Textual study and written critical analysis sit at the heart of the liberal arts experience, and the Rhodes College Department of English provides rigorous training in both. Our courses provide students with the tools necessary to read literature both attentively and critically, and to articulate those readings in formal papers that match lucidity with imagination. In addition to covering the full range of British, American, and Anglophone literature, from Beowulf to Toni Morrison, our course offerings also encompass film studies, creative writing, and creative non-fiction. Additionally, students can engage in internships and independent study. For a literary work to survive, it must master its medium, language. Similarly, we affirm that literary study goes hand in hand with clear, persuasive, and artful argumentation. Finely honed writing skills are not only portable and transferable across the curriculum, but also indispensable in the broader workplace.

Leslie Petty, Chair

Mission Statement 

The Rhodes Department of English seeks in all aspects of its work to promote the understanding of literature, writing, and film as artistic forms and cultural enterprises. Members of the Department work to foster this understanding in their interaction with students on the Rhodes campus and in their activities as scholars, researchers, and writers. We understand these various branches of our activity--as teachers, scholars, and writers--to be overlapping and mutually informative, as our own writing and research stimulates new thinking in class, while classroom dialogue opens new avenues of inquiry. As a faculty we represent diverse areas of expertise and critical orientation, and we also understand this diversity to be central to our work. Our aim is to share with students the productive dialogue that arises out of our varied approaches, cultivating the independence of mind that can only result from rigorous and open inquiry. In this way, English courses focus variously on the verbal texture of literature and the visual and aural texture of film, on the historical and cultural contexts of the artwork, on the critical contexts that have shaped our interpretations, and on the changing nature of societies producing and consuming works of film and literature.

The study and practice of literature and writing are central components of the liberal arts education at Rhodes, and the English Department offers a variety of introductory and intermediate courses designed for students across the campus. The presentation of clear written argument is a skill at the heart of the major in English and is moreover a portable and transferable skill, one students apply to their work across the curriculum at Rhodes, and that graduates practice daily in a wide variety of careers. The First-Year Writing Seminar in English provides students with an intensive introduction to argumentative writing in college and beyond, and this course is built around the critical exploration of ideas and the expression of those ideas in effective prose. Literature courses at the introductory level also focus on essay writing, as students design and defend their own interpretations of literary works, experimenting with the use of textual and extra-textual evidence. Creative writing courses in English all function as workshops, centering on the students’ own literary writing, while at the same time expanding students’ creative vocabulary through the study of major published works of fiction, poetry, drama and screenwriting. 

Literature is an art form whose medium is language, and students who decide to pursue a major in English work to build increasing awareness of and facility in this medium. Through intensive discussion, students in advanced courses sharpen their sensitivity to the features of literary texts, as they pursue independent research on authors, literary movements, and critical debates. Courses in film follow a similar pattern, as students gain understanding of the terms and tools of film and film criticism. Advanced creative writing workshops invite students to produce longer, more sustained literary works while also enhancing their sensitivity as readers. In the senior year every English major develops and pursues an independent project which calls on the student to test his or her own capabilities as a critical reader, and as an effective and artful writer. This culmination of the English major at Rhodes is designed to cultivate in students an independence of mind and a sensitivity to the richness and variation in linguistic art forms.

Information for Prospective Students

Students have a lot of options in the Rhodes English Department. By affording them the chance to sample a variety of literature, from the medieval works of Chaucer to the post-modern novels of the twentieth century, English professors give students the opportunity to find what interests them most. Also, students may hone their creative writing skills in intimate workshops headed by the poets and writers in residence. Most importantly, the Rhodes English professors take the time to meet with students, and devote their time and energy into helping young scholars wrestle with important questions and difficult material.

“The English professors at Rhodes have an impressive academic record. They hold degrees from top-tier universities and they continue to publish in prestigious journals.  And yet, during my time there, not once did I feel like an afterthought.”  —Ryan Call ‘05

“Undoubtedly, the Rhodes English professors prepared me for graduate studies at Columbia. I was intimidated at first, but the English courses I completed at Rhodes have been indispensable to the development of my analytical and creative writing skills.”  —Christina LaPrease ‘06

“The English Department here at Rhodes is an extraordinary community of scholars and learners working together in an environment of intimate camaraderie. The skills I have developed as a result of this four-year “apprenticeship,” so to speak, have thoroughly prepared me to tackle the challenges of graduate study, and the relationships that I have developed with faculty members will certainly endure far beyond my years as a student at Rhodes.”  —Katherine Watkins ’07