This guest post was contributed by Zabelle Stodola, professor of English, emerita. In addition to her role in the classroom, she is fondly known to many as the voice of Speaking Volumes on KUAR.
I was born and brought up in north London. When I finished high school in 1967, I was lucky enough to be accepted by the University of Kent at Canterbury for a BA in English and American Literature. Kent was one of a spate of new British universities in the 1960s and 1970s known for their progressive and innovative curricula, especially in the humanities. At Kent I found American literature far more interesting and intriguing than English literature, and I decided to apply for graduate programs in the USA. I was accepted at several universities but chose Penn State.
So in 1974 at the age of 25, I left London, one of the world’s great cities, for sleepy State College, Pa. Initially I was interested in twentieth-century American literature, and I wrote my MA thesis on six short stories by Tennessee Williams that he reworked into plays. But then I met the formidable bibliographer and early American literature specialist Harrison T. Meserole, a highly respected senior scholar at Penn State. At that time the discipline of Early American Literature was in its infancy. But Harry Meserole was determined to train a new generation of graduate students in the field so they could continue to open it up. My decision to write my dissertation on six seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and early nineteenth-century American women writers was partly pragmatic and partly personal. I found the material fascinating, but I also liked the idea that I could contribute to an area that was still evolving. It proved to be a smart decision.
When I graduated with my PhD in 1980, tenure-track jobs in English were very hard to come by (they still are). Late in the hiring season in 1980, the UALR English Department advertised a tenure-track Assistant Professorship in American Literature for someone who could also teach Technical Writing. I had expertise in both these areas, so I applied and found that I liked the place and also the fact that, surprisingly, UALR was in the midst of a hiring boom. And I have been at UALR ever since, advancing to associate professor in 1985 and to professor in 1990. I’m very grateful for the professional opportunities that UALR has offered me.
I have worked with some wonderful colleagues and some superb students over the years and have especially enjoyed my position as director of the William G. Cooper, Jr., Honors Program in English. I am also honored to have received the 2012 Mentor of the Year award from the McNair Scholars Program here on campus. I was instrumental in helping to institutionalize undergraduate research at UALR. Many different departments here now include a component that requires undergraduates – not just graduates and faculty – to engage in different kinds of research and creative activity. Some examples include the William G. Cooper, Jr., Honors Program in English, the Donaghey Scholars Program, and the McNair Program. The most visible and exciting proof of the amount of research and creative activity being done by our students is the annual Student Research Expo in which more than a hundred students participate.
My professional career has focused on publications and presentations in two areas: early American women writers and captivity narratives. I have published six books, including Women’s Indian Captivity Narratives, published by Penguin in 1999; and The War in Words: Reading the Dakota Conflict through the Captivity Literature (2009) and A Thrilling Narrative of Indian Captivity: Dispatches from the Dakota War (co-edited with Carrie R. Zeman, 2012), both from the University of Nebraska Press. I am passionate about the importance of ongoing research and professional activity, so I am particularly proud to have published a book in the same year I retire. And with more time in the future, I plan to continue researching and writing.
If you are interested in more information on my publications and professional development, please see Zabelle’s Virtual Retirement Party site which includes a condensed vita (on “Career Highlights” page), an address called “The Accidental Colonialist: Notes on Academic Choice and Identity” which I delivered when my term as President of the Society of Early Americanists ended in 2005 (on “Career Choice” page), and some photos (on “Photos” page).
As to the “Looking Forward” part, my husband, Bob, and I are planning to relocate northeast to Maine. It will be a big move and a logistical challenge. But we are looking forward to living in a new place and experiencing the next phase of our life together. Indeed, hopefully that is where we will be when we celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary in 2014.