Academic journal article Thomas Wolfe Review

Teaching Thomas Wolfe in the Twenty-First Century: A Roundtable

Academic journal article Thomas Wolfe Review

Teaching Thomas Wolfe in the Twenty-First Century: A Roundtable

Article excerpt

At the 2015 meeting of the Thomas Wolfe Society in Albany, New York, a panel consisting of university professors who regularly teach Wolfe's works and of recent graduates who first encountered texts by Wolfe in a college classroom convened to recount their experiences--and to exchange ideas on how best to introduce Wolfe to a new generation. The Thomas Wolfe Review is pleased to share with readers these varying perspectives on teaching Thomas Wolfe in the twenty-first century.

The Albany panel included the following scholar-teachers: Joseph Bentz, Azusa Pacific University; Mark Canada, Indiana University Kokomo; Paula Gallant Eckard, University of North Carolina at Charlotte; and George Hovis, State University of New York, Oneonta. Representing those who recently encountered Wolfe in the classroom were Sarah W. Cummings (SUNYOneonta), Michael Curtis Houck (UNC Pembroke), and Dylan Nealis (SUNY Oneonta).

These accounts convey different ways in which Wolfe has been and will continue to be read; they recall many of our own evolving experiences in reading and rereading Wolfe. Introducing Wolfe to contemporary students, George Hovis and Joe Bentz locate the author and his works within both the unfolding story of American literature and the context of modernism. Working with techniques of reader response, Paula Eckard facilitates her students' emotional connections with situations and characters, prompting them to use understanding gained from Wolfe to achieve greater insight into their own lives and families. As Eckard uses digital resources to locate Wolfe within the society and literary tradition of North Carolina, Mark Canada emphasizes the physicality of place, arranging opportunities for his students to experience surroundings that inspired and formed Wolfe as writer. Sarah Cummings, who came upon Wolfe as an undergraduate, makes a case for reading Wolfe's fiction in its entirety and within the context of biography, glorying in, rather than chafing at his lack of restraint. Michael Houck, self-professed "fan of memoirs and documentary film," also embraces the autobiographical element even as he celebrates the poetic character of

Wolfe's prose. Finally, Dylan Nealis dons a prophetic mantle to warn that literary studies can survive the "egotism and ennui" of postmodern society only by rejecting the amorality of theory and admitting once again literature's capacity to "offer a vision of the world as it should be and not merely as it is."

--Anne R. Zahlan


Teaching Wolfe, Making Connections



I have had the great joy of reading the works of Thomas Wolfe with students in a variety of courses, including an American literature survey, courses focused on modern American fiction and on Appalachian literature, a graduate course in southern literature, and my favorite, a single-author seminar devoted solely to the works of Thomas Wolfe. The ways that I present Wolfe's writing vary depending on the course, but the starting place is invariably the same: Which Tom Wolfe are we talking about? On the first day, I flash two images on the screen and explain to them that we will not be reading the cane-clutching dandy in the starched white suit, who in the 1960s helped create New Journalism and chronicled astronauts and counterculture hippies and later Wall Street shysters and college paramours. No, we will be studying the guy in the crumpled, cigarette-ash-gray suit, whose baggy, manic eyes, are the sign of a sleepless night spent scratching out lines on top of a refrigerator, the brooding young genius of the 1920s and '30s who fled his mountain home and, driven by wanderlust, tried with only sporadic success to feel any more at home in Boston, in New York, and in the cultural capitals of Europe.

Beyond that introduction, our route depends on the work we're studying and the level of the students. …

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