First day of class at the University of Tennessee

Readers, friends, I must be honest: some parts of the last few weeks have been tough. Looking for a home, feeling alone in a new place, designing a syllabus, dealing with Homeland Security complications, being comically short of money.

Last night, the tide seemed to be turning. I spent the evening in my happy little apartment in Maplehurst: I cooked a simple meal and put my feet up, reading, on my borrowed armchair, Sylvia Beach's memoir of James Joyce and the rest of literary Paris, Shakespeare and Company, while the sunlight through the blinds turned an ever deeper and darker gold.

I woke sometime in the night. Someone nearby was playing a banjo or a mandolin, and someone male, young, and irritated was telling him to stop. I live near several young students.

My alarms went off some hours later, and I worked on my short story, meant for Allen Wier's class on Monday, in which all us four new Fiction PhD entrants to the Tennessee programme will take part–trying, I'm sure, to impress each other and everyone else.

After writing, I walked into campus and taught my first class. There was that nervous moment all new courses begin with, where the students have understood that you are supposed to be the teacher, but have not yet decided whether to grant you the actual authority of that position. The lesson began, experience took over, and I had a lot of fun: they seem like good students.

Then I walked straight to my Victorian novels class, taught by the renowned George Eliot professor Nancy Henry. We are about to start discussing Dickens' weird masterpiece, Bleak House. I plan to amaze / bore the class by pointing out complicated sentence structures and POV shifts.

Then I went to the Starbucks in the library, and did the reading for the “Critical Theory Reading Group.” The English department has several reading groups (in addition to the classes), mostly led by professors, in which professors and students meet regularly to discuss new scholarship in a particular field. After reading the assigned chapter from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, I threw myself foolishly into the ensuing conversation, asked questions, said obviously stupid things, listened to brilliance, and felt wonderful. So many people ready to discuss stories and ideas. And fiction classes have yet to begin.

Here are a few more pictures from around Knoxville.


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