We recently featured English (double) major Avery Jones in an article for the Spring 2017 issue of the CLA online magazine. In the article she shared space with four other amazing English majors, and there just wasn’t enough room to share everything we wanted to about her, so we asked Avery to do a longer follow-up profile.
English Double Major: Literature and English Education
What inspired you to get a degree in English? I decided to get a degree in English education at the age of 11. I was in the 7th grade, and I stole my mother’s copy of The Kite Runner, which had been explicitly forbidden to me. As I read through those pages, I realized two things: first, my mother was absolutely right to ask me not to read that book quite yet; and second, literature is capable of inspiring empathy beyond anything I’d ever experienced. Here I was, a young girl sitting in my mother’s Escalade with my hair braided in pigtails, weeping uncontrollably for the pain experienced by a fictional Afghani boy. I’ve always felt like the world would be such a better place if we could all take Atticus Finch’s advice: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” In this moment when I was 11 years old, I discovered a way to climb into someone else’s skin: through literature. I knew then that I wanted to be an English teacher so that I could show others how magical it was that books could put you in someone else’s life and make you feel the things they felt. I wanted to teach other kids just how powerful and important empathy is in this world.
Why CSU? I grew up in Greeley. From the time I was 14 I wanted nothing more than to get away from Greeley. I wanted to go to college far away and branch out on my own, away from my parents, away from my high school friends, and away from that terrible cow smell that permeated my childhood. But as the time came to tour college campuses, I looked all around–different cities, different states–and I came to realize something: people come from all around the country to go to school at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains at a campus that is a leader in renewable energy in a town that is so full of life and history. The place where I truly wanted to be was only 40 minutes from where I grew up. It wasn’t quite as far as I had hoped to branch out, but it was the most beautiful and welcoming place that I could find, and it was just far enough away from that awful cow smell.
How did you choose your concentration? It was always education for me, but I’ve always adored reading. It is literally the only hobby I can come up with when people say, “So what do you do for fun?” The literature seemed like an awesome way to learn how to look at lit more critically, and I figured it would make me a better teacher anyway if I could more thoroughly analyze texts. It required me to take a few extra credits every semester, but it seemed totally worth it to me to get a double concentration and take as much away from my college experience as I could as long as I’m here.
We are always trying to debunk the myth that the ONLY options for an English major are to become a writer, teacher, or work in publishing. What sort of possibility, potential do you see for yourself as an English major? While I do want to teach–one of those stereotypes you always hear in regards to English majors–I think a degree in English makes a person much more globally aware, critical-thinking, and empathetic. Who wouldn’t want to be these things? These characteristics help in every field, certainly not just teaching, writing, and publishing.
Knowing what you do about it, how would you describe the CSU English department to someone? The English department at CSU is jam-packed full of the most incredible people I have ever met. Every one of the professors I’ve had in the English department are so friendly and welcoming. You could knock on any one of their doors and just walk in to talk to them about literature, writing, theory, and definitely just about life in general. Of course, you’d have to catch them when they’re not slammed with work which is fairly rare because all of them are so involved in their work as professors and as professionals in their fields and as active community members. It seems impossible, but every semester I leave saying, “I think I have a new favorite professor!” As for the students, I have found a community so welcoming and friendly and nerdy and fun and hilarious that it often blows my mind that these people exist at all, let alone in such high numbers right here on this campus. I have truly found a place that I belong here with my fellow English majors.
Why do you think the humanities are important? See answers about empathy–forming well-rounded human beings, capable of sharing insight and beauty and kindness in this world.
What would you like to tell prospective CSU English Department students? Don’t second guess yourself. Join. Join right now. It will be the best decision you’ve ever made. It was for me. It’s a lot of writing, and even more reading, but you will improve yourself in ways you didn’t know were possible, and you will have an absolute blast along the way.
What advice do you have for current CSU English Department students? Read the material! Do it. I know it’s a lot. I know you’re taking four other classes and you are absolutely swamped. But this is what you came to college for! We get to read the greatest works ever written and talk about them in class every day with other people who are passionate about literature and writing! We have professors that care about us as students and as people; take advantage of that. Go talk to them and get help when you need it. Find ways to enjoy what you’re doing, even though I know you’re busy and stressed out. This stuff is so much fun, and we have such an awesome community around us to do all of it with.
What are you currently reading? I just took a capstone course this semester on the short story, so I’m slightly obsessed with short stories right now. At NCTE’s book auction I bought a set of Mark Twain’s books of short stories that I am very excited to dive into now that I have time to read for fun!
What are your hobbies or special interests, what do you enjoy doing with your free time? I love playing tennis and being outdoors. If you can’t find me, look for the nearest sunbeam, and I’ll probably be there with a good book. I also really enjoy traveling. I’m all about widening your horizons, whether that be traveling in your mind by reading different experiences, or by physically exploring the world. You can learn so much by going places you’ve never been and searching out sights and experiences that jolt you into realizing how grand this world is and how connected all of us are in it. So far I’ve traveled to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Mexico, Scotland, England, France, and Spain. This summer I’m heading off to Iceland to live in a van and travel around exploring the island for three weeks. I’m very very excited about this trip!
Where will we find you in five years? Hopefully in 5 years I’ll have a few years of experience under my belt and really know what I’m doing as a stellar high school English teacher. By this time, I hope I’ll be getting my Masters in English as well. I love school–enough that I want to be in it the rest of my life–both as a teacher and a student.