Oberlin Blogs

First things first

April 15, 2008

Prof. David Walker ’72

Okay, time to introduce myself. My name's David Walker, and I'm a professor in the English Department, where I teach modern and contemporary literature, dramatic literature, and creative writing. I'm also an Oberlin graduate. I grew up in North Carolina, where my favorite teacher in high school suggested that Oberlin might be the right college for me; after checking things out for myself, I applied here early decision, and never made a better decision in my life. After four challenging and rewarding years here, when I edited the literary magazine, was involved in campus theater, went to lots of concerts, taught an ExCo course, and wrote an honors thesis on Vladimir Nabokov, I won a Watson fellowship for a year of writing and travel in Europe. (See, liberal arts education really does pay off!)

Four years in grad school at Cornell, where I wrote a dissertation on the poets Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams, was quite enough of the Ivy League for me. I was extraordinarily lucky in that Oberlin had an available position in my field the year I was on the job market, and even luckier to be offered it. I came back here to teach when I was 26, and have been here ever since. My teaching interests have evolved over the years, and I've taught an eclectic list of courses, most recently including classes in Modern British and Irish Fiction, Shakespeare and the Limits of Genre, Contemporary British and Irish Drama, Nabokov, the Playwriting Workshop, Modern Fiction and Sexual Difference, and a first-year seminar called Crossing Borders: The Mysteries of Identity. I teach primarily by discussion: my notion of education is not the filling-station model, where students get passively filled up with information, but rather an active dialogue, where everyone brings their ideas to the table for genuine interchange and conversation, which challenges students to think for themselves. (I'll have much more to say about the pitfalls and exhilarations of teaching in subsequent entries.)

I'm a passionate theater fan. In addition to teaching drama and playwriting, for about 15 years I directed theater productions for the English Department during Winter Terms. I had to give this up when I became chair of my Department in 1996, and somehow never went back to it when my term as chair ended six years later, but I continue to enjoy seeing theater as often as I can, both on- and off-campus, particularly in New York and London. I have taught the Oberlin-in-London Program five times, and each time the curriculum has been centered in drama: there's no better way of studying Hamlet than discussing the text in the morning, then watching classmates perform scenes they've learned and rehearsed, and then going to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform the play that evening. Needless to say, I take advantage of such opportunities as often as I can.

Another of my strong interests is contemporary writing. Although my appointment is in the English Department, I have taught courses in the Creative Writing Program throughout my career; my particular responsibility is playwriting, though I also supervise independent projects in fiction and poetry. The Creative Writing Program is one of the most highly regarded in the country, attracting young writers with enormous potential. Since for them writing is a living art, not just an artifact of the past, these students often bring quite valuable perspectives into my literature classes, enlivening and broadening our discussion. Another way in which I'm involved with contemporary writing is as an editor of FIELD, an international poetry journal published at Oberlin, and as a book editor for Oberlin College Press. Oberlin is widely known on the national poetry scene as a center of literary excellence, and the literary community among both students and faculty has a lot to offer to those of you interested in such things (or think you might be).

Just one more note for now. As is probably already apparent, I'm a passionate advocate of this place: it has shaped me in profound ways, and helped me discover the sort of person and teacher I want to be. At the same time, I'd be the last one to suggest that Oberlin is the right college for everyone--it's a very distinctive sort of institution, with strong values and principles--and I have no interest in proselytizing or in bringing students here under false pretenses. My aim, and I think that of the other bloggers as well, is to give you the unvarnished truth about the place as I see it. You should be armed with as much information and insight as possible when you're making your college choice, and if I can be useful in helping you achieve that, I'd like to. Please don't hesitate to let me know what's on your mind, via a comment on the blog, and I'll try to respond.


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