In Rachel May’s courses, students don’t just learn about writers’ work, they meet writers.
Over the past few years as a graduate student instructor in URI’s Department of English, May has arranged to have her literature and creative writing students speak with Jody Lisberger about her short stories; with Kristin Prevallet, David McGlynn, and Nancy Caronia about their nonfiction; and with M. NourbeSe Philip about her poetry.
This pedagogical practice brings her students in touch with writers, a choice that is important to her because, she says, students “don’t always see writers as real people and then when they speak with the writer they have a new perception of the work and what it means to be a writer. This is a regular person who wrote that book and that could be them.”
In her first semester at URI, Kara Watts enrolled in a modernism course with Professor Jean Walton, and it was here that an idea began to hatch when she read an excerpt of Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage. When we talked, Kara recalled that she hadn’t encountered Richardson before, but was immediately intrigued. Professor Walton recommended some useful resources to get started, and while Richardson’s work continued to interest her, Kara eventually decided to cut her work on Pilgrimage for the course’s culminating paper.
Remember, though, that this is a story about good work developing over time. It is also a story of how great work sometimes emerges from the waste basket. With her seminar paper submitted, Kara returned to the ideas that had originally so interested her in Richardson’s work. In particular, she continued to think about modernist conceptions of accumulation, everyday life, everyday habits, and the impulse she saw for modernists to accumulate “stuff.” While this accumulation doesn’t necessarily lead to connections, it did lead to collections, and this is especially prominent in Richardson’s work. Reading Pilgrimage evoked questions, such as: Is Richardson’s text faulty for these mundane masses of objects, risking alienating readers, like Mansfield, with assaults of “stuff”? Or, does this textual excess exhibit something else – a model of readership, an economic model of consciousness – that pushes these accumulations to the fore?