The holidays have been lovely: M and I stuck around home to catch-up on work as well as make a few small road trips, including a particularly beautiful and cloudless two days in Seattle. Now that January is here, it is time to get back to business. Everything I am teaching this semester I’ve done in some way or another before, but in this new context, the syllabi need serious updating. In particular, I’ve rethinking my introductory Shakespeare course with the help of some focused pedagogical reading.
I am about halfway through this recent volume from the MLA’s “Options for Teaching” series. Frankly, I’m loving it. The volume has a number of contributions from scholars I already favor, including Sarah Werner, Zachary Lesser, and Evelyn Tribble. For me, the collection is primarily helping me reconceptualize digital resources I use in my scholarship, such as Early English Books Online, Database of Early English Books, and Broadside Ballads Online, for the classroom. In the past, I’ve been more confident using digital platforms in courses unrelated to my speciality, such as Omeka. With this collection, I am finding new ways to employ these resources that won’t overwhelm or overshadow the actual objectives of the course.
The Shakespeare Studies community was rocked by the passing of Russ McDonald this past year. In memoriam, I’ve been working through the dense collection of forty brief essays he edited a few years ago for Arden on the New Critical practice of close-reading and Shakespeare. It is a skill I find my students less and less instinctively attuned to or having had previous experience with, so have been looking for more concrete ways of teaching the skill rather than taking it for granted. The range of readings, questions, and scholars is helping to expand my sense of what close-reading as a creative act is capable.
One thing I learned this semester is that my new institution has a strong creative writing and studio arts contingency of students; teaching them presents a unique set of pleasures of interpretive paths, but also some unique challenges. They are a very different audience than the large state-school, non-major courses with which I learned to teach. For example, their concerns and investments tend to me more craft-based rather than, say, contextual. In order to capitalize more fully on these concerns, I’ve been reading this collection—mostly in the mornings while under the hair-dryer—to get better acquainted with the vocabulary and investments of creative writing pedagogy in order to speak more directly to their interests.
“Hair-dryer” you ask? If we’ve ever had the chance to meet in person, at a conference or performance, one of my more distinctive features is absurdly curly hair—a gift of my Portuguese heritage. To keep it looking middle professional, I depend on an over-the-chair dryer. It takes about twenty minutes of my morning, which ends up being exactly the amount of time I need for a chapter or essay. My Hair-Dryer Stack is the scholarly reading I keep at home and work through slowly, but every day. It is also reading I have told myself I cannot or need not annotate. (I am a compulsive marker; I live in the margins.) These are not always field related, but I do try to make sure they comprise writing I enjoy reading. It helped hone my writer’s ear while in graduate school, and still find the practice a good way to kick-start my day and get into a writerly frame of mind.