Benefits of Studying Literary Theory

Emily Traylorby Emily Traylor
Southern Region Associate Student Representative, 2013-2014
Rho Gamma Chapter
Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, LA

Truthfully, when I first walked into my undergraduate contemporary theory class, I was terrified. It sounds so intimidating and foreign, and it’s not at all like other literature. My theory anthology and I spent a lot of quality time together, mostly consisting of me reading the same passages over and over, hoping that it would all finally fall into place if I read it enough. With a lot of patience, faithful attendance in class, and a dedicated professor, most of the ideas started to click for me.

Literary Theory book coverStill, I’ll warn that this isn’t the type of subject matter that you can passively approach. It’s imperative to take notes, write down questions, ask them in class, discuss the theories, and ultimately apply them in your work, in order for the theories to really become a useful part of your education. I’ll admit, I probably couldn’t discuss, on demand, the finer points of Saussurian linguistics, but I noticed immediately that my theory background helped me when I read fiction. Even if you can’t explain every way that a literary work relates to a theory, studying theory gives you a sturdy background for research.

Generally, theory is remarkably dense and a bit esoteric at times. I was lucky enough to have Dr. Dorothy Robbins as a professor, who happens to be a theory enthusiast, and the class turned out to be my favorite as an undergraduate. Personally, I’ve had the best time writing papers after my theory class and trying out different approaches to see which genre of theory works best for me (feminism and gender theory are my favorites—so fun!).

At the very least, maybe one day at a cocktail party, someone will discuss the differences between Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis; it will be your time to shine!

A Reader’s Take on “From Sand Creek”

Robert Durborowby Robert Durborow
Student Advisor, 2014-2016
Pi Omega Chapter
Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, KY

Our 2015 Common Reader is by award-winning Native American poet and writer, Simon J. Ortiz, a native of Deetseyaamah, Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico. I can think of no more fitting work for our theme, “Borderlands and Enchantments.”

2015 Common Reader, From Sand Creek is a riveting collection of poems in which Ortiz, a featured speaker at the 2015 Convention, examines one of the most infamous episodes in American and Native American history—the 1864 massacre of 600 Cheyenne and Arapaho people at Sand Creek, Colorado. Far from an angry rant or accusatory work, From Sand Creek offers a realistic view of the past and a hopeful, unified view for the future of all Americans, native or otherwise. Thomas McGrath (Letter to an Imaginary Friend) states, “In this work by Simon Ortiz, Sand Creek shines like a dark star over a continent of pain. . .” I can’t say it any better.

As a poet and former soldier in the American armed forces, I found the collection particularly significant and poignant. Ortiz paints vivid pictures in the mind of the reader, in hues of crimson and hope. I literally could not put the book down, compelled to finish the journey started at the front cover. I have never read more thoughtfully composed, moving work. A single stanza typifies the power of the poet: “Memory/is stone, very quiet/like this,/a moment clenched/as knuckles/around gunstock/around steering wheel” (23). Ortiz writes iron. To say more would be to ruin the reader’s experience. Get the book (you’ll thank me).

As we all begin preparations for the next academic year and the Sigma Tau Delta 2015 Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico, why not start with a good, insightful, thought provoking read?

Related Information

Regents’ Common Reader Awards

The Regents’ Common Reader Awards provide an opportunity for individual chapters to organize and host a local event or activity based on From Sand Creek. Chapter members do not need to attend the convention to apply. Contact your Regent and you may receive $100 for your event or activity. View application guidelines.

Common Reader Convention Awards

Awards of up to $600 will be given at the international convention for critical essays or other genres of work that deal with the common reader. To be eligible, students indicate in the convention submission form that their work is in the common reader category (presentation type).

Changing Currents in Savannah B

 2014 Convention Story

Kathryn BaumgartnerKathryn Baumgartner
Alpha Kappa Omicron Chapter
St. Thomas Aquinas College, Sparkill, NY

Though rivers are known for moving in just one direction, they still need to be open to the ebb and flow of the tide, and the changing currents brought to them by the wakes of ships going past. It is appropriate that the theme of this year’s convention was “River Current” because people also need to be able to change according to the ebb and flow of life, and the wakes created by the complicated experiences life tends to throw our way. Sometimes it can hurt us to continue to stream in one set course, rather than allowing the people around us to alter the flow of our life and change us in unexpected ways.

Sunset from the dockI came to the convention for the first time this year to read a creative non-fiction piece. Once that reading was over, I thought, ‘Phew, I’m glad I don’t have to speak in front of anyone again.’ I stayed in Savannah B to listen to the poetry of other Deltans, and cowered when Micah Hicks asked me if I was interested in reading anything.

But then the night wore on, and I saw how open, attentive, supportive, and enthusiastic the crowd was for each reader’s piece. About halfway through the presentations, I whipped out my phone, found a poem I had stored on it, and marched (perhaps ‘shyly walked’ would be a better description) up to Micah and asked that my name be put on the list of readers. Not many people were left in the crowd when I took the stage, since the event ran so late, but one man made it a point to come up to me afterwards and tell me how much he enjoyed hearing my poem.

For me, relating what happened on Wednesday night can sum up my overall experience at the convention. It was such a relief to be able to meet people who share common interests and to not have to be frightened at the idea of sharing something that came from my heart. Strong friendships were forged, and I was able to experience the joy that comes when you open yourself up to things outside the normal current of your life, and allow yourself to flow differently in reaction to the people surrounding you.

The Sigma Tau Delta 2015 Convention will be held March 18-21 in Albuqueque, NM. Visit the convention website www.englishconvention.org after August 1 for information on the convention, including the “Borderlands and Enchantments” theme, submission guidelines, and a preliminary program schedule.