NER reader Brittany Collins shares her conversation with NER winter term intern, sophomore Ellie Eberlee.
Ellie Eberlee: Where are you from?
Brittany Collins: I’m from Westhampton, Massachusetts—a 1,600 person town that boasts the best maple sugar house around!
EE: What do you do when you’re not reading for NER?
BC: When I’m not reading for NER, I work as the editor in chief of two literary journals: Voices & Visions, an online journal featuring the works of students and alumnae from women’s schools worldwide, and the Lab School, the educational journal of the Smith College Campus School. Last spring, my work with Voices & Visions was featured by Ms. magazine, and our spring issue was shared on social media by Gloria Steinem and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. I also work as an Expert Reviewer and Shortlist Judge for Write the World LLC and enjoy reading and responding to works from high school students worldwide.
EE: Do you write yourself? If so, what sorts of things?
BC: Yes! I just published my first peer-reviewed article, “Associative Mourning: Learning to Lose through Literature,” in English Journal, of the National Council of Teachers of English. I’ve also published essays with the Literacy & NCTE blog; Insight of Dana Farber Cancer Institute; and the Mighty. I enjoy writing nonfiction pieces: both personal narrative and memoir, as well as editorials about educational theory and practice. Right now, I’m working on an anthology project featuring essays written by teachers of all grade levels and subjects on the topic of loss in classrooms and curricula. Educators interested in more information, or in submitting their work, should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EE: What is your favorite book/poem/short story of all time?
BC: My favorite book is The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. I’ve studied and taught it many times, and I am continually struck by its distilled yet potent imagery. Cisneros weaves nuanced critique of the gendered, racialized, and classed “codes” of identity development in America into simple, elegant prose. She captures and challenges the innocence of childhood, and what I admire most about this text is its span of readership; elementary school students could read a vignette and learn just as much as a professor of Literature. There is an analysis of, and reverence for, “home” in the entirety of Cisneros’s oeuvre—Mango Street a perfect example.
My three favorite poems are not so thematically different from Mango Street: “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou; “Do not go gentle into that good night,” by Dylan Thomas; and “Elegy” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. It’s impossible to choose just one!
EE: If you could take any writer out to coffee, who would it be?
BC: I would ask Jhumpa Lahiri; I’ve read all of her books and, as with Cisneros, admire her nuanced characterization and ability to weave sociopolitical commentary into the quotidian routines of her protagonists. “Home” is something both complicated and pure in her texts, and there is an elegance and honesty to her prose that captivates me. Her recent forays into the Italian language are disrupting readers’ ideas of what successful authors “should” do, and it’s interesting to track her decision to challenge that path. But I suppose that since she is only speaking Italian right now, I might have to rethink my choice of coffee companions . . . maybe E. B. White or Maya Angelou . . . as I’m not the most proficient speaker of any foreign languages (!).
EE: How did you hear about NER?
BC: As an English major, I enjoyed browsing NER alongside publications like the Hudson Review and Massachusetts Review. It was an honor to join the publication as a reader.
EE: What do you enjoy most about reading for NER?
BC: I enjoy reading fiction for NER because it is a change from the nonfictional literary worlds that I tend to inhabit in my writing and work. Though there is much synonymy between genres of writing, reading fiction for NER challenges and hones a lesser-used part of my analytical lens.
EE: What piece published in a recent NER issue spoke to you most?
BC: Julia Ridley Smith’s essay “A Miniature for My Mother” is stunning. I am drawn to works, as with Millay’s “Elegy,” that employ concrete nouns—”resonant particulars”—that ground writing in specificity while serving as iconographic catalysts for deeper analysis. Smith achieves this effect with mention of a brooch, using it as a point from which to highlight the cognitive dichotomy between thought and feeling, life and loss. Her writing offers a tender portrayal of these tensions, and her technique of braiding memoir into historical and literary analyses appeals to me.