Careers: Lewis Frumkes, Director, Writing Center, Marymount Manhattan College
Lewis Burke Frumkes, who right after graduation worked on Wall Street, is now the Director of The Writing Center at Marymount Manhattan College. He is the author of How to Raise Your IQ by Eating Gifted Children: Manhattan Cocktail and Other Irreverent Observations on Life, Taxes and Meter Maids and five other books. His work has appeared in Harper's, The New York Times, Punch and Reader's Digest and is widely anthologized. He has a radio program on which he interviews high profile people in the arts and sciences, primarily writers. It is broadcast on Sundays at 8:00 PM on WPAT-AM (930 on the dial). We spoke to him one recent evening in his office, which was comfortably cluttered with books, manuscripts, photographs and memorabilia. Declining his kind offer of some Hershey's chocolates we got right down to the interview:
Q: What was your career goal at college graduation?
A: "I always wanted to teach," said Frumkes, who majored in English and Philosophy in college, "and I always wanted to make a lot of money. Unfortunately these goals were not compatible. So I compromised."
Q: Will majoring in English help a person become a successful writer?
A: "You don't have to be an English major to be a writer," he said, "but it certainly helps. The advantage in being an English major is that you can introduce yourself to some of the greatest writers writing in the English language, some of whom may inspire you and lead you down exciting paths. And if you love what you do and feel passionate about what you do success will follow. You need three things to become a successful author: 1. A modicum of talent, 2. Some marketing skills, 3. Perseverance."
Q: How can being an English major prepare us for our modern world?
A: "There is a lot to be gained from being an English major to someone who loves language. No language on the face of the planet today is as rich as the English language. Language takes on a special life of its own for someone sensitive to it. It transcends just communication and becomes music. As an English major you are being introduced to the music of life. You can learn to amuse, entertain and educate yourself all by yourself if necessary. Ray Bradbury, one of our greatest writers, is an autodidact. This will make you a more interesting human being. So it is not just a dead major in an ivory tower, but a vital and important study of life in the world around you.
Q: Is English a popular major for students in 2003, with the increased importance of mathematics and technology in our society?
A: "English is more popular than it used to be. It has sort of evolved for some people into communications courses, a relatively new field. They start in English and then see that they want to get into communications. People study communications for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that they want to get into Radio or TV. There is also media ecology, the study of media itself, how it operates, and the physical underpinnings of media. It may also include writing for theater or business writing. It can lead to careers in cyberspace, the Internet, electronic media.
"New technology is opening up whole new vistas for English majors. With digital publishing we can keep in memory every book ever written, including every book you and I write. Before these may have been shredded; now they will be part of the collective human memory. With the Internet there are whole new universes for exploration. One is limited only by one's imagination.
"Writing is part of English and very few things are as important as learning to write well. Many people feel powerless in our society, but if you can put 750 to 800 words together in some cohesive and intelligent fashion you can publish an essay with your views in The New York Times [or any number of newspapers around the country] and influence millions of people, perhaps change the course of events and history. You have only one vote as a citizen, but with your words you can transform the world around you. It's a very powerful tool."#