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).


Ellen WattsEllen Watts
Public Relations Officer, Alpha Alpha Upsilon Chapter
University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington, NC

Ellen’s blog was selected 1st Place in the 2014 Convention Story Contest.


“Definitely going to miss this view. See you soon, Savannah.”

This caption accompanied my Instagram photo that showcased the scenery from my hotel balcony. I couldn’t leave Sunday without taking one last picture of the boats gliding along with the river current and the bridge standing tall in the background.

Savannah Picture

This was my second trip to Savannah, so I already knew I adored this city. History is embedded in the cobblestone streets. Music gets tangled in the moss lazing in the trees. Charm is in no short supply amongst the trolleys, shops, restaurants, and people. Walking throughout the city it is easy to see why so many writers have been inspired by Savannah.

The final weekend of February ushered in a new generation of writers to Savannah. These people were often easily spotted due to the matching name tags or because they wore a cool English themed button or shirt picked up at the merchandise tables. The days spent exploring the city and filtering in and out of convention rooms offered the opportunity to meet with these Sigma Tau Delta members.

Throughout the sessions, students shared their scholarship and creative works, and invited the audience into conversations that expanded knowledge and broadened perspectives. These conversations often did not stop just because the sessions ended. I would notice that as we cleared the rooms for the next sessions to start, small groups would form continuing the thoughts brought up in the closing question and answer periods.

It was an incredible experience to interact with others who share the same love of language and literature that I do. Part of this interaction came during the business meeting. Surprisingly, it was one of the most entertaining sessions of the entire convention.

The roll call that kicked off the meeting shed a little light onto the personalities of each chapter as they proudly announced they were present. Both large and small chapters had unique group cheers or clever slogans and sometimes even choreographed moves. The creativity of English majors could be clearly seen and heard.

I wish I could have captured the energy and enthusiasm in that room and shared it with Instagram. The photo and two sentences that I posted did not begin to cover my experiences at convention. The city, the people, and the conversations all added up to one wonderful weekend.