English and English/Creative Writing

Sweet Briar’s English department offers a breadth of courses in literature, creative writing, expository writing, and film. The Department offers majors and minors in English and in English/Creative Writing. In addition, it is an anchor of the Medieval and Renaissance studies minor and the Journalism, New Media, and Communications minor.

What unites our varied courses is an appreciation for the value and power of language as both an aesthetic medium and a social force. Here, you will learn to read analytically, to think probingly, and to write both creatively and persuasively. You will also take part in a thousand-year-old tradition of shaping yourself and your world through the study, and the pleasures, of English language and literature.

Why Should I Study English?

The joys of imagination and discovery bring many students to literature, creative writing and film. We welcome and celebrate that delight, and we offer students the academic tools and the support they need to deepen both their understanding and enjoyment of language and film.

The skills and habits of mind that students develop through the study of English are also marketable in today’s competitive global economy. Employers value creativity, analytical thinking, and effective communication, as well as historical perspective, cultural awareness, and the ability to understand and synthesize the views of others. All these attributes and skills are mainstays of a major or minor from the English department. In addition, the insights derived from reading and writing are as valuable to students in the professions and the natural and social sciences as they are to students in the humanities.

What Can I Do With an English or English/Creative Writing Major?

The skills gained from the study of English at Sweet Briar prepare students for the challenges of advanced study and for the rigors of the workforce. The evidence is clear: In recent years, Sweet Briar English majors and minors have gone on both to world-class graduate programs in literature, creative writing, law, journalism, and business, as well as to successful careers in education, publishing, marketing, journalism, business, finance, public relations, communications, and library and information science. English/Creative Writing majors have received fellowships to many of the country’s most distinguished graduate creative writing programs, including Johns Hopkins University, the University of Virginia, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Massachusetts and the University of Pittsburgh, while others have pursued graduate degrees in literature, education, communications, law and library science.

Faculty members and distinguished alumnae are eager to talk with prospective majors and minors about the benefits of pursuing their degree with us in the English department, and Sweet Briar’s nationally-ranked Career Services is dedicated to helping students find rewarding employment after college.

Reading, Writing, and What Else?

Sweet Briar English and English/Creative Writing majors are supported both in and out of the classroom. Classes are small and discussion-based, giving each student the opportunity — and the responsibility — to ask questions, to push past their preconceptions, and to join in a community that respects and values ideas. Professors get to know their students well and expect students to take an active and interested role in their own learning.

Our creative writing program offers small, intimate workshops that enable students to work closely with their professors and with their classmates in an environment that is both challenging and supportive. And the creative writing faculty works one-on-one with each senior major as she completes a portfolio of her best work.

As part of an annual series, visiting writers offer readings and visit classes throughout the academic year. Recent visiting writers include United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, poets D.A. Powell and Rachel Zucker, essayists Jesse Dukes, Ander Monson, and Lia Purpura, and novelists Barbara Kingsolver, Azar Nafisi, Salman Rushdie, and Yiyun Li.

Outside of the classroom, Sweet Briar’s English and Creative Writing students have many opportunities to pursue their love of reading and writing. In addition to internships, field trips, and study abroad, students publish a literary magazine, Red Clay, and undertake internships in fine-press printing at the Virginia Arts of the Book Center. Twice each year, our faculty partners with Sweet Briar's Outdoor Program for a reflective writing retreat at a wilderness cabin in Shenandoah National Park. Students can also join the English Honor Society and can contribute to the English Journal, which features exceptional analytical writing by Sweet Briar students. Students can also earn cash prizes and awards for both creative and analytical work.