English majors constantly find themselves at the pinnacle of unemployment jokes or post-grad careers in publishing punchlines. Yet there are so many talented and legendary icons that have majored in English and would make anyone second-guess their negative opinions on the major. English has proven to be a degree that is a necessary and incredibly beneficial prerequisite for careers in politics, law, journalism and most certainly the arts. Allowing your mind to absorb diverse stories and characters encourages one to expand their emotions and construct stories in a creative and meaningful way. Here are a few famous faces that have majored in English and gone on to find success.
1. Emma Watson
Looks like Emma’s on-screen characters, Hermione Granger and Belle, both share her love of reading! Besides being an actress, model and activist, Emma is also an Ivy League graduate from the prestigious Brown University. There she majored in English Literature and then went on to form the very popular “Our Shared Shelf”, where Emma shares a variety of books on feminism and equality as a part of her role with UN Women. She also interviews a handful of inspiring women, with the most recent one being the talented poet Rupi Kaur, and encourages readers from all over the world to engage in discussions on the said texts. Emma has also mentioned many of her favourite books throughout her career, some of them including: East of Eden by John Steinbeck, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and many others. Entertainment Weekly has a post dedicated to every book she has ever recommended (and the list is quite lengthy), but it is worth the read.
2. Martin Scorsese
One of America’s most sought-after directors graduated from New York University with a degree in English Literature and then went on to get his masters in film. It is no surprise here that Martin was an English Literature major because he himself is known for creating so many legendary stories and characters. He has been nominated countless times for the Oscar in the screenplay writing category, and has won one for “Best Writing Adapted Screenplay” for The Departed (2006). Martin has also made a documentary about the history of The New York Review of Books and its lasting impact. Also linked here is a list of book-to-film adaptations by Scorsese, which is where he drew inspiration and began the thought process for some of the best films of all time. Scorsese is a prominent example of how a degree in English can stem into a career so creative and magical.
3. Christopher Nolan
Another magnificent director makes the list, as his stories are so complex and riveting; Nolan thanks his degree in English from University College London. Nolan quotes his experience with it:
“…I studied English Literature. I wasn’t a very good student, but one thing I did get from it, while I was making films at the same time with the college film society, was that I started thinking about the narrative freedoms that authors had enjoyed for centuries and it seemed to me that filmmakers should enjoy those freedoms as well.”
― Christopher Nolan
Perhaps Nolan’s strongest skill as a director is his ability to tell thought-provoking stories and challenge his audience to think far beyond the screen. He has been nominated multiple times for the Best Original Screenplay categories at the Oscars and has without a doubt been a driving force in the world of cinema.
4. Shonda Rhimes
Shonda Rhimes has made quite a name for herself in the world of television as a female writer, producer and author. Most notable is her written work for the mega-successful shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, as well as How to Get Away with Murder for her production work. Rhimes received her dual-degree in English and Film Studies from Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school in the United States. Shonda has created some of this decade’s most popular television shows and noteworthy characters. Her emotional and realistic portrayals of female protagonists in prosperous careers has been refreshing for audiences and her work as a writer has been the driving force for success. Shonda has also written a few books that would definitely inspire you to reach further for your dreams. Television wouldn’t be the same without Shonda, who has three Emmy Award nominations and a Golden Globe to her name.
5. Conan O’Brien
Late-Night Host Conan O’Brien graduated from Harvard University, magna cum laude, with a degree in history and literature. He began his career as a successful writer on shows like The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live, where early on he demonstrated his comedic talents. Conan went on to become a very successful late-night host where he demonstrates his witty and hilarious antics. Conan reflects on his past as an English Literature and History major in a letter to his former alma mater in his letter here. It is so fascinating to learn how some of the most influential people began their careers and to find similarities that you may share.
The next time you find yourself needing to justify your degree choice to someone, show them this list.
There are many more English majors out there that went on to be very successful, especially in the arts. English is so useful for any career path one chooses and its skills translate well into both analytical and creative realms. So keep calm and read on!
- Our Shared Shelf with Emma Watson
- Entertainment Weekly list of Emma Watson Book Recommendations
- Martin Scorsese’s article with correspondence to the documentary
- Scorsese book-to-film adaptions by Foyles UK
- Shonda Rhimes Books
- Conan O’Brien’s letter to Harvard
Alma is an English Lit major and History minor at UBC, with a strong adoration for film and fashion. When she isn’t glued to a good book, you can catch her at the local cinema or sorting through her Vogue magazine collection.
“Curved Library wall photo” by Patrik Göthe on Unsplash