Grad School Memories: Part Three

Faculty memories from those who #KeepMortonWeird…

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Dr. Meghan Sweeney

1.     What was your best grad school experience?

Buffalo, NY was the best place to go to graduate school. I loved going to poetry readings at Cornershop, attending art exhibits at Big Orbit, and exploring abandoned grain elevators and the train station. All of these experiences helped my academic experiences gel.

Academically, my best moment was my oral examination. After reading 60 books and successfully answering questions about them for two and a half hours in front of three brilliant professors, I have never felt smarter.

2.     What was your worst grad school experience?

Realizing that, after my orals exam, I would never feel this smart again.

3.     What was the place outside of your home/apartment where you spent the most time?

I spent a lot of time at home working—Buffalo being what it is (or was), our whole house was less than $500/month. Other than that, though, I’d say the Mohawk (a bar where all the best bands came) and roaming around Toronto. And, of course, roaming around Lockwood Library, looking for journals from the 19th century and first edition children’s books.

4.      What text/book did you read in grad school that you never want to encounter again?

At the time, I would have said Princess Cassimassima. I was just James-weary, and now I’d consider returning to it.

All of the hypertext fiction/theory I had to read was pretty dreary, too.

5.     What was your grad school comfort food?

Cherry pie and donuts during weekend viewings of Twin Peaks. Edritos burritos. Peanut noodles.

Dr. Paula Kamenish

1.     What was your best grad school experience?

Teaching many levels of French at UNC and taking students abroad.

2.     What was your worst grad school experience?

Being poor, eating bread and yogurt for many meals.

3.     What was the place outside of your home/apartment where you spent the most time?

My carrel in the library. It was a room all to myself with a lovely view across Chapel Hill and beyond. I could fill it with books.

4.     What text/book did you read in grad school that you never want to encounter again?

Some 17th-century poetry in German Gothic script.

5.     What was your grad school comfort food?

Quiche was my special treat.

Dr. Keith Newlin

1.     What was your best grad school experience?

Revising–not writing–the dissertation, followed by taking advantage of Indiana University’s many cultural opportunities

2.     What was your worst grad school experience?

Taking a language class from a TA less experienced than I (in matters of teaching–she knew the language–but not how to teach it! It was difficult to refrain from telling her how to teach.)

3.     What was the place outside of your home/apartment where you spent the most time?

The library–sad but true, alas

4.     What text/book did you read in grad school that you never want to encounter again?

Novels by Henry James.

5.     What was your grad school comfort food?

Vanilla ice cream.

Dr. Sarah Hallenbeck

My best graduate school experiences involved collaborating with fellow grad students, both through reading and discussing texts and through sharing our writing with one another. “Don’t go it alone,” I say: my graduate school writing group still skypes each week to share writing and offer support about everything from conference proposals to tenure review. I don’t know where I’d be without those ladies.

My worst grad school experience involved giving a practice research talk to a large group of professors and other grad students. They were trying to help, but they were vicious and I didn’t take the criticism particularly well in the moment. However, the experience prepared me for the real thing and ultimately made me more confident and resilient!

I really liked studying at Foster’s Market, which is a sort of sprawling cafe in Durham with a large garden-y outdoor area, beer, and delicious sandwiches.

Text I could live without? The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole, maybe?

Dr. Lewis Walker

1.     What was your best grad school experience?

Eminent professor allowing me (and classmates) to make up our own questions to write essays on for exam in medieval drama course.

2.      What was your worst grad school experience?

Eminent professor revealing self to be susceptible to flagrant flattery and making such flattery the basis for judgment of students.

3.     What was the place outside of your home/apartment where you spent the most time?

Library

4.     What text/book did you read in grad school that you never want to encounter again?

This is a tough one; I would put some of the plays by Romantic poets that I read for a classic to Romantic course pretty far down on my list of profitable rereads.

5.     What was your grad school comfort food?

Shrimp salad sandwiches.

Dr. Katherine Montwieler

1.     Best grad school experience: meeting Mark Edelman Boren.

2.     Worst grad school experience: Professor scorning me in a seminar: probably sexism and ageism in operation, though also symptomatic of a culture that encourages dismissive attitudes towards individuals.

3.     What was the place outside of your home/apartment where you spent the most time? My carrel: loved having a library space of my very own!

4.     What text/book did you read in grad school that you never want to encounter again?

Repressed it.

5.     What was your grad school comfort food?

Biscuits and cornbread. Life pre-paleo.

Dr. Katie Peel

1.     What was your best grad school experience?

Not an “experience,” really, but the friends that I made in grad school are some of my closest. We are still in touch, choose to hang out with each other on vacations, and consult each other on professional issues. I met some truly incredible folks there.

2.     What was your worst grad school experience?

Writing the prospectus for my dissertation. I have trouble organizing on the front-end of my writing process.

3.      What was the place outside of your home/apartment where you spent the
most time?

School, library, homes/apartments of friends.

4.     What text/book did you read in grad school that you never want to 
encounter again?

Harry Potter.

5.     What was your grad school comfort food?

Cereal. I’m not much of a cook. I remember taking myself to Cracker Barrel on the night before my first round of PhD exams so that I could have meat and potatoes.

Dr. Alex Porco

1.     What was your best grad school experience?

This is incredibly difficult to answer. I loved every minute of my grad school experience, living and studying in Buffalo, New York— now one of my favorite cities in the world. (That’s not hyperbole.) It’s a city with great museums, architecture, music, food, and, of course, a vibrant poetry scene. The University of Buffalo’s Poetry Collection is always a treat to visit: for example, Dr. James Maynard (Assistant Curator) once showed me postcards exchanged between poets Robert Duncan and Thom Gunn!

But my favorite grad school experience was the (semi)regular Monday Night Football get- togethers over the years, talking with a group of fellow grad students about our courses, reading lists, dissertation chapters, and, of course, Fantasy Football. It was an essential form of weekly release, i.e., pure fun to watch the game. But those informal meetings proved to be important— though I wasn’t conscious of it then— as testing grounds for ideas that I would later develop in papers and, ultimately, my dissertation. Plus, the folks who came together on those Monday nights remain some of my closest friends.

2.     What was your worst grad school experience?

Buffalo winters are tough, especially with the lake effect snow. But the storm of October 2006 (sometimes called the October Surprise) was especially intense, destroying so many trees and changing the city’s aesthetic for a while. I remember being in my apartment— without power— listening to the sound of tree limbs snapping under the weight of accumulated ice. I’ve never heard anything like it since.

Oh, I once met John Ashbery and stumbled over my own name when introducing myself. I wish I could have a do-over! That was terrible— though he did sign my copy of The Mooring of Starting Out.

3.     What was the place outside of your home/apartment where you spent the most time?

The NFTA— Buffalo’s subway system. I loved it! I would ride the subway every day in order to get to school. I found it very calming— 20 minutes each way to think or read, listen to music or just people watch. I always had a coffee in tow. After especially invigorating seminars or challenging meetings with advisors, I would use the subway ride to excitedly write notes before getting home.

4.     What text/book did you read in grad school that you never want to encounter again?

Frank Norris, McTeague. It’s the worst.
Charles Sangster, “The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay.” It’s a Canadian poem from 1856, composed in god-awful— and seemingly interminable— Spenserian stanzas.

Heidegger’s Being and Time rounds out the list.

5.     What was your grad school comfort food?

At Jim’s Steakout, in Buffalo, there is something called “The Stinger.” It’s a steak hoagie, topped with chicken fingers covered in hot sauce. Or, the peanut butter pie served at Marco’s, an Italian restaurant on Buffalo’s west side.

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