Featured Alumnus: Brian Becker

Brian Becker, one of my favorite former students, writes:

I came to Chicago directly after graduation to get an MA in Humanities from the University of Chicago, which wrapped up in 2006, and have since been working in a number of capacities for The Princeton Review–most recently as a trainer of incoming teachers for the ACT. What I’ve always wanted to do, really since high school, is be an English professor, and as it was a step in that direction that brought me to Chicago, it will be another, more decisive one that will take me out of Chicago–to New Brunswick, NJ where I’ll be starting my Ph.D. at Rutgers in the Fall.

While English Ph.D. has always been my number one goal, I don’t at all regret having taken these few years off, for the very hackneyed reason that I wanted to see what else the world had to offer. The corporate world is something else indeed, and while I’m grateful for the opportunity to have experienced it, I’m glad finally to be getting back to full time research and teaching. I’ve tried to take a sort of variegated approach to my interests in the field as well–while my main focus is early 20th-century American (let’s call it American Literature after 1865 so I can flatter myself and be consistent with those weird characterizations in U.S. News and World Reports), I’ve also become very interested in African American literature, cinema, comparative modernisms, and music. The best way I can describe these interests is this: peripheral, but not unrelated. For example, I don’t think it’s all unreasonable to say that Jean Toomer, Albert Ayler, Buster Keaton, and John Dos Passos all have something important in common. So far I’ve been calling this “folk-modernism,” and I wrote sketches of what exactly that means at GW and the University of Chicago, and because I still find the concept invigorating and enabling for the critic who can find links and connections and links where they weren’t before, I’d like to continue it, at least in spirit, in the years to come.

GW was a very nurturing environment for these interests. Robert Combs advised my thesis, and I am certain that without his breadth of knowledge and kind support (from which I still draw a good deal of inspiration), the project would never have gotten off the ground. In addition to this, I found GW a great place for methodological training, which, needless to say, is every bit as important as specific content training–I still often refer back to Margaret Soltan’s Critical Methods seminar, and even though Jeffrey Cohen’s interests and mine could not be more different, I took two classes with him and have since used his approach as my gold standard for sound research methods. Couple these professors with a semester in Paris, and some great experiences with the Honors Program (particularly with Professors William Winstead and Peter Rollberg), and you’ve got a solid foundation for any competitive graduate program.

Good luck at Rutgers, Brian. We look forward to hearing more from you.

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