Outstanding Senior Spotlight: An Interview with Adam Syvertsen

Tell us about yourself! Where are you from, and why did you choose DePaul for undergraduate study?
I’m originally from a suburb of Philadelphia on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River, but I did most of my growing up in Schaumburg, IL. I chose DePaul for undergrad because I love Chicago and I always wanted to go to school in the city. I was the Vice President of DePaul’s Sigma Tau Delta chapter, which is the Honors Society for English.13010671_10206334835030558_3598113053200753222_n

What was your official program of study, and when did or will you graduate?
I majored in English-Literary Studies with a minor in Economics. I graduated at the end of Winter Quarter.

What made you decide to major in English?
It seems sort of strange to me, but I can almost isolate a single moment when I knew I wanted to study English seriously. I’ve always been an avid reader, but I remember I was reading Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying in high school and when I got to the (in)famous Vardaman “My mother is a fish.” chapter I became completely enthralled. I thought almost pathologically for the next week about that single statement with its incredibly multifarious web of denotations, connotations, and implications. After that week I knew English was something I was passionate about.

What are your favorite English courses that you took here at DePaul? Which were your most influential professors?
I can honestly say I haven’t had a bad experience with a single DePaul English professor or course. If I had to pick professors who influenced me the most, it would be Prof. Fairhall, for serving as my thesis advisor and helping me get published in Creating Knowledge, as well as Prof. Dinius for providing me with my first research library experience working as her research assistant, and always having answers for my incessant 19th-century-American-Lit-releated questions.
In addition to recently completing your thesis, I’m told you wrote an award-winning paper on Beowulf that you presented at the annual Sigma Tau Delta conference. Can you share more about the honor, and a bit more on your paper?
The award I received was one of Sigma Tau Delta’s Isabel Sparks President’s Awards for the best papers/presentations in each critical/creative category at their annual conference. My paper “The Hall and the Un-Hall: Monsters and Setting in Beowulf” took second place in the “Critical Essays: British Literature and World Literature” category.

The paper argues that the central juxtaposition of the text is not the forces of the hall Heorot aligned with Beowulf against the forces of “evil” aligned with the wetlands, but the broader human forces of the “Hall” as opposed to the monstrous natural world of the “Un-Hall.” Heorot (the central hall in Beowulf) becomes both a material structure, shielding humans from the natural world, and a structure of the psyche embodying all that is joyful and human in opposition to the terror of the external environment. With this binary in mind, both Grendel and Grendel’s dam become figures of the uncanny that can subvert the established polarities. Their true horror as monsters lies not only in their capacity for physical violence, but because they challenge the ways in which humans of the “Hall” define themselves in relation to the more-than-human “Un-Hall.”

Tell us a bit more about your thesis. Any highlights from the research and writing process worth mentioning?
I’m happy to announce that an adapted version of my thesis has been accepted for presentations at two Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment symposia over the summer in New York and New Mexico. The thesis [which is on Walt Whitman] argues that Whitman’s tendency to dismantle boundaries between things, along with his often-radical egalitarianism, makes certain poems readable as a sort of “proto-posthumanism” in which the self is always-already a part of a vast network of interacting agencies not always restricted to the anthropological. It presents a reading of Whitman that is engaged with the environmental ethics concerns of the twenty-first century, and encourages seeing the more-than-human-world as something that is never “out there” or separate from humans as the term “Nature” has come to denote, but something that the speaker/poet is always intersubjectively implicated in.

Why did you choose to write about Whitman?
Whitman is my favorite poet, and my thesis was more or less always going to be about his work. I believe he had the prescience to recognize that he was writing at a very critical juncture of American history in which the “E Pluribus Unum” of the United States drifted dangerously close to “E Unibus Pluram.” As a result much of his work reflects this fundamental tension at the heart of any democratic project, negotiating the “self” in a world of what is apparently “others.”

What are your plans post-DePaul?

With any luck, grad school! I plan on studying English with a concentration in American Lit/Lit Theory and I’m in the early stages of assembling application materials for around ten programs.

We wish you the best of luck! Thanks for speaking with us. 

*Adam will present an excerpt from his thesis at this year’s Spring English Conference, taking place on Friday, April 29th in Arts & Letters Hall from 10am-4:30pm.

2005 Alum Shares His Story

John Kersey – Adjunct English Professor & Author – 2005 DePaul Alum

John Kersey

Read this interview with John Kersey if thoughts of life after graduation have ever popped into your mind. John has given DePaul undergraduates a thoughtful, in-depth view into how he achieved his dream of becoming a writer and English teacher.  Read on for inspiration and guidance!

John Kersey graduated from DePaul in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in English. In 2011, he received his MFAW from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His short stories and essays have appeared in Fifth Wednesday JournalTrop, and the Chicago Tribune. He teaches English and creative writing at Elgin Community College, and lives in Chicago with his wife and their two children.

UndergroundWhat year did you complete your degree in English at DePaul? Did you have a concentration, or did you double major or minor in another area?

John Kersey: I graduated in 2005. My major was English with a “focus” (this is what the department called it at the time, if I remember correctly) in creative writing.

U-2Did you pursue any graduate or professional studies after you graduated?

JK-2: Not immediately. I had a sense that I wanted to go to graduate school for an MFA, but I wasn’t sure if the writer’s life was the life I wanted. I also hadn’t produced enough work yet for a portfolio because I didn’t realize I wanted to write short stories until late in my junior year at DePaul, when I took a literature seminar with Dr. Ingrasci on Hemingway, Faulkner and Bellow, and an advanced fiction workshop with Dan Stolar. Nobody had ever taken me as deep into fiction as Ingrasci, (I’ll never forget the experience of reading “The Bear” in Go Down Moses) and Stolar showed me that I had a talent for writing prose. I remember Dan wrote “This is impressive,” on the back of the first short story I submitted, and that was just fantastic. I’d worked on that story night and day for like three weeks. I probably read those three words a hundred times as I walked back to my apartment after workshop then passed out from exhaustion. So after I left DePaul I spent two years serving tables in the evening to support myself, and writing during the day. Two stories that I wrote during that time, along with a revised version of the story I’d submitted to Stolar, wound up being the work that got me accepted to the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. I studied there for three years and received my MFA in 2011.      

U-3: What’s your current position? Describe a typical day at work.

JK-3: I’m an adjunct English instructor at Elgin Community College. When I’m not teaching or in office hours, I work from home on class work, short stories, and any freelance writing assignments that come my way. Typically, I wake up a little before 4 am and tiptoe over to my office to squeeze in two to three hours of writing before my children wake up. After breakfast and a wagon ride with my daughter (my son, who’s still too small, stays home with my wife), I’ll head back upstairs and write for another couple hours, then prepare for class and grade papers if they’re around. I typically teach three classes during the semester, two sections of Composition 101 and one section of creative writing.

U-4: How did you find your first job after graduation and/or your current position? Be specific about the steps you took to explore possibilities and to secure a position. (Inquiring minds want to know!)

JK-4: In graduate school I fooled myself into thinking that my writing would immediately open doors for me. This was not the case, especially because I write very slowly and after three years at SAIC I had just two complete stories, neither one published, and a whole lot of sketches. Even during my third year, I kept telling myself that all I had to do was focus on honing my craft and writing the best prose I could write, and if I did this everything would be fine. In retrospect, I should have dedicated a little more energy to figuring out how I was going to support myself after grad school. I knew I wanted to teach English, so I could have tried to gain some teaching experience as a TA. I could have looked into a teacher-training program.

I almost set myself up for what I think would have been a difficult time trying to land on my feet after graduation, but I got lucky. A close friend of mine introduced me to his stepmother, an English Professor at Elgin, where they needed a new adjunct. We bonded over books we both loved and hit it off right away. After an interview with the Dean, the school offered me the position. I had no teaching experience, but they gave me a shot. That was in April 2011. I earned my master’s degree two months later and started teaching at ECC two months after that. I’ve been teaching there ever since.     

U-5: How important has networking been in your employment searches? How did you find or build contacts in your desired field?

JK-5: The great hope for any writer is that your work will be undeniably good and impossible for a reader to ignore. I think you have to believe that you’re capable of creating something like this, but it’s not always a realistic way to think; indeed, you also have to realize you’re capable of writing something terrible if you’re not subjecting your work to intense scrutiny. The first story I published was rejected by six publications before an instructor of mine from SAIC, Jim McManus, asked if I’d like him to send it to a colleague of his (Eileen Favorite) who was guest editing at Fifth Wednesday Journal. Instead of arriving on a slush pile with most of the other submissions, my story reached Eileen independently, and with backing from someone whose opinion she respected. Perhaps that made all the difference. I’m not sure. Knowing people and forming reliable networks can certainly make things happen, and happen faster. But my writing career hasn’t only advanced in situations where I knew someone. The most recent story I published appeared in The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal, where it was picked off the slush pile—I knew exactly zero people there. Truth is, you can have a clear line of connections to Deborah Treisman at The New Yorker, or you can be the brother-in-law of Lorin Stein at The Paris Review—if the writing isn’t good, no one is going to publish it.

U-6: How does your English major help you in your current position?

JK-6: Oh, boy. This is sort of a whopper of a question. A more realistic question to answer would be, how doesn’t your English major help you in your current position? Or, even, how doesn’t it help you in your everyday life? I think the beauty of majoring in English is that the idea of a “career” isn’t always so clearly defined. The English major understands that her degree is contributing as much to the quality of her character, her ability to feel empathy, as it is to the quality of her ultimate career. I’m reading a great book called Why Teach? In his chapter titled “The English Major,” the author Mark Edmundson of the University of Virginia, writes, “To me an English major is someone who has decided, against all kinds of pious, prudent advice and all kinds of fears and resistances, to major, quite simply, in becoming a person.” Right on.

U-7: What advice would you give current English majors about their studies or extracurricular activities while they are still at DePaul?

JK-7: Take a moment to lean back and just enjoy how awesome it is to be a student. Truly appreciate the free pass you have to be completely self-absorbed. Because after you graduate, you’re going to take a big juicy bite out of life, discover a career, fall in love, get your heart broken, get mugged walking home from the bar, fall in love again, have some kids, buy a house, drown in bills, create an elaborate filing system for your bills in order to prevent drowning in them, et cetera. But you get older—ridiculously fast—and you’ll reach a point where you can’t just suddenly announce to your significant other, “Hey, babe, I know there’s a lot going on, but I’m just going to take these next four weeks here to focus on my intellectual growth—you can handle the bills and the kids and the trips to grocery store and driving my mother to the dentist next Tuesday, right?—then I’ll be back.” As a student, it’s your obligation to be selfish. Enjoy it while you can get away with it.   

U-8What advice would you give to graduating students as they move into the job market?

JK-8: If you’re not dating someone, now would be a good time for a companion.

U-9: Is there any additional advice or information you would like to pass on to our majors?

JK – 9: Read. Never stop. And not just anything. The good stuff. Reading just anything doesn’t count. There’s one hell of an enormous difference between E L James and Henry James.  

Thank you, John, for your words of wisdom!

–The Underground

Julianne VanWagenen, 2006 Alum

Julianne VanWagenen, Harvard PhD Student & Librarian 2006 DePaul English Alum

Julianne VanWagenen

I am very excited to introduce you to a successful and fascinating alum, Julianne VanWagenen. Julianne graduated from DePaul in 2006 and double majored in Italian and English. Since then, she has worked in Italy as an au pair and English language teacher, worked as a research assistant in the Physical Chemistry department at Michigan State University, was accepted into a PhD program in Italian Studies at Harvard University, and is working as a librarian at Harvard while she completes her degree.

Read her interview below to hear about the wide range of possibilities open to English majors after college, including taking time off after graduating as well as studying and working in other countries.

Underground: What year did you complete your English major at DePaul? Did you have a concentration, or did you double major or minor in another area?

I completed a double major in English and Italian after Winter Session in 2006 after spending 3.5 years at DePaul.

U-2: Did you pursue any graduate or professional studies after you graduated?

I graduated in March and moved to Rome, Italy in April as an au pair. It was an opportunity that became available to me through the Italian Department at DePaul. I lived there for over 4 years and used my English degree to teach English. I eventually became the head of the English department at a small cultural association. I was in charge of developing the curriculum for all class levels as well as planning language workshops, cultural evenings, and year-end productions. It was very cool. 

U-3: What’s your current position? Describe a typical day at work.

Eventually I came back to the States and I’m now completing a PhD in Italian studies at Harvard. The first two years of the degree program were tough. A typical day involved waking up at 7 and being on campus until 10 or 11 at night. Now that I’m done with the course work, however, the workload has lessened. I am the head of a campus library and member of a Digital Humanities research lab called metaLAB. A typical day for me generally involves checking in at the library and the lab, studying for my General Exam, and–beyond that–working on getting some papers ready for publications, working on projects for the research lab, and attending meetings. My days are pretty diverse actually.

U-4: How did you find your first job after graduation and/or your current position? Be specific about the steps you took to explore possibilities and to secure a position. (Inquiring minds want to know!)

I feel great. I wasn’t ready to enter ‘the work force,’ so going to Italy and making my way there was the perfect solution. I didn’t have money from my parents. I just took a job waitressing while I was an au pair, saved money, networked, and finally–about a year later–was able to move into my own apartment and work at a job in my field. The key to moving to Italy legally and being able to work legally, however, was that I was enrolled at the university there and so had a student visa that allowed me to work as well. Getting the visa was bureaucratically exhausting, I must admit.

U-5: How important has networking been in your employment searches? How did you find or build contacts in your desired field?

Networking is the most important thing you can do for your career. When you apply for a job via CV, you are one piece of paper amongst many. It truly helps to have met the person, or a person connected with the person who’s hiring.

U-6: How does your English major help you in your current position?

English has helped me immensely in my current position as my major in Italian was a language major, not a literature major. I did not learn to write papers, read critically, write critically, or research deeply on the course to attaining my Italian major, but I did in my English classes. Now that is all I do, and I would be drowning without the knowledge I gained in my undergraduate English courses.

U-7:     What advice would you give current English majors about their studies or extracurricular activities while they are still at DePaul?

I would advise them to read critically, research deeply, and write imaginatively. I would also advise them to take a position as a tutor or volunteer teacher somehow. Most English majors will end up teaching if they use their degrees. Students would be smart to have some experience (a) to be sure they like teaching and (b) to have it on their CV when they graduate.

U-8:     What advice would you give to graduating students as they move into the job market or as they apply to Masters or PhD programs?

Take a year or more to consider your future, to envision a life that makes you happy, to live outside of the box that’s been drawn for you since your birth so that when you do dive into a career you aren’t haunted by doubt and uncertainty.

U-9: Is there any additional advice or information you would like to pass on to our majors?

Take advantage of your time at DePaul. Education doesn’t get better than what you find there. If Ingrasci is still teaching, take advantage of the live advice that he extracts from literature. If you do become a teacher, make it a goal of yours to do the same.

 

This Week’s DePaul Literary Events (9/24/12)

Tuesday, September 25th

WHAT? Digital Humanities, Paul Grant-Costa & Tobias Glaza: The Yale Indian Papers Project
WHEN? 5:30pm Reception–6:00pm Lecture
WHERE? Richardson Library, Room 400 / 2350 N. Kenmore Ave.

Event Flyer:Fall2012_HumanitiesEvents
For more information on the project: http://www.library.yale.edu/yipp/index.html

Thursday, September 27th

WHAT? Author Event: Q & A Session with Joelle Charbonneau, presented by Sigma Tau Delta
WHO? Local author and DePaul graduate–has written works such as Murder for Choir: A Glee Club Mystery and Skating on the Edge.
WHEN? 7:00pm
WHERE? Arts & Letters Hall, Room 404

Event Flyer: Joelle Charbonneau Flyer

Newspaper columnists in a digital age….

You remember Kenny Lapins right?

Yes that Kenny, who so graciously shared his wisdom about post-DePaul employment as a professional freelance writer. (Here’s his profile, in case you forgot)

Well Kenny just did an interview with DePaul’s ASK Network (Alumni Sharing Knowledge) about being “a newspaper columnist in a digital age”.  Online writing portfolios, Einstein and automatic toliets and “the insidious nature of glitter”…check out the rest of the interview.