a generous mentor for students and junior faculty, and an engaged citizen within the University committee.

Dr. Carpenter has served as the Chair of the English department, the Secretary of the campus chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and the Faculty Advisor of the OWL literary magazine.

As the head of the Film Studies Program, she was the driving force behind the creation of Ohio Wesleyan’s Film Studies major. Dr. Carpenter also has served on numerous faculty committees, perhaps most memorably as a long-serving member of the labor-intensive Faculty Personnel Committee.

Somehow, she also found time to study and practice aikido, gardening, pottery, third, fourth, and fifth languages, and Healing Touch for animals.

While Dr. Carpenter’s accomplishments are substantial and her retirement richly deserved, her colleagues in the English Department and friends across the University secretly hope that her career has one more Gothic twist in store.

She is welcome to take up secret residence in the attic of Sturges Hall, to haunt the backstairs and basement passageways, and even to disrupt class meetings with eerie noises or mysterious lights. Whether Dr. Carpenter accepts this invitation is finally immaterial: either way, her presence on campus will be felt for decades to come.

Nine faculty retire from OWU

Ted Cohen, a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology (SOAN), retired at the May commencement ceremony.

Cohen, who was hired in 1984, estimated he had taught roughly 6,000 to 7,000 students during his time at OWU.

“I wish I had an accurate count,” Cohen said.

Senior Alyssa Acevedo described him as a passionate professor, which made is easy for her to learn from him.

“He also helped me with one of my internships and he was my apprentice teacher who also advised me throughout that time and really helped me find the career that I really want to go into,” Acevedo said.

Not only did Cohen teach at the institution, but his wife and two children are also familiar with the campus.

Cohen’s son, Dante Santino (’09) and daughter Allison Cohen (’10) both majored in sociology and anthropology at the university. Allison Cohen took three classes with him, Cohen said.

Cohen’s late wife, Susan, worked as an archivist and curator of the United Methodist
collection for roughly 20 years, he said.

Cohen described the SOAN department as a “very stable family,” because he had been working with people in the department ever since he started.

Cohen will miss his colleagues and his students after retirement.

Alper Yalçinkaya, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, worked with Cohen since his arrival to the institution in 2010. Cohen was the first person Yalçinkaya met at OWU.

“He made it extremely easy for me to feel happy at this institution,” Yalçinkaya said.

“It’s been a wonderfully fulfilling place to be,” Cohen said. “And very supportive place
to be.”

After retirement, Cohen plans to move to New Jersey. He will also teach part-time at The College of New Jersey and to teach online summer school course for OWU. He also plans on working on a new edition of his textbook, The Marriage and Family Experience: Intimate Relationships in a Changing Society.

Also, retiring at the 2019 commencement were: Mary T. Howard, a 35-year professor of Sociology-Anthropology; Gerald Goldstein, a 36-year professor of botany and microbiology; Alan Zaring, a 29-year professor of computer science; John Gatz, a 44-year professor of zoology; Lynette Carpenter, a 30-year professor of English and film studies: Amy McClure, a 40-year professor of education; Paul Kostyu, a 20-year associate professor of journalism; and instructor Tom Burns, a 21-year instructor of English.

English department to add new concentration for students

By Azmeh Talha

Transcript reporter

English majors at Ohio Wesleyan University’s (OWU)  will be offtered two concentrations in the major, creating a clearer path to graduation.

The concentrations that will be offered are English for Educators and a Creative Writing Concentration.

Associate Professor of English, Nancy Comorau was one of the people that worked towards getting the concentrations approved.

“I thought, what if we just had a clear set of requirements that fit what’s needed for licensure, fit what’s needed for an English major and give students one path to graduation,” Comorau said.

Under the old system, students who wanted to be English teachers and finish with licensure had to take a number of literature courses, Comorau said. The names of the courses however, were unclear and were different from the way the English department talked about where the discipline of English is going.

One of the unclear categories in the department was “ethnic or women writers” Comorau said. Comorau questioned what ethnic really means and asked faculty in the education department.

Comorau met with Professor Campbell Scribner, a former associate professor in the education department to clarify what these terms mean.

“I asked somebody in education to meet with me and I said well does ethnic mean minorities within a majority of culture, African American, Latinx etc,” Comorau said. “Or does ethnic mean nonwhite.”  

Another confusing category in the English department world literature. Although it was called world literature, the category contained mainly work written by European authors.

Literature from Africa, South Asia and The Caribbean was not a part of any world literature courses. This led to Comorau questioning whether literature from this part of the world is considered to be world literature.

Mark Allison, associate professor and chair of the English department said getting the concentration approved was a collective effort of the department.

There was some ambiguity that students had to confront about which classes satisfied which requirements. This clarified what classes students should take to satisfy their requirements, making it more manageable for students, Allison said.  

“Nancy Comorau in particular deserves credit for really working, collaborating with the education faculty to create the new English for educators concentration,” Allison said.

New additional courses will be offered for the creative writing concentration such as fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry, Allison said. Courses offered will be both lower and upper level classes.

“We’ve effectively almost doubled the strength of our creative writing options,” Allison said.

The motion to create the creative writing resolution was approved on Feb. 18, 2019.

The statement of rationale to create this concentration mentioned the benefits of the concentration.

“… We believe a unique major will better serve and prepare our creative writers for professional careers that extend far beyond Ohio Wesleyan University.”

The statement also mentioned the concentration will “not only attract students but retain them once they matriculate.”

New courses that will be offered are ENG 200.3: Fiction I and ENG 315: Creative Nonfiction II.