I had the pleasure of interviewing Deanne Williams, an English Professor at York University as well as author. I took her class this semester and had the incredible opportunity to become acquainted with her. I chose to interview her on Women’s History Month as I wanted to showcase a female professor excelling in her field in a relatively male dominated field. If you're interested in pursuing English as a major, minor, or a profession, keep reading to learn more about Deanne’s journey and advice.
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
A: I studied English and Religious Studies at the University of Toronto. I got to study with Northrop Frye (Author of international bestseller Fearful Symmetry). I also completed my graduate studies at Oxford and a fellowship at Stanford where I took part in field work as well. Close to my final year, I was offered a position at York University, completed my dissertation, and joined the English department at York.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to become an English professor?
A: No, I thought maybe I would go into publishing. I also thought maybe I would get involved with law and find a way to interconnect the two. The moment I knew that I wanted to go into graduate school, I was in my third year of university and enjoying my courses so much that I realized I just wanted to continue studying. I had a prophetic vision and dream that I would go to graduate school in California.
Q: Which steps did you take? Did you have any guidance?
A: I became quite close with the Dean of English Studies at my university, and he actually proposed that I go to Oxford to pursue Medieval Studies. A little later, I continued my graduate studies at Stanford. I got to study alongside several wonderful scholars. I had a friend from high school as well and he wrote me some letters praising the English program at Stanford. Professor Stephen Orgel was also an incredible mentor for me at Stanford.
Q: You mentioned several notable and highly acclaimed male mentors. Did you also have any female mentors or inspirations at that time?
A: Yes, it's true, especially during that time, the field was dominated by males but one of my biggest inspirations was Patricia Parker (professor at Stanford) who was on my dissertation committee. My work on Pericles Shakespeare, which was very important to me, and I wrote a chapter of in my book, had its origins in a graduate seminar that I took with her. I learned from her an attentiveness to Shakespearean language, their historical context, and the technicalities/ contradictions involved in literature. It was a little hard though to find female mentorships - especially in historical fields.
Q: What would you advise students that are considering pursuing a career in English?
A: It's very important to establish personal connections with your professors and other students that are serious about English as well. I spent a lot of time with my mentors and have learned from them how to teach and supervise my graduate students. There is a great joy in collaborating with others. Scholarship doesn't have to be lonely as it's often presented. Additionally, research fellowships and scholarships that universities offer if you are pursuing graduate studies because you’ll be surprised by how many opportunities there are.