Remember Wallace Stevens

There is an old joke that is useful when someone tells you they are an actor:  you respond, do you have to bus your own tables? There is a equally dismissive come-back in the literary world:  when someone tells you they are an English major:  you respond, are you planning to teach at the High School or College level? English majors, like struggling actors, just can’t get any respect.

I was an English major but I had to work to put food on the table so I got involved with computers in the 1960s and left Graduate School for a lucrative career in the blossoming computer field. Even so, I always tried to keep track of my first love and read, not only literature, but probably as many secondary and critical sources as I ever read in school. When my daughter grew up she went away to college, eventually completing a dual-degree in English and in French (with honors too!). For graduation, I found a nice little book that outlined the many careers a Liberal Arts major could go into (other than teaching, of course). On 9/11 my daughter was in Manhattan interviewing for jobs in the publishing field, focusing on becoming an editor.

After 9/11 the job market dried up and she did some substitute teaching until a quite impressive University invited her to join the Comparative Literature department and she went on to get her PhD. All along she has wanted to teach at the University level, so having degrees in the Liberal Arts never was a problem. But there are many other Liberal Arts majors and especially English majors that feel trapped into teaching as the only option.

Earlier today I ran across an article online that directly addresses these English majors. Written by one of the About.com editors, Esther Lombardi, it is titled “A Note to an English Major.” You should read the entire article, but I thought I would list some of the suggestions:

  • An English major makes an eloquent lawyer (in fact, I once wanted to be a lawyer, and I was advised to earn a BA in English and then pursue pre-law).
  • An English major can be an eloquent writer (journalist, novelist, essayist, etc.). Who better to explore the fascinating ins and outs of language than someone who has studied the greatest world classics?
  • An English major can go into marketing… I know, marketing can seem to be an ugly word to many. But, when you have the ability to write (and write well), you can write about products. You can compel consumers to buy the product (and the field of marketing can offer a successful career.
  • An English major can become a Publicist. Again, it’s a field where the ability to write well can lead to a successful and fulfilling degree.
  • An English major can become a Researcher. Just think about how much research you’ve completed as you pursued your degree!
  • An English major can become a Copywriter. Many companies (in almost every industry) need a copywriter at some point. Copywriters are often enlisted to create newsletters, direct mail letters, and so many other pieces. Again, the ability to write well can be advantageous in this field.
  • An English major can become an Editor (or Editorial Assistant). What a way to make a living: to work with words?
  • An English major can become a Fundraiser. This occupation is also much more successful with the eloquent use of language.

As the author suggests, there are many more opportunities. I would like to add one more advantage:  I have seen a lot of professional and business careers go into decline and many of those people who once scoffed at an English major now are struggling to write a decent resumé. Even when they are employed, the competition is brutal in most of those fields. After all, twenty years ago everyone knew Business School was the way to go … and everyone did.

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