A Minnesota May is a glorious thing. It brings the beginning of spring, offering a reprieve from the -33 degree temperatures that are certainly inhospitable to human life. Nature is resurrected, inundating with color the eyes that, for six months, have only seen hues of gray and white. May is a month of rejuvenation. And for one impish department, literature lies at the center of joy and celebration. May is, after all, a month of comps.
This particular May has been a special one, marking the rebirth of the in-person Comps Symposium. On a lovely Saturday morning, book enthusiasts from near and far congregated in the Weitz Center for Creativity to admire the work of seniors in the English department. The Weitz Atrium was positively brimming with the promise of fruitful sessions during which student becomes teacher, sharing the culmination of months-long hard work and dedication.
The first sessions gave attention to our colloquium participants and creative writers. Represented in this year’s colloquium presentation were five seniors and two continents (shout-out to the London OCS program). Exploring the outsider-insider dynamic, the colloquium seniors offered insight into the discussions they had as a group while working their way through the (quite extensive!) syllabus. George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda stood out as a collective favorite, yielding compelling essays with delightful titles such as Jenni Diaz Garcia’s “Gwendolen, Interrupted.”
In colloquium’s sister session, the department’s creative writers introduced their anthologies and novels-to-be, award winners in the making. (And, by the way, they want to be absolutely-positively-no-doubt-about-it clear that they are all English majors.) Senior editor Julia Johnston made the Miscellany proud as she shared her anthology of short stories about the nuance and significance of human interaction in one Boston apartment building. Also making an appearance at the session were protagonists Læch—a fictionalized version of his creator, Jacob Dyck—and Barley, sprung from the mind of Jacob Isaacson.
The second session turned the spotlight to the department’s project comps, which allowed seniors to apply their knowledge and skills to produce an original project of their choice. This year’s project comps demonstrated a wide range of talent and expertise in our small-but-mighty department. In one session, senior Miscellany editor Octavia Washington shared about her original play entitled Aphrodite & Adonis. Rebecca Hicke, introduced by Madeline Goldberg as the sole tech-savvy member of the English department, shared the results of her digital humanities project which quantitatively measured female agency in Shakespeare’s comedies.
And then there was one: research comps. Seniors conducted research on a number of fascinating novels, including Pamela, Angle of Repose, and The Satanic Verses. Third—and final—senior Miscellany editor (whew!) Madeline Goldberg deviated from tradition by focusing on a play, as she researched subversive narration in Into the Woods. Featured in her presentation were some wildly entertaining clips, including a depiction of the Narrator as Hostage, as well as a question quite perfect for the present moment: “Why not live in a world of chaos?”
Of course, the fun didn’t end with the comps sessions. Afterward, the department offered a pizza lunch in the Weitz courtyard, a setting which bore witness to perhaps the strangest moment of the day. Professors Arnab Chakladar and Peter Balaam conspired to take a few unsuspecting (I mean lucky…) English majors on the rickshaw ride of their lives—and capture it all on camera. Despite any initial trepidation (I mean enthusiasm…) from the participants, the birds were chirping, the rickshaw stayed steady, and it was, overall, a beautiful moment for some intradepartmental bonding.
It is, indeed, a lovely May to be an English major.