Meet the Majors

Bena Williams ’22

English, Book Studies Concentration

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About Bena

Class of 2022

Hometown: Cheverly, Maryland

English, Book Studies Concentration

House: Cushing

Other clubs, sports, activities:
Jazz Ensemble!

Describe your major for someone who has never heard of your field before.
Book Studies focuses on the material aspects of a book. We learn to read in a new way, and consider each book as its own archaeological site. Rather than considering a book only for its author or text, we look at a book’s historical context, production and design, promotion and dissemination and its craftsmanship. It’s especially awesome to do this study at Smith because of the Mortimer Rare Book collection and the abundance of bookmakers and book artists working in the Pioneer Valley! It is also a very hands-on concentration, with classes on book design, bookbinding, typography and papermaking. At its heart, I’d say that Book Studies combines several methodologies: from English and historical studies to archival and museum work. It also draws students interested in many different fields, such as artists, publishers, linguists, curators, archivists and librarians.

What’s your all-time (big or small) favorite Smith memory?
On my 19th birthday, my friends had a surprise party for me, so they all hid in my room before I came home. Except I had forgotten my room key (a common habit of mine) and found myself locked out, while everyone was hiding inside ... Luckily, my roommate arrived quickly and let me in, and I was still completely surprised, and the party was great. My friends won't let me live down forgetting a key though. ...

We learn to read in a new way, and consider each book as its own archaeological site.

Could you explain a concentration? Why did you choose a book concentration for yours?
The distinction between a minor and a concentration is the required ‘practical learning experiences.’ All Smith students receive a Praxis stipend for work at an unpaid internship. Concentrations provide students with two Praxis stipends, or “Praxis Plus.” At the time that I was considering the concentration, the thought of doing one internship terrified me. I thought that if I was required to have two internships to graduate, I would be encouraged to take opportunities I might not have otherwise. It ended up working as I hoped, and I had two amazing internship experiences, the first with Smith’s Special Collections and the second working on the website Early Printed Books.

If someone was considering a book concentration, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that this concentration, and the Smith Libraries as a whole, are filled with the kindest, most caring, and interesting people that Smith has to offer. At least in my opinion. But within the concentration, you will always feel welcomed and valued. If that’s not enough, how about being able to see and handle all the special holdings in Smith’s Archives that nobody else gets to see??!

Describe a moment from a class (from your major or outside of it) that particularly sticks with you.
In a creative writing class visiting the archives, I got to use Sylvia Plath ’55’s typewriter!

What spot on campus will you miss the most? Where was your favorite place for daydreaming or relaxing?
There are too many to pick: Outside in the quad on the first warm days of spring, Josten Library during finals, Capen Garden in the summer and standing in the hallways of Sage Hall listening to people practicing different instruments all around.

If you could tell an incoming first-year anything about Smith, what would it be?
The Office of Disability Services (ODS) is an amazing resource with incredibly helpful people and resources. Don’t be afraid to research getting accommodations for yourself, even if you don't think you “need it.” Everybody learns differently, and you’re allowed to ask for help. You always have options. Your mental and physical health should always be prioritized over school.

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