Senior Profile: Amy O'Neill

Senior ProfileAmy O'Neill is on the Creative Writing track working on a thesis for English Honors. Amy has also worked as a tutor in the Writing Center for the past few semesters. 

Why did you decide to become an English major?

I actually started my college journey at an art school as an illustration major. I loved it but I felt like I was missing out on getting to have discussions that challenged how I thought. I have always enjoyed reading and writing so when I transferred to UMD, the English major felt like an obvious choice.

What clubs, campus groups, internships, outside of class projects have you been involved with?

I have been working at the Writing Center in Tawes for a few semesters. This job started as an internship and has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at UMD. I’ve gotten to interact with people I may never have otherwise as well as help my peers figure out how to express their ideas in the best ways they can.

This semester also marks the completion of my time in the English Honors Program. The opportunity to participate in this program has meant that I got to write a creative undergraduate thesis—which in my case is a collection of short stories—that has evolved and transformed and been informed by the things that I’ve been learning. This program has not only given me the opportunity to form relationships with some brilliant members of the English faculty, but it has also afforded me a community of creative writers that I hadn’t had until this point.

What has been your favorite class in English and why?

As part of the Honors Program, we were required to take at least two honors seminars. To fulfil part of this requirement, during the first semester of the program, I took a class called Fictions of Asylum with Professor Sangeeta Ray. This seminar focused on novels and novellas that deal with migration, the plight of the refugee, immigration law, and borderlands.

The books that she assigned were written by authors who come from all over and she challenged us to read each of them through a different critical lens. I learned more about how to think and read critically in this class than I have in any other, and I credit a lot of that to the way Professor Ray guided the class. She was very hands-off and encouraged us to bring in our own kinds of expertise to the books that we talked about, and what we ended up with was an entire semester of discussions that I couldn’t have had anywhere else.

What is something you read during class that impacted your worldview?

During the Fictions of Asylum seminar, pretty much everything we read changed or added to my worldview in some way. However, one of the most arresting was Yuri Herrera’s novella, “Signs Preceding the End of the World.” Considering the climate surrounding the issue of immigration, especially immigration from Central America, this novella painted the most beautifully written but hard-to-read account of immigrating to the United States from Mexico.

Written parallel to an Aztec myth, this book also straddles the border between a unique but universal account of struggle and an epic. I still think about this book all the time, and I think that is an indication of how important fiction can be in shaping our perspectives.

What skills have you gotten from the major?

My writing has improved so much since I started in the major. What has been especially cool is to look back at the different drafts of my stories as I’ve worked on them for my thesis. Each story has anywhere from ten to twenty drafts, some of which would get scrapped completely while others ended up being integral to the process of getting to the final version of the story. I think that learning how to revise and doing it nonjudgmentally and meaningfully and experimentally has been a huge part of becoming a better writer.

What is your dream job or career?

Working at the Writing Center has shown me how much I enjoy teaching and the English major has. I think that my dream career would be to teach English or creative writing at the collegiate level and continue to help other writers figure out how to express their ideas in the best ways they can.

What are you passionate about (or even curious about)?

I’m passionate about environmentalism and conservation. Getting to go on camping and rock-climbing trips as well as taking a summer class on climate change in Alaska through the Life Sciences program a couple of years ago has only made me more passionate about being mindful about the choices I make.

To you, what has been the most valuable part of the English major?

The most valuable part of the English major to me has been the people in it who come from so many different places and have so many different perspectives on the stuff we read and how it affects them or speaks to experiences that they have had. I have learned as much from my peers as I have from my professors. I think that the English major is unique in how it creates communities of people who are curious about the world and why things are the way they are.