Education

  • Princeton University (A.B., 1999)
  • University of California, Berkeley (Ph.D., 2009)

Research and/or Creative Interests
Right now I’m writing about Dickens novels, country music lyrics, qualities of dimness in Byron’s and Tennyson’s verse, and stuttering characters in fictions. I hope students this year will get me to think about new topics, too. I usually learn more from students than I do from spending time in the library (though I will always be an advocate for spending time in the library!).

Teaching Interests
My teaching and research interests are pretty much one and the same. I think about—and try to get students to think about—what is so valuable about the moment-to-moment experience of reading imaginative literature. For example, reading a little poem—like Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty”—only takes a minute or so. And then we typically turn the page (or put down the book) and forget about what we just read. Life goes on. But that minute-long experience, while it was happening, was thrilling. Why? I ask the same questions about the mind’s interaction with very long novels, like those of Charles Dickens. I know that this interest in little poems and big novels might sound strange, but maybe the great literary works keep drawing us back to them for similar reasons.

Teaching Approach
I try to conduct class as if it’s a conversation. For this to work, I expect students to do all of the primary reading—and some background reading on historical context, etc.—in advance. Facts about an author’s life, for example, are interesting but easy enough to find on one’s own. I try to avoid getting bogged down in that kind of information, and instead spend the bulk of class talking with students about the works as works, about what they do for our minds.  

Why did you become an English professor?
Freud is whispering into my ear—

My mom is an English professor, and we both did our graduate work on the same author, Charles Dickens (though we approached his works in different manners). I love her a lot, so I’m sure I do this work as a way to always be close to her.

My stutter also probably played a role. When I was a little kid, I had a tough time talking. Maybe when you can’t speak beautifully, you find yourself drawn to beautiful words."

Why teach X?
19th-century British literature is an embarrassment of riches—big, sprawling luxurious novels (the serial TV shows of their day), incredible poems (the Romantic period is one of the high-water marks in the history of English verse, and the Victorian poets weren’t slouches either), and a fascinating historical period to inform it all (the coming of the Industrial Revolution, the challenge presented by Darwin’s theory of natural selection, etc.).

Outside of being a professor, what do you do for fun and/or relaxation?
I’m an obsessive exerciser. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of running, yoga, and swimming.

What are your expectations of students?
I expect students to work hard—to do the reading, to think about what they’ve read, to care about every sentence that they write. My hope is that this work won’t always feel like work since we get to read, discuss, and write about such gorgeous things.

What's something about you that might surprise your students?
I've watched every Minnesota Vikings game for the last 20+ years (unless I was on a plane when the game was happening). I watch them even though they make me cry at least once a year.