Monday, April 7, 2008

Writers Who Teach

. . . and teachers who write.
It's time to hail two winning professors from opposite ends of the generational spectrum.
The first is Dr. Maya Angelou of Wake Forest University. As USA Today writes:
She has been a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest since 1981 and owns an 18 room home in Winston-Salem, NC.
Now, she adds, "I'm not a writer who teaches. I'm a teacher who writes. But I had to work at Wake Forest to know that."
She describes the joy she finds in a classroom: "I see all those little faces and big eyes. Black and white. They look like sparrows in the nest. They look up, with their mouths wide open, and I try to drop in everything I know."
She has no plans to retire. She teaches one course each semester at Wake Forest. (Currently it's World Poetry and Drama Performance.)
She writes on yellow legal pads and says that even after all these years, a clean sheet of paper scares and thrills her: "I see a yellow pad, and my knees get weak, and I salivate. I know that sounds like coyness, but I have less coyness than modesty, and I have none of that." She laughs.
And then there's upcoming writer and novelist Tony Earley who is also a "writer who teaches" and a "teacher who writes." Dr. Earley is the Samuel Milton Fleming Chair in English at Vanderbilt University. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama and has taught at Vanderbilt since 1997. He has been named one of the twenty best young fiction writers in America by The New Yorker and one of the Best of Young American Novelists by Granta. His first book, Jim The Boy was widely acclaimed. That was followed by "mostly true" stories called Somehow Form A Family. His new novel, The Blue Star has just won additional acclaim. here's what USA Today says about Earley:
Tony Earley didn't plan to take eight years to write a sequel to his debut novel. But after the acclaim for Jim the Boy in 2000 -- Newsweek called it "dazzling" -- Earley says he was "afraid to write for a while," worried he might not be able to match his earlier success.
Then, he tried "to do something post-modern, just to prove I could, but apparently I couldn't." After three years, "having figured I'd sabotaged my career, I decided to go back to Aliceville (his fiction setting) and see what happened."
These two professor/writers and their respective universities are at the top of my list.
And, BTW: I happen to know a couple of fine young writers myself who benefited greatly from their studies at Wake and Vandy!

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