Sammy Gibbons - 2019

Position title: Journalism

Pronouns: she/them

What career pathway have you pursued since your time in the UW-Madison English major?

I’ve continued dedicating my life to writing since my time as an English student. I’ve worked as a journalist for the USA TODAY Network since graduating from UW. I started out as the sole news reporter covering Door County for the Green Bay Press-Gazette where I wrote stories almost everyday and produced a video series. After a year and a half, I chose to move to New York City and got a new role within the company writing about culture and historically underrepresented communities for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Region. I focused primarily on elevating stories about LGBTQ+ people, the community I belong to and advocate for. I also penned stories about news happening in northern New Jersey. I recently accepted a new role, still with the USA TODAY Network, as a National Network Print Planner. I won’t be writing and reporting everyday, but I will read many stories from our 200+ local publications and decide what content appears in USA TODAY’s national print outlet. I plan to freelance and dedicate more time to my fiction writing.

What did you enjoy about the English major?

It wasn’t until I lost it that I really appreciated the built-in writing workshops that are a key feature of creative writing classes I took as an English major. Having a space where other people who are dedicated to their craft have to give you constructive, truthful criticism on a regular basis motivated me to write frequently and improved my skills. I met some remarkable people in those classes, particularly the MFA fellows who taught them. I owe a lot to Emily Shetler, who was my instructor and senior thesis advisor. She supported me and my writing during one of the most intense years of my life and helped me recognize my talents. I’m still proud of the four stories I wrote for that thesis that I couldn’t have completed without her wisdom. Getting to spend so much time writing and putting together that collection was a highlight of my time at UW.

How did your time as an English major prepare you for your current work? What skills do humanities students bring to your industry?

My English major prepared me for my career as a journalist in so many ways. It equipped me with close reading and critical thinking skills necessary to being an excellent journalist. I’m able to make straight news stories more narrative and enticing than average because of my creative writing background which makes my work stand out from the rest. I’ve wanted to advance in my career and become an editor for years, and going through workshops at UW where I had to provide constructive feedback helped me become someone people decades older than me rely on to consult with over their words, so in turn it’s helped my career growth. The media industry and how news is communicated is rapidly changing and we need creative storytellers who can shape its future.

What is one piece of career advice you would offer our English undergraduates?

Take a job that encourages and doesn’t block your creativity! If you pursue a career that involves writing full-time but find that that burns you out from the craft it is ok to take a step back and re-focus. I’ve been there!

Other majors, certificates, or key points of involvement during time at UW:

Along with my double major in journalism and creative writing, I served as Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Cardinal my senior year. I dedicate most of my time at UW; prior to being elected EIC I edited campus news and features while contributing arts content regularly. I was also a DJ at WSUM for most of time in undergrad. Illumination Journal selected one of my short stories for publication in their Spring 2019 issue.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Being queer plays a huge role in my life and writing. We need many more LGBTQ+ stories out there, especially as some people want to banish them. I would love to talk to LGBTQ+ writers along with anyone interested in pursuing journalism careers. I live in Brooklyn, NY but am a lifelong Wisconsin resident so I’m happy to talk to anyone interested in making a move like that or moving to NYC in general.