Courtney Knoerl – A Force in the Classroom

Faculty shout-out from Dr. Divya Victor: Operating in the unlikely cusp of the angst driven grunge ethos of bands like Hole and the wistful critique of racism and USAmerican assimilation by thinkers like Gloria Anzaldua, Courtney Knoerl’s powerful imagination soars into the wilderness, rescuing her femme speakers and narrators out from within the cages of white supremacist patriarchy. In an autobiographical meditation on Zora Neal Hurston’s character Clare Kendry in Passing, Courtney writes: “I knew I was middle-fixed / I was a person definable by the eye, not the I.” In vivid and high-octane lyrical episodes on struggles against misogyny and anti-Latinx frames that erase and constrain those of us who are “middle-fixed”, Courtney helps us imagine a powerful and wild femininity unconstrained by colonial logics, open to ecological continuities, and constantly calling us back to a state of freedom in language and image.  

Faculty shout-out from Dr. Robin Silbergleid: Courtney is a quiet force in the classroom.  Her award-winning essay “America’s Dog” is a hybrid critical-creative analysis of dog breeds, miscegenation law, and her own family story.  Her personal essays deftly explore what it means to inhabit a body inscribed by dominant culture, and to reclaim it in her own voice. 

How would you describe your time as an English or Film Studies major at MSU?

I would describe my time as an English major at MSU as an exciting challenge. I took a variety of rigorous courses that pushed me academically and personally, but I would’ve taken more if my schedule had allowed.

Which classes, instructors, or experiences particularly stand out for you and why? How did they prepare you for the next phase of your life?

It’s difficult to narrow down my standout courses and instructors in the English department, because each one I took gave me important experiences that I will not soon forget. The Foundations in Literary Studies courses I took with Stephen Arch and Joshua Lam proved vital in my development as a student and person. To future students: if you can take any class with Natalie Phillips, sign up immediately, because you will thoroughly enjoy any course taught by her, regardless of your previous interest in the subject. In Advanced Nonfiction Writing, Robin Silbergleid helped me realize that I’m capable of much more than I could’ve imagined as a writer. Last, but certainly not least, Divya Victor, who I worked with on my capstone project, helped me gain confidence in and rediscover my passion for writing. I am forever grateful for her infinite kindness, grace, and genius.

What advice would you give future English or Film Studies majors, based on your experiences in the department?

Try everything. Classes I never thought I would take or be particularly interested in ended up being some of my favorite courses. The more classes you can take–as long as you’re keeping your wellbeing in mind–the better. You will certainly find new interests and wonderful people along the way.

What coursework-related projects were/are you working on this year, and what interests or excites you about them?

In my Advanced Poetry Writing course with Dr. Victor, I am creating two portfolios of poetry that I can take pride in, and that I feel demonstrate my growth as a writer up to this point in my writing journey. I also created an award-winning essay in my Nonfiction course with Dr. Silbergleid. I also have plenty of writing from my time here that I would be interested in developing to try and publish one day.

What are your hopes and aspirations, post-graduation?

Post-graduation, I hope to continue writing, and continue growing my writing skills and style. I’d like to try and publish some of my work in a journal or magazine, but if I can continue to write outside of college just for myself, I will feel accomplished.

Finally, reflect a bit on the strange experience of being a graduating senior during this on going period of pandemic, of local and global crisis. What resources have been most useful to you in navigating this unprecedented situation?

The pandemic has been a challenge to navigate while maintaining a positive outlook, and I haven’t always been successful in cultivating that positivity. The support from my professors, friends, and family has been essential in my navigation of this difficult time. My writing has also been a welcome distraction, along with creating art in general, anything from drawing and painting to playing with makeup. Creativity is how I keep myself busy and hopeful in the current situation.