Making “Almost Famous” Stories

Samantha MillerSamantha Miller
Student Advisor, 2016-2018
Alpha Epsilon Alpha Chapter
The College of New Jersey, Ewing, NJ

When I first read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” in eighth grade, I was struck by one primary thought: I wanted to write like that someday.

Almost Famous Women Book Cover

Jackson was one of the many eerie authors who influenced my taste today, her stories read alongside those of Poe, Asimov, and Bradbury. Yet, in non-English major company, when I fondly name “The Lottery” as my favorite short story I tend to get blank stares. Though Jackson is a canonical author and her work is still studied regularly in schools, the fantastically chilling story seems to have been pushed to the edges of their consciousness.

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman, the 2017 Common Reader, centers around women who likewise have been shifted aside. Some are on the outskirts of history—for instance, Dolly Wilde, Allegra Byron, and Norma Millay—while others are downright obscure, such as Hazel Eaton. Some, like Butterfly McQueen and the conjoined Hilton twins, may receive vague recognition even if their names have been mostly forgotten. All of their stories are told by outsiders peering into these women’s lives, and twelve out of thirteen stories construct a world where we might know their names as well.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

The outlier hails from my one of my favorite works—“The Lottery,” of course. Unlike the other stories in this collection, “The Lottery, Redux” does not reconstruct a person’s life but recreates another story. “The Lottery, Redux” shifts the setting to a matriarchal society that inherited its exile to a small, isolated island, and explores the perspective of a town leader who is exempt from the annual draw. I won’t give spoilers for the original or this masterful retelling, but I can say the piece retains all the elements that made me love “The Lottery” in the first place, while also expanding to encompass themes that Jackson skimmed over. Bergman pushes mob mentality to the side in lieu of complicated consciences and resentment; the characters meet their fates readily, with heads held high. No one—except the narrator—ever thinks it won’t happen to them.

Like the matriarchs in “The Lottery, Redux,” the women in Bergman’s collection are visibly the backbones of their communities. Whether the woman in question was already famous, on the edges of fame, or completely obscured by history, the collection recognizes them as important and worthy parts of history. Jackson has inspired me to write; Bergman has inspired me to explore the obscured corners of culture. She has written stories that span decades, ages, and perspectives; she has finally given these “almost famous women” the spotlight they deserve.


Submit Your Common Reader Work for Convention

Feeling inspired after reading the Common Reader and discussing it with your chapter? Compose a critical or creative piece based on Almost Famous Women and submit it to the Sigma Tau Delta 2017 International Convention, which will be held in Louisville, KY, on March 29 – April 1, 2017.

Awards of up to $600 will be given at the international convention for critical essays or other genres of work that deal with the 2017 Common Reader. To be eligible, students need to indicate on the convention submission form that their work is in the common reader category (presentation type). Members can submit a total of two works for the convention as long as they are in different categories.

Submission guidelines will be posted to englishconvention.org on August 1.

Submissions will be open from September 26, through October 24.

What To Do With An English Major: Library of Congress Internship

Emily SpanglerEmily Spangler
Associate Student Representative, Eastern Region, 2015-2016
Alpha Gamma Kappa Chapter
Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, WV

People always assume I, as an English major, want to teach, and they always are so unapologetically wrong. An English major offers countless paths to travel, and I chose the path to library science.

Reading has been my passion since early childhood, so pursuing library science only made sense to me as a teenager, and it still does now. I only ever wanted to protect books and indulge in the knowledge they offered, which essentially is what some librarians do every day. Imagine my elation when I found out I received a paid summer fellowship at any prospective librarian’s dream institution: The Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

Working for the federal government, and especially the nation’s library, I realized early on how critically important was the work I was doing there. I think I realized this not as a college student, or a reader, or even a federal employee. I only initially understood the impact of my time at the Library of Congress as an English major.

Spangler_2r

Meeting With the Librarian of Congress, Dr. Bilington

I feel as if only English majors, in our own way, truly can appreciate the new and old. We respect Shakespeare, and cherish Harry Potter. It’s a dynamic unique to English majors, and I was grateful for it more than ever within the context of my fellowship. For 10 weeks, I was a first-time mother, and over 3,700 Portuguese Pamphlets were my children. These pamphlets originally were in the Rare Books Division, but were transferred to the division I was working under—Collections, Access, Loan, and Management—because many of these pamphlets originally belonged in a different collection.

My entire purpose was trying to locate items within the Portuguese Pamphlets that belonged to the Carvalho Monteiro Collection, a collection of over 30,000 items the Library of Congress acquired in the 1920s. I went through every single pamphlet, checking for a stamp indicating it was part of the Carvalho collection. I entered the titles, years, reference numbers, and other information into two databases I created. I sifted through 75 reels of microfilm, looking at pamphlets that weren’t physically present. I individually photographed each pamphlet, and then rehoused them. Rehousing is relocating an item from its previous enclosure to a new, more adequate enclosure. While extremely technical, the job taught me that to care about something old is to care about something new.

The Junior Fellows class of 2015 closes their 10-week inernship program with a ceremony, August 5, 2015. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Receiving the Fellowship Certificate of Completion

By cataloging, photographing, and rehousing these beautiful pamphlets (the oldest are from 1572, while the newest are from 1920), I managed to come to terms with the fact I was helping future researchers, because I was making these items more accessible. I was the one behind the scenes, making the magic happen, and that’s all it took for me to confirm pursuing library science as an English major was the best choice I ever made.

What do you (plan to) do with your English major?

Bookstores and Coffee Shops: An English Major Finds Home

Sara StammerSara Stammer
Student Representative, Eastern Region, 2015-2016
Alpha Epsilon Alpha Chapter
The College of New Jersey, Ewing, NJ

Does a better combination exist for English majors than local bookstores and good coffee? Both are readily available in Minneapolis, and I have traveled the city high and low to bring to you their definitive ranking before your arrival at the convention in March!

Bookstores

After setting out on the light rail toward St. Paul with one destination in mind, Common Good Books, a group of Student Leaders and I also stumbled upon Midway Books. Depending on what you are looking for, both of these bookstores have something to offer.

Common Good Books#1 Common Good Books
If you have some downtime at convention you must make the trek out to Common Good Books. The single-floor, one-room bookshop can be reached in 50 minutes by taking the light rail and then a public bus (you can use your light rail ticket for the bus). The trip is well worth your time, as you can easily spend another hour happily browsing the shelves. Possessing a modern New York City bookstore feel, this little shop boasts a collection of signed books for sale across a wide and diverse variety of genres. Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast has found its place among my collection of other signed books!

Minneapolis Bookstore--Sara Stammer Midway#2 Midway Books
If one bookstore is not enough to convince you to make the trip, consider stopping by Midway Books on your way back. Located next to the light rail platform, Midway Books is an adventure waiting to be explored that will not require additional transportation on your part. This multi-floor bookstore has a rare book and magazine section in addition to its extensive used book options. I could not leave Midway Books without acquiring a first edition copy of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan of the Apes in its original box!

 

Coffee Shops

Before heading out to find these two bookstore treasures or between sessions at the convention, grab a cup of coffee from one of Minneapolis’ best coffee shops!

Misfit Coffee#1 Misfit Coffee Co.
Drink: 12oz. Maple Bourbon
Price: $5.00 (tax included)
Pack your mittens and scarf, and rally the troops. #1 will be the hardest place to find. Misfit Coffee Co. is a food truck dedicated to coffee. It is a coffee lover’s dream on wheels. While they have your typical coffee and latte favorites, this truck provides seasonal specialties they have crafted themselves. After visiting the Guthrie Theater, the truck was out front. I challenge you, hit the streets, see the sights, and find Misfit Coffee Co., you will not regret it!

 

Starbucks#2 Hyatt Regency’s Marketplace
Drink: 20oz. Carmel Macchiato/Pumpkin Spice Latte
Price: $5.05 (tax included)
I know, Starbucks is everywhere, but the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis‘ coffee shop wins 2nd place for a few reasons. First, you cannot beat the convenience of having well made coffee and friendly service with your morning cup in the hotel. Second, it is still good coffee! If it is cold or you are in a time pinch to get somewhere during the convention day, do not worry, stop by the Marketplace.

 

Caribou Coffee#3 Caribou Coffee
Drink: 20oz. Pumpkin Hot Flip
Price: $5.31 (tax included)
Caribou Coffee is a popular chain throughout Minneapolis. Walking past the door of the location on the Nicollet Mall had me dreaming about this coffee until I finally got my cup. There are free standing stores as well as locations within the skyway. If you are like me and are open to trying new things (and do not have one on the East coast) go for it.

 

Dunn Brothers#4 Dunn Bros. Coffee
Drink: Medium Pumpkin Pie Nirvana
Price: $5.08 (tax included)
Do not let the ranking fool you, #4 is still a respectable option. If you plan on exploring the Skyway starting at the Hyatt and make your way through the Convention Center, stop at Dunn Bros. to pick up a coffee for the journey. They also have an extensive gluten free fresh-baked good selection as well. The gluten free cookie was soft and moist!

What are your favorite bookstores and coffee shops? Comment below!