Howard Hall Professor of English
B.A., North Central College
M.A. and Ph.D., University of Chicago
What is your favorite class to teach and why?
They're all my favorites when I'm teaching them. Maybe the top of the list would be Monsters in Film, because students help me catch up on recent monster films. The course focuses on "classics," like Frankenstein, Dracula, King Kong, and The Wolf Man from the 1930s and 1940s. We study how monsters are constructed, what kinds of stories we tell about them, and why they are so important to us. Still, I like to be able to notice connections with more recent films students have seen and to visit about what they like. I usually collect a list of "must sees" from each class. And besides, monster films are just fun.
But I love teaching American fiction, so I can reread my favorites, like Faulkner's Light in August, and Cather's My Antonia. One of the oddities of English professors is that we love reading books over again. I've lost count of how many times I've read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn! I wonder how many times I've read Crime and Punishment, my favorite from Russian Fiction?
Then there's writing fantasy fiction.... Want to hear about the rest of the courses I love? Come visit. Send me an e-mail.
What is your favorite website?
The Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project. You may have three guesses.
What book are you currently reading?
I just finished a fascinating story I'd never even heard of before I bought a copy, "The Eternal Husband," by Dostoevsky. I recommend it.
But my favorite contemporary writers are Ursula K. LeGuin and Louise Erdrich. I have A Plague of Doves on top of my bedside reading pile, and before Dostoevsky, I read Erdrich's The Antelope Wife. I believe that was the first novel that, after I finished it, I went right back to page one and read it through again. It's a mysterious and moving story, and it held me hard both times. And then, there's Orson Scott Card ....
What is the best getaway location, local or abroad?
The library? Well, any library. I especially enjoy visiting special collections at the Houghton Library at Harvard and the Maine Women Writers Collection in Portland, Maine. These have rich letter and manuscript collections in the actual handwriting of my secret love, Sarah Orne Jewett. Though she died in 1909, I've been her special friend for a long time, and one of my favorite ways of getting away, is to go look at another group of her manuscripts. Of course Boston and Portland have some other attractions. Clam chowder, anyone? I'm a fan of chowder.
What do you do outside of class?
My other answers make me look eccentric and bookish, but I believe my friends think I'm fairly normal. I enjoy walking almost anywhere, but especially in parks and open country. My wife and I do this together, which doubles the fun. A leisurely bike ride is high on my list, too. I usually get to play doubles tennis a couple times a week. And I see a lot of movies and listen to music. I also mow my lawn on a regular basis. As I am my mower's motor, it's rather a pleasant job. See, I'm sort of normal!
What does teaching at Coe mean to you?
I've been teaching at Coe for a very long time, and I've been weary many times. But I've never tired of teaching. The excitement of seeing young people become interested in something new, have "A-ha!" moments, take off to and return from some formerly exotic place - like New York or Wales--, discover what they want to do and go for it, realize that this education really is theirs and that Coe is here to help them take possession.... I'm not sure where that list ends.
Here's what I think is the most exciting moment of a teaching year, and usually I see several of them. Though I work with students from around the world, there's a sense in which everyone comes from a small place - home, the place that's familiar, that we first know. Coe also is a small place, but with a difference. Usually, sometime in the first or second year, most students realize that Coe is much bigger than it looks, that it borders on the whole world. The exciting moment is when a student realizes that she really can "fly" from here. She can do it, and Coe makes it possible. That's way cool. That's one big reason why I'm happy here.