Although it is now August, a few lines from Tess Taylor’s poem “High July” (from our 2019 Common Reader, Work & Days) resonate with me as I think about the coming fall:
We watch—mere human perception—
baffled again when did it happen
this weedy too-muchness
In New Jersey, everything is much too humid; so as I prepare for my fall classes the pages of my books stick together and my fingers linger a little too long on my computer’s keys. While many of my fellow New Jerseyans are splashing around on the Jersey shore, enjoying the last days of summer, my mind is on work, my own, but, more importantly, yours.
The submission guidelines for the Sigma Tau Delta 2019 International Convention are now available along with profiles of our two featured speakers, Tess Taylor and Nnedi Okorafor. Every week this summer, a new announcement about the work of these two women has found its way to me. Tess Taylor published an insightful, lyrical essay on CNN.com about the wildfires that have ripped across the California landscape, demonstrating how poetry provides a vocabulary to talk about loss. Nnedi Okorafor is one of the nominees for the “alternative Nobel Prize in literature,” along with past Sigma Tau Delta convention speakers, Neil Gaiman and Jamaica Kincaid. Okorafor has a series in development with HBO and has announced a new partnership with Marvel Comics to produce a series around Shuri, the scientific prodigy of The Black Panther. As you can see, our speakers have been hard at work throughout the summer.
But let us come back to your “Work in Progress,” the theme of the 2019 Convention and what I would like you to contemplate when you are done reading this blog. Too frequently, we English majors, minors, and “English adjacent” folks—journalists, creative writers, and linguists—find our work minimized or dismissed. We hear administrators in higher education talk about our shrinking numbers or we encounter cynics who question the value of what we do. Nonetheless, data collected by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences shows that English majors are just as gainfully employed and satisfied as their peers in STEM careers. What the study also suggests, however, is that English majors are often the ones in charge. English majors know how to reason, how to imagine, and how to communicate. Perhaps that is one reason why at least one venture capitalist speculates that Liberal Arts majors will be in high demand in the future. While some cynics in your circles might be comforted by this information about your financial futures, I’m more moved by what cognitive science has to say about what we do. Multiple studies suggest that reading, that surrendering to a book, to identifying deeply with a group of characters and following them on their journey, makes us better people.
So back to your own work: You all are learning to write those books, to teach people to read them, to popularize them, to edit them, to market them, to preserve them, to describe the language within them, to study them. I encourage you to think about all the work that you do, to select the work that you are most proud of, and to submit it to the convention. Moreover, I encourage you to read our Common Reader, Work & Days, and to submit either a critical or creative piece that responds to it. Finally, I encourage you to talk with your peers in your own chapters and other chapters in your region, and propose roundtable presentations that will spark lively conversations around “Work in Progress.” I encourage you to take inspiration from St. Louis and its rich literary history and from our featured speakers. I’m excited to meet you all in St. Louis, but I am much more excited to see you all share your “Work in Progress” with one another.
CONVENTION SUBMISSIONS ARE DUE MONDAY, OCTOBER 29, 5:00 P.M. CDT
2019 Convention Chair