We Are English Majors: Jared Kohn

We talked to current 4th year student Jared Kohn about his involvement in the English department and the University Honors Program on campus, as well as his volunteer experience and recent publication.

In your time with the English Department, what has been the most memorable course you have taken? Why?

I think the most memorable course I've ever taken was ENL 189 with Professor Dobbins. It was a seminar on British Literature, Film, and Culture in the 1970's. I was a terrified second year who decided to take a seminar to see what would happen and I was became absolutely enraptured with how art captured and played with a feeling of apocalyptic dread that lingered after the sixties fizzled out. The class gave me a chance to think about literature and music interweaving to create a powerful cultural portrait and the cataclysmic energy of the literature I read by voices like Angela Carter inspired me. I think the class gave me a chance to really experience a jarring shift in values, belief, and how the world understood literature as a shifting mode in the wake of television all in one incredibly exciting quarter. It didn't hurt that I made some of my closest friends in the English department through that class. I think the depth and gravity of the subject material helped all of us to open up and learn from each other.

Please describe the work/research you have done with the Honors Department on campus and how it connects to your degree in English.

Most of my research so far was for the Western Regional Honors Conference which I did in Ashland, Oakland. My research project was mentored by a Graduate Student in the History department and it was an analysis of the development of Literary Theory in the United States and how it evolved pretty rapidly once Derrida and the Deconstructionists changed the way we understood reading in University Settings. My work was based in a foundation from professors like Gregory Dobbins and Matthew Stratton who spoke to me about Literary Theory and what the "Theory Wars" were and why they emerged so profoundly on the academic scene in the late twentieth century. My work on that project really changed the way I looked at how I read and how reading can be used and understood as a political act. I think reading Judith Butler has trained in me in how I can use literature to push back against mainstream perspectives, which has made me a stronger English student. I believe in the power of books to sculpt and change the way we interact with the world and it was really exciting to experiment with a ton of different perspectives about that power and then turn around and apply it to the literature classes I was taking on campus.

I definitely intend on continuing with my research during the next Western Regional Honors Conference. I hope to present on Abnormal Psychology in Literary Modernism which will be extremely informed by my work with the English Department here. The faculty at Davis have pushed me to think extremely deeply about how archetypes and worldviews are depicted and formed by literature, and I am taking my inspiration from them into new projects.

I was hired by the University Honors Program to be a Summer Orientation Assistant. That essentially meant that I helped the incoming Honors Students decide on what classes to take for the coming quarter and guide them through the Honors process. The skills associated with someone who works constantly with incoming students who are still learning the ropes overlap perfectly with the major. The empathy and patience I've gained from staring for hours at a passage of James Joyce and turning that into an essay really strengthened my ability to work with all kinds of students. The English degree is a perfect tool for learning how interact with and understand others in productive, positive ways, which has bolstered me as an educator and an orientation guide. Of course my degree gave me some particular insight for the incoming English Majors. Working with incoming English Majors was one of my greatest joys. I was allowed to talk endlessly about interesting books that I've read at Davis, the amazing professors I've had, and how much fun these past three years have been.

Please tell us a little bit more about how you came across UReCA, and how the English department has helped lead you to your first publication within this journal.

I was sent an e-mail from the University Honors Program which told me that a publication associated with Honors was looking for critical and creative submissions for their next issue. At the time, I was experimenting with and editing a short story I wrote for ENL 5F and I figured that I might as well try my luck and see what happened. I was ridiculously excited to discover that my piece was chosen to be published. The English Department provided one of my first audiences for that particular piece. It was closely read and critiqued by Molly Montgomery, our instructor, and the other students in 5F. Their words provided a lot of fascinating new ideas for revision and helped me create this little piece. I also would be remiss not to mention Professor Frances Dolan who is an absolutely wonderful professor. Her creative assignments and support for some of my early fears about publishing back in my first year at Davis really paved the way for me to even try and create a piece of creative fiction in the first place. Without her guidance, I would probably have never gotten the courage to submit to UReCA, and would probably never try to publish again.

You clearly have a very impressive resume and have done a lot in your field. What would you say has been the most impactful and why?

I think volunteering for Montebello High School's Adult Transition Program has stuck with me longer and more profoundly than anything else I've ever done. That classroom setting was dedicated to teaching life and occupational skills to students with moderate to severe mental disabilities from the ages eighteen to twenty-two. The classroom I worked in particular had a fair amount of multiple disability students and non-verbal or semi-verbal students which means they either cannot speak or struggle to convey ideas with words. I spent a lot of my time volunteering for that class learning how to communicate with students who were non-verbal, going over basic literacy skills, and trying to memorize Montebello's labyrinthine public transport systems. The work was exhausting and I was constantly running from one place to the next, reminding students to eat, and keeping track of students in extremely hectic situations. But underneath all of the work was a community that was filled with genuine love and support. From the staff to the students, everyone learned to love and support one another. I learned a lot about how words are used to express feelings, and how stressful situations can bring groups of people together. I still think a lot about all of my students and how each of them inspired me to grow and change for the better. I hope I had the chance to help them grow as much as they've helped me.

Tell us about your future plans!

Well now that I'm probably never going to be an astronaut, I've been looking for graduate schools in English Literature and Creative Writing. I want to focus on Literary Modernism and Irish Literature as my two major fields as a critic and I am excited to go deeper into close reading and literary studies. I would also love the opportunity to go into an MFA in Creative Writing where I can hone my craft and develop my skill as a writer. I love telling strange stories and any time dedicated to developing my craft would greatly benefit me. Of course, I also have plans to write a lot in whatever spare time I can create. With some luck, I'll have a short story collection or a novel written and out in the world eventually.