English Department

The English Department offers a range of courses on literary productions and cultural representations written in or translated into English. Courses emphasize diversity in historical periods, genres, authors, cultures, and themes. The majority of courses in the major are seminar-style with limited enrollment emphasizing active student participation, critical thinking, analysis, and writing skills. The major in English focuses on the investigation of the central cultural, political, and ideological issues occasioned by texts and representations, particularly issues of race, gender, and class. The major considers various critical approaches, methods of inquiry, and strategies of interpretation. The Creative Writing Program offers fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry courses at the introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels. The department also offers special-topics courses and supervises about 30 independent study projects and 15 honors theses each year. English is one of the most useful majors for those who want to attend professional schools of law, medicine, and business, as well as for those seeking jobs in commerce, industry, and government. Some majors become teachers; some become writers; some go into journalism, library science, or publishing. Students interested in teaching, private and public, are urged to read the “Education” section of the catalogue and to contact a member of the Education Program. The department also encourages interdepartmental and interdisciplinary studies and supports the American Studies Program, the Theater and Dance Department, the Cinema Studies Program, and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program.


Chair, Professor Mary Ellis Gibson
Professors Cedric Gael Bryant, Michael Burke, Laurie Osborne, Debra Spark, and David Suchoff; Visiting Professor Catherine Marvin; Associate Professors Adrian Blevins, Tilar Mazzeo, Anindyo Roy, Elizabeth Sagaser, and Katherine Stubbs;  Assistant Professors Megan Cook, Aaron Hanlon, and J.C. Sibara; Visiting Assistant Professors Jacquelyn Ardam and Sarah Braunstein; Director of the Colby Writing Program Stacey Sheriff; Director of the Farnham Writers’ Center Paula Harrington

Requirements +

Requirements for the Major in Literature Written in English

The English Department offers an 11-course major in English and a 13-course major in English and creative writing. The 11 courses required for the core major consist of the following:

  • English 200, 271, and one other 200-level course (including introductory creative writing courses: English 278, 279, and 280)
  • Five 300-level or 400-level courses (excluding creative writing courses—see electives)
  • English 493, the senior seminar
  • Two electives in these categories: English literature courses or creative writing workshops at the 200, 300, or 400 level; approved courses in a foreign literature in that language or in translation, approved theater and dance electives, or selected cinema studies courses. All cross-listed courses count only in this category.

Our distribution requirements within these 11 courses include:

  • One poetry course at any level, either in literary study or creative writing (P)
  • Two early literatures in English courses (E)
  • Two diaspora/crossroads courses that explore the literatures of underrepresented groups, or courses that address alternative literatures in ethnic American, diasporic works, world literatures, or postcolonial literatures; these courses might set these literatures in dialogue with works across the curriculum (D)
  • Two comparative literatures and media courses that cross national boundaries, cross historical periods, or intermix media forms (C)

See course descriptions for P, E, D, and C designations. Please note that one course taken in the Colby English Department may fulfill up to two distribution requirements.

Majors from the Classes of 2017 through 2019 may elect to fulfill the prior requirements for the English and English/creative writing majors described in earlier catalogues.

The point scale for retention of the major applies to all English courses that may be used to fulfill major requirements. No requirement for the major may be taken satisfactory/unsatisfactory.

Honors in English

Students who meet the prerequisite, define a project, and secure the support of a department tutor and a second reader may elect to take English 483, 484, the Honors Thesis, and, upon successful completion, graduate with “Honors in English.” Students seeking honors in English will complete 12 courses, and students seeking honors in English with a creative writing concentration will complete 14 courses.

Preparation for Graduate School

Students planning to continue the study of English in graduate school should confer with their advisors to be sure that they have planned a substantial and adequate curriculum. They should be proficient in at least one foreign language. Most universities require two languages, and some require a classical language as well. Work in classical or foreign literature, history, philosophy, art, music, and some of the social sciences reinforces preparation in the major and enhances one’s chances for success in graduate study.

Requirements for the Concentration in Creative Writing

The English major with a concentration in creative writing requires 13 courses. Four courses must be writing workshops at the 200 level or above (English 278, 279, 280, 378, 379, 380, 382, 386, 478, and 479). English majors wishing to pursue a concentration in creative writing should declare the English major with a concentration in creative writing; the creative writing minor is only an option for students whose declared major is not English. Students are encouraged to take at least one course in a genre other than their sequence genre. Students should note that creative nonfiction courses are not offered as frequently as fiction and poetry courses.

A minor in creative writing is described in the “Creative Writing” section of the catalogue.