Jackson Prince? More Like Jack(son) of All Trades!
From directing the 2018 Fall production of The Addams Family to being an essential member of The Chronicle, Jackson Prince does it all. I first met Jackson my second year at Duke when I took a class on The Western with Professors Moses and Ferraro. Jackson was immediately singled out by Moses and Ferraro when they found out his father is a film producer and that he was interested in potentially following his father’s footsteps. The next semester, I again found myself in a class with Prince on The Art of Profile Writing. Finally getting to sit down and talk to him about his varying interests within the English Department, I found that Jackson is a Reynolds Price Scholar, which is an English major specific scholarship, and that he approached his idea of the English major in the broadest way possible. He tells me, “Especially on a campus that says yes to everything you want to do, if you want to do it that really has limitless possibilities so you can extend yourself in ways that are often surprising.”
Not only majoring in English, but using his major to combine academic rigor with studying stories, has allowed Jackson to apply what he learned on campus in an appealing way. Having a Harvard English major turned writer/producer for a father and a Brown Theater Studies major turned actress for a mother, Jackson was highly encouraged to use his time at Duke to continue to create. For his Sophomore and Junior year, Jackson was the editor of The Chronicle’s Opinion section, in addition to being a Line Monitor in the acapella group Speak of the Devil, and holding various roles in the largest performance group on campus, Hoof N’ Horn. He directed the Spring 2018 production of The Producers and the Fall 2018 Production of The Addams Family and will perform in Spring Awakening this winter.
Jackson explains that he has “learned [part of] the responsibility of an English major is that you have to take those things and then put them out in the world and not just keep it within the Allen building, but actually push it out and tell stories out there. That’s essentially how I went about treating the English major to everyone, including the people that gave me a scholarship to study for it.” Especially since the Allen building not only houses the English Department, but also the President’s Office and how it is a part of Duke’s student activism history through its occupation in 2015, Jackson felt very strongly about the responsibility of English majors to take what they learn about communication and storytelling and utilize it across campus.
Now in his Senior year, Jackson is currently working with Studio Duke, as part of the innovation and entrepreneurship program, to create and put on his own musical. Looking back on his time at this school, he acknowledges that he “could have done PoliSci… [or] PubPol... [or] things with more of a focus that might have propelled [him] toward a specific career, but one of the reasons [he] love[s] the English major is that it took all those fields a step back and really allowed [him] to break down how to phrase [his] thoughts” and large scale ideas and issues so that they actually seem solvable.
Jackson Prince thinks of English as really being “the ideal major if you are going in and have a ton of passion, ideas, and are a humanities person that wants to fine-tune them.” Now knowing he wants to go into politics, Jackson tells me that if he didn’t have the time and space to figure out what was really important to him he may have ended up on a career path that he would not enjoy as much.
As a piece of advice to incoming or current students, Jackson wishes that it were a requirement to take an English class, not just Writing 101, and to visit the Writer’s Workshop to learn to think of English as more than just structural and grammatical skills but the mindset of creative communication and innovation through having English as a foundation for your passions. He even notes that his other senior friends find that as their time at Duke comes to an end they really wanted to take an English class and those who do have the chance to often go back to Jackson and basically say, “Wow, why did I not do that sooner.”
While he feels that the overall social network of English majors could be better with some sort of event where, maybe when Sophomores declare, all the English majors can meet and talk, Jackson does really enjoy the specific classroom dynamics the department has provided over the last four years for him. He says, “When I am sitting in a class full of English students, there is just nothing better.” Jackson then explains that he thinks studying English “makes you a more interesting person. So much of college is already thinking pre-professionally and if you are really worried about it impacting your career, English is one of the easiest majors to double with. If you’re really worried about it, do the thing that’s gonna kill you, but let English be rewarding.” While this is definitely not a department that just hands out As or guarantees that the classes will be easy, Jackson Prince clarifies and says that many of his friends or peers just find the classes more enjoyable.
For example, Jackson tells me about two classes he took and got A+’s in. “Not because I was putting in more effort than anyone or that I was the best writer in class, but there were just moments that happened in those classes that clicked with what I needed at that time. So I had this revelatory experience in class like, this is the class that I want to excel in.” Jackson goes on to say, “ I don't think that happens all the time at Duke, I think that it happens sometimes and we study really interesting things, but those things don't pay off for you in return, [while] English classes do. Those classes feel like you're just checking things off.” Jackson tells me how he sees many of his friends studying things like Computer Science or other STEM-based majors who revel in the chance to do something creative with their skills and often end up doing something humanities-based when they do.
One of the most influential experiences Jackson has had at Duke was just the move from Beverly Hills, a place that is “like 85% Jewish or something crazy like that” to Duke where it is 12-15%. With this change, he felt like he lost part of his identity. Trying to connect more with hist Jewish culture, Jackson plans on being Bar Mitzvahed at the end of February next year. He tells me that “actually what really inspired me to do it was I read this book called Daniel Deronda in a Victorian literature class. We basically just read all this romantic Victorian literature, which was not my thing, but that book came around and it's sort of about a Jew who doesn't know he's Jewish and sort of has to go find himself and it's this George Eliot story that is just incredible and after reading that I was just like I have to do this. Sometimes books can change your life.”
Even when he was just telling me the story about how readings from his English major have influenced his passions, it was clear how much he admired the department and the space it gave students on this campus. His eyes lit up with excitement while he talked and there was this quasi-euphoric look as he recalled one of his most spiritual moments at this school.
After telling me about how English helped him explore his cultural background even more, Jackson says, “I feel like I am so prepared to go out into the world and have a taste. A lot of what we talk about in the English major is how you build up your taste and how the things that you like and the things that you don't like are ultimately going to lead you to create things. So, like this department does a great job of not just helping you write and [learn the] technical stuff but also it...first questions...did you like what we read or watched and I think that it's really important. I really love that it’s a staple of the department because it ultimately gives power back to the students as it’s like we recognize that you’re coming from a background and we recognize that you have your own ideas, our job is to challenge them and play with them, but were gonna acknowledge at the end of the class that you really liked or really didn't like what we did and you’re gonna go forward and take that however you will. I love that attitude, it’s so specific.”