Why study literature?

Literature is where and how we explore the possibilities of the languages that are at the heart of being human.  Students in the English Department at Colby become keen analytical readers in the broadest sense, cogent writers, and versatile critical and creative thinkers.

English students benefit from the distinctively small size of our courses, the opportunities for discussion, and individual attention across a diverse spectrum of subjects from Medievalism to Toni Morrison. Central to our departmental culture of teaching is the ability to develop personal relationships with members of the faculty, who are highly accomplished in their scholarship, teaching, and creative productions. Our graduates find themselves well prepared for professional schools of law, medicine, and business, as well as for careers in communications, and politics.  Others go on to careers in publishing and the academy.

For students interested in creative writing, the Creative Writing Program offers a concentration and a minor, through classes in fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, environmental writing, playwriting (through the Theatre Department), documentary radio, and, on occasion, the memoir, and the graphic novel.

Mission Statement

The English Department offers majors in English and in English with a concentration in creative writing. It also offers minors in English and in creative writing.

Students pursuing majors in English and creative writing read from a range of literary and cultural texts, drawn from Anglophone traditions in their broadest and most inclusive conception. Students develop the critical and creative skills to interpret and engage with varieties of complex textual and rhetorical expression, to write persuasively and purposively in multiple genres, and to express themselves articulately in both the spoken and written word.

The English Department offers a range of courses that emphasize the study of literature as an artistic tradition and the study of language more generally as a crucial component of cultural production and civic engagement. Students develop skills directly applicable to the further study of law, politics, journalism and publishing, leadership and stewardship.

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 Creative Writing Program offers fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry courses at the introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels. The department offers special-topics courses and supervises numerous independent studies and honors projects. Students frequently pursue internships and study abroad.

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 nonprofits, business, and government. Some majors become teachers; some become writers; some go into journalism, library science, or publishing. Students interested in teaching in private and public schools 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.

Learning Outcomes

At the completion of the major, students will be able to:

  • Recognize continuities and differences among a variety of literary periods and genres
  • Use appropriate knowledge of form, genre, and historical context to interpret and analyze literary or cultural texts
  • Use appropriate theoretical paradigms to analyze literary or cultural texts
  • Develop cogent and well-structured arguments
  • Write with appropriate attention to voice, style, and form
  • Demonstrate advanced disciplinary research skills and correct citation of sources
  • Make effective oral presentations and participate effectively in small and large group discussion
  • Demonstrate the ability to identify and improve upon their own work and arguments independently, based on disciplinary feedback.

Department Chair

Mary Ellis Gibson
Arthur Jeremiah Roberts Professor of Literature