There’s a popular term out there right for people with lots of followers and content on social media: “Influencer.” On it’s face it sounds powerful, something we might all aspire to as writers and creative minds, but in practice its far more about internet hits, monetizing popularity, recycling worn tropes, trading shock for likes, a reiteration of Andy Warhol’s “Fifteen Minutes of Fame,” or fame for the sake of fame. But for those few who truly make connections, who get their audience to reconsider assumptions about the world and their role in it, who affect change…real influence…I like a more practical term: “bridge-builder.”
That’s what English majors are. As writers and scholars of writing, you build bridges between minds and between realities, connecting your readers to new ideas, new perspectives, new worlds, bringing the far, near.
When you write about the works of Shakespeare or Conrad or Austen or Tolstoy, you are building bridges.
When you write a blog about your travels to the Balkans, you are building bridges.
When you write a criticism of the metaphors of war in sports writing, you are building bridges.
In fact, this is why so many employers across a wide variety of fields have said that they are looking for graduates in the humanities, and English majors in particular. Why? Because in today’s digital economy, organizations need people to tell their story: the story of their service, their product, their new invention, their activism. They need writers who can make those necessary connections—those bridges—between what the organization offers and their audiences values, needs, and experiences.
So this is what the BA in Literature, Rhetoric and Cultural Studies, the BA in Journalism, the English minor, and the BFA in Creative Writing here at Chapman are designed to do: help you become a bridge-builder.
But before you can build bridges, you need to know how, where, why, for whom, and with what tools, materials, and techniques. That’s why all of our degree programs immerse you in the theories of textual production, communication, and social construction. That’s why we ask you to take a range of classes studying literature, rhetoric, culture, craft, and practice. That’s why Chapman’s General Education program is focused on introducing you to a broad range of disciplines, why they require to you take on a minor, or interdisciplinary cluster, or a second major. We want to provide the broad but also deep experiences in reading, discussing, analyzing, and composing will prepare you to be able to take on any opportunity that comes your way.
But we can’t force you to learn. That’s a choice that you must each make, a willingness to open yourselves to new experiences and to take risks in trying new things. The faculty are not only experienced writers and researchers in a wide range of genres and disciplines, but are also dedicated teachers. We will be here to lift you up, to guide you, and to give you that necessary nudge when you need it.
Let me give some examples of what our students are doing. For the BA Thesis this year we had a wide range of research exploring and challenging cultural norms through a study of a wide range of what we consider “texts”: toxic masculinity in Junot Diaz’s work, mythical subversion in Dostoevsky, Hawaiian Culture and Hybridity, “thoughts and prayers” in response to mass shootings, the survival of Basque identity, the Heroism of Subversion in RuPaul’s Drag Race, even a rhetorical analysis of The Common Application and zaniness.
In my BFA Capstone class right now, students are writing the following: a YA Literary Fantasy novel, a medieval historical novel, two poetry chapbooks on multicultural identity, a children’s book, a non-fiction project on Asian-American hybridity, a dark comedy television series, a poignant family drama screenplay, and multimedia exploration of the Salton Sea. Every single one of these creative writing and BA thesis projects are building bridges between communities, cultures, perspectives, and ideologies.
Finally, I want to leave you with two examples of graduates from the BFA Program.
Nicki Quinn, 2012, turned an internship at Blizzard, the video game company known for World of War Craft and Overwatch, into a seven-year career, moving from a tester to a project manager. She now is a producer at the gaming company Second Dinner, which has partnered with Marvel to produce their first game.
Michael Wong, 2015, founded Peeka, a Seattle-based startup that adapts children’s books into virtual reality, with an attention toward interactive learning and foundational reading skills, particularly for children with learning differences. Peeka currently has a contract with the Jasper County School District in South Carolina, and are building an author list and consumer roll-out.
**If you want to connect with some bridge-builders here at Chapman, and are in the area next week, come to our (Pub)lishing Crawl on Tuesday, April 16, starting at 4:00 in the afternoon, and listen to panelists in the Center For American War Letters Archives in the basement of the Library.