John William King Professor of Literature and Creative Writing
B.A. Oberlin College
M.A., Ph.D., University of Michigan
What is your favorite class to teach and why?
One of my favorite courses is British Renaissance Poetry partly because the material is so delicious and it's so crazy and great that I get paid to sit around with a bunch of smart people and talk about these gorgeous poems, my favorite poems. There was an explosion of poetry writing in England in the sixteenth-century; when you read these poems, especially when you read them chronologically, you see a national literature in the making. The poems themselves are marvels of invention but also of imitation and influence as poets figure out first how to adapt the great Italian and French Renaissance lyric poetry to the shape of the English language and then as they enter into dialogue with each other through innovative uses of the same traditions and conventions. Generally the students have had limited exposure to this poetry before the class and they tend to get drawn into its intricacies and preoccupations; I get a kick out of seeing that happen.
Name your most memorable Coe program.
I was deeply moved by the presentation made by the first group of students who did an Alternative Spring Break service-learning trip to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. Some of them also wrote very powerfully about this experience and, more recently, Stephanie Beecher '08 made a terrific documentary about one of the latest Coe trips down there. This is testimony to ways in which Coe students put their education into action and connect themselves to the larger world in really important ways.
What is your most memorable moment in dealing with a Coe student?
I loved the moment this spring at the annual English Department party for our graduating seniors when a group of students walked in wearing matching t-shirts proclaiming "Quotes don't stand alone" which is one of my hobbyhorses, a comment that my students always see in the margins of their papers.
Who is playing on your iPod?
When it's hooked up to our home stereo, mostly music my daughter enjoys including Dan Zanes (the best kids' musician around), The Beatles, The Nields, Josh Ritter, and, most recently, Jonathan Richman.
What book are you currently reading?
I've just started Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. It's the summer reading for this fall's incoming first-year class-but I was going to read it anyway. I'm really interested in the questions of where our food comes from and how to make responsible decisions about what we buy and eat-these are really issues about how we choose to live. I'm also reading Shakespeare and Company by Stanley Wells, a slightly gossipy account of the community of actors and writers living and working in London at the end of the sixteenth-century. It's full of juicy tidbits.
What do you do outside of class?
I play whatever game my four-year-old has invented at the moment. Some recent favorites are Restaurant, Parade and Ribbon Store (we sell ribbons). I swim year-round and around March I start training for a sprint triathlon I do in July in Wisconsin, an all-women's event that is wonderfully positive and fun.
What does teaching at Coe mean to you?
Coe is a transformational experience for most of our students. It's different from the schools I attended in that I think Coe students change more while they're here. I see that they often end up in very different places than they expected when they started. I mean this literally, like the English graduates who go off each year to teach in Thailand or a recent grad who, much to her surprise, discovered in her last term through her internship at an art gallery that she wants a career in non-profit cultural organizations. But also, more broadly, so many of our students find out that there are many more things available to them in their lives-careers, avocations, locations, ways of being in the world-than they knew existed before Coe. And I don't think it's just college that changes them, I think it's specifically the way Coe invites students to open up to their own abilities and offers opportunities to take on new roles and responsibilities. We provide a lot of support but we also provide a lot of challenges. So, for me, teaching at Coe is being part of that discovery.
What is your favorite thing about Coe?
Our students: open, receptive to challenges, spunky.
What is your favorite Coe tradition?
Student Research Symposium in April-I love seeing what our students have been up to.
What advice would you give a prospective student?
First, when you come to Coe, take risks: take classes in subjects you don't know anything about and join an organization different than anything else you've done before. Don't stick with areas you're already good at. Open some new doors.
Second, your first purchase should be the Coe Academic Planner, a datebook-organizer, and you should use it every day, several times a day. Time management is the biggest single challenge of college (and life).