Because you’re an English teacher, I have to ask you, what’s your favorite book? Or who’s your favorite author?
There are quite a few but one of them is Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse and Virginia Woolf is one of my favorite authors. I read that in high school and I remember the teacher warning us that the style was really difficult. She said, “Oh, there are all these parentheses within parentheses… and it’s hard.” I found it to be completely the way I thought so I took to that really quickly…
Who – in the world of literature – is your biggest inspiration?
There’s a writer named Larry Mitchell who wrote a series of novels and stories in the 1980’s. The stories mostly took place in the gay community in East Village in New York City. He captured what I really felt was the reality to live there, especially as about midway through his writings, AIDS became a huge thing there and he just faced it really squarely in his writing in a way that was sustaining… Because there was a lot of loss, a lot of death and to have someone write about it in a way that confronted it and confronted some of the most difficult aspects but also still found meaning in living and in writing. That was in a way, inspirational…
What’s your favorite book to teach?
In a way, I most like teaching what I’m going to teach in the spring, sonnets, because they’re small enough to be read in a short amount of time but then when you reread them, and read them with a sensitivity to the possibilities of language in a compressed form, they just keep opening up and showing more and more, and I love watching students keep discovering more. It’s a great form for people to get very excited about and to realize how much – even in a small fourteen line [work] – how much they can see.
What do you like the most about English and what made you want to be an English teacher?
I come from a family of readers. I was really lucky that both my parents like to read and there were lots and lots of books in my house. And my sister, who is two years older than I, was a little bossy, so she would come home from first grade when she was learning to read and she would play teacher with me and would basically teach me what she had learned. So I was able to read certainly before I got to 1st grade and I loved stories. And I still love reading stories, more than ever, so to be able to do that professionally is great.
What advice do you have on how to survive high school?
Two things come immediately to mind. One is to find something you’re passionate about. Well, I would say find a subject, an academic subject you’re passionate about because you’re spending so much of your time in class learning, and to connect work with passion makes it possible to get through the times when the work gets tough. And the other one is to really invest time and caring into friendships because without them, it’s a very lonely experience… The joyful times are even better and the painful times are easier when you’ve got good friends.