2014 Convention Convention Stories English Studies Far Western Region Membership Opportunities Society Wide

Embracing Mistakes: Daniel Mendelsohn and Storytelling

Savannah, Georgia

Amy Pollard2014 Convention Story
by Amy Pollard
Vice President, Kappa Upsilon Chapter
Saint Martin’s University, Lacey, WA

I traveled 3,000 miles to Savannah, Georgia . . . to learn that I’d made a mistake.

It was Friday night. I’d just returned from dinner at a South African restaurant with some new friends. The convention program informed me that the guest speaker was widely published and held a Ph.D. in Classics, so I decided to swing by the lecture room and hear what he had to say. Little did I know that the first thing I’d learn was that I’d made a mistake.

Savannah, GeorgiaDaniel Mendelsohn had a clear, eloquent voice that resonated throughout the room. He commanded our attention as he spoke, leaning slightly over the podium and making eye contact. He told us that, as a college student, he made a mistake: he changed his major from Economics to Classics. His parents were confused at the time. Even he was uncertain. There was simply no way of knowing that this “mistake” would lead to a Ph.D. from Princeton and a successful career as an author, essayist, critic, and translator.

As I sat and listened, I realized that I could identify with this mistake. In my freshman year, I switched my major from Criminal Justice to English. Although my friends and family have always been supportive, others questioned this decision—why not criminal justice and law school, as I had originally planned? Why English?

Savannah, Georgia picture 2Coming to Savannah helped me answer that question. As I listened to papers on Dante, Shakespeare, and Ancient Greek literature, I was captivated by the ideas presented and the questions they sparked. Overall, I was energized by the space for creative expression and public discourse that literature seemed to create. The convention reminded me that books are so much more than paper and ink—they are ideas that spark debate, challenge norms, and inspire us to imagine our full potential as human beings.

In fact, what grabbed me about Mendelsohn’s talk—besides the self-deprecating humor and references to Battlestar Galactica—was the storytelling. His retelling of key moments in The Odyssey and Antigone reminded me of the most important reason I decided to study English: I love stories. I love reading, writing, listening, reflecting. Stories have always been a window to the world and to my view of it. That night, Mendelsohn invited me to reconnect with storytelling. He invited me to embrace my “mistake.” He invited me to keep reading, writing, and following my dreams.

Sigma Tau Delta 2015 Convention

Plan now to join over 1,000 Sigma Tau Deltans at our 2015 International Convention, March 18-21 in Albuquerque, NM. Over $10,000 will be awarded for student works presented at the convention. Featured speakers for the 2015 Convention include: Gary Soto, Simon Ortiz, and Leslie Marmon Silko.

Convention Submissions

Paper submissions open on September 29 and close on October 27.
View: Guidelines for Paper Presentations and Roundtable Proposals