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The Hemingway Letters Project, Penn State University
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Adam Virzi

Adam Virzi

Major: English
Minor: Education Policy Studies / International Studies
Hometown: Queens, New York

How did you learn about this opportunity?

In the spring of my sophomore year I was enrolled in a prescribed course for the undergraduate English major, ENGL 201, with Professor Linda Selzer. She encouraged us, as English undergraduates, to seek out internship opportunities by setting up accounts with the Liberal Arts Career Enrichment Network. Several weeks later, as we were reading “Hills like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway, Dr. Selzer talked about a project at the university, The Hemingway Letters Project, headed by Dr. Sandra Spanier. Shortly after, I was in touch with the project and selected to be an undergraduate intern. After working with the project for a year, I decided that I wanted to get more in depth with the content while it was available to me. For this reason, I devised a topic for a research paper on the work ethic of Ernest Hemingway, and applied for enrichment funding to go about this research.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

The Hemingway Letters Project, in general, has been a blessing in my life. It has provided me an incredible insight into the life, mind and works of my favorite American author. Moreover, it has provided me with practical experience in the field of publishing and studies in book and textual history. My responsibilities include the organization and maintenance of a large digital data base, preparing documents, reviewing editorial policy documents for our editorial policy manual, as well as assisting in various tasks which range from indexing to the writing of annotations for the volume itself. The enrichment experience of conducting a research study was complementary to my actual work at the project. Much of my methodology was the same as the tasks I carry out on a typical basis, which helped me recognize how the skills I developed as an intern translate to research in an academic / professional sense. While my original goal was to ascertain a reliable portrait of the work ethic of Ernest Hemingway, I came to realize that the volume I was working with was very early in his career and provided a portrait only of the emergence of this work ethic and artistic discipline, bringing me to the conclusion – both in the course of my enrichment experience and in the research paper itself – that this task is best set along an ongoing timeline, where with each volume of “The Letters of Ernest Hemingway” that is released, I can add and update the picture that my research has hitherto presented to readers.

"...I believe many of the skills I gained through working for the project will impact the way I go about my professional life. I have gained many skills in digital organization, pattern seeking, as well as insight into the world of literary publication that produces the books I will teach in the classroom."

How did this experience impact you academically?

Until carrying out this research project, I had never done something similar to it. During the course of my studies all of my engagement with literary studies was in actual literature, very rarely incorporating the study of textual artifacts/documents to draw conclusions about the compositional process literature itself. This experience opened my academic purview to this type of inquiry. While at first I believed this would be relatively straight forward, it has shown me the nature of research inquiries. That is to say, inquiries lead to realizations, which in turn lead to continued inquiry. By continually refining what the purpose and main point of my research study was, I was able to grow my original conception of this process from something that could be summed up in one paper to something that can only be accurately presented over the course of several papers, following the publication of the letters of Ernest Hemingway. This realization that a single inquiry can lead to a line of research that can potentially persist for decades was very revelatory for me. It demonstrated how one’s academic career can unfold and expand along certain lines of research. While I do not wish to engage professionally in literary scholarship, I do wish to carry on with this research project after I have finished with my academic studies.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

I recently graduated from Penn State with a major in English and a minor in Education Policy Studies. I have always planned to teach English at the high school level. Next semester, I am beginning graduate studies at NYU Steinhardt in Secondary English Education in pursuit of that goal. Prior to the Fall semester, I will be teaching English in Cuenca, Ecuador in order to receive my TESL certification, which will allow me to teach internationally in order to expand the global perspective of my philosophy of education. This international experience will be valuable to me while teaching in the inner city of New York where I plan to establish a career as a public school teacher. In the midst of these academic and career plans, it is hard to incorporate the wonderful experience I have had interning and researching at the Hemingway Letters Project. Although the content of the experience itself does not present many opportunities for integration into a high school curriculum, I believe many of the skills I gained through working for the project will impact the way I go about my professional life. I have gained many skills in digital organization, pattern seeking, as well as insight into the world of literary publication that produces the books I will teach in the classroom. Although it has always been my ambition to teach at the high school level I can see myself teaching in colleges as well. If this were to be the case I would feel highly qualified to teach a course on Hemingway and, in fact, literary modernism as a whole. Lastly, although it is not my professional goal to be in literary scholarship, I do have ambitions to continue with the line of inquiry I began during this research experience, hopefully publishing my results in a literary journal.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

Absolutely. Few other internship experiences in the liberal arts are as unique as this one. Moreover, the autonomy for academic and intellectual exploration that I was given through the course of my research study was so incredible. I was able to pursue a topic of inquiry that I truly enjoyed while remaining engaged in work that was truly something I loved doing.

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