Literary scholars, community builders and talented writers in their own right, Jennifer Jakob and Sean Muncaster also have the noteworthy distinction of being part of the newest cohort of graduates from the Department of English Language and Literature at Carleton University.
Both will cross the convocation stage on Friday, June 16 to receive their hard-earned Bachelor of Arts Honours diplomas — for Muncaster, a degree in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing, the reason he chose Carleton for his studies in the first place, and for Jakob, an impressive double-major in English and History.
In the lead-up to convocation, both students took time to reflect on their memorable experiences studying English at Carleton, meeting important mentors and honing their own creative craft.
Congratulations on getting through the end of semester and your upcoming graduation! How are you feeling about it all?
Jennifer Jakob: Thank you! I’m feeling a mixture of relief and excitement! I began my undergraduate degree in 2016 and briefly took a two-year break during my studies, so I’m kind of in shock that I’m finally graduating.
Sean Muncaster: I must admit that it doesn’t feel entirely real yet. I still feel steeped in the learning process, and while I’ve finished one step in the direction I’ve chosen for myself, I’ll be eagerly looking forward to returning to Carleton for my master’s. That said, I had to step away from my undergraduate education in the past, so finishing this degree is a huge testament to myself and what I’ve always thought I could be capable of.
Tell us about your experiences as students in the Department of English Language and Literature. Do you have any favourite courses, professors or memories that you’d like to share?
JJ: When I began my studies at Carleton in 2020, I only had the option of taking classes online, which limited my connections with most of my professors. But there were still several profs who made an impression on me. The first of whom that comes to mind is Andrew Wallace, who I took two online courses with. He asked his students to meet at least once with him in a one-on-one Zoom meeting to create connections with his students within the online classroom, and as a transfer student, I really appreciated that chance — it opened the door for easier communication and made the learning experience more personal.
Another person who comes to mind is Janne Cleveland, the first professor who I had for an in-person class at Carleton. The course took place at 8:35 a.m. on Tuesdays during the Winter semester and was my only class on campus, which was always a trek. But Prof. Cleveland made class something I looked forward to every week and provided a relaxed yet challenging environment that opened my eyes to some of my favourite literature.
I’d also like to mention Dana Dragunoiu, who was a pillar of my last semester at Carleton. She supported me both academically and emotionally through what was the most tumultuous time of my studies. I had the pleasure of taking her “Degree to Career” class, which is a course offered through the English program to help English students articulate the skills we learn in our discipline for our potential careers. Not only was the class invaluable, but Prof. Dragunoiu also guided me through my application for my master’s program and provided a lot of professional advice for my life moving forward.
“There are so many professors I could mention who made my time at Carleton as amazing as it was.”Jennifer Jakobs, BA Honours '23 (English and History)
“There are so many professors I could mention who made my time at Carleton as amazing as it was.”
SM: The overwhelming positivity of my experience at Carleton makes it hard to settle on any one thing here. First and foremost, I have to make it clear how impactful Dana Dragunoiu has been on my undergrad experience. While I’ve been happy to get to know many excellent professors, Prof. Dragunoiu stands out for her absolute commitment to the well-being of her students and their investment in their own education. Without her, I would not have known to work toward the Digital Humanities collaborative master’s program, and I doubt I would have the same confidence that I’m now proud of when it comes to asserting my own ideas and interpretations.
The creative writing workshops I’ve taken have all been wonderful experiences as well, culminating in a sense of literary community that I had no idea I would grow into when I started my degree. Nothing has been as rewarding as learning how much I can do to build up other writers as a part of that community.
Jennifer, you helped revive the English Literature Society, acted as the inaugural managing editor of Sumac and are active outside campus in the greater Ottawa literary community through your work as the poetry editor for flo. magazine. What motivated you to go beyond coursework and assignments to get so involved in these various communities?
JJ: I’ve always considered my extracurricular activities as important as my academic ones, so it was natural that I gravitated to as many things as possible that I could get involved in. I have a hunger for it! Because everything was still online when I started my studies at Carleton, clubs and societies were difficult, if not impossible, to join. Once it was safe to meet in-person again, I was eager to jump on whatever opportunities I could. The previous English Literature Society disbanded at the beginning of the pandemic, and many of my peers and I were looking for a group where we could discuss and share our writing. So, we put our heads together and started up ELS again. It was extremely rewarding to facilitate that environment for students in and outside of the English literature discipline to gather and have community. It brought a lot of fulfillment to my time at Carleton.
As for flo., I hope to do editorial work in my professional life moving forward, and wanted to start somewhere where I could help enrich the Ottawa literary scene. flo. was a natural fit, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to spread my wings there.
Sean, tell us about the Weird Fiction Writer’s Circle! How did the idea first come about? How do you define “weird fiction”?
SM: The writer’s circle was ultimately Prof. Grant Williams’s idea. His course on weird fiction helped me understand what literary tradition my own work might feel at home in. When I reached out to him to speak more about how to develop myself as a weird writer, he suggested starting a writers’ circle dedicated to the genre. At the time, I felt that a lot of the feedback I was getting in workshops was helpful for form and style, but if I wanted to push myself towards belonging in the weird tradition, then I needed a space dedicated to grappling the questions that the weird wants us to ask.
I often try to define the genre — in quite a broad sense — as literature that seeks to defamiliarize aspects of life so that we may cast a new critical eye on the things that we think we understand, often through distorted and macabre depictions of what we think we know. The genre has fairly fluid borders between sci-fi, horror and speculative fiction, and while the writers’ circle has deviated a bit from our original intentions, I’m quite satisfied with the value writers from other genres have gotten out of our conversations.
Is there a book or a piece of writing that you encountered during your degree that really changed the way you think?
JJ: The piece of writing that changed the way I think and approach my work with literature was Audre Lorde’s essay, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” I read it during my first semester at Carleton, and I recommend it to everyone.
SM: While it came from outside the English department, I would say that Margaret Noodin’s discussion on how Western literature emphasizes the ‘nouning’ of stories has had the most impact on my own thoughts. What she means by this is that Western literature tends to emphasize the importance of the individual and individual actions in literature, rather than making stories about the communities that those stories come from, as seems to be more common in Indigenous literature. My own work has been dominated by individual emotional journeys, and listening to the perspectives of other cultures has pushed me to explore the boundaries of who I can represent in writing beyond the confines of self-inserted narrators that I find most comfortable.
What’s next for you? Do you have any post-grad plans that you’d like to share?
JJ: In addition to continuing editing for flo., I will be attending Queen’s University to pursue a Master of Arts degree in English Literature. I’m very excited for this next step!
SM: The big move on the horizon will be the beginning of my Master of Arts in English with a Specialization in Digital Humanities here at Carleton. That will be a year down the road, as I take some time help my partner settle in Canada as well as the fortunate opportunity to try to use what I’ve learned from the creative writing concentration and try to get more of my own work published locally.
“I never knew what an English degree would feel like until I got to Carleton.”Sean Muncaster, BA Honours '23 (English with a Concentration in Creative Writing)
“I never knew what an English degree would feel like until I got to Carleton.”
Any parting words as you close this chapter of your life and begin writing the next page?
JJ: I would just like to thank all my professors at Carleton, as well as my friends and family, for their guidance and for believing in me. My undergraduate degree was not a linear process. I think, as students, we get caught up in the competitive stress of completing our degrees as fast as possible. However, I am glad that I took the amount of time I did to complete my degree, and I am proud of the work I have accomplished. I could not have done it without the help and encouragement I got along the way.
SM: I started an undergraduate degree in history a few years before coming here. Studying English has felt like learning about the history of human expression, covering a lot of the topics that initially pulled me towards that history degree and contextualizing them in questions of self and communal identity expressed through literature. I’ve always put a lot of weight on understanding all the different approaches people take towards participating in our world in the past and present, and the English program at Carleton gave me a phenomenal opportunity to appreciate as many different perspectives as I could find.
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