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Analyzing Literature (Taylor’s Version)

Photo Credit: Ashley Jackson, The Daily Beacon

What do megastar Taylor Swift and the UT English Department have in common? For the one hundred students who showed up for the inaugural meeting of the Taylor Swift Literary Club in September, more than you might think.

Sponsored by the English Department, this brainchild of lecturer John Han and Laura Snyder, literature major, brings the tools of literary analysis to America’s most popular songwriter.

The idea for the club came up in one of Han’s literature classes. To teach his students the importance of close reading he invited them to practice this activity using one of Swift’s songs. Their response convinced him that a club devoted to the singer’s lyrics would engage students by combining the skills taught in English classes with their passions outside the classroom. When he asked for someone to join him as a student assistant, Snyder was quick to sign on.

Taylor Swift, it turns out, is an ideal subject for a literary club.

“She tells a story the way a novelist tells a story, or a poet,” said Snyder. “She thinks of herself as a literary mind. She engages with words in a way others don’t.”

The songs on Swift’s 2020 album Folklore, for instance, are linked as part of an interconnected story, while the final track on the deluxe edition, “The Lakes,” refers to the Lake District associated with William Wordsworth and the English Romantic poets.

The inaugural meeting in the Nursing Education Building on September 14 opened with participants singing along with Swift’s music while getting to know each other. The discussion that followed addressed what it means to be “literary” and how literary terms and concepts apply to songs like “Getaway Car” and “Dear John.”

Han and Snyder worked with a detailed PowerPoint presentation to trace the uses of imagery, symbols, themes, figurative language, tone, and references to literary works in individual lines and stanzas. Students contributed their own insights as experts on Swift’s music and life.

Han is excited by the idea that they see themselves as Taylor Swift scholars.

“They know the lyrics so well, and they’re basically analyzing it all the time,” he said.

Students clearly love the discussion and the chance to be together talking about their idol.

“I’m really hoping this club creates a community on campus,” says Snyder. “Especially one that celebrates women’s empowerment and the things that words can accomplish.”

As the semester progressed, their activities extended beyond the classroom. In October, members were invited to attend a UT Volleyball game in Taylor Swift Eras attire, and the club co-hosted a Swift trivia night with the UT Pride Center.

Watch a Vol News video featuring the Taylor Swift Literary Club.