by Mark Graybill
Intellectual curiosity. Historical consciousness. Sensitivity to how words are employed to achieve specific aims. These are the habits of an English and/or Creative Writing major. They do not come easily—even as a professor, I am still refining them—but they yield great rewards. The English and Creative Writing faculty at Widener see it as our professional responsibility to give students as many opportunities as possible to cultivate these habits, both inside and outside the classroom. The recent screening and discussion of the documentary film, The Bazaar of All Nations, is a case in point.
On February 19, two Widener alumni—Pat Manley, who graduated with a B.A. in English in 1999, and Brendan O’Riordan, who received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering the same year—came to campus with their business and creative partner, Melissa Whitely of White Lyte Productions, to show and answer questions about their film. Professor Utell moderated the Q & A with her characteristic energy and aplomb. It quickly became clear that what may seem merely a slice of local nostalgia, relevant only to Delaware Countians who harbor fond memories of the proto-shopping mall referenced
in the title, actually explores America during the Cold War with the kind of savvy and sensitivity to which all of us English types aspire. The film has some compelling things to say about material culture, class, and above all, community—all subjects that routinely come up in literature, and other Humanities, courses. Viewing the documentary, and more important, hearing its creators talk about the research they did, the editing choices they made (both script- and visuals-wise), and how they maximized their strengths as individuals and as a team, offered valuable insight into the habits of mind that made it possible. It did this English professor’s heart good to hear Pat and Brendan explicitly address how the knowledge and skills they acquired from their English classes at Widener helped them make their film.
It is increasingly important for those in all majors, but especially in the Humanities, to think strategically about how what they learn in college can be used in the world beyond campus to build successful careers, contribute meaningfully to society, and of course cultivate fruitful lives. University professors and administrators are constantly devising ways to help their students do this.
Fortunately, there is another opportunity right around the bend. This Tuesday, March 12, Pat Manley, who works as an editor at Elsevier Publishing in Philadelphia, will be back on campus to talk about his experiences seeking a job and working in this profession. He will be joined by two more English alumni, Melissa Kearney ’07, who serves as a Legislative Assistant to Rep. Tim Briggs, and Heather Astorga ’09, who works as Social Media Coordinator at Balfour Beatty Investments. The panel discussion commences at 6:00 pm in Founders Hall, room 109. I look forward to seeing our English and Creative Writing students there.