The English Department
Department of English
Second Floor, Fenwick Hall
Chair: Stephanie Reents
Philosophy of the English Department
Through a balance of tradition and innovation, the English department allows students to explore language and literary techniques and develop skills in comprehensive reading and analytical writing, while building close relationships with faculty both inside and outside the classroom.
Students will become acquainted with English language literature that spans historical periods from the Middle Ages to the present and that represents the literary art of men and women of different nations and peoples. Our students have the opportunity to study individual authors and genres in depth. Students will learn that understanding a literary work requires close reading through vigorous exploration of a text’s words, phrases, and images; understanding literature also requires a consideration of intertextual questions that invite cultural, historical and philosophical analysis. English majors develop their abilities to write with precision and power in critical essays and in creative genres.
A ‘Best U.S. College for a Major in English’
In 2017, USA Today College named Holy Cross the ninth best College to get an English degree in the U.S. The list, generated from College Factual, is a ranking of colleges based on their overall quality. The schools selected offer programs that focus on providing a strong education that focuses on English language and literature.
William H.P. Jenks Chair in Contemporary Letters
The William H.P. Jenks Chair in Contemporary American Letters is an endowed professorship that brings distinguished creative writers to the English department for two- to five-year appointments.
The Jenks Chair teaches creative writing seminars for students and faculty across the College and invites other writers to campus to read and lecture and meet with students.
Established in 1988, the Jenks Chair is named in honor of William H.P. Jenks ’54 who had to leave the College in 1951, during his second year, when a bout with polio left him a quadriplegic. Jenks remained devoted to both Holy Cross and his class, serving as class secretary for more than 25 years. In 1979, the College granted him an honorary degree. In 1988, an anonymous donor made a gift in his name, contributing $1 million to endow the professorship. Jenks died the following year on Christmas Day.
The first Jenks Chair was held jointly by writers Justin Kaplan and Anne Bernays from 1993-95. Christopher Merrill held the position from 1995-99; Danzy Senna from 2000-04; Bill Roorbach from 2004-08; Leah Hager Cohen from 2009-14; and Julianna Baggott from 2014-16, and Robin Hemley from 2018-20.
In 1990 the College instituted an award for Distinguished Teaching. Six members of the English Department have been recipients of this honor: Edward Callahan (1990); Robert Cording (1995); Helen Whall (1998); Thomas Lawler (1999); James Kee (2007) and Maurice Geracht (2014).
Two faculty members in the English department have won Guggenheim fellowships: Sarah Stanbury (2010) and Leila Phillip (2007). Guggenheim fellows are appointed on the basis of distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.
The department is home to several best-selling authors, including:
- Leah Hager Cohen, author of “The Grief of Others,” “No Book but the World,” and “I Don’t Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance (Except When You Shouldn’t).”
- Leila Philip, author of “The Road Through Miyama,” and “A Family Place: A Hudson Valley Farm, Three Centuries, Five Wars, One Family.”
- Stephanie Reents, author of “The Kissing List.”
Longtime Faculty Members
Eleven members of the English department have been recipients of the Rev. Raymond J. Swords, S.J., Faculty Medal, which honors those members of the faculty who have served the College for 25 years or more. They include Patricia Bizzell, Robert K. Cording, Maurice A. Geracht, Patrick J. Ireland, James M. Kee, Thomas M.C. Lawler, Richard E. Matlak, B. Eugene McCarthy, William P. Morse, Susan Elizabeth Sweeney and Helen M. Whall.