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Major in Literature

Article by Rachelle Wiggins

“Good literature is praiseworthy for the truth it contains, even if those truths are hard, as is often the case…. Art—including literature--is an attempt to take dominion over the aesthetic realm of creation; simply by observing God’s creation we know that God cares about beauty; we should, too.” ~Karen Prior Swallow, English professor

Have you imagined penning the next “great American novel?” Do you consider the term “bookworm” a high compliment? Literature has been defined as “writing that has artistic merit.” As a literature major you will read well-written texts in various forms—poems, short stories, scripts, plays and novels—and analyze these works for their historical, literary and cultural impact. From Hawthorn to Hemmingway, Shakespeare to Steinbeck, Dante to Dickens, a literature major spends vast amounts of time delving into, discussing and debating famous writing through diverse interpretive lenses. You will also learn about the inner workings of grammar, persuasive writing, word usage, and writing style so that you will be prepared to enter the work force in fields such as publishing, marketing, journalism, education, public relations or media.

If you are a “word person” with a passion for literacy and reading you must also consider whether you possess other important skills. For example, do you communicate in an organized, clear, effective manner? Are you ready to grow in this area and if so, are you able to handle the criticism necessary to improve? Are you a critical thinker, able to break down complex ideas and think logically? Literature majors must have keen observation skills and organize and express verbal and written thoughts in a systematic way. Strong time management and creativity are also important, as well as the ability to stay focused through the heavy load of reading, research and writing requirements.

Once core requirements are met, you will start into courses related to your major including literature classes on specific time periods or geographic specifications such as British or American literature, Renaissance or Medieval literature, literature written by women, minorities, modern or international writers. It’s likely you will complete a senior project—often a twenty (plus) page paper--containing in-depth literary critique of a certain author or work. You may write for your school newspaper, participate in poetry readings, join an on-campus literary group or drama club. It’s possible you’ll take electives focusing on film, foreign translations, publishing or poetry. Other possible classes include:

  • Literary theory and criticism
  • Creative writing
  • Linguistics
  • Global literature
  • Composition
  • Shakespearean comedies

Not all literature majors end up crafting sparkling narratives from a fireside easy chair. Some aspiring novelists do attain that goal; others write screenplays for TV or film. Other literature graduates find employment writing for newspapers, magazines or doing internet writing. Others get ESL (English as a Second Language) certification and teach English in primary, secondary and university settings, and even internationally. You may add an educational tract and pursue a career in teaching English on a secondary level. There will always be a need for strong communicators in specific areas of writing like science and technology, sports, health and fitness, entertainment, politics, business and finance, just to name a few. Other common career outcomes for this major include:

  • Web content developer
  • Editorial assistant
  • Adult literacy teacher
  • Copy editor
  • Blogger
  • Grant writer
  • Technical writer
  • News writer

Do you long to understand your world better through human history’s “collective memory” stored in volumes of great literature? Do you get excited about a major that feels like a “four-year-long book club?” Then perhaps a major in literature is just what you’ve been waiting for!

A future in Literature

By Jennifer Bailey

While there’s more to an English literature degree than reading hefty novels until your eyes go crossed, it would make good sense to say that reading and analyzing written works is likely to be central to your studies and something you must enjoy and have a passion for. Not only would obtaining a degree in Literature mean extensive reading but you would also spend a notable amount of time scrutinizing and debating a variety of texts, as well as learning literary trends, periods and important approaches that have shaped literature of today and how it is viewed.

Did you know that English literature has developed over the last 15 centuries from the Anglo-Saxon period to the present and is the largest body of literature written in a modern language?

At the undergraduate level, this major includes in-depth and wide-ranging exposure to literature from both British and American contributors. Your extensive reading would include works from the greatest authors, but you would also become familiar with the works of lesser-known authors including poets, essayists, playwrights, novelists and historians.

Degrees in English literature typically have a foundation in topics such as medieval literature, 19th-century poets or 20th-century British plays. You would also take full courses about individual authors such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Joyce, Keats, and Shelley or topics such as Beowulf, the 18th-century British novel, African-American literature or women’s literature.  You might also take courses in literary theory, literary research, problems of modern literature and independent study.

If you choose to study English literature, you will definitely develop comprehensive written and verbal communication skills, becoming skilled at arguing a point, framing a narrative and analyzing various levels of meaning. Another arm of the marketing field is in public relations. In this area you would have a similar goal but use different techniques. You would be in charge of projecting and maintaining a positive image for the organization or client you work for.

As you can see, this field has much to offer those who are relational, passionate and driven.

Perhaps you love the written word and want to pursue this degree program but are asking yourself: "what can I do with a literature degree once I graduate?" The answer to this question is better than you might think as English degree graduates can be found in more or less every industry filling a variety of roles – from editor to academic and legal advisor to manager.

Literature degree graduates are often found where strong communication and written English skills are very important such as in media and publishing but also in archiving, writing, book selling, information and research, tourism, events management, social work, research/library, acting, youth work, probation work, human resources, teaching, retail management and sales.

Encompassing many smaller industries, the media sector covers everything from film to television, newspapers to news blogs, advertising to PR and more. Depending on your specific area of interest, there’s a niche for just about any graduate whether you want to produce, write, edit, review, schedule, promote, manage or run.

Be aware that careers in media can be very competitive but to give yourself an edge up on the competition, you should consider gaining valuable work experience during your studies – interning is a good way to get a feel for different options and will be a boost for your long-term career goals.

For example, if you want to go into publishing, you will likely need experience in a similar environment, either from an internship or even involvement with a student publication, such as your university newsletter, magazine or website. Also consider a media blog and an active social media platform.