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 Stephanie Beecher '08 made a terrific documentary about one of the 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 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.
What book are you currently reading?
Shakespeare's Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects by Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum and I just finished a wonderful novel by David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.
What do you do outside of class?
I’ve started playing the piano again, picking up where I left off when I was in elementary school.
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, funny, smart, and 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?
One, 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).
Two, 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.