Thursday, December 9, 2010

Final examinations

Today was the last day of my classes at Stony Brook. This means that posting here may be light, or nonexistent, or truly bizarre because I have 90 final papers to grade, and then 90 final grades to calculate.

It was, from my point of view, a dream semester. I got to teach classes I designed myself (the syllabi are here, if you're interested), on material I was really excited about, to students who were smart and enthusiastic. Oh, and the Department fully supported me, both in my academic work on genre literature, and in my creative writing of it.

This was a huge change for me - the school where I earned my PhD had no patience with speculative fiction. I remember being told, by a tenured faculty member, that Shakespeare - who, you may recall, wrote plays full of witches and ghosts and fairies and wizards - did not write fantasy, because he was good. This same person also informed me that Beowulf was not in the tradition of the fantastic, because "medieval people actually believed in those sorts of things. They expected them." "So, what you're saying is William the Conquerer expected Grendel?" "Yes." 


(My friend Jen, who is now teaching at Valparaiso University, and is one of the most intelligent scholars I know, actually pulled off writing a dissertation on the fantastic in this atmosphere. I am completely in awe of this.)

So I've taken being at a university that allowed me to teach a course in "The Fantastic as Place" and has requested that I teach it again, that is letting me teach "Medieval Monsters, Magic, and Ghosts" wherein we will discuss how the presence of a dragon in that poem was as exciting in the 10th century as it is in the 21st, as a huge gift.

I also take as a gift that the question most asked at the end of the semester (that was not related to the final papers) was "where can I read more books like these?" That's the sort of thing that makes grading 90 papers bearable.


  1. Man, you should be an adviser at Goddard College. I would love to work with you. I like my school and the people I have worked with, but not many of them are very supportive in the fantastic, horror or "mass market" genres. This coming from same people that let you walk around campus nude if you want, or hand in a manuscript of experimental fiction. What is experimental fiction?! I wish the writing world would take to Walter Mosely's advise from the panel discussion/reading at Columbia and write "whatever the fuck [they] want." Rock on, Kat.

  2. Here's the thing. There may well be people in your English Department who are supportive of writers who work in the genres you do. Like I said, even though my graduate department culture was hostile, I found friends and faculty who did support writing and analysis in the field.

    But if there really isn't anyone, learn what you can while you're there anyway. Take classes, read things you normally wouldn't, pick them apart for themes and technique and language, and write on your own.

    I never took a creative writing course in either college or graduate school. Nor did I ever take a course that focused on speculative literature as such. (I wasn't even an English major in undergrad.) None of that is a requirement of being a writer, or of being a smart reader.

  3. It's official: I would've loved having your as a professor. Shakespeare was all about fantasy -- from A Midsummer Night's Dream to The Tempest. And this honestly made me laught out loud:

    "So, what you're saying is William the Conquerer expected Grendel?" "Yes."

    I'm so glad that your class was so excellent, that you get to teach it again, and that you get to teach that other class. Things like that make me actually miss school, which either means I've lost my mind or I just really like learning.

    Good luck grading! It's a necessarily evil, but it sounds like the paper topics will be fun! :-) ~Ali

  4. We'll go with missing school means you like learning. I don't miss having to write papers or take exams, but sometimes one of my colleagues will mention a course, and I'll wish I could be in it. (I usually settle for a copy of the syllabus, so I can read the books.)

  5. Kat, I do like learning -- and I'm going to steal your idea and snag the syllabus of classes that sound fun. I'm always looking for more things to read, even though my to be read pile is so large that it's beginning to become sentient. And let's pretend I didn't write "necessarily evil," instead of "necessary evil." ~Ali

  6. "So, what you're saying is William the Conquerer expected Grendel?"

    Why do I see that being the tagline of a new historical fantasy novel? And why do I see myself buying it?

  7. Well, if William teamed up with Grendel, it might provide an interesting alternate explanation as to why his other epithet was "the Bastard."