Leah Edelman '08
Although I was always drawn to my English classes in high school, I was nevertheless a shy teenager, unable to trust my ideas. I felt a pull towards Their Eyes Were Watching God and Madame Bovary, but I couldn't yet add my voice to the discussion about them. I felt only marginally more comfortable expressing myself on paper-submitting anonymously to the literary magazine, and keeping journals of poetry collected from the Washington Post's Book World and from anthologies I'd devour in bookstores.
The Creative Writing major at Brandeis attracted me and I found myself in two workshops during my freshman year; however, the wide range of opportunities and paths of study at a major university were also attractive. I moved away from writing and literature for a while, exploring other interests but remaining in the background of large introductory lectures in anthropology and psychology, and working backstage on a number of theater productions.
I began to trust my voice and my ideas as a scholar after a number of English professors gave me encouraging feedback on my written work. I finally realized I had good ideas, ideas that were interesting to smart people! Classes with Paul Morrison, Faith Smith, and Mary Baine Campbell were small enough that they knew my face, and I felt that they genuinely wanted to see me succeed in class the way I had in my papers. The other interests that English faculty brought to their courses (women's and gender studies, postcolonial theory, etc) also introduced me to discourses where I could join the conversation and situate my voice. This encouraged me to develop and pursue new interests, both inside and outside the English department. I took courses in the Comparative Literature and Romance Language departments, and was active in the Women's Studies Resource Center as a Student-Scholar Partner. Along with English and American literature, I also majored in Creative Writing, and it was really a dream to work with the incredibly talented writers/instructors in that program.
Undoubtedly the highlight of my Brandeis career was writing my senior honors thesis. I wrote on the grotesque in fairytales, from the Brothers Grimm to Angela Carter. I fondly remember many late nights in the library, working on theses with a roommate, experiencing the pain and pleasure of intellectual work (and equally fondly, I remember eating ice cream on the floor of our suite upon completing those theses). What is especially wonderful about the English thesis option is its freedom: developing your own project gives you an enormous sense of achievement at what you can craft out of nothing. With the guidance of my adviser, Professor Campbell, I developed, researched, wrote, agonized over, and rewrote my 100 page thesis, and it was one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences I've ever had-- my thesis received the English department's nomination for the university's thesis award.
Professor Campbell was an inexhaustible resource of knowledge and support, and in our weekly meetings, she pointed me in new directions, held me accountable for high quality work, lifted me higher when I was on a roll and gave me a push when I slowed down. Talking with her each week strengthened my confidence in my academic voice. I also very much valued learning more about her interests, and gaining a sense of what it's like to continue on in the field. Developing relationships with professors in this manner is another of the strengths of the English department.
I credit Brandeis with providing the stimulating and nurturing environment that fostered my growth and taught me to trust my voice and myself. The English program allowed me to pursue my interests while providing me with a solid foundation to further my studies, and all amongst professors, peers, and friends that constantly challenged and supported me.
I also earned my teaching certification at Brandeis, and after working in a local middle school for two years, I received a scholarship to attend the graduate program in English at Boston College. In my first year I have already had the wonderful opportunities of serving as a BC Writing Fellow and an editor of Fresh Ink, a magazine that publishes essays from freshman writing courses, and I look forward to teaching my own course next year.