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Erin Whitford: Love of Words

January 24, 2011

For graduate student Erin Whitford, the road to her future is paved with written words, especially those fashioned into literary works of art.

A self-proclaimed Americanist, she often writes with an eye cast toward the south.

“I’m studying southern literature and writing a paper about African-American literature,” Whitford said, “mainly as it pertains to southern writers like Toni Morrison, those who have written within the past 100 years.”

She will present her paper on Morrison and author Richard Wright to the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) 2011 National Convention in San Antonio. Her participation in the panel discussion will be her second in two years, having also presented to the group in St. Louis in 2010.

Based on her work as a Carr Research Scholar, Whitford’s new paper will focus on the progress of African-American southern identity in literature from William Faulkner to Wright’s Native Son and Morrison’s Song of Solomon.

“I’m presenting on the concept of flight metaphorically serving as a means of emancipation in African-American literature,” she said. “Every character has a scene where they either really do try to fly or metaphorically try to fly. It is a literary way to try to exert a sort of freedom.”

Whitford was invited to participate in the conferences after answering a “call for papers.” PCA/ACA officials assess submitted papers to see if they fit with any of the scheduled panel discussions. Her paper was accepted and she will appear with three other researchers on one of the convention panels.

A fifth-generation Texan, Whitford picked up her love of literature from her parents, and after graduating from Midland Lee High School in 2006, came to ASU to study English and prepare for a career immersed in literary pursuits.

“I like southern literature because it is different than any other regional literature,” Whitford said. “Southern literature deals with cyclical issues of southern inhabitants, how the post-Civil War South functions and how a lot of characters can’t do that. It’s a dialog between writers about how to move past strongholds these characters have developed because of their ‘southern-ness.’ When I read about these things, I think, ‘oh yeah, I know these people. I have a family member like that.’ It’s a personal investment.”

In addition to studying English and literature, Whitford bolsters her editing skills as the editor of the English Department’s literary magazine, Oasis, and by helping students with their class papers in the ASU Writing Center.

Where her literary path will take her is not set in stone, but she does have some ideas.

“I would like to write for an art and literature magazine like Paste,” Whitford said, “or Relevant, a Christian magazine that deals with music, movies and things that are relevant to the upcoming generation. It has a positive, but realistic spin. I like magazines that are smart but relevant and deal directly with the media immersion that our culture is experiencing.”

Another possibility Whitford might pursue is working for a publishing house as an editor. But, for now, once she completes her master’s degree, she will work full time as the membership coordinator for the ASU Alumni Association. She already works part time for the association promoting membership retention, growth and customer service, and helping connect ASU’s student base with the alumni base.

But, working in the literary world is still her life’s goal and her future.

“I think the cool thing about literature,” Whitford said, “is there is always something for everybody. There are always going to be people who write different things for different people. No one can read all the books in the world, so there is always something to look forward to.”