Smith Garners Up and Coming Scholar Award

Miami’s English Department is home to several Literature PhD students who are making strides in the world of academia, but often go unrecognized and unnoticed. Today I’d like to introduce you to Cynthia Smith, a Literature PhD student at Miami, who was awarded the Up and Coming Scholar Award by the Harriet Beecher Stowe Society (HBSS). Cynthia shared with me some details of her research, her career plans for the future, and her advice for current English students.

Members of the HBSS focus their work on, and travel to conferences and events that feature – who else – Harriet Beecher Stowe. The organization annually sponsors the Up and Coming Scholar Award, granting one graduate student in the US the opportunity to sit on a panel with HBSS scholars and present a lecture at the American Literature Association’s yearly meeting. Smith submitted an excerpt of her dissertation chapter on Stowe, which she will now have the opportunity to present as a conference paper.

Smith specializes in antebellum sea narratives, though this certainly wasn’t always the plan. As a nineteenth-century Americanist, she began with a subspecialty in Asian American Literature before switching it to Maritime literature. Her original dissertation was going to be about female pirates, but during the research process, she noticed a tradition of sentimental maritime literary in antebellum literature. While taking her oral comprehensive exam, Smith dug into her extensive research knowledge and casually mentioned Uncle Tom as a “sentimental sailor” as an example in response to a more difficult question, not at all expecting one of the committee professors to stop her and say, “Yes! You have to write about that!”

Smith discovered that American literature often used the role of “sailor” to give more privileges to African Americans, providing means of mobility, wages, and enormous opportunity to learn reading and math skills. Stowe’s Uncle Tom can be read as a metaphorical sailor, a mechanism for demonstrating the capabilities of African Americans and creating awareness for the slave trade’s global nature. With her committee’s encouragement, she pursued the “sentimental sailor” all the way into her dissertation.

“I was just trying to pass [her exam]…” Smith recalled. “But apparently it was a good idea.”

Smith’s long-term goals are as ambitious as her present successes. She is working toward a position as a tenure track literature professor, though she noted that there is currently only one open position in her specific field of literature in the entire country. Smith is confident, though, that the Miami English Graduate program has prepared her well, crediting her success to the mentorship of Professors Andrew Hebard, Michelle Navakas, and others, as well as Miami’s well-designed program and the opportunity to start teaching right away (which is not easy to find in programs).

Before even graduating, Cynthia Smith has achieved the kind of success that most English students can only hope for. We extend our proud congratulations to her for receiving the Harriet Beecher Stowe Society’s Up and Coming Scholar Award, and we look forward to seeing (and of course reading) all of her future successes!

 

 

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Ellen Stenstrom

English Literature and Creative Writing major

Literature program apprentice

What Do Literature Majors Do?

Why do we study literature? This is a complex question, as anyone who identifies in this royal “we” would attest.

I begin with simpler questions: Why did Langston Hughes write poetry? Why did Nathaniel Hawthorne ever decide to pick up a pen? Why did Rita Dove first love the art of language?

To me, the most basic answer to these is pretty simple: they all had something to say. So, of course, they pulled up their sleeves, licked the tip of their well-wielded pens, and they wrote.

Sure that’s what the people who wrote our literary classics have to motivate them, but the question still remains about the people who study their works. What do Lit majors have to say? Then, when they’re out in that massive world after college, how do they say it?

I asked recent alumni about their experience with the literature Program at Miami in order to gain more insight.

“Being an English major opened so many doors to me,” says Hailey Gilman (‘16), who now works as an Assistant Account Executive at MullenLowe advertising agency in Boston, Massachusetts. She relocated to Boston independently after she graduated from the Literature Program and proudly boasts, “My boss noted that
seeing my degree on my resume guaranteed that I would have the written communication skills necessary to succeed in the business world.”

The business world is a popular one for literature majors–particularly those inclined to marketing or those who find interest in using their knowledge of language and argumentation to persuade or inform consumers and audiences. In my researching English department grads, I have found quite a few who have taken their skills into a business setting.

Much like Hailey in her field of advertising, Taylor McBroom (‘16) uses her literature-cultivated skills in the marketing industry at HarperCollins Children’s Books. “My time in the English department taught me the valuable skills needed to succeed in publishing outside of editorial,” she says. Taylor is particularly enthusiastic about her English degree, telling me, “I’m forever grateful for my experiences at Miami because they led me to my dream job at HarperCollins!”

Here I find another theme among the recent alumni of Miami’s English Department: the term “dream job” often describes how they feel about their work. A passion for literature seems to mold into a passion for real-world careers. Whether the literature scholar chooses a concentration inside of the world of academia and publishing, or drifts off, like Hailey, to pursue a passion in marketing or law or banking, they take with them a devoted excitement that echoes the focused artistry of their college careers.

In quintessential literary fashion, Lindsay Crist Lawson (‘16) stayed close to home after graduation, but has accomplished the true (bookish) American dream–to live a life surrounded by literature. She is currently a book buying assistant at Joseph-Beth booksellers. “I love having a job where each day is completely immersed in the book world,” she says. Then, thinking back to her time at Miami, studying in Bachelor Hall, “my English degree provided an essential base knowledge of literature that I continue to invoke in my work now.”

In the end, I have found, through talking with these recent alumni, that their love for literature has expanded past the existential crisis that college provides. They’ve taken their analytical lens and applied it to the world. So, I ask, is this what literature majors really do?

Anna Jankovsky
English Literature and Film Studies, ’19
Literature Program Apprentice