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    • Associate Professor
    • Geoffrey Baker
    How did I become a literature professor?

    Why did I decide to pursue a degree in literature? Many years ago, I found myself in a course on contemporary literary theory. In a moment of trying to be a joker, I decided to build my term paper for the course around  Anglo-Saxon warrior poetry and gangsta rap—think Beowulf meets N.W.A. I relied on ideas of linguistic colonialism that were popular with New Historicist and postcolonial critics. Such comparisons across space and time were not new at the time, I later discovered, but they were new to me.

    What had started as a little bit of a prank, however, became a topic that absorbed me, and the final paper elicited from my professor the remark that, whether my argument worked or not, these “important” questions to raise, questions of power and the traces it leaves in languages and cultures. His use of that one word—“important”—altered my entire perception. I had thought literary study had mostly to do with liking to read and talk about books. But the idea that what we do could be “important,” could reverberate outside the classroom, or even affect the world, or train us to critically engage in the world—all of this shocked me into a new sense of the possible significance of literary study.

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