Why did you come to Willamette—and why choose the creative writing concentration in English?

I’m a Portland-area native, and I absolutely adore everything about the Pacific Northwest, so as much as I initially wanted to stretch my wings and cast off the shackles of filial proximity, it was pretty clear from the earliest days of my college search that I wanted to end up somewhere in Oregon or Washington. I didn’t initially pay much attention to Willamette, but after my first visit it quickly jumped to the top of my short list. I wanted a secular school with a more intimate feel than a big state college, and Willamette’s strong culture of dedication to academia pushed it over the edge.

As for my creative writing concentration, I’m not sure it should even be called a “choice.” For literally as long as I can remember (we’re talking, like, age 3 here), story ideas have dominated my available brain space, pleading to be made real on the page. I decided on a major long before I decided on a school.

What's your favorite English class been so far?

More than one of my English classes at Willamette have been among my best academic experiences ever, so it’s hard to narrow down the list. I have to go with Close Reading, however, simply because that’s where I first established the connections with my literary-studies peers that have carried on through all my classes since. Moreover, spending a full hour teasing out all the hidden layers of meaning in just one or two poems a day really opened my eyes to the power and possibilities of language. I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Early Modern English Poetry, which really challenged me—in the best possible way—to engage with the material on a level unmatched by any of my previous courses. It also dispelled a lot of popular misconceptions I had about Elizabethan society. Artists have always been artists—we push boundaries and defy tradition. It’s what we do, and we’re not going to stop anytime soon.

You’ve worked at the campus Writing Center, right? What was that experience like?

I hope it’s not too much of a cliché to say “rewarding,” because that’s absolutely how I’d describe it. There’s a special kind of gratification in watching someone realize their potential as a writer. I’d also say that the job improved my own writing. Critiquing essays that I hadn’t invested with the emotions of hours of labor has helped me evaluate my own work with more objectivity during revision. It was also illuminating to see the variety of ways an entire class of students approached a single prompt.

How have you been spending your summers? Any plans for Summer 2017?

The highlight of last summer (2016) was traveling to Washington D.C. and exploring its many museums and other intellectual sites. In particular, getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the Library of Congress blew my mind. To bear witness to a temple dedicated wholly to knowledge itself almost moved me to tears, and I felt much more personally invested and involved in that experience than I would have were I limited to a tourist’s cursory perusal. Meeting the people who make the LoC tick were a big part of that.

This coming summer, I’ve applied for a spot in a Willamette-sponsored summer research community called LARC (Liberal Arts Research Collaborative). I plan to research the work of song parodists such as “Weird Al” Yankovic as part of my group’s wider focus on how the ways art is reproduced and experienced affect that art.

What advice do you have for prospective WU students or prospective English majors?

Moderate your expectations. No college experience is going to be as exactly as you expect it to be, so be patient with yourself if it takes time to make the adjustment. For English majors specifically, stay on top of the reading. Inmost English classes, you’ll be learning from discussion, and if you don’t do the reading, it’ll be hard to get anything out of those conversations, even just as a passive listener. And don’t be afraid to be a little weird with your ideas about a text. If it sounds like a double entendre, it probably is. English majors are like 12-year-olds in that sense. Just because an author is prestigious doesn’t mean they weren’t human.

Kevin Alexander
Willamette University


900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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