Dr. Rodney Stephens

Why English?

I have always been impressed by the power of stories to take us into a deeper appreciation of the human condition. Even at an early age, I loved the experience of being transported into some other world by the magic of a story.

When I was in high school, I was interested in being a lawyer, and turned to mystery stories and legal thrillers to get a taste for courtroom and the crime scene. It only took a few years into my undergraduate studies at the University of Texas for me to hear the call to teaching. While I owe that moment to many great teachers and fine novels, I also owe it to the discovery of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. It was like the poem had been waiting for me. There was something about the speaker posing that mysterious question (“Do I dare/disturb the universe?”) that made me think of literature as fundamental to the world.

Again and again, I have found this feeling of the story waiting for me to be the case. Bel Canto came along to emphasize the role of music in transcending cultures, A Prayer for Owen Meany captured those oddities in life that shape our destiny, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn illuminated the urgent journeys that take us through the stages of life.

It is hard for me to remember a time when I did not see the dynamic interaction of the literature and the world. As an avid scuba diver, I love the fact that my experience 80 feet under the sea is informed by Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck,” and as a life-long sports fan I consider it a pleasure to stand at the free throw line, dribbling the ball while lines from “Slam, Dunk, and Hook” by Yusef Komunyakaa swirl around the court. “Our bodies, “ Komunyakaa writes, “spun on swivels of bone & faith.” And I think, yes, this is what I look for in a story. A story ‘spun on swivels of bone & faith.’

Books I recommend

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand

Report to Greco by Nikos Kazantzakis

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella

Favorite quotes

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Mark Twain

“Come, my friends,/ Tis not too late to seek a newer world.”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

“Remember everything and think of it as a story.”
John Irving

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