A key for creativity is to draw inspiration from anywhere – family, nature or the deepest desires. Ask Sophia Newton, a senior English major with a literary studies concentration, and she will tell you, she finds inspiration from the city of Peoria and her ballet students.
Newton was a finalist for the Stein Academy of American Poets Prize with her poem “Springdale Cemetery II,” which recognizes Peoria’s largest burial ground. She was honorably mentioned for the Chapman Critical Writing Award for her critical essay “There’ll Be Scary Ghost Stories: Reconciling ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ with Victorian Christmas Traditions.”
Additionally, she won the 2019-2020 English Senior Scholar Award from Bradley’s English department. The award is given to one junior, who is selected by faculty, for outstanding performance and contributions to the department and community.
“I think this spring was very bleak and stressful for a lot of people, with COVID and the emergency switch to online classes,” Newton said in an email interview. “Finding out that I won was a much-needed bright spot for me.”
But Newton’s favorite pieces of personal work aren’t up for any awards this year. One is a piece about the depleting Illinois prairie entitled “I-74.” The other is a critical essay exploring the binary opposition of body and soul in Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre.”
Her love of English and literature stems from a young age and has been an additional source of inspiration for her.
“I come from a long line of English lovers,” Newton said. “My grandfather is a high school English teacher, and my dad is so passionate about literature that he says he would have named me ‘Oscar’ (for Oscar Wilde) if I would have been born a boy. I come from a family of seven, and each of us is a writer in some regard.”
Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies Robert Prescott noted that Newton’s love for literature bleeds into the classroom as well, taking interest in other classmates’ work.
“She has read so broadly and so deeply, in both literary study and history, that she always has something fascinating to share, connections she has made between real life and the story or the poem at hand, now or in the past,” Prescott said.
Peoria’s history and scenery provide Newton with not only ideas for her writing, but life goals as well. She’s volunteered with the Peoria Historical Society for four years and plans to publish a collection of Peoria poetry as an anthologist.
“I am really passionate about local history,” Newton said. “Peoria is a hidden gem – we are rich in history and culture.”
In addition to writing award-winning pieces, Newton trained as a ballerina for nine years before college and teaches 10 classes a week in Peoria Heights to students of all ages. She said it provides a place to be creative and passionate outside the blue glow of a computer screen.
“Ballet allows me to express ideas through movement, rather than words (which is what I do as an English major),” Newton said. “It’s a nice change of pace sometimes.”
After Bradley, she plans on attending graduate school. She hopes to teach English at a community college after Bradley, specializing in Victorian literature. She said she transferred into Bradley from a community college and wants to support that sect of education.
Prescott said that decision makes perfect sense for her.
“Sophia’s writing, too, is so mature and sophisticated that you would think it was the work of a Ph.D. candidate, not an undergraduate,” Prescott said.
Reflecting on her past three years at Bradley, Newton insists that younger English majors “trust in their own abilities and embrace their niche” to succeed in the department.
“Genuine passion will take you very far, so embrace it,” Newton said. “Also, make friends with the faculty. Bradley is blessed to have some world-class English professors. I admire them endlessly, and I’ve grown so much as a scholar and a person under their guidance.”
You can find Newton’s poetry and research in Bradley’s Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 editions of “Broadside” and in Peoria Historical Society’s journal, “Timeline,” respectively.