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  • Humanities & Fine Arts


What can you do with English?

But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.

- Toni Morrison, Sophie Kerr Visiting Writer and Nobel Prize Winner

At Washington College,  you can do everything and anything with words: critical and creative writing; journalism, editing & publishing; analysis of literature and media, both old and new; how to read a book and how to make one. You will learn from celebrated visiting writers and scholars who join your classes or read at the Rose O'Neill Literary House. (Toni Morrison visited in 1987 and read from an unpublished novel titled Beloved). You will engage in a variety of experiential learning opportunities, from class trips to study abroad programs to internships in communications, editing, journalism, publishing and other fields. You will be guided by a faculty mentor and develop independent research for your Senior Capstone Experience. As a critic, editor, essayist, journalist, poet, and storyteller you will become knowledgeable and skilled in analysis, creativity, inquiry, and persuasion. You will do langauge.

Washington College is also home to the largest undergraduate literary award in the country: the Sophie Kerr Prize. The prize is awarded each year to a graduating senior chosen for their "promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor." In a world of expanding communication, we need intelligent readers and artful writers to make meaningful connections. Graduates in English, Creative Writing, and Journalism, Editing & Publishing make meaning of the world in words.

Sophie Kerr, a successful writer in the early 20th century from Denton on the Eastern Shore, created an endowment for the English department. This endowment enables us to bring to Chestertown and to your classroom well-known writers, editors, and scholars and host literary events and readings throughout the year. Take a look at one full year of events (2020-21) sponsored by Sophie Kerr and the O'Neill Literary House (as captured by the Pegasus Yearbook). The Sophie Kerr endowment also supports the nation’s largest undergraduate literary prize (large as in $63,000, larger than the Pulitzer Prize). 

Our Core Values 


Critical Knowledge

 You will learn from faculty that specialize in book history, film, flash fiction, narrative journalism, poetry, literary theory, and other special topics. You will read from a variety of authors from both the medieval and postmodern time periods.  At the end of your studies, you will write an independent research project, known as the Senior Capstone Experience.

Creative Encounters

Prominent writers will visit your classes, host writing workshops, and read at Literary House and Sophie Kerr events. You will meet and talk directly with active writers and scholars. Visiting writers have included: Jericho Brown, Nick Flynn, Rebecca Makkai, Maggie Nelson, Lidia Yuknavitch, Jason Fagone, and many more! 

Experiential Learning 

You will apply your knowledge to internship opportunities in communications, editing, journalism, and numerous publications on and off campus. Recent internships include Copper Canyon Press, C-SPAN, Library of Congress, and the National Portrait Gallery. Campus Publications that offer internships include The Elm, Cherry Tree, Collegian, Pegasus, and the Washington College Review.

What You Will Learn

Students will understand the breadth, variety, and depth of literature in English across a range of genres and time periods.

Students will employ a variety of analytic and interpretive skills to evaluate literary and non-literary texts.

Students will use information and research effectively and appropriately from a variety of sources. 

Students  will write and produce texts that are imaginative, intelligent, and persuasive. 


Follow us on social media to stay up-to-date on all things English!

Declare Your Major or Minor

Email: eoconnor2@washcoll.edu to become an English major or minor, Creative Writing minor, or JEP minor!


Sophie Kerr Promise Grants 

Apply now to receive funding for experimental learning and professional opportunities!

What's Different Here? Let Us Count the Ways


The amount English major Justin Thomas Nash received in 2021 for winning the Sophie Kerr Prize, the largest undergraduate literary prize in the country. 

That's more than the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, combined. In more than 50 years of the prize, over $1.5 million has been awarded. Watch 2020 Prize winner Mary Sprague, who also took home more than 63k, interviewd by CBS News. And that's only part of the story. Each year the other half of the endowment supports scholarships, books, events with writers and scholars, and experiential learning opportunities for all majors and minors.


The number of internships English majors have completed since 2018.

Recent internship experiences: Apollo Theater (NYC), Capital Gazette (Annapolis), Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), C-SPAN (DC), Delaware Today Magazine (Wilmington), Law Offices (various locations), Library of Congress (DC), Maryland House of Delegates (Annapolis), National Portrait Gallery (DC), Today Media Custom Communications (Baltimore) Triada Literary Agency (PA). On campus: Cherry Tree, The Elm, O'Neill Literary House, Pegasus, Washington College Review.


The number of English majors completing a Senior Capstone Experience or thesis, independent research and writing guided by a faculty mentor. 

Recent thesis topics: Weaponry and Thing Theory in Beowulf; Shakespeare in South Korea; Alt Lit and Authorship; Henry David Thoreau as Deep Ecologist; Toni Morrison and Magical Realism; Female Autonomy in The Hunger Games; Imperialism from Joseph Conrad to Tupak Shakur; Revising the Myth of Marianne Moore; Queer Continuity in Woolf and Cunningham; Nature and Poetry in José Martí’s Versos Sencillos. Read Sophie Grabiec's prize-winning thesis on Milton and gardens.


Emma Campbell's Plan

Class of 2022 • Annapolis, MD • English Major + Creative Writing & Journalism, Editing, and Publishing Minors

Year 1

First-Year ExperienceFavorite Class

My FYS was on Jane Austen fan culture with Professor Charles (Jane Austen and Professor Charles are two of my favorite people ever).

Year 2

Learning By Doing AWP Conference

During my sophomore year, I was invited to attend AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) in San Antonio with the Lit House staff and a few other students. This was right on the cusp of COVID lockdown, so the conference was limited in terms of speakers and panels, but it was still very special to me, and I was so honored to be included.

Year 3

Looking Forward ToMFA Applications

I'm looking forward to entering discussions with my advisors about opportunities I could take after graduation. There's not much detail here yet—I know I want to apply to MFA programs and maybe work in publishing, but that's as clear a picture as I currently have. I'm excited to figure things out.

Year 4

Senior Capstone ExperienceAnne of Green Gables

It's in the early stages, but I'm planning to write about Anne of Green Gables; specifically, Anne's social mobility and its impact on reader response. I was awarded a Sophie Kerr Promise Grant in support of a summer trip to Canada for research.


Dilyn Becker's Plan

Class of 2022 • Ephrata, PA • English Major + Secondary Education & Black Studies Minors • Men's Basketball

Year 1

First-Year ExperienceFavorite Class

ENG 206 Shakespeare It was very fun to do close readings and analyze the challenging plays of Shakespeare.  Also, we got to read lines as characters in class, so it was a time to be creative with how you say the lines.

Year 2

Learning By DoingThe Writing Center

My experience at the Writing Center was awesome!  I left there after one or two appointments and I felt like the strategies they gave me made my writing ten times better.

Year 3

Looking Forward ToStudent Teaching

I am excited to be working with Kent County Middle school in the fall as a student-teacher. I will be able to teach for a majority of the semester any topic in English that I want. This will be great experience for my future career as an English teacher.

Year 4

Senior Capstone ExperienceShakespeare and Marxism

I plan to study and interpret several works of Shakespeare through a Marxist lens. I would like to see the power dynamics and politics presented in these works and how they reflect on the Elizabethan era, and also how they relate to power dynamics and politics today.


Julia Clifton's Plan

Class of 2022 • Bel Air, MD • English Major + Creative Writing & Journalism, Editing, and Publishing Minors

Year 1

First-Year ExperienceFavorite Class

Intro to Fiction with Prof Kesey

Year 2

Learning By DoingExplore America Internship

I did a remote internship with the Winterthur Musem through the Explore America program where I helped plan an exhibit and helped with the latest issue of the Winterthur Portfolio. I worked for the Starr Center last year as an intern on the multimedia team where we created posts for the website and the social medias for the Starr Center

Year 3

Looking Forward ToLocal Internships

I'm going to try for an Explore America internship again or try for an internship with the Lit house.

Year 4

Senior Capstone ExperienceDystopia in YA Fiction

My SCE topic right now is looking at how the popularization of the dystopian YA genre led to the radicalization of the microgeneration between Millennials and Gen Z, called Gen Zillnnials, by analyzing The Hunger Games.


Teddy Friedline's Plan

Class of 2022 • Greenville, SC • English Major + Art/Art History and Creative Writing Minors

Year 1

First-Year ExperienceFavorite Class

Intro to Poetry with Dr. Andrews

Year 2

Learning By DoingLiterary House Press

Lit House Press Summer Internship! Even though it was remote, it was an awesome experience to work with Dr. Hall and help with the Cherry Tree Young Writers Conference.

Year 3

Looking Forward ToCollegian

I have some internships I'm optimistic about, but I'm most excited about maintaining the social media profiles for the Collegian!

Year 4

Senior Capstone ExperienceA Series of Unfortunate Events

Cosmic horror in Daniel Handler's/Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.


Erica Quinones's Plan

Class of 2022 • Fairplay, MD • English and German Studies Majors + Political Science Minor

Year 1

First-Year ExperienceFavorite Class

The African American Novel with Dr. Knight

Year 2

Learning by DoingThe Elm

Becoming one of the News Editors for The Elm.

Year 3

Looking Forward ToWashington College Review

Producing my first volume of Washington College Review as the editor in chief. It’s great to see the scholarship every discipline at our school produces and to be trusted with possibly publishing it.

Year 4

Senior Capstone ExperienceQueer Characters in Posthuman Sci-Fi

Exploring how queer characters in posthuman science fiction empower themselves by breaking binary categorizations through acts of self-labeling.



King Arthur: Myth to Modernity

Courtney Rydel's First-Year Seminar goes online.

“I’m not doing online teaching,” remarks Courtney Rydel, Associate Professor of English. “I’m doing Washington College teaching; it just happens to be online.”

While no one anticipated swapping their lecture halls for virtual Zoom classrooms this fall, Rydel was certainly prepared. Trading in her traditional chalkboard for technology, she found new ways to engage her students, using tools she’ll continue to use when she’s back in the classroom.

The class, King Arthur: Myth to Modernity, explores original literature from the 12th through the 15th century, and compares it to modern day adaptations of King Arthur and Lancelot, including: film, documentaries, and written works. “It’s a great lens for students to think not only about the past,” she explains, “but also think critically and express ideas about the world around them.”

Traditionally, students were assigned films and documentaries to watch for homework, followed by in-class discussions. With the advent of streaming software and watch parties, the entire class can tune in to a livestream of a movie, with the option to live chat, pause a video anytime, and ask questions as they come up, rather than discussing it the next class period.

Another powerful collaboration tool, Google Docs, enables students to complete writing assignments together, while help is just a click away. Viewing their progress in real time, Rydel can identify students that are stuck on an assignment, before they even think to ask for help. In a traditional classroom setting, professors simply cannot be this proactive.

With Google Docs, collaborative note taking is also made possible; this is a feature she promises to bring back to the real classroom someday, too. Since all students have access to the group’s notes, “regardless of a student’s strengths,” she remarks, “they’re all helping each other.”

Since she no longer needs to be physically in her office to meet with students, Rydel is able to offer an extended schedule of office hours. Whether it’s later in the evening, early mornings, or after hours, it’s easy to hop on and answer student’s questions, anywhere and anytime. Being accessible to her students is now easier than ever. With screen share, she can easily look at a student’s writing during office hours and give feedback, just as she would in an office setting.

During class, it’s also much easier to share images or clips with her students,  compared to the daily hassle of setting up a projector and dealing with technology woes. While she dearly misses seeing her students in person, she says, “I’m trying to make the most of the technological environment that we’re in.” 

And her students couldn’t agree more. “A little past halfway into my first semester of college, I am a complete and utter Arthurian geek,” Joshua Torrence ’24 exclaims. “I am eating up readings in my textbook and becoming inspired to include Arthurian characters and imagery in my own writing.”

While this year is surely not what any freshman expected their introduction to Washington College to look like, Rydel has managed to create a remote learning environment that’s not only engaging, but one that her first-year students truly enjoy.

Meet courtney rydel