Interning at Purdue University Press – with Hannah Spaulding

Purdue English majors have the perfect publishing internship opportunity available to them right here on campus. A member of the prestigious Association of University Presses, Purdue University Press publishes scholarly books, journals, and e-publications in a range of fields, including, according to its website, business, technology, health, and veterinary sciences, as well as the humanities and sciences. It is conveniently located in Stewart Center, next to Purdue Memorial Student Union and across from Heavilon Hall, the home of Purdue English. Each semester, the Press interviews and selects undergraduates for internships in editing and production. It even prefers students in English or other related fields!

Below is an interview with Hannah Spaulding, a senior in English Literature and Creative Writing, who recently completed a semester-long internship in Editorial, Production, and Design at the Press.

How has your internship helped build skills and clarify your career goals?

First and foremost, interning at the press has helped me develop my editing skills. I’ve had the opportunity to practice copyediting, sharpen my proofreading, and review completed book manuscripts. I also was taught to use Adobe InDesign for typesetting manuscripts, which is a skill I had wanted to learn. Working at the press has given me more confidence in my editing ability, a confidence that I hope to translate into starting my own freelance editing business before I graduate. As for my long-term career goals, I know editing is a strong skill I can bring to the table in any setting. One of my goals is to work as a grant writer for a nonprofit organization. The ability to edit my work will allow me to develop clearer arguments and better grant proposals.

How do you apply your Liberal Arts skills in your internship?

My skills as an English major have been invaluable to my work at the press. Being a good editor requires a high level of reading comprehension, attention to detail, and familiarity with the mechanics of quality writing. My studies in English literature have equipped me not only to pay attention to the details of a text, but also to understand the big picture. As an editor, this allows me to address sentence-level and paragraph-level concerns, while also offering feedback on the larger structure and meaning of a text. Many of the manuscripts I worked with at the press were essays for academic journals about subjects not in my field of study. Because of the high level of reading comprehension developed through studying literature, I was able to understand and edit these pieces, even those in fields such as engineering. My studies in creative writing have also helped me be a better editor because I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of editorial feedback. Knowing the experience of authors—of developing and crafting a work for others to review—helps me give more thoughtful comments. I also am able to address grammatical or structural issues from the lens of a reader. By focusing on the reader’s experience of the text, I am able to better communicate my editorial suggestions to authors.

What is the typical day like as an intern, any challenging or exciting aspects?

A typical day involves going to the Purdue University Press office in Stewart and working on my assigned projects in the office. I could be proofreading, copyediting, typesetting, or doing some other task that my supervisor, Katherine, assigned me. I work independently on all my projects, and update Katherine about my progress so that she knows how soon to expect a finished project. Katherine is always willing to help, however, if I have questions. This semester, I was one of two interns under Katherine, so sometimes her other intern and I would collaboratively on larger projects.

One challenge I experienced during my internship was learning all three grammatical styles—APA, MLA, and Chicago. I already had experience with MLA and Chicago, but I had never used APA before, so proofreading or copyediting in APA style was interesting. Whether I was using APA, MLA, or Chicago style, I felt like every day I learned a new grammatical rule or stylistic rule, which was fun to discover and then apply to my own writing outside of the internship.

Another challenge, which I mentioned earlier, was editing journal articles in subjects I am not familiar with, such as engineering. Although I didn’t understand the complexities of the subject matter, I did understand the way a research paper or journal article is supposed to be structured, and that knowledge helped me edit not just for grammar, but also for organization and clarity of thought. Editing essays with difficult subject matter boosted my confidence in my editing ability and helped me apply my skills to new situations.

Hannah Spaulding is senior in English Literature and Creative Writing at Purdue.

Tackling the Common App Essay – with Libby Joson

According to Mitch Warren, the Director of Admissions at Purdue University, the Admissions team received about 54,000 applications last year. So, to stand out when applying to Purdue (or any college or university, really) your admissions essay is key. This is your chance to show off your personality and background. Dr. Harry Denny, an Associate Professor of English and the Director of the Purdue Writing Lab, says, “Don’t be afraid to tell your story, but be afraid to tell a clichéd story.”

Since Purdue’s admissions officers receive an immense number of essays to read through, you have to take advantage of this opportunity to express yourself honestly and genuinely. Tell your story as you would tell it to a friend, allowing your best and most unique qualities to shine through. Dr. Denny suggests finding the story that makes you a compelling fit for the college or university you are applying to.

For Purdue’s Common Application, there are seven essay prompts to choose from. These prompts range from discussion of your background or talent to reflecting on failures or ethical dilemmas to any topic you’d like. You must only write 250-650 words minimum to maximum. Be sure to use that small amount of space to your advantage by expressing your passions without babbling.

Tips & Tricks

Write first, edit later.

One of the best things you can do when writing an essay such as this is to just get your ideas out. You can always organize later. Both Dr. Barbara Dixon, the Associate Head of the Department of English, and Mr. Warren mention that misspellings or grammar errors are not the most important things unless there are a whole bunch of them, so focus more on the content.

Be original.

Dr. Dixon read common applications essays for several years, specifically for the Honors’ program. Flipping through about 100 essays a day, she looked for some kind of originality or a spark of creativity. When writing your essay, stay away from clichés, especially in the beginning and ending. Clichés are a turn off for admissions essay readers. If you really want to stand out, use your own voice. Your essay should sound like you, an 18-year-old, genuinely wrote it, not like your parents or a more sophisticated version of yourself. Be authentic. “The way you handle a topic, showing maturity and ability to look at an experience in your life outside of the bubble, is important,” says Dr. Dixon.

Know your audience.

Try to write about something that admissions essay readers have never heard of before. Students often write about being on a sports team, which can be “yawn-worthy” for readers like Dr. Dixon precisely because so many other people have written about that as well. What’s different or unique about your experience? She recommends thinking about your audience, those admissions officers sitting at their desks and spending hours reading hundreds of essays. You must keep them engaged!

Be detailed.

To make your essay stand out, you’ll want to bring the reader into the story, and let them visualize your experience. As a Common App essay reader, Dr. Dixon enjoys detailed glimpses into the writers’ lives, recollections of their experiences. For instance, your might write about what you learned from a positive volunteer experience, or even lessons learned from things that didn’t go so well. For his part, Warren enjoys essays from students who have overcome personal obstacles. This could even include something as simple as a struggle in a lab science course. “What did you do to overcome it? We really are just trying to get to know you. Honesty is important,” says Warren, “What was the realization you had and what did you do to change?”

Entertain (but don’t try too hard to be funny).

The Princeton Review recommends being cautious if you choose to use humor in your essay. It’s already hard enough to be funny around your friends, so you might not want to try a joke for the first time on an admissions officer. You definitely should never make assumptions about your audience, whether that be faith, politics, identity, nationality, etc. Dr. Denny says, “You just don’t know who is reading it. Don’t go out of your way to be a jerk or say something offensive.”

Keep it down to earth.

“We’re not grading it. Students often assume we’re looking for certain buzzwords, but that’s not true,” says Warren. Write how you would speak, and don’t try to show off. Similarly, Warren advises that students avoid using a thesaurus because the essay should be in your own words. Although you should have a parent or teacher review your writing, make it yours. Write about what matters to you, not what matters to them (Carlotti).

Writer’s Block?

If you get stuck, you can try two free writing exercises, according to Dr. Denny. First, set a timer for one minute and write down anything you can possibly think of, without judgment. Or, find a friend to listen and take notes for you. Second, try a visual storytelling activity like “mind mapping” to chart and then organize your personal experiences. Mind mapping refers to creating a visual depiction of your ideas, with a key idea in a box or a circle located in the center of the map and other ideas grouped into categories around it. Concept (or mind) maps work best with “a focus question to which the concept map comes as a response” (Lang). This will allow you to structure your experiences around a central idea. If you have trouble drawing this out on your own, there are lost of free concept-mapping programs online for students to access.

Final advice?

“Don’t stress. It’s only one part of your application; it’s really just an attempt to get to know you,” says Warren.

Resources

There are many resources you can utilize when writing a college application essay:

  • Libraries often have writing groups and, if you live in the city, community centers might offer some help as well.
  • For more help writing your essay, see the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL):

https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/undergraduate_applications/undergraduate_application_timeline/advice_for_writing_application_essays.html

As a reminder, the Early Action, financial aid, and Honors College application deadlines are all November 1st while the Regular Decision application deadline is January 15th. One of the biggest mistakes students make is missing the deadline.

Works Cited:

“Crafting an Unforgettable College Essay.” The Princeton Review, https://www.princetonreview.com/college-advice/college-essay.

Carlotti, Paige. “9 Essay Writing Tips to ‘Wow’ College Admissions Officers.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 23 Oct. 2014, https://www.usatoday.com/story/college/2014/10/23/9-essay-writing-tips-to-wow-college-admissions-officers/37397979/.

Lang, James M. Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning. Jossey-Bass, 2016.

Libby Joson is a sophomore majoring in Professional Writing at Purdue.

Modernizing an Ancient Epic – with Ally Geoffray

Purdue’s English Department has created a new tradition involving faculty, students, and the local community. Each year, it selects a book to highlight as its “Big Read.” This year’s book is Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey, which unflinchingly depicts its protagonist’s ambiguous nature as both victim of fate and perpetrator of heinous deeds. Looking beyond the absolutely gorgeous white and blue, gilt-lettered cover, which features the three muses in glittering gold, this new translation of the classic epic proves itself a valuable contribution to an inundated market for this particular Greek legend of Odysseus’s homecoming after the Trojan War.

First and foremost, Emily Wilson rejects our stylistic assumptions about Homeric epic, the common belief that it must be rhetorically elevated and ostentatious, full of old-fashioned diction. She argues that, “of course, the English of the nineteenth or early twentieth century,” the kind of language we most closely associate with the poem, “is no closer to Homeric Greek than the language of today” (Wilson, 87). Similarly, while she invokes the original qualities of the epic by emphasizing its oral form through the use of repetition as a mnemonic device, she also provides an originality that many translations forgo. For instance, she introduces ingenious permutations for the stock phrases the poem employs, especially through multifarious epithets like “wily Odysseus, the lord of lies” (Wilson, 240). By using accessible language that allows for more a contemporary understanding, Wilson’s translation invites attention, providing opportunities for substantial interaction between the audience and the text, a feat that seems remarkably similar to the overarching intent of the Big Read program.

Here is a piece of advice when acquainting oneself with this edition: do not skip the introduction! Although many readers have been exposed to some knowledge of this epic’s rich history, this nearly 80-page introduction includes a variety of intriguing information about topics such as the complex character of Odysseus, further background into the mystery of Homer, and actual geographic locations correlating to the different stops that Odysseus makes on his voyage homeward. It also includes a deeper look into ancient Greek gender roles and what it means to be a woman within this world—particularly some one of Penelope’s stature in contrast to women in other levels of the social hierarchy, such as the goddess Calypso or the slave women (who function as housekeepers, and as prizes to be looted when ransacking villages or during battle).

One of my favorite scenes, found in Book 5, focuses on Odysseus’s stalled voyage home, as he sits, forlornly staring out to sea, trapped on Calypso’s island with little hope of return. He desires recognition from his family and the people of Ithaca for his numerous exploits and death-defying adventures; he needs this acknowledgement in order to maintain his powerful position within society. Rather than accept a peaceful and possibly eternal life marooned on Calypso’s island, then, our protagonist longs to return home to his wife, Penelope. Still, he must remain cautious in how he portrays this yearning, especially since he must avoid provoking the goddess Calypso with whom he currently resides. In this way, he displays his central quality, metis. Emily Wilson translates this trait, one highly valued within Greek culture, as “‘cunning,’ ‘skill,’ ‘scheming,’ or purpose’” (Wilson, 36). It aptly encapsulates Odysseus’ skillful maneuvers in his responses to Calypso, his making sure to acknowledge and emphasize her beauty as superior to his wife’s, despite his urge to leave her. He manipulates the situation adroitly, portraying himself as “a man whose mind was like the gods, who had endured many heartbreaking losses, and the pain of war and shipwreck” (Wilson, 319).

Another memorable scene involves Odysseus’s interaction with Polyphemus, the cyclops child of Poseidon. After arriving on the island, the ship’s crew admires the welcoming landscape, proclaiming that “there is flat land for plowing, and abundant crops would grow in the autumn; there is richness underground” (Wilson, 244). This rhapsodizing abruptly ends, however, as they wander into Polyphemus’s cave, the home of a cyclops who displays “no shame at eating [his] own guests” (Wilson, 255)! In perhaps Odysseus’s most cunning exploit within The Odyssey, this “master of plots and plans” cajoles Polyphemus into a state of inebriation only to drive an olive spear into his captor’s eye (Wilson, 240). The descriptions that Wilson employs here are gruesomely vivid, as she describes how “[Polyphemus’s] blood poured out around the stake, and blazing fire sizzled his lids and brows, and fried the roots” (Wilson, 252). Although Odysseus’s own hubris unravels his meticulous plot when he proclaims his true name to the blinded cyclops, the critical wound he delivers to Polyphemus’s only eye still serves as the monster’s punishment for severely perverting Grecian hospitality norms.

To be sure, an integral and recurring element throughout The Odyssey is the ancient Greek custom of xenia, “a word that means both ‘hospitality’ and ‘friendship’” (Wilson, 23). It involves generously welcoming of strangers into one’s home, providing them with a place of safety, a night’s rest, and a meal before any probing questions. Odysseus benefits from this custom frequently, with people choosing “to be kind to [him]… not for [his] stories, but in fear of Zeus, the god of strangers, and because [they] feel pity for [him]” (Wilson, 344). To modern day readers, the concept of inviting strangers, random wanderers, into one’s house might seem peculiar and even dangerous, but, in The Odyssey, this custom is expected and even necessary, or else the unwelcoming host may face divine punishment. Ultimately, then, the poem explores the Greeks’ responsibilities to and fears of welcoming the unfamiliar into their homes, their culture, and their personal experiences. Throughout her translation, Wilson invites the audience to listen and to think about xenia in their own lives. In today’s world—where borders and differences seem to define relationships among individuals—The Odyssey encourages us to interact with those of different backgrounds, accepting them as they are while seeking mutual understanding. Ultimately, then, by offering a nuanced view of the complicated hero, Odysseus, and also by discouraging fear of the perceived Other, Emily Wilson manages to reconstruct The Odyssey as “a text that allows us to explore our desire for power and permanence in a world of imagination, while also showing us the darker side of these deep human dreams, hopes, and fears” (Wilson, 74).

Ally Geoffray is a junior in English Literature and Professional Writing at Purdue University.