R. Forrest Colwell Professor of American Literature
Ph.D. University of Chicago, 1971
M.A. University of Chicago, 1967
B. A. Pittsburg (Kansas) State University, 1966
Courses Frequently Taught:
Gateway Colloquium 100: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War
English 280: Practical Criticism
English 351: 19th Century American Poetry
English 370: Lincoln in Fiction and Biography
English 370: Caribbean Voices
English 480: Senior Seminar (Emily Dickinson & Friends)
Directory of American Scholars (1981)
Illinois Humanities Council Essay Grant (1983)
Elected to Membership, Society of Midland Authors (1986)
R. Forrest Colwell Endowed Chair in American Literature (1986)
Marine Bank Research Fellowship (1990)
Illinois Wesleyan University Award for Teaching Excellence (Sears Foundation Award,1991)
American Antiquarian Society, Summer Seminar on the History of the
Book in America, 1988
Rare Book School, Columbia University, 1990
Who’s Who in America (1994)
Saddlebag Selection for best book on American Methodism (2006)
Books and Plays:
Reading with Lincoln, Southern Illinois University Press, winner of the 2010-11 Illinois State
Historical Society's Russell P. Strange Memorial Book Award, and runner-up for the
Lincoln Prize, 2011.
Diary of a Common Soldier in the American Revolution, (with Paul
Bushnell). Northern Illinois University Press, 1978; paperback
edition, 1981; 4 reprintings, 1984-.
Rediscoveries, University of Illinois Press, 1982.
A Reader's Guide to Illinois Literature (editor-in-chief and
contributor). Illinois State Library, 1985; second printing, 1987.
(5,000 copies each printing; state and national distribution)
Peter Cartwright: Legendary Frontier Preacher. University of
Illinois Press, 2005 [Winner of the inaugural Saddlebag
Selection of the Historical Society of the United Methodist
Church for the best book on American Methodism, 2006]
Lincoln’s in Town! (with Nancy Steele Brokaw). 2007-09. Produced
in Bloomington IL, Feb., 13-15, 2009, as part of the celebration
of the bicentenary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.
Some Favorite Articles and a Poem:
“Reading Between the Texts: Benjamin Thomas’s Abraham Lincoln
and Stephen Oates’s With Malice Toward None,” Journal of
Information Ethics, 3: 1 (1994) 8-24.
“‘The Power to Hurt:’ Lincoln’s Early Use of Satire and Invective,”
Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, 16: 1 (1995) 39-58.
“The P. Quinn Harrison Murder Trial,” Lincoln Herald (Summer 1997), 59-79.
"Why Thoughts are Better Than Music: Emily Dickinson's Fascicle 18
as a Lyric Sequence," Roundtable on the Fascicles, Dickinson
“Abraham Lincoln and the Two Peters,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln
Association, vol. 22, no. 2 (June, 2001), 27-48.
“Knowing Grasses: Aimé Césaire’s ‘Cahier d’un retour au pays natal’
and Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself,’ Revista Interamericana,
XXXI, 1-4 (Jan.-Dec., 2001).
“What Abraham Lincoln Read: An Annotated and Evaluative
Bibliography,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln
Association (vol. 28, num. 2; Summer, 2007), 28-81.
“Rèspé ba Matinik and for Aimé Césaire,’ Anthurium, 2: 1 (Spring 2004).
Tenured, at IWU since 1970; next leave, 2012-13
Professional and Personal:
Professing literature means doing counter-cultural work. As part of the Humanities, literature, though plainly undervalued in contemporary American life and education, remains a crucial means of understanding our past, of managing our lives in the present, and anticipating what the future may bring. In other words, literature is one of the ways in which we make sense of the world. And, as a discipline, literary studies aims, through an exalted teaching of reading, to help students ‘make sense of the ways in which we make sense of the world’ (to use critic Frank Kermode’s probing phrase). To do this well is difficult: students must read closely, contextualize what they read, and then talk and write about literature in a critical way. If we are successful in a class, every student will walk away at semester’s end with better cultural literacy and an enhanced intellectual capability and confidence. Every student: from the English major who is headed directly into the ‘world of work,’ to newly-minted secondary teachers, to those looking ahead to graduate school in literature or writing, law or business.
In my own scholarly and creative writing, I try always to push my subjects well beyond
where I find them at the outset, whether working on Lincoln (scholarly essays, book-length
critical study, play, poems), or the literature of the Haitian Revolution (articles,
poems and a book-in-progress). This approach may seem obvious; yet too much writing,
scholarly or creative, is self-confined within a small corral of convention. So I
take risks with my mind and style–modest rather than radical risks, in my own view–and
though failure hurts, it’s tonic too in a way, reminding me of Samuel Beckett’s admonition:
‘fail better next time.’