Dr. Jason Parks is an English professor at AU. He lives in Anderson with his wife of 12 years, Kendra, and three sons, Amaziah, Ezra and Elijah, and his daughter, Ellianna, who was born last week.
Q: How did you end up at AU?
A: My senior year of high school, I started thinking more concretely about where I was going to go to[college]. No one in my family had ever gone to college—I was the first generation college student—so I didn’t have any kind of precedent, or anybody’s footsteps I would be following in. At that point, my step-dad had retired from the military and we moved to Indiana, so I was living in Indiana—I didn’t grow up in Indiana, I was born in Guam and then raised in a military family, so I went to a bunch of schools—so I wasn’t native to Indiana, but I did go to high school here, just about an hour and a half north. I went to a small high school, I’d had a lot of opportunities at my high school, I was involved in the cross country team, I was in the school play, I was in the school band, I was on the speech team, every opportunity I could have, I did.
I was already kind of looking at Anderson a little bit, and then the cross country coach contacted me at an indoor meet and said he was from Anderson and I was like “oh, I was thinking about Anderson” and he was like “well come visit, come meet the coach!” so that was probably the fall of my senior year when I said I was going to go take a visit.
So I came to the visit and it just seemed like a great fit for me because I wanted the smaller classes, I liked the opportunity to compete in sports, but also the emphasis on academics was really high. Pretty early on in the spring I knew it was going to be a good fit for me because of the liberal arts. I was drawn to the liberal arts, I’d loved my English classes in high school, too, so I knew this place was going to be a good opportunity for me to get involved, and I wasn’t overwhelmed by it, and I liked that.
Q: What was your experience like at AU as a student?
A: I came to AU and I started off thinking I was going to do business marketing because someone had said “marketing is creative” and I’m a creative person: I love art, I love the arts, but I was also the first generation college student, and the idea of majoring in anything that didn’t have an exact prospect for financial stability was extremely intimidating to me. However, I was reading Russian literature, taking my western civilization class, and doing some career counseling here—we didn’t have the LART 1050 sort of thing where they help you out with that, they just had career counseling—so I went to this career counselor and did all the personality tests and all that. I knew that something that involved literature and the arts was my passion, but I didn’t quite understand that that was something I was going to do in my working life, so I didn’t declare [my major] until my sophomore year and then I started taking more literature classes. I double majored in history and English, dabbled in the music program—I loved music too, so I did a few private music lessons, took all the theory classes, but I didn’t finish off the minor, so it was just a double major in history and English.
I was on the cross country and track team all four years, was involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the English Honor Society, and various campus groups. I tried to really get the on-campus experience. I lived in the dorms, or the apartments. Part of it was the convenience for being an athlete, but also I wanted to have the feeling of being part of the community. As a military kid, we moved a ton, my four years here on campus was the longest I’d lived in one place, so AU sort of became my understanding of community. So I started to feel roots in high school when I moved to Indiana, but really these four years at AU, I loved the way I could connect with so many people. I was part of the athletic community, the academic community in the English department, and then with the guys who lived on my floor, I felt like I could fit in in a lot of different communities.
When I graduated, I said to Dr. Borders, my advisor, “If a job ever opens up here, I would love to come back and teach here someday. I don’t know if that’ll ever happen but I know I want to go do some grad school, and maybe down the road somewhere…this place really meant a lot to me and I’d love to be able to come back.”
Q: What did you do after you graduated?
A: Well my wife got a job at the Anderson Public Library, it was an awesome job with great benefits, full-time, so I said, “Hey, I’m not in any hurry to go into a full-time grad program, so let’s see how this plays out.”
We rented a house across the street from Dairy Queen, on Fifth Street. We were just married; at that point we didn’t really have jobs yet. So we moved into his house and she worked at the public library and I was still connected to the cross country and track program here, doing some assistant coaching.
It was a nice balance, I’d assistant coach a little here, we were renting a house here, I could just drive down to Butler for my MA classes, and I worked at the Sears in the Mounds Mall as a salesman.
After about two years I finished my MA, then we moved out to Colorado because I’d gotten a job teaching at a high school in a residential treatment center. The school was for kids from all over the country who were coming there for various mental health issues, or family conflicts and stuff like that, but it was an accredited school. There I was basically the English department, I taught ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade English. The classes were about the size you get at AU, around 10 to 12 students.
That year was like a fire hose. The principal of the school wanted to see my lesson plans for the week every Monday because I didn’t have an education certification, but it was a private school and the principal worked with me because I had my MA. I taught out there for a year and then Dr. Borders called and said that they’d had a retirement in the department and asked if I would consider applying for the position. It was awesome!
I came back to AU in 2008. I’d graduated in 2004, so in those four years, I had gotten my MA, taught some high school, then I came back here and started teaching some writing classes, and started my PhD program at Ball State. Someone had advised me and said that, “if you want to finish your PhD, you start right now. Don’t wait because life will happen.”
Q: What was the PhD program like?
A: Ball State had a PhD program in English that I felt was a good fit for the things I wanted to research. I definitely did my homework; I wasn’t just going to go because it was down the street. However, I also didn’t want to commute very far to places like Bloomington, or West Lafayette, but I did get to meet some of the scholars over there in their English program. My PhD is in literature. My coursework was broad, because I knew I wanted to be able to teach in British and American literature, so I didn’t have an overspecialization in my coursework. In terms of my dissertation work, it was on literary magazines, and particularly print culture and the print magazines between the two world wars.
This past summer, I was invited to speak on a panel at the European Association of Modernism and Avant-Garde Studies (EAM) conference, which was held in Rennes, France. I was on a panel with scholars from the Russian Academy of Sciences and Oxford University. I presented my research on the works of the 20th century poet, literary editor and journalist Eugene Jolas. Jolas, while relatively unknown to this day, was instrumental in the literary scene in Paris in the 1920’s, helped to edit James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and was also a key figure in the denazification of the German Press following WWII.
While I was there, I presented excerpts from my Phd dissertation research. My dissertation was focused on the literary magazine that Eugene Jolas edited called Transition that was published from 1927-1938 in Paris. I also recently published a book chapter on teaching literature with digital technology.
Q: What’s your favorite class to teach?
A: My favorite class to teach is Shakespeare. I think it’s because it’s a blend of theatre, so there’s a lot of performance aspect to Shakespeare, although we still definitely focus on the text and the language. It really brings together all the things I love—that’s definitely the class I want to continue teaching most.
Q: What classes would you like to teach in the future?
A: I guess I would teach a class called something like “The Big Books,” because I am such a word collector. That’s what I love about Shakespeare—someone who invents tens of thousands of words for the English language, and I think you can get so much out of spending a long time on a specific writer. I would choose five massive novels, like Márquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, Faulkner’s Absolam, Absolam and Melville’s Moby Dick, to name a few. I would love to find a group of students who would be crazy enough to sit with me and read six 500-800-page novels. I think there’s this question behind all of this, what can a book contain? And these writers just seem so ambitious to want to tell you everything there is to know about this one subject. Like, for Moby Dick, it’s everything you need to know about whaling, but it’s also this very significant, philosophical exploration of the meaning of life at the same time. I think there’s something about taking these books that nobody in their right mind would and say “I take so much pleasure in reading this 800-page book,” and there’s something about the endurance challenge of doing something like that, and I think by the end of it we could sit down and ask ourselves about what the novel can really do and push the genre to its absolute limit.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: One of the things I want to do from a teaching standpoint is explore drama more, because I really do love theatre. I would love to do a summer Shakespeare institute, and go study Shakespearean acting—I don’t ever want to be an actor, but I want to just study that more because I think it’ll help me really understand the plays even more. I would like to do it possibly here in the U.S. or maybe in England for a summer or sabbatical. I also want to teach overseas at some point, for a summer or sabbatical, too. I think I would also really like to go to Africa or China and just get that experience of teaching American literature or Shakespeare to people that aren’t from here. I would love to continue to make contributions in pedagogy, and explore more about how to keep the classroom an area where students can creatively explore and actively learn while also thinking critically. Every year I want to continue to leave so much room for improvisation and exploration, because if I am going to do this for 25 for years, I can’t get set in my ways about anything, so I want to constantly adapt and respond and continue to be a student with my students.