I am an associate professor of English and the director of the liberal
arts program at NU. I primarily teach courses in literary theory and
modernist and contemporary literatures as well as our general education
foundation course for all students, introduction to literature.
have published on the Anglo-American writer Christopher Isherwood,
including a version of my dissertation, Queer Times: Christopher
Isherwood’s Modernity (Routledge, 2006) and am currently working on an
invited talk on “The ‘Art’ of Living: Writing as Transformative
Spiritual Practice in Isherwood’s My Guru and His Disciple (1980).” My
interest in the effects of writing and of reading also inspired my
recent article on the proliferation of empirical studies of immersive
fiction reading and empathy, in which I point to the potential limits of
scientific study for apprehending the full experience of immersion in a
text (or ‘getting lost in a book’).
My prior service commitments
include Academic Senate and the Outcomes Assessment committee;
currently, I serve on the University Planning Council. I have been
advisor to the English honor society and now to our literary and art
journal, The Aquila. Since arriving at NU eight years ago, I have
volunteered at the Heart, Love and Soul Soup Kitchen of Niagara Falls.
Why Niagara? Why VMI?
I walked into my morning class last week, a student asked me: “Do you
believe in divine intervention?” She was preparing for study abroad in
London, and just before submitting the paperwork, she noticed for the
first time that a university in Galway that her grandfather attended –
also by chance – after the Second World War, was on our exchange list.
In an instant all of her plans changed. This week, a colleague in
Religious Studies came into my office with a similar story – his plans
for sabbatical have changed due to certain ‘signs’ that aligned
themselves in ways he couldn’t ignore. We discussed Augustine (I happen
to be teaching Confessions for the first time this semester in my senior
seminar on autobiography), and the questions of coincidence or
“calling” that text raises. I begin with these experiences because they
frame one way I might tell my story of “why Niagara?” Trained in
postmodern theories, I find it a challenging question to answer. Like
anyone’s, my story – and the meaning I ascribe to it – has evolved over
the years and could be narrated in a variety of ways depending on point
of view and time.
Niagara’s core focus on the liberal
arts and a broad-based general education, along with its Vincentian
mission, is grounded in a belief that knowledge can transform lives.
These values connect with my own belief that literature and literary
theory can change hearts and minds, can give voice to the oppressed, can
evoke empathy, can move us in untold ways. Over the years, I have
sought to engage students, particularly in the introduction to
literature course, to find their own pathways into literature, whether
affectively or critically, to reflect on their own experiences and
possibly to rethink the world around them. Lately, though, I’ve been
feeling the strain of the devaluation of literary study in mainstream
culture and have been questioning whether and how to continue doing what
I do. At a moment when such reflection might have taken me down another
path, I received an article from Father Maher that happened to be about
vocation. Written by a seminary student-turned psychology major-turned
English professor, it tells the story of a journey toward a calling, a
journey with which I can certainly identify (save for the seminary).
And so I find myself, these days, trying out new ways to
inspire students – having them listen to and tell stories of others that
may not otherwise get heard and exploring the relation between writing
and transformation – practices that can translate into real world
experience and into their personal lives. My hope is that the VMI will
help me to integrate more wholly the Vincentian mission with my
approaches to education both within and outside the classroom.