English Department

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.


Chair, Professor Mary Ellis Gibson
Professors Cedric Gael Bryant, Michael Burke, Laurie Osborne, Debra Spark, and David Suchoff; Associate Professors Adrian Blevins, Tilar Mazzeo, Anindyo Roy, Elizabeth Sagaser, and Katherine Stubbs; Assistant Professors Sarah Braunstein, Megan Cook, Aaron Hanlon, J.C. Sibara, and Arisa White; Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Humanities Christopher Walker; Visiting Assistant Professor Jacquelyn Ardam; Faculty Fellow Jennifer Reed; Director of the Colby Writing Program Stacey Sheriff; Director of the Farnham Writers’ Center Paula Harrington; Multilingual Writing Specialist Ghada Gherwash; Writing Program Postdoctoral Fellow and Assistant Professor of Writing Meghan Hancock.

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 English 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 field 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 Class of 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.

Requirements for the Major with a Concentration in Creative Writing

The English major with a concentration in creative writing requires 13 courses. Four courses must be creative writing workshops at the 200 level or above (English 278, 279, 280, 378, 379, 380, 382, and 386). 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 may count Theater and Dance 141 (Beginning Playwriting) as one of their creative writing courses. 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.

Requirements for the Minor in Literature Written in English

The English minor requires a total of six courses. These must include:

  • English 200 and 271
  • Two English courses at the 300 or 400 level, excluding creative writing workshop courses
  • English 493, a senior seminar
  • One elective from these categories: English literature courses or creative writing workshops at the 200, 300, or 400 level, literature at the 200 level or above in a foreign language or in translation chosen in consultation with the minor advisor.

Within these six courses, minors must meet the following distribution field requirements:

  • One poetry course at any level, either literary study or creative writing (P)
  • One early literature in English course at any level (E)
  • One diaspora and crossroads course at any level (D)

Requirements for the Minor in Creative Writing

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

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.