Every time Judge Clint Rucker visits his alma mater, I am inspired to be a better mentor and a more generous human being. I loved hosting Clint’s Dowman hallmate, Rev. Dr. Carlton Johnson, and their fellow Emory alumnus Rickey Adger. These generous men spent three hours with students from the Pre-Law Club and the Black Student Alliance—laughing, speaking truth, encouraging, listening, answering questions, sharing life advice, and telling stories about Oxford 40 years ago. Special thanks to Dr. Wade Manora, Tola Omotayo, and Lauren Wald for organizing the dinner and to Tammy Canfield, Director of Alumni Engagement.
What better place to write than the coast of Maine, on a shore filled with sea glass, and the friendship of an amazing editor, Uli Guthrie? I spent two weeks working on my book—in addition to trail running and cycling Acadia National Park. Uli sees the little things (from en dashes to the beautiful blades of a maple seed) and yet she also helps me step back and see the big picture. A month later, I spent a week in Chicago with my co-author, Noe Martinez and my son John: we watched some brilliant Shakespeare, quested for graffiti, swam in Lake Michigan, and worked on our third writing project, a book about literature and prison.
When people are subjected to deep and sustained stress, they can respond with anger, with aggression, with avoidance, or with withdraw. Or they can be resilient. I seem to be surrounded by resilient people this Spring: my Oxford students, who filled the classrooms on the first day back with their creativity, kindness, laughter, and intellectual curiosity; my family, who cared for my mom through the last ten months of cancer with extraordinary dedication and love; and the dauntless, inspiring people at the Multifaith Initiative to End Mass Incarceration.
People like Charles Browning, pictured here at the conference at Ebenezer Baptist Church. The criminal legal system has subjected Charles to enormous stress, but he responds with generosity, with imagination, and with love. Charles volunteers to encourage and inform people about college in prison, even amid the fourth return of his cancer. As for Jane and Rich, also at the conference, their son’s long sentence at the Federal Penitentiary could have broken them—instead, they have formed a nonprofit to help other families navigate a loved one’s prison sentence. They radiate a kind of powerful love that inspires everyone in their orbit.
Then there’s my family. I watched my dad care for his wife of sixty-four years with tenacity and love (and a lot of ice cream). Along with my brother, sister, and our extended families, we all climbed the last mountain of mom’s cancer journey alongside her, communicating and grieving and remembering and laughing together.
And finally, my students. What if your professor plunges you into Milton’s “Lycidas” and the first scene of Hamlet and a psychological study on metaphor on the first day of class? My students leaned into the challenge. One student held the door for me as I struggled with an enormous Milton anthology and a cup of coffee, another student asked if we could move the desks into a semi-circle so they could see each others’ faces, and a third student stayed after class to note the differences in Shakespeare’s paucity of stage directions and a contemporary playwright. These are the post-Covid students, whose high school years were fraught with pandemic disruptions and political turmoil.
These are the resilient people who inspire me.
Thanks to the generosity of Oxford College’s Academic Affairs, I have leave from teaching this fall. I miss the classroom but am grateful for the extra time and mental space to write and study in the archives, especially with my daughter, Kathryn.
University of Virginia Special Collections
Today my daughter Kathryn taught me how to collate, or how to compare two editions of the same book for textual changes. Here she is working on her MA thesis:
Princeton University Special Collections
For a week in June, I studied how to teach the history of the book with Professor Michael Suarez, SJ at Rare Book School. Prof. Suarez and my inspiring classmates (including old friends, and new) demonstrated how I can activate my students’ wonder and how I can honor the community of people who created the books that I teach at Oxford College—books like Paradise Lost, King Lear, and The Faerie Queene.
I learned how to teach in a way that will help my students understand that the linguistic code is only part of the book—they must also understand the bibliographic and social codes. I will try to help students understand that every text we read is the product of a world of human labor, from the paper makers, to the compositors, to the bankers, to the illuminators, to the rubricators, to the railway workers.
And as I learned from my RBS professor, I will model humility for my students, inculcate wonder, teach in pairs, construct the story, model affect, and help students understand that “knowledge and love are inextricably linked.” I will teach understanding that “speed kills wonder.”
Below are some images that hardly do the books or the experience justice.
Emory’s “sidecar” courses bring together two professors from different disciplines—like behavioral biology and Shakespeare—to find points of connection with their shared students.
I look forward to connecting with my colleague and friend, Dr. Rick Thompson, as students cross boundaries between science and literature. We will also work with the acting crew at Atlanta’s Shakespeare Tavern.
February 3, 6-8:45 p.m. Zoom
February 24, 6-8:45 p.m. Humanities Hall 202
March 19, 1 p.m., Shakespeare Tavern
March 31, 6-8:45 p.m. Humanities Hall 202
April 21, 6 p.m. Dr. Higinbotham’s house for a lakeside picnic
Course Description, IDS 290:
Shakespeare’s plays confront different models and representations of gender, including the permeability of gendered differences and the construction of gendered identities. His plays interrogate, rather than answer, a fixed idea of gender. In ENG 312, students examine how Shakespeare presents a reversibility and often a confusion between what seems to correspond culturally to the masculine or the feminine. Similarly, Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology interrogates many of the same issues by exploring how hormones influence social behaviors. In NBB 304 and its Lab, students focus on the relationship between hormones, brain function, and behavior, as well as the techniques used to investigate them. They identify how brain neurochemistry affects social behavior. In the Sidecar course, students will explore gender through both art and science, both dramatic aesthetics and hormonal influences.