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English and Creative Writing
Jenna Hammerich ’02
I’m currently the deputy managing editor of The Iowa Review literary magazine. We publish fiction, poetry, and nonfiction from established and emerging writers from across the world. I help to prepare each print issue for publication, maintain the journal’s web and social media presence, manage its subscriber lists, coordinate advertising, supervise interns, and oversee our biennial veterans’ writing contest.
What was most enjoyable/memorable about studying English at Lake Forest College?
I loved the small classes and the passionate, approachable professors—Professor Mallette, who brought Shakespeare to life at 8 a.m. Monday mornings, Professor Schneiderman, who jumped up on a chair—or was it a table?—the first day of a postmodernism literature course, challenging our accustomed attitudes.
I also remember waking up early to write alone in Calvin Durand Commons (the “wood room”), enjoying the morning sun and the quiet. Visiting Keats’s home and Shakespeare’s birthplace during my study abroad in England. Attending brilliant author talks at the Chicago Humanities Festival. Freewriting in Professor McCabe’s nonfiction writing class on 9/11. Tutoring in Lake Forest C’s writing center (then in the basement of Carnegie Hall) and painting it Smurf-blue with a friend.
How did you choose your area of study?
I transferred to Lake Forest College intending to major in biology, but I found myself enrolling in more and more English courses, feeling intellectually challenged and emotionally engaged by the material.In the end, I think I chose English because it allowed me to study so many subjects at once: philosophy, history, rhetoric, religion, cultural studies, creative writing, art history. When you study English literature, you study the history of thought and belief in the English-speaking world. And you get to do it by reading brilliant, beautiful, provocative texts.
How has your English major or study of English helped you in your career? Do you think the skills you developed as an English major helped you obtain a job? Do you use those skills in your current work?
Studying English taught me to write—not just to put words together in a pretty way, but to advance a point coherently and concisely within a particular context. It’s supremely important to communicate well at work, whether you’re crafting an e-mail to a manager or client or writing content for blogs, newsletters, advertisements, and social media (all of which English majors will likely find themselves doing at some point—trust me!). English majors wear many hats in the workplace, because we know how to research, analyze, and report information; we’re good at tailoring our writing to different audiences and purposes; and we’re well practiced at creative, conceptual thinking (e.g., metaphor!).
So, yes, my ability to communicate well and ask insightful questions helped me to obtain every job I’ve had since college. My English major also helped me to become a perceptive and empathetic reader, which is especially helpful now that I evaluate and edit creative manuscripts.
Has the study of English impacted your life beyond the job? If so, how?
So much. Whether I’m reading the news, listening to a TED talk, or watching a movie, my experience is richer, more satisfying, because I can situate the material within my knowledge of culture, history—the human experience in general; I credit that to my study of English. Being well-read means being well-informed.
Also, when you spend four years studying writing from different periods and perspectives, you develop an openness to different ways of thinking. I think I understand people more than I would have otherwise.
Practically speaking, I’ve become the go-to writer in my family. I’ve helped friends and relatives write eulogies, toasts, letters to the editor, marriage vows, recommendation letters, resignation letters… This stuff may seem trivial compared to, say, writing a novel—but a well-written vow or eulogy can stay with people forever, and even do some healing. Language is very powerful.
Do you have any advice for students pursuing English studies?
Pour yourself into it. Do the readings—all of them. Write in your books—in pen. Think of your paper assignments not as homework but as opportunities to engage with the authors you’re reading and to discover something new.
Also, before you begin interviewing for jobs, sit down with a friend and practice talking about your major and the skills that set you apart.