The New School News

Philosophy Doctoral Student Sarah Schweig Awarded the Jake Adam York Prize for Her Poetry Collection

“When people hear you’re studying philosophy, they think you’re doing something totally unrelated to the world, whereas I see it as completely applicable to almost everything. It’s an incredible tool and skill,” says Philosophy doctoral student Sarah Schweig. She finds applications for her study of this discipline in her poetry. She was recently awarded the 2023–2024 Jake Adam York Prize for her collection The Ocean in the Next Room. In selecting this volume, judge Cynthia Cruz said, “This extraordinary collection of poems does that strange thing Hegel tells us all great art does: In his lectures on aesthetics, Hegel tells us that art makes appear the structures that would otherwise remain invisible to us. Through a series of interconnected pieces this collection works through and brings to light the complexities of life lived in the twenty-first century.”

“I wrote most of these poems while studying philosophy,” says Schweig. “I think it has really informed my writing for the better. There are probably traces of the philosophy in the poetry, and in the philosophy you can see how poetry informs some of my thinking. It’s a lot, but everything works together.” 

Schweig has a background in writing, having completed a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in poetry writing at the University of Virginia, and an MFA from Columbia University. After years of working outside of academia, in communications and digital media, she came to The New School to study philosophy because she reached a particularly challenging point in her writing. “I started to become skeptical of what I was writing. So I started trying to read the philosopher Immanuel Kant on my own, and I was lost. I realized there was this whole history of thought I was not acquainted with, and I couldn’t be the writer or the poet that I wanted to be if I didn’t understand something of that history of thought,” she says. After hearing Simon Critchley, the Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy, at a book reading in New York City, she emailed him to ask if she could sit in on a philosophy class. She attended the course Critique of Pure Reason, taught by associate professor of philosophy Omri Boehm, thinking that would be enough, but it only opened up more questions. 

“I applied for the master’s in philosophy, so that I would have a full background in the subject, thinking, once I had that degree it would be enough. This was supposed to just make my writing better. However, after I completed the MA degree, I thought, maybe I need a few more classes. Now I’m working on my dissertation. I started this as a quest to make my poetry better and got immersed in studying it for its own sake,” she says. “What’s unique about The New School is that the Philosophy department did see the merit in admitting someone like me, who had a rigorous background, though not in philosophy, but a very determined interest in learning it. That has been incredibly valuable to me.”

Through her studies, Schweig has discovered that what most people think of as an abstract academic discipline can be applied in a variety of fields and industries—including at her editorial job at an animal welfare nonprofit organization. “One of my interests in philosophy has been animal ethics. It’s a way to try to put that into practice.” 

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