Anu Needham and a student in class.
Program Overview


Literary perspectives in theory and practice.

Professor of English Anuradha (Anu) Needham leads a seminar on Anglophone Postcolonial Literature.
Photo credit: John Seyfried

What is English? An Array of Methods to Read the World

How have novels shaped the way we fall in love? What are the social uses of humor? Does language reflect reality, or invent it? Oberlin’s English department addresses a range of questions pertaining to literary, cultural and social texts. Faculty teaching and research interests span areas such as critical race studies, postcolonial theory, early modern culture, the history of the novel, twentieth-century poetry, ecocriticism, and global Anglophone writing. Within this broad understanding of English, students can define their own trajectory in conversation with other fields, from philosophy and art history to anthropology and comparative American studies. Whether taking one English class or planning to pursue graduate study, our students gain an enhanced attention to aesthetic detail, a keen critical mindset, and a sophisticated approach to reading, writing, and cultural discourse.

An Open Field of Inquiry with Contemporary Relevance

The need to make meaning, the desire to construct narratives, the call to find one’s voice, are fundamental human values that have taken different forms across historical periods and contexts. In Oberlin’s English classes students learn how to interpret traditional literary genres such as poems, plays, and novels, but also to decode films, magazines, websites and other cultural objects. From Oberlin’s letter-press studio, digital archives, and Allen Memorial Art Museum to to volunteering for the the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival or studying abroad in Rome and London, our students have a wealth of opportunities to articulate the value of the humanities beyond the seminar room.

Over 40% of students take at least one English class during their four years at Oberlin

From Chaucer to Graphic Novels

A diverse group of scholars, the Oberlin English department offers an open door to the study of literature, meaning, and signifying practices across centuries and discursive traditions.

Gillian Johns and Jennifer Bryan on Zoom.
Five annual prizes and awards are given to outstanding English majors each year
English Prizes and Awards

Shakespeare in Italy

During Winter Term English professor Wendy Beth Hyman often takes a group of students to Italy to study Shakespeare’s Roman plays.

A highlight of many students’ Oberlin experience, the Winter Term helps to bring the historical context of the plays to life.

Students looking at a painting in an art museum.

Featured Courses

ENGL 219

Persona and Impersonation

A close look at how pattern, allusion, borrowing, theft, and invention collude in the work of major poets from the Renaissance to the present. Written work will consist of imitation of the assigned poems, and will require extensive revision, collaboration, and responsiveness to peers. Designed to benefit both critical and creative writers, this course seeks to hone skills of observation, listening, and description, as well as to cultivate mastery of the formal and rhetorical vocabularies necessary for careful reading and writing of poetry.

Taught by
DeSales Harrison
ENGL 253

Pens and Needles: Gender and Media in Early America

This course will explore the complex relationship between gender, race, and media in the Americas before 1865. Our syllabus takes as its starting point expansive understandings of the term ‘media.’ We will read the written word alongside lives and experiences recorded through media such as quilts, samplers, Native American quill work, songs, and recipes. Examining the different authorial roles available to early Americans, we will consider how gender, race, and ethnicity structure one’s relationship to alphabetic letters, and explore the diverse ways in which people used various media to carve out identities for themselves and to enter public discourse.

Taught by
Danielle Skeehan
ENGL 260

Black Humor and Irony: Modern Literary Experiments

African American humor has until recently received little academic study. But the many anthologies of folk humor and the visibility of stand-up comedy invite us to examine the presence and rhetorical role of humor, comedy, and irony in African American literature. This course thus centers on a representative group of modern black humorists and explores various approaches (functional, structural, and cultural) for interpreting their works. Authors will include Chesnutt, Hurston, Hughes, Ellison, and Reed. American.

Taught by
Gillian Johns
ENGL 428

Virginia Woolf & Zadie Smith

This seminar puts into a sustained conversation two immensely innovative and hugely influential female authors: Virginia Woolf and Zadie Smith. Situating them in their literary, historical, and theoretical contexts, we will examine the ways in which both authors—one writing at the beginning of the 20th century, the other at the beginning of the 21st—explore in their writings the relationship between literature, history, and politics. Texts might include Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and The Waves; Smith’s NW and On Beauty, as well as both authors’ diaries and essays. Written work will lead toward an extensive final research project.

Taught by
Natasha Tessone

Student Profiles

Fulbright Fellow in Hong Kong

At Oberlin, Julia Berrebi ’19 worked in the Oberlin College Writing and Speaking Associates Program. After graduation she applied her skills in a global context as a visiting English tutor at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

Julia Berrebi.

From Oberlin to The Atlantic

English major and former editor in chief of the Grape, Luke Fortney ’18 earned a prestigious fellowship at the Atlantic after completing multiple rounds of interviews.

Luke Fortney.

Writing for Comedy

Since graduating from Oberlin, Max Cohn ’14 has been a contributing humor writer for McSweeney’s and the New Yorker. He has also worked in television for The Simpsons and Comedy Central.

Max Cohn.

What does English at Oberlin look like?

Jennifer Bryan and Charles McGuire.

Professors Jennifer Bryan and Charles McGuire “Arts of Desire,” a StudiOC learning community exploring the literature and music of longing.

Photo credit: Jennifer Manna
Phoebe Pan.

Phoebe Pan ’20, currently pursuing a PhD in English at Northwestern, participates in the department’s annual “transcribathon.”

Photo credit: Jack Lichtenstein ’23
With library stacks in the background, 4 people wearing aprons set up a letterpress machine.

As part of a winter term group project led by Ed Vermue, Oberlin's special collections/preservation librarian, students designed and printed their own creative projects using hand presses, movable type, and linocuts located in Oberlin's letterpress studio.

Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko
Books on a table with a sign that reads "A few banned books from special collections."

A special reading held at the Mary Church Terrell Main Library explored the history of banned literature.

Photo credit: Yvonne Gay

Next Steps

Get in touch; we would love to chat.

Tappan Square, looking west.
Photo credit: Chris Schmucki