How I became a Professor:“What made me go into English? It was the only thing I loved. I mean, what influenced me were the books – it was all the writers – Dickens, Eliot, and Chaucer, all those wonderful people. What made me go into English education? I never intended to do that! I came to the end of my undergraduate and, I mean honestly, I was so completely unaware of actually having to be a working adult that, I remember very clearly – this is confession time – I got a letter from this Greek society, Phi Beta Kappa. Didn’t know who the hell they were; but I did know this: I was politically against sororities and fraternities, so… I threw it away because I didn’t want to join and I assumed it was a sorority. I had mentioned this to one of my professors…he looked at me and basically said you’re an idiot, that wasn’t a sorority, that was a national honor society. So I dug up the letter again, and sent it in, and I told him and he said well that’s wonderful, ‘So which graduate school are you going to?’ I said, ‘Well I’m not going to graduate school, why would I do that?’ And he said, ‘Well what else are you going to do?’ and honestly, my idea, I think, was I was just going to continue to read, but now move myself up to Santa Barbara Proper and sit on the beach and do so. I remember being completely kind of free-floating at that point. I went to a lot of political rallies, and somehow I thought maybe that I could continue just to eat free food and read Dickens on the beach [laughs]…But anyways, so no, that clearly wasn’t going to happen, so he said ‘No, you need to go to graduate school.’ But I had missed all the deadlines. So he said, ‘You need to take the GRE,’ and I said right, I’ll do that, and I looked at it and I thought, well, I can’t do math, I’m terrible at math, what the hell and I supposed to do? So I called the graduate school at Santa Barbara and they told me that all you need to do is do well on the literature tests, put your head down for the math test, ‘We don’t care, we only care about this.’ Well I took the test, and I did really really well, because that’s kind of all I did anyway, was sit and read and think deep English-major thoughts…I sent in my application…and was accepted, and they gave me a very nice a stipend. That was super, because I was continuing to read and take classes. Then in the second year, somebody came to me and said ‘The stipend now is going to change to cover your work as a reader and as a T.A.,’ and I thought, what? And I discovered to my horror that they wanted me to teach. Then it was, ‘Oh! Ok,’ so honestly there was no grand plan, like looking at a teaching and thinking, ‘I want to be you.’ It was kind of bumbling around knowing only that I wanted to stay with the books. And so if somebody said ‘Do this so you can stay with the books,’ I did that.”
Before Marietta:“I was tutor at Santa Barbara, and then when I went to Davis I taught Composition classes while I was doing my M.A., and mostly through my Ph.D. Towards the end of the Ph.D. and then my year after, I started teaching their literature classes. My dissertation was in Medieval, so I was able to teach in the huge auditoriums, 200-300 people, and it was kind of a trip, it was kind of nice…by the time I left Davis, I was teaching a 300-level Medieval lit class in this huge auditorium. It was just a blast, you know, you feel like a rock star. But as I say, that was not my intended trajectory. I just really wanted to be paid to read.
I went on the job market, and I had three interviews…I just kind of clicked more with Marietta. Then all things came together when my older son was maybe two or threes years old. A friend of ours, in this little Northern California town, lived a street away, you know, very very close; she was murdered. My husband was the one who found her… but it was also we were coming out of the latter part of the 80’s; there was a lot of gang violence, a lot of drugs, and we couldn’t take our son to the playground because you’d find the syringe needles in the sandbox, and then Laura was murdered. We just made the decision that, of the three places, Marietta was the one where [our son] would be happiest growing up. That’s what it came down to. We wouldn’t choose the bigger city, we wouldn’t choose a different state or even the state of California. We would go to Marietta because it was small, and it was beautiful…and I think that actually has worked out. In many ways my children have been very lucky growing up in kind of a time-warp place; you don’t have to worry about them that much, and there’s all these lovely little traditions, and the college is right there….it just all came together.”
What I like best about this campus:“I do love my classes, particularly when I’m able to teach the majors, you know, the real literature classes; although when you’re teaching a great class like Mythology and people are just there because they’re mythology geeks, that’s wonderful as well. I’m very happy when I’m with the books, very very happy, and having been here for so long, many of the people who are here I’ve had as friends for decades now, that’s kind of nice…[I love] when I get to do things like torture you guys with Capstone; and essentially just to show people how you can come to a class or to literature, not knowing very much and then after a while, sort of growing to love it and to be talking about it – I love classes where I find that I and the students are talking about the characters as if they’re real, and we have to kind of remind ourselves, by the way, that’s fiction.”
I have published:
Imaginative Book Illustration Society:
“Doing Justice to Henry: A Biographical Study of Henry Justice Ford.”
This is an except from that publication:
“On 27th November, 1941 the London Times announced on its front page the arrival of Span to England’s shores and dinner tables, and buried within the pages dedicated to the names of war dead and those held in prisoner of war camps was a small obituary, one probably overlooked by most people caught up in the anxieties of those dreadful days of Blitz. Even if they had read it, it may have seemed frivolously old fashioned in its invocations of an era utterly blown away by time and bombs. The writer, who gave as his identity only the initials L.D.L., wrote simply that Henry Justice Ford, aged 81, had died on November 19th and that Ford had been a well-known name to innumerable children, an artist best remembered for his illustrations of Andrew Lang’s fairy books. L.D.L. wrote that Ford “never quite had the reputation as an artist he desired, perhaps because he was reckoned ‘only an illustrator’” but that “every year his inexhaustible fancy produced illustrations, decorative, charming, and sometimes a little alarming, of princes and princesses and fairies, demons, and animals.” It wasn’t uncommon that obituary writers gave only their initials, and in the case of Ford’s obituary, the writer was Lowes Dalbiac Luard (1872-1944), a painter, etcher and illustrator who had lived mostly in Paris before the outbreak of WWII, but who had been a regular visitor to London and had exhibited his paintings of landscapes and animals, particularly horses, at the Royal Academy and the Pastel Society. But what did make the obituary unusual was that Luard had no familial connection to the Ford family and that he chose not to disclose such typically given information as the place or manner of Ford’s death. Luard had instead struck a ruminative but protective tone to memorialize the life of Henry Justice Ford, not so very long ago one of the most prolific and best loved illustrators of children’s books spanning the 1880s to the 1920s…” (Hares-Stryker 27).
Hares-Stryker, Carolyn. “Doing Justice to Henry: A Biographical Study of Henry Justice Ford.” Imaginative Book Illustration Society No. 43 (2009): 27-64. Print.
To read more, copies of the article can be purchased at:
My area(s) of concentration:“Used to be Medieval…but I was increasingly drawn to the notion of the recreation of the Medieval age by the Victorians, so Medieval-ism. How people wanted to perceive what that period was like. So I became really interested in the Pre-Raphaelites, that was my first book. And then because of the Pre-Raphaelites I started being interested in some of the minor ones because a lot of the Pre-Raphaelites were illustrators, and so they illustrated – Tennyson, for example, or one of my favorite little minor ones, Arthur Hughes, who used to hang out with Rossetti and pet wombats and things like that [laughs] – he illustrated a lot for Christina Rosetti…and so he illustrated a lot of Pre-Raphaelite-like literature, but also it brought me into the illustration of children’s literature itself…I’ve been working a lot with what are called Golden Age illustrators, sort of 1880s into 1920s.”
I feel my strengths as a professor are:“Enthusiasm? Quirkiness? My warm and fuzzy personality? [laughs] I don’t know – it’s performance. Sometimes the audience is happy and sometimes it crashes.”
I struggle with:“Yeah! I struggle with the fact that increasingly students come ill-prepared, they can’t write well, they don’t think very well; they know how to take tests like in Ohio, the OGT, but you know they don’t have the critical thinking behind that. They’re good at knowing what they have to know. And a part of that of course means that its been years of essentially showing people that education is a matter of jumping through hoops, it’s not really the joy of just exploring ideas and thinking about things as a book suggests to you or, seeing how this will connect to something else because most standardized tests don’t care about the connective tissue, they care about the factoids. And so more and more people come to school and they’re not as well prepared and in many ways I think they actively dislike school. It’s not fun to them, it’s not liberating, it’s a chore, it’s a hoop, and it’s a hoop that they have to go through for jobs which, even that isn’t a guarantee, so it’s an uphill battle in a world where education is supposed to be purely pragmatic. To show that there’s a humanizing joyous aspect to this as well seems almost frivolous. Even colleges go along with that, out of necessity I suppose because it’s a, ‘Why are you coming to college?’ ‘So that you can get internships, so you can do this, so you can do that,’ and we’ve come to a point where we’re almost ashamed of discovering the aesthetic and the human within what we do.”
I revise my classes:“I teach a lot of new classes; I don’t do so much revising of old classes. I probably teach one or two new classes a year.”
What I want to gain from teaching:“Initially I think I wanted people to continue what we did. In other words, I wanted to recruit people into the ranks of geeky others, who would live for the books so they wouldn’t die out. There was a kind of selfish, almost reproductive quality to my dream there. To create enough people who care enough about this; then it keeps going. Because our major is relatively young; really it’s not a very old major, people think that it is. And, you know, the pragmatism of the last two or three decades has really started to convince me that’s probably not as likely any more.”
What I want my students to walk away with:“So I guess I just hope that people can be more…thoughtful after one of my classes. That they get used to the idea that you look at something and don’t accept it at face value, and you look at what it’s trying to ask you to consider further. I would love more and more people to continue the major, but with the economy, and with all of the other pressures, even within the academy itself: fewer and fewer jobs for people tenure-track wise, that’s hard. That’s really hard. I know Dr. Sullivan and I talk to each other about this; in some cases we don’t discourage students from going to graduate school, but we’re much more, ‘these are the realities of it.’ …But then like me, it might be like, what else are you going to do? I mean, I kind of fell in to what I did, but ultimately it was always, what else could I possibly do? I love this stuff. It really is kind of a vocation. So if you love it, you make it work, and if people pop out and say, ‘Well you know you have to do this,’ you go, ‘Ok, I’ll do that…’ The people who get doctorates and dissertations are not always the most brilliant; it’s the people who have the most perseverance, no matter what, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ And the goals, at least always for me, were very simple: I want to read the books, and I can’t do that in any other job.”
Why you should consider this English Department:“Why us? I genuinely think because our department has some really strong teachers and professors. We genuinely put a tremendous amount of energy into our classes; we are a very odd, quirky, and – yes it works – department. I think my sense is, from talking to students through the years, once you’re in the English Department you feel like you’re part of this kind of goofy family of sorts. So IF you come here: to join the goofy family.”