By Shae Katagi

At the beginning of this year, I became the vice dean of the English Advisory Board. Yes, I made that title up. No, my boss does not like it. Yes, I will continue to call myself that.

As the vice dean, I am in charge of planning and executing events to build community and excitement around the English major. Since both the English Advisory Board and the title of vice dean are new this year, there were no rubrics to follow, no shoes to fill. 

Thus, my good friend, Ethan Lex, and I made our own goal. We wanted to create a mysterious and legendary tradition that the English department could carry out ad infinitum. There’s nothing more legendary than glory, and nothing so glorious as winning (don’t check the theological validity of that), and nothing more fun to win than a tournament. By the end of our half-hour brainstorming session, we had come up with the Duel After Dark, the creative writing showdown after sundown. 

Students participating in duel after dark

The average dueling experience goes something like this: Once a month, you show up in Minthorn just before 9 p.m. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Newberg, but it’s full of youthful energy as students and professors mingle and try to talk over the music that accompanies the theme. So far, we’ve had Wild West, Detective Noir, Medieval Fantasy, Amish Romance, and Greek Life. If you have a spare minute, listen to the Medieval remix of Pumped Up Kicks, or if you are in the mood to do an Amish jig, Maydly Vit du Hayra by John Schmid will certainly scratch that itch. You won’t regret looking these songs up, I promise. 

Most people come dressed on theme, and take pictures with the decorations that adorn the Minthorn 200 classroom, from painted stained glass windows to rainy alleyways projected on the wall. The lights are low, and there is an air of mystery and anticipation, even in the duels that aren’t detective themed. 

As the host, I eventually ring the golden bell and ask everyone to find a seat. The desks are arranged in a slightly ominous ring around two desks facing each other in the center. At each duel, eight contestants go head-to-head in a bracket-style creative writing tournament. Every round, two competitors receive a writing style and a topic that fits the theme. Some examples from past duels include an aphorism about a dried up ox skull, a diary entry of a knight in training, Amish pickup lines, and dictionary entries of new frat boy slang (read to the end to see real responses). The contestants then get an arbitrary amount of time – usually around 3 minutes and 42 seconds – to write. 

All is eerily quiet as the contestants scribble their submissions on scrolls, type them on old typewriters, or print them on lined paper – whichever method matches the theme. Meanwhile, the audience can write their own responses, doodle, or just sit and appreciate how good of a job we did decorating. 

When time runs out, I read the two creations aloud to the judge without revealing the identity of the authors. The submissions, since they are written under pressure by very talented people, are usually hilarious or impressive – usually both. The audience applauds after each reading, then the prestigious judge – a member of the English department faculty whose specialty aligns with that month’s theme – then chooses which writer will move on to the next round.

The rounds continue until one writer emerges victorious and their work is enshrined forever in the Literary Hall of Fame (the gfu_english Instagram). Audience members can also turn in their papers for the chance to be featured on Instagram. 

So far, we have had no repeat winners, and half of the winners were not even English majors. There are two engineering majors who have competed in every duel, and even won one of them. In this way, the duels not only get English majors to socialize with each other and interact with faculty, but also give students in other majors an outlet for their creative energy and a chance to make connections with other writers. 

Students standing and smiling

It’s incredible to see how talented and funny my peers can be, even when they’re put on the spot. I think sometimes English majors can take themselves and the literature they consume and produce too seriously, so it’s great to be able to enjoy being creative for the sake of being creative – and for the incomparable glory that winning a Duel After Dark provides, of course. 

I’m excited to continue my work as vice dean, running events that build up the English community and connect it to other majors. That’s what vice deans are for, after all. 

Amish Pick Up Lines 

Is your skin as soft as butter? Cause I’d sure like to churn it by hand. 

Clara Lind 

I wish to know you as well as I know the Lord’s Word. 

Shianna Deck-Ugelstad

Are you sourdough? Cuz I knead you. 

Rachel Vorster 

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