Students Ask: What is Literary Merit?

Mitch Pinkowski was working with his Curriculum Support Group (CSG) in 2018 when he had an idea. CSGs are geared towards each faculty member’s personal growth and meant to inspire collaboration across departments, so Pinkowski was off to the races with the support of his group. He originally teamed up with fellow English teacher Tim Rogers ’79 to design and co-teach the course. Now in its third year, the course has hit its stride.

The course is centered around a complicated question: “What is literary merit?” Students begin the course by defining their own criteria for winners of the Nobel Prize. Having a diversity of prize recipients and approaching this project with written and visual aspects provided the students an opportunity to examine how the laureates earned this distinction of “literary merit.”

The course’s December exam was a defense of Bob Dylan’s 2016 Nobel Prize win. A group of students continued that work for their January project, creating the pictured installation.

Students enjoyed a departure from a more traditional English assignment. Rather than a long-form essay, they got to pair up and tap into their passions in a new way. Abby Snowdon ’23 and Will McMillan ’23, focused on Octavio Paz and included a QR code that led to a website with all of their research as well as a Spotify playlist that they curated to resemble Paz’s poetry. On the other hand, Jarin Moses ’22 and McLeod Blount ’23 incorporated potatoes into their display about Irish laureate, Seamus Heaney. Keith Duong ’22 said of the experience: “We got to be creative in such a way that we would have never thought of before stepping into this class.”

Eliza Robbins ’23 agreed. “When we took a step back,” she said, “we could see the hard work we put in, and everyone around us could see it, too.”