Bailey Moorhead is our March graduate student of the month. Bailey is a second year English grad student in the combined MA/PhD program. Bailey is from Vinita, Oklahoma and received a Bachelor’s degree in English from Oklahoma State University.
Caroline: As a PhD student in English, can you tell me about your focus or concentration?
Bailey Moorhead: I do Contemporary American as the broad category. More specifically, I do lots of southern literature and film stuff.
CA: What made you pick that concentration?
BM: Well, I was interested in southern literature before I came here. It was one of the reasons I came here, because I’m not from Mississippi or anything. So I was interested in Ole Miss because of, obviously, the whole Faulkner thing, and it’s just well known for its Southern Studies and Southern Literature departments. So, yeah, I was interested in that before, and then taking classes here intensified that, because there are so many faculty that do stuff with southern lit and film.
CA: How did you decide to go to grad school? What was that path like?
BM: I pretty much always know I wanted to go to grad school. I was an English major in undergrad, and I was like, “I just want to keep doing this,” basically. And I’ve always been interested in teaching, so the idea of teaching at the college level was the most appealing to me. And so how you get to do that is you get a PhD! I took a few years off between undergrad and grad school, just to sort of make sure this is what I wanted to do, and it was.
CA: Tell me about the conferences you’ve been attending this spring.
BM: I went to the Society of Southern Literature conference in February in Austin, Texas. It was really great. That one’s really cool because our department sends a ton of grad students and faculty to it, so we have a nice presence there, but also it’s just a good place, if you do southern stuff, to get out and talk to other people who are working with the same sort of ideas.
CA: And you presented a paper there, right?
BM: Right, I presented a paper about Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country For Old Men. I’m interested in looking at the south and also looking at the southwest. So Cormac McCarthy, a lot of his novels are crossing over region-wise, and they’re also very dark. We’re familiar with the southern gothic, but I was talking about the southwestern gothic and if that’s a thing and what it looks like.
CA: What’s the conference you’re going to this month?
BM: This month is the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, and that one is in Toronto, so it’s going to be cold! I’m going to that one during spring break. And that one, since it’s film studies, I’m presenting a paper on the TV show True Detective. It was popular a few years back. Not the second season, the first season that was actually good – nobody likes the second season! That paper is about gender studies in southern representations of film, so southern masculinity and how that relates to the Lost Cause and more contemporary stuff about, like, the neoconfederacy and things like that.
CA: Can you talk about some works of literature that have been especially influential for you?
BM: Yeah, I hate to be this person who says this, but the author who got me interested in southern literature in the first place was Faulkner. I’ve since moved away – it’s not like I’m only interested in Faulkner of course, but he was sort of the thing that got me started. As I Lay Dying is, like, my favorite novel ever so I really enjoyed that, but then also I’m really into Cormac McCarthy, like I was saying, I’m presenting on him, so he was also one that I read early that is something I’m still really interested in now.
CA: Do you have any particular courses that you’ve really enjoyed or professors you’ve found especially helpful?
BM: Oh man, i mean the grad classes here are amazing. The faculty is amazingly helpful and intereseted in what your work is. I’ve really enjoyed all of our southern literature faculty that i’ve gotten to take, so I can’t really pick a favorite. And for classes, I’m taking English 776 which is southern literature, and it can be a bunch of specific topics, but this is my third time to take English 776, because every person who’s taught it has taught another cool southern literature thing, so that’s been a really great class.
C: What is something you would tell to something you would tell someone who was considering studying English as an undergraduate or graduate student?
BM: I think it’s hard to tell everyone, you know, “Everybody should be an English major,” or that everyone should go to english grad school, because it is hard to make your degree marketable – if that’s what’s important to you. But I think for people who enjoy it, it’s 100% worth it. It’s something you pursue because you love it, not because you’re hoping to see something you can get out of it. So, I guess my advice for that is, like, if you’re interested and you love to read and to write, or you really just love discussing the ideas that come up in literature and film, then just go for it. It’s a passion thing for sure. As far as if you’re interested in grad school I would say know that that’s what you want to do for the long haul if you go for the PhD. The Master’s is a nice way to feel it out for people, because you don’t have to commit to the full dissertation if you find out you don’t want to do that much. You know, if you realize you love English but you don’t want to get a PhD, maybe start a book club or something, or write a blog. Yeah, I would say it’s definitely something I wish more people would engage with. It seems like the English major has fallen out of favor a little bit. It used to be more popular, I think, than it is now.