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Brendan Chambers, a PhD student in the ECL department, recently published an interview in The Millions: “Dan Sinykin on Fiction, Scholarship, and Academic Twitter.” The interview focuses on Dan Sinykin’s book Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature. Keep reading to learn more about Brendan’s writing process:

How did you come up with the idea for this interview?

Dr. Dan Sinykin was visiting UNC to give a lecture and seminar for the English department’s Critical Speaker Series. An interview seemed like a great way to kill two birds with one stone: giving the Critical Speaker Series some of the attention it deserves and getting the chance to dive deeper into Dr. Sinykin’s brilliant book, Big Fiction. Also, selfishly, I’m a huge fan of his work more generally, and so was interested in the chance to pick his brain about research, public humanities work, and the future of literary studies as an academic discipline.

What did you learn in the public humanities course that contributed to your publication?

Dr. Stephanie DeGooyer’s public humanities course was integral to getting this published, not least for its focus on the more mundane ins and outs of the publication process. The publication process can be opaque, so answering those very basic questions, like “How long should a pitch be?” and “Who should I send this to?” was extraordinarily helpful. Beyond learning about that process, reading lots of public-facing writing was also a useful exercise. Academics have a (more or less justified) reputation for producing inaccessible prose, resulting from differences in style and genre between academic and public-facing writing. Dr. DeGooyer’s class encouraged us to name and think about those differences, which has made me a better writer for both academic and general audiences.

Do you see yourself doing more public writing in the future?

I would love to continue with public writing. Though time is often limited in grad school, split between teaching, research and writing for my dissertation, I’ve found that it can serve a complementary function. Oftentimes academic genres give you the space to really luxuriate, teasing out the intricacies of your object of interest. And the audience of fellow experts allows you to gloss over some of the (theoretical, philosophical, historical, etc.) background behind the terms that you are using. Writing in a public forum, by contrast, forces you to crystallize and distill your thoughts because of the limited word count and general readership. 

For example, in a review I am currently working on, one of the books focuses on the metaphysics of the novel. How do you give the reader the background knowledge necessary to understand what that is in a few sentences? I went to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for some guidance, and the first line of the entry on metaphysics is, not a joke, “It is not easy to say what metaphysics is.” So, I had to figure that one out on my own. In this way public writing can pose a difficult but often useful and enjoyable challenge.

What did you learn from this experience?

First and foremost, I figured out how to conduct an interview! I’ve read plenty in my time, but the process of writing questions, cutting down the questions because I wrote too many and they were too long, transcribing and editing the transcript, and so on, was a new adventure. Though less easily articulable, both the content of the interview and the process of getting it published made me think about the relationship between my public-facing work and my work within the university. All in all, it was an extremely generative and enjoyable experience, one that I hope to repeat soon.

Read Chambers’s piece here.

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