English Undergraduate Program Alumni

Ayana Contreras

Ayana Contreras - Content Director of Vocalo Radio, Chicago, IL

B.A. English, 2006

Ayana Contreras is a cultural historian, memory worker, radio DJ and archivist. An avid collector with over 8000 vintage vinyl records, she hosts the Reclaimed Soul program on WBEZ and at Vocalo Radio. Ayana Contreras returned to campus on Friday, February 25, 2022 as a Fred and Lola Austin Case Writer in Residence to read from her new book, Energy Never Dies: Afro-Optimism and Creativity in Chicago (University of Illinois Press 2021).

"So much of what I do in radio is about storytelling and translating information. Strong, compelling narratives are crucial to keeping listeners tuned in. Good research and summarization skills are paramount in media, as well. And my work as a freelance culture writer is directly tied to my composition skills. My best experience as an English student at WIU was the collective sum of all things. But if I have to choose something specific: the electives (such as Non-Western Literature) really built me most as a writer and a thinker."

Visit The Mirror and The Lamp Blog for videos of Ayana reading from her book and an interview in which she looks back over her time at Western and explains how she developed as a writer, producer, artist, and archivist.

Connor Sullivan

Connor Sullivan - English Teacher at West Prairie Jr/Sr High School, Sciota, IL

B.A. English-Teacher Education, 2021

"Being an English major just felt right. I needed to be taking classes where reading and writing were at the cornerstone of every class. I felt magnetized to Simpkins Hall, to my professors, and to my English major friends. Overall, the English major chose me long before I chose it."

Read more about Connor in The Mirror and The Lamp Blog .

Carlos Williamson

Carlos Williamson, Editor/Designer at The Chicago Tribune

English Minor with Creative Writing Focus/Journalism Major, 2015

"The creative writing workshops at Western helped me hone my voice as a writer. I still think about the feedback I received years ago and apply it to my short stories. I think it’s important for English majors to listen to feedback from professors and try not to take criticism personally. Also, if you’re an English major who wants to write fiction, it’s important to not only complete all assigned readings, but also to read on your own. "

Read more about Carlos in The Mirror and The Lamp Blog .

Rebecca Gonner

Rebecca Gonner, Technical Writer at Abbott Molecular

B.A. English, 2017

"I feel that Western’s English department really is a space for anyone. The class diversity and department events and opportunities offer so many possibilities to learn and grow. So long as you have a love for stories (and you’re considering English, so that’s a given) there is plenty to discover and create at Western Illinois University. I personally wouldn’t trade my four years at Western for anything, and I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it. If you are considering studying at Western, I encourage you to take the chance, and you’ll find that this department gives back what you put into it. The experience is yours to make."

Read more about Rebecca in The Mirror and The Lamp Blog .