Nichols Hall 362
For faculty information, please see Faculty or the English faculty web page.
English remains one of the most various, comprehensive, and liberalizing of the liberal arts. It familiarizes us with the written documents that define the past and give meaning and purpose to the present; it investigates the sources and structure of language; it enriches our awareness of language in written and oral forms; it stirs the creative and recreative impulses; and it provides us with multiple ways to envision our world and ourselves through the study of fiction,poetry, drama, and both expository and creative non-fiction.
The English Department is one of the University’s largest departments. In addition to its majors, the department serves many other students who take English courses to improve their writing, to develop a minor or double major field, or to pursue interests in some aspect of literature, language, or creative writing. English is the field most frequently chosen by students combining fields of study in an interdisciplinary major—for example, literature and sociology; literature and history; literature and art; and linguistics and psychology.
Students who wish to major in English may choose one of three concentrations in the major, each of which provides a coherent program with a particular emphasis. After a core of required courses, students will follow programs leading to a major in English and American Literature, creative writing, or secondary teaching, which prepares students to enter postbaccalaureate teacher credentialing programs.
While specific learning objectives are developed in accord with the department’s specific fields of study (the three major concentrations, the California Cultural Studies program, the two tracks of the department’s graduate studies program), the department concurs upon a generalized cluster of of learning goals it sees as fundamental for undergraduate and graduate students alike. These department-wide learning goals include the following:
- The ability to read texts closely and to articulate the value of close reading in the study of literature and rhetoric.
- The ability to explicate texts written in a wide variety of forms, styles, structures, and modes.
- The ability to recognize and appreciate the importance of major literary genres, subgenres, and periods.
- The ability to respond imaginatively to the content and style of texts.
- The ability to write clearly, effectively, and imaginatively, and to accommodate writing style to the content and nature of the subject.
- The ability to develop and carry out research projects and to articulate them within appropriate conceptual and methodological frameworks.
- An understanding of the historical development of the English language and of literature written in English from Old English to the present.
- An understanding of the relations between culture, history, and texts.
- An understanding of the twofold nature of textual analysis:
- objective study from varied analytical perspectives
- subjective experience of the text’s aesthetic.
- Familiarity with a wide range of British and American literary works, as well as with selected authors and works of other literatures, including folk and popular forms.
- Familiarity with a wide range of literary terms and categories within literary history, theory, and criticism.
- Familiarity with the nature of literary canons and of canon-formation.
- Familiarity with basic practices of literary research and documentation, including electronic forms of information retrieval and communication.
- The exchange of ideas with faculty and students in classroom settings and office visits.
- The ability to complete cooperative projects with other students in discussion groups, writing activities, and study sessions.
- Involvement in the cultural life of the University.
- A sustained interest in language and literature.
- An awareness of the literary past.
- An enriched understanding of the complexities and nuances of the human experience across time and culture.
- Interest and involvement in intellectual, aesthetic, cultural, and sociopolitical issues.
- Increased critical awareness and intellectual independence.
The English Department also serves students in the applied arts minor, which may be of special interest to those seeking the Multiple Subject (elementary level) Teaching Credential and the University’s pre-law and pre-health professions programs.
The English Department publishes the following professional and student publications: Zaum and Volt, A Magazine of the Arts. Students wishing to participate in the production of these publications should contact the English Department office.
To be admitted to the English major, students must receive a grade of at least B- in ENGL 101 and ENGL 214 or their equivalents. A student with a grade lower than B- in either ENGL 101 or ENGL 214 may petition for a review by the department. The review will be based on the contents of an appeal folder, containing three essays from the class being reviewed, and a one-to-two-paragraph explanation of the basis of appeal.
Students who have majored in English work in journalism, publishing, business, public relations and advertising, broadcasting, law and government service, as well as in elementary, secondary, and college teaching. All of these fields require an understanding of human motivation and of the conflicts and dilemmas that people face. Our graduates enter those fields able to express themselves clearly, logically, and with passion. They understand the relationship between language and community.
Creative writing is offered in the English Department through both undergraduate and graduate degrees. A master of arts in English with a creative thesis option is available as a 34-unit program, and the bachelor of arts in English with a creative writing emphasis is a 48-unit program. Sequences of courses are available in fiction writing, poetry writing, screen and script writing, and nonfiction writing.
Creative writing faculty includes poet Gillian Conoley, winner of several Pushcart Prizes for poetry, a National Endowment for the Arts award, a Fund for Poetry Award, the Jerome Shestack Award from The American Poetry Review, and a nominee for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award. She is the author of The Plot Genie, Profane Halo, Lovers in the Used World, Beckon, Tall Stranger, and Some Gangster Pain. Her work has been anthologized in over 20 national and international anthologies, including the Norton Anthology American Hybrid, several Best American Poetry collections, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and Lyric Postmodernisms. Gillian Conoley has taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Tulane University, Vermont College MFA Program, and the University of Denver.
Stefan Kiesbye is the author of five books of fiction. He studied drama and worked in radio in Berlin, Germany, before receiving an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan. His stories, poems and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. His first book, Next Door Lived a Girl, won the Low Fidelity Press Novella Award; the novella has also been translated into German, Dutch, Spanish and Japanese. Kiesbye’s second novel, Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone, was published by Penguin in 2012. It was a Top Ten pick of Oprah Magazine, made Entertainment Weekly’s Must List, and Slate editor Dan Kois named it one of the best books of the year. It was translated into German and Spanish and is forthcoming from East Press, Japan. In Spring 2014, the literary thriller Messer, Gabel, Schere, Licht (Knife, Fork, Scissors, Flames) was published by Tropen Verlag/Klett-Cotta, Germany. Die Welt wrote that “Stefan Kiesbye…is the inventor of the modern German Gothic novel.” His LA Noir Fluchtpunknt Los Angeles (Vanishing Point) was released in January 2015, and his most recent novel, The Staked Plains, in November 2015.
Noelle Oxenhandler is the author of three non-fiction books: A Grief Out of Season, The Eros of Parenthood, and The Wishing Year, (Random House 2008). Her essays, which have been frequently anthologized, have appeared in many national and literary magazines, including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, “O” Magazine, Tricycle, and Parabola. Her work has been listed in The Best Essays of the Year collection and included in both The Best Spiritual Essays of the Year and The Best Buddhist Essays of the Year collections. She has been a regular guest teacher in the Graduate Writing Program at Sarah Lawrence College.
Greg Sarris, author, screenwriter, and scholar, holds the Endowed Chair in Native American Studies within the School of Arts and Humanities. Sarris has published several books of fiction and nonfiction, including the widely anthologized collection of essays, Keeping Slug Woman Alive: A Holistic Approach to American Indian Texts, Watermelon Nights, Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream, The Woman Who Loved a Snake, and Grand Avenue, which was made into an HBO miniseries Sarris wrote and co-produced with Robert Redford. Sarris holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University and has previously taught at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and UCLA. He currently serves as chairman of his tribe, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.
Through the Writers at Sonoma Series, internationally and nationally prominent writers, publishers, and agents are invited each year to read and conduct seminars and workshops for students in the program. Visitors to the campus and the program have included Rae Armantrout, Yusef Komunyakaa, Lawrence Weschler, David Halberstam, Ishmael Reed, Clark Coolidge, D.A. Powell, C.S. Giscombe, Jessica Mitford, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, Tom Wolfe, Czeslaw Milosz, Edward Albee, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Michael Palmer, Donald Revell, Jane Miller, James Ellroy, Wanda Coleman, Lynn Freed, and Yiyun Li. Writers at Sonoma Series is funded by Instructionally Related Activities and the Nadenia Newkirk Fund for writers.
The well-regarded student literary magazine ZAUM is published through the Small Press Editing course offered by the English Department every semester. Students can learn every aspect of literary editing and publishing, including layout, design, and copy editing through this course. A paid position for a student as senior editor is available each year.
VOLT is the highly acclaimed national award-winning magazine which publishes nationally and internationally known authors. Winner of three Pushcart prizes and numerous grants, VOLT is committed to innovative writing. Students can work on the magazine by arrangement with instructor and through the Small Press Editing course. VOLT is edited by poet Gillian Conoley.
The SSU creative writing program is a member of the Associated Writing Programs. For program details, please refer to the English Department section in this catalog.