John James graduated from Bellarmine summa cum laude with a B.A. in English and a minor in history in 2009. He went on to pursue an M.F.A. in creative writing, poetry, at Columbia University and an M.A. in English literature at Georgetown University. His poems appear in various magazines and journals, including Boston Review, The Kenyon Review, Poetry Northwest, and Best American Poetry 2017. His short collection of poems, Chthonic, won CutBank magazine's 2014 chapbook award and was published in 2015. He lives in Washington, DC, and teaches at The Potomac School in Northern Virginia.
What other majors/minors/tracks did you have beyond English?
Well, in English, creative writing was important to me. It wasn't its own track, but I took so many classes that it might as well have been. I minored in history, and took quite a few philosophy and French classes—nearly enough to minor in both of them.
What is your current job?
I teach English at The Potomac School in Mclean, Virginia, just outside of Washington, DC. I've also taught at a number of colleges and universities, including Bellarmine.
In what ways was your degree valuable in preparing you for your career?
I'm lucky to have one of the few jobs that literally requires me to have a degree in English. I couldn't teach at Potomac, or anywhere else I've taught, without the English B.A.
What was your favorite experience as an English major?
The study of literature is, in my mind, the study of rhetoric, in a broad sense. It's the study of how information and perspectives are transmitted through aesthetic or cultural artifacts: how ideas are embedded in a novel, sure, but also how ideas are transmitted through statues and memorials, through news headlines, and the like. Studying English helps me understand the world. So, it was gaining this skill, and all of the study that helped me acquire it, that was probably my overall favorite experience. I was lucky to have a lot of great teachers. My favorite class was probably Kathryn West's "The Twentieth Century American Novel" course, but I had so many amazing classes at Bellarmine. I think back on many of them, often.
Any advice for current majors or those considering an English degree?
Just go for it. There are so many things you can do with an English major. You can teach, which is an awesome job: there's a lot of planning involved, but beyond that, I get paid to read and talk about literature all day. It gives me the space and intellectual stimulation to work on my own writing. But if that's not your thing, you can go to law school, enter politics, start a business—anything. If you learn to think about the world, and especially if you learn to read it in its myriad complexities, you can make anything work. Don't listen to the people who tell you a humanities degree is worthless or won't get you a job. You have to figure out the job part. But nothing is more valuable than learning how to deconstruct the world around you.