Friday, May 09, 2008

Kalamazoo 2008

Off to my 14th Kalamazoo (14 out of the last 15; my wife though going when we had a one-month-old baby in the house might have been a poor decision). Due to many thesis defenses (students did well) and just a honkin big pile of meetings, I am only coming out on Friday, flying to Midway, leaving Chicago around noon, and driving in to Kzoo, maybe in time to hear papers or even catch Wine Hour (look for me at Phil Kaveny's book display or in the Arizona display).

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Video at Into The West: Fantasy Festival in Salt Lake City

Two weeks ago I was honored to be invited to give a keynote address and a talk on Beowulf at Fantasy Festival, an event organized by the non-profit charity Into the West. My talk was about finding ways to judge Tolkien's and Rowling's work, coming up with fair criteria by which we might rate them in comparison with each other and with other works of literature (I believe I snuck Joyce in a lot, as well as a fair bit of Hemingway and Toni Morrison). was there and did a quick interview about the relationship between Science Fiction and Fantasy. It was fun, and now it's on YouTube: at this link (I will work on embedding it, but piles of papers call).

There is also some commentary on the event, and pictures, by writer Paul Genesse, the author of The Golden Cord, which I am bringing with me to read on the plane to Kalamazoo when I'm not grading papers. Paul has a good blog entry on the conference here, with pictures.

I am going to be at Kalamazoo, but doing only medieval things, not Tolkien things. Then there will be trips to NYC (Recording another Recorded Books course, this time on poetry) and, in November, to Bergen, Norway, to talk about my technical meme research, but only one other Tolkien-related event, the Long Expected Party at the Shaker Village in Kentucky, which has the most beautifully done website I've ever seen (designer, would you re-do my web sites? Pretty, pretty please?).

Friday, May 02, 2008

Just barely made it

I have always been the tiniest bit disappointed that, because it took me a while to realize what I wanted to do with my life, I didn't manage to get my Ph.D. by 25 (that was the age at which the Professor on Gilligan's Island got his). I know that's a silly thing, but it's true.

So, back when I realized I was going to miss the Ph.D.-by-25 cutoff by a couple of years, I set myself a new goal: Full Professor before 40.

Today the Faculty Promotions Committee voted to promote me to full Professor. So I made my goal with exactly 12 hours to spare. I turn 40 tomorrow.

I'm really grateful that my department so strongly supported my coming up a year early, and I want to thank the colleagues, external reviewers, and students who wrote letters supporting my case, and even more the senior colleagues who showed me how to be a good teacher and scholar (Bev, Paula, Sue, Sheila, Dick). Most of all I thank Sam Coale, who has been my mentor at Wheaton for ten years and was my advocate at the hearing today. I've been blessed with great mentors: Peggy Knapp in undergraduate, John Miles Foley and Martin Camargo for my second M.A., and Allen Frantzen for my Ph.D. Sam took over where Allen finished (though he and my earlier mentors really never left off), and I can't express how valuable all his teaching and support has been. Having a great mentor makes all the difference. I hope someday I will live up to Sam's example. I hope readers of this post realize how important mentoring is and continue to do the hard work of mentoring (the work is especially hard when you have to mentor a pain-in-the-butt like me).

And now let me tell a quick story about Sam. During my first semester at Wheaton, Sam was awarded his gold watch for 30 years of service (and they spelled his name wrong on it). Sam was showing me the watch, and said something like, "I can't believe it's been thirty years since I started here. 1968"
I looked at him and said, "1968 was the year I was born."
"F*** you, Mike," said Sam.
That was the moment when I really started to believe that I would be able to fit in at Wheaton.

Now I'm just waiting to be taught the secret handshake and given the keys to the special full-Professor's bathroom and the liquor cabinet...