Finding endless opportunities to explore literature and writing at Mount Holyoke

“I want to use what I’ve experienced [at Mount Holyoke] to make lives better, especially in those small-scale, interpersonal ways.”

For a self-professed “word nerd,” senior Emma Watkins has found endless opportunities at Mount Holyoke to explore her fascination with literature and writing.

Central to exploring this interest has been both Emma’s major — she’s an English major with a minor in critical social thought — and the close working relationship she has developed with the English department as a whole and with a number of professors there, especially Professor of English Kate Singer, whose work focuses, in part, on questions of gender, sexuality and race during the Romantic period.

During a midsemester conversation, Watkins, from Stillwater, Oklahoma, cited a number of courses she has taken with Singer, including Revolution and Change in the Age of Necropolitics and Nonbinary Romanticism: Genders, Sexes, and Beings in the Age of Revolution, that have shown her the breadth of possibilities within an English major.

“These courses have allowed me to explore how the English major could intersect with other disciplines, from gender studies and philosophy to politics and environmental science,” Watkins said. “I could see all the ways one could put an English major to use.”

In addition to working with Singer as a student, Watkins is working with the scholar — who is also currently president of the Keats-Shelley Association of America — on a collection of essays Singer is editing for Cambridge University Press.

As research assistant for a work to be entitled “Percy Shelley for Our Times,” Watkins is tasked with ensuring essays submitted by scholars from around the world adhere to the style guide required by the publisher and assisting with general copy edits.

For Watkins, this is an ideal assignment.

“I love copy editing. I like bringing out a writer’s voice,” Watkins said. “I get nerdy about the fine tuning of writing, and I like reading about how to bring copy editing practices into our times as well, which can look like updating outdated style guides or even playing with or pushing back on the rigidity that so many publications generally require.”

If Watkins has that rare passion for copy editing, her long journey with the Mount Holyoke News has also given her ample opportunity to grapple with the arcana of style and grammar. Starting out as a copy editor and taking on positions from copy chief and staff writer to arts and entertainment editor, Watkins is now managing editor of content for the student newspaper.

Working on the paper has given Watkins some of the best memories of her years here.

“Publishing night for the News, which is the culmination of a very hectic week, means staying in the newsroom until the paper is done,” Watkins said. “Our latest night this year has gone to 6 a.m. We stay in the newsroom until the paper is ready to go. Sometimes it makes me want to pull my hair out, but it’s one of the most exciting things I do here.”

But Watkins’ interest in writing has involved far more than these examples. She spent spring semester last year at University College Dublin studying Irish literature, language and culture. While in Dublin she worked as a curatorial research assistant at the Museum of Literature Ireland. She’s played a large role in the Mount Holyoke Review, the College’s student-run literary journal, too. And she has worked as one of the English department’s student liaisons since 2020, helping to coordinate events and other departmental activities.

What’s next?

Back to Oklahoma, at least for a while. Watkins hopes to continue to be involved in literary activities, especially related to combatting the effects of the rising number of book bans across her home state.

“I hope that when I get back home I’ll be able to run after-school book clubs for queer, trans and nonbinary students,” Watkins said. “I want students who are currently existing in an environment where books and health care are being banned — and who are constantly being attacked by hateful legislation right now — to exercise the freedom to be themselves that I’ve experienced here at Mount Holyoke. I want to use what I’ve experienced here to make lives better, especially in those small-scale, interpersonal ways.”

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