In: About life
Tulsa University by David Goldstein
Got back yesterday from three days in Oklahoma. I was invited to give a reading at Tulsa University by David Goldstein, who like me began this year as an assistant professor teaching both Renaissance lit and creative writing. Also like me, he did his grad work at Stanford, where we first met, though only briefly and seldom.
Anyway, he assigned my Deer Head Nation to his poetry students as the last text of the semester, and in addition to the formal reading, I sat in on their last session, answering questions and talking about my procedure. I also sat in on his Renaissance course, in which they were discussing Paradise Regained; I was blown away that not only had his students clearly read the text, but they were actually engaged with it. Or at least they were engaged enough to talk in interesting and perceptive ways about how unengaging it was.
I think this may be the first time in my life I’ve ever come in contact with conservative college students, or at least more than one at a time. Apparently, quite a few of them there are dyed pretty red, though of course there are progressives as well. One of David’s poetry students–and not even one of the particularly right-wing ones, I don’t think–admitted that several of them had been taken aback by some of the poems in DHN, in light of my name. There was a feeling, he said in as many words, that someone with an Arabic name criticizing America (if "criticizing" is the right word for what happens in DHN) was just a little too much for them to take. When they learned that I wasn’t a Muslim, and didn’t even speak Arabic, they seemed relieved. So I tried to talk about that, and about how it might have been different if I had been Muslim.
The reading itself went fairly well–about twenty people showed up. Earlier that day, I gave a short interview for the local NPR station, but I’m not sure it inspired anyone who was listening to come. Those who did come didn’t laugh much, which worried me at first, but they asked good questions afterward.
All in all, it was a very nice visit, especially as David and his colleagues were great company. One of them, Grant Jenkins, just got finished teaching an African-American lit course with authors like Nate Mackey, Erica Hunt, Will Alexander, et al., so clearly there is some interesting stuff going on in their program.
The one drag was that I was suffering during the entire trip from what is now going on a five-week case of bronchitis. In fact, David had to drive me to a Tulsa urgent care center, where I got fixed up with antibiotics and decongestants. He also fixed me tea, and took me on the last day to have lunch at the White Water Fish Market, where we had what he considered to be the best gumbo he’d ever had (and in addition to being a teacher and poet, he’s a renowned gourmet who’s published in many major food magazines). I was barely able to taste anything, but this gumbo got through even my impaired senses. And that evening, equally fine barbecue at Oklahoma Style BBQ. HOT hot links. I want more.