On Paula Simons's talk

On November 19, at noon in the Senate Chamber in the historic Arts building at the UofA, Paula Simons spoke about one of her most influential Comparative Literature professors, Henry Kriesel. I was fascinated by her telling of his story: I never really knew much about him before, though I had attended several lectures named after him, some of which among the best non-class lectures I have ever had the pleasure to attend. His story is the type of story that really makes one realize just how important it is to take advantage of all the opportunities one has.

Paula Simons took a comparative literature class from Kreisel in the very room in which she spoke to us, a small group, mostly consisting of Comp. Lit. graduate students and faculty. She told us that to only study English literature in isolation robs you of the valuable context that comparative literature and film studies (etc.) provides. This experience of taking comparative literature courses gave her a huge boost when she began her journalism career. Indeed, she explained that the capacity to read was the best tool in her arsenal as a journalist.

Writing skills are of course also very useful, learning to write in a different voice was important. Academic writing is its own foreign language, and one cannot write in this language when writing for a non-academic audience. Comp. Lit. also taught her much about appreciating different people's world views and perspectives.

Interestingly, Simons says that she never thinks of herself as a writer or author, but rather as a journalist who happens to work in words. I found that especially intriguing as I have always treated even bloggers as writers, and was rather taken aback when someone whom I had never met referred to me as a poet (more for surprise than anything, actually).

I also felt that it was gratifying to hear that she dealt with similar admonitions not to over-participate in class as I have (in particular this term, oups!). I know why I over-participate in class, but it's also good to know that others with this particular problem are able to have wildly successful careers in an area that I find so admirable.

I really enjoyed learning about how she includes literature in her writing wherever possible, and the fact that she read from two of my favorite articles during her talk (they may be my favorites because they include references to two stories I'm particularly fond of: Ursula K. LeGuin's The Ones that Walk Away from Omelas, and Voltaire's Candide).

I only wish I could have stayed longer, instead of running off to another manditory engagement.

(all comments paraphrased from Paula Simons' talk at the UofA Nov 19, 2009)