Hum Along: Or, How I Took Up Guitar and Became a Poet

What have you learned about life?

by David Baker (Denison)

Bob and Carol Crawford lived four houses down from us, on East Circle Drive, in Jefferson City, Missouri.  Right in the middle of their tiny trimmed yard was the white-brick house, so heavily paneled and carpeted inside that, sitting there one summer afternoon, I felt like I’d been plunked into a Kleenex box.  But when Mr. Crawford—Bob—leaned over to slip me a new half-dollar, silver as a tooth, I knew I was destined to play music for the rest of my life.  It was 1966.  I had lugged my plum-red Gibson Melody Maker guitar and my amp, the size of a boot box, down to Crawford’s for my first professional performance.  I played two songs—some scaly melody out of Mel Bay #2 or #3 and “Wildwood Flower” (or “The Groovy Grubworm,” as one guitar book called it).  I no longer own the amp or guitar, but I still have that coin. Continue reading “Hum Along: Or, How I Took Up Guitar and Became a Poet”

The Professor Was a Prison Guard

How does college relate to the real world?

By Jeffrey J. Williams (Carnegie Mellon)

When I was 20, I left college and took a job in a prison. I went from reading the great books as a Columbia University undergraduate to locking doors and counting inmates as a New York State correction officer. Since I’m an English professor now, people never entirely believe me when the issue comes up, probably because of the horn-rimmed glasses and felicitous implementation of Latinate words. I fancied I’d be like George Orwell, who took a job as an Imperial Police officer in Burma and wrote about it in “Shooting an Elephant.” I thought I’d go “up the river” to the “big house” and write “Shooting an Inmate” or some such thing. It didn’t quite happen that way, although as a professor, I’ve worked 14 of 16 years in state institutions. Continue reading “The Professor Was a Prison Guard”

My Ignorance and Me, in Front of a Classroom

What have you learned about teaching?

by Kase Johnstun (Tacoma CC)

I’m a transplant to Tacoma, Wash., like many. Before packing up the truck, loading up the dogs, and leaving behind a stiff mortgage in Salt Lake City, I heard the warnings and rumors about T-Town. “It stinks.” “Tacoma Aroma.” “Full of crack whores, bums, and gangs.” But when the yellow truck dropped down from Snoqualmie Pass, as we traveled along the Green River, and when we pulled into our apartment complex that sat on the edge of rippling waters of Commencement Bay, I knew the complainers, the voices that dominated chat rooms and review boards, had it wrong. Or maybe they just hadn’t seen Tacoma through the eyes of a transplant and his ignorance. Continue reading “My Ignorance and Me, in Front of a Classroom”

The Pleasures of the Unfamiliar

What kind of person are you?

by Curtis Perry (U of Illinois)

If you read this and come see me at the University of Illinois, I think you’ll find me to be generous and helpful but not chummy.  I am myself a private and somewhat reserved person—which is why I’ve chosen to write about my scholarly rather than my personal life here—but I do like to be helpful and I love meeting earnest students who want to get the most out of their college experiences. Continue reading “The Pleasures of the Unfamiliar”