Studying English at a Writer's College

"The more you write, the better you get at noticing things. Kenyon has taught me that."


They call Kenyon a writer’s college for a reason. 

I don’t know if I’d say there’s a specific literary scene here; it feels almost as if the entire campus is one. My friend came to visit for a weekend, and in the midst of a conversation about writing, she asked my friend group, “Wait, you all write poetry?” We looked at each other and nodded sheepishly. Writing is so ingrained in Kenyon life that you don’t even view other writers as writers — they’re simply your friends.

“Writers make amazing friends. The more you write, the better you get at noticing things. The best writers are the least self-absorbed. Kenyon has taught me that.”

Matthew Toth '27

And writers make amazing friends. The more you write, the better you get at noticing things. The best writers are the least self-absorbed. Kenyon has taught me that. 

Kenyon teaches you that there is a healthy way to be a writer. That writing doesn’t have to be all about holing up in the darkness, drowning in ink and discarded drafts. That the best way to be a writer is to put your life first and trust the words will follow. 

As with many colleges, everyone is required to take an introductory humanities course, and many people gravitate towards the English department. Each 101 focuses on a different topic: mine was Writing the Mind. I found myself annotating Frankenstein just weeks before Halloween, my backpack overflowing with confessional poetry. I almost felt like a caricature of an English major. The sheer size and scope of the department was a bit of a nightmare for my imposter syndrome at first, but now in a 200-level workshop, I am learning to let myself take pride in my writing. 

My professor lets us do our workshops outside on sunny days. I sit with a few other students I don’t know that well and let them correct the grammar of my heartache. It hasn’t been this warm in weeks. On the page, I could tell them anything. 

It also turns out that your professors personally know almost everybody in the literary world. In the workshop, a different writer visits each week. It’s so much easier to do the assigned readings when you know you'll be speaking with their authors that week. You ask one a question about her decision to include personal struggles in a travel piece. She said it wasn’t her decision — that she was going through the worst moment of her life and could not write the piece without it. You realize that the trick to good writing is not complex sentence structures or words that make you sound smarter than you are, but honesty.

You go to readings and open mic nights, the cynic inside of you expecting to roll your eyes. You end up fighting back tears instead. There are so many incredibly talented writers here. It’s almost overwhelming until you speak to them and remember you’re a writer too, and that they came to Kenyon for the same reasons. You join Sunset Press, and spend about an hour each week with a group of poets on campus, workshopping a collection to be published at the end of the semester. At this point in the semester, the manuscript has already been sent to the printing press — now all there is to do is wait for the launch party. You go to Kenyon Review seminars on Thursdays and casually chat with a writer who has their own Wikipedia page. You read so many poems and short stories that you cannot help but feel your editorial skills sharpening. 

This year's Sunset Press works, written, edited and published by Kenyon students. 

It’s exhilarating to know that with the resources from a Kenyon English degree, you can do (and I’m not exaggerating) almost anything when you leave. You can go into publishing. You can become a teacher. You can even write professionally. You can do all three, or something different entirely. MFAs, law school, it’s all within reach. People often say “your major doesn’t matter” when talking to college students about their futures, and they’re right to some degree. But I bet those people didn’t major in English at Kenyon College. Majoring in English matters here, not because limits your opportunities to a single field, but because it opens new doors. I am not quite sure yet what I will do with my English degree once I graduate, but I know that if I work hard, I won’t have to worry. As long as I continue to connect with other writers, I will always be a writer, no matter what I do.