Dr. Andrea Gazzaniga, Assistant Professor of English, discusses her latest projects and how she became an English professor—as well as why she feels close reading skills are so utterly important.
How did you know you wanted to focus on English studies?
I’ve always loved the way literature allows me to engage with people who inhabit distant times and lands. Reading all types of literature makes me feel connected to the world. Reading poetry especially intensifies my experience of life because it articulates feelings and thoughts that we all share and yet believe to be ineffable. The way poetry captures in words an idea, an impulse, whatever, is pure joy.
Why did you want to become a professor?
I did not realize English studies could be a profession until my last year in college when a few of my English professors encouraged me to pursue my passion for literature further. I distinctly remember turning in my last college essay for a Jane Austen class and wandering around campus in a daze. I ended up on a bench by the lake crying my heart out. I thought, “I’ll never be able to discuss and write about literature like this again!” Very melodramatic. That same afternoon I was walking through the library and my Shakespeare professor said, “You need to seriously consider academia as a profession. You could do it.” A profession? I had no idea that was possible! I always thought my professors were fairies who magically appeared for class to feed my mind with ideas and then retreated back to the forest for supper and a nap. I had no understanding that they actually worked for a living! I decided I needed to figure out whether or not I liked teaching, so I taught English as a second language in Morocco (long story) and realized I absolutely loved it. So, being a professor weds my love for research and writing about literature and my love for teaching. The combination of intellectual pursuit through scholarship and inspiring students to intellectually engage with texts in the classroom is my idea of a perfect life.
I recently listened to a paper you gave at the MMLA conference, and it was fascinating. Can you summarize it for us?
First of all, I was so honored to be on a panel with you and Mary Ann Samyn. What a treat! I created a special session called “The Pedagogy of Poetry” to address, among other things, my question: How can teachers of poetry cultivate close reading skills while still preserving a sense of wonder and ambiguity? My specific paper, “The Ethics of Close Reading a Poem,” argued for the importance of teaching close reading skills not only as a means of textual analysis but also as an embodiment of ethical behavior. Close reading asks students to listen to what a text is saying rather than make assumptions or guesses about what it is saying based on preconceived notions and expectations. In this way, teaching students to close read is a way to resist prejudicial thinking.
Tell us about your recent publication.
I published an article on Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West and its revisionist take on the Western genre. Specifically, l examine the way the film challenges and revises the female archetypes in the Western tradition. I have another article under review on the Victorian poets Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper who wrote under the male pseudonym Michael Field.
What are you working on now?
I have a couple of projects going right now. I am currently writing a pedagogcial piece on integrating creative assignments into literature courses. I’m also finishing an article on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. Next up is a journal article on George Meredith’s sonnet sequence Modern Love.
Any advice for current students and recent grads?
Stay engaged. For current students, talk to your professors about the material you are studying in class. Ask a lot of questions. Being able to ask the crucial questions about something is a skill that will serve you well in whatever you choose to do.