my faculty experience

Ewa Chrusciel: Writer, Teacher, Translator and Scholar

New faculty member Ewa Chrusciel, assistant professor of humanities, was born in southern Poland. But many of her favorite writers are American, including poets Wallace Stevens and Emily Dickinson. Before coming to the U.S. for graduate studies, she translated Jack London, fellow Pole Joseph Conrad's work from his hard-won English into his native language and enjoyed the pubs and coffee bars of the cosmopolitan university town of Krakow. In New London, she plans to teach, write, hike, ski, climb and perhaps take up mountain biking.

How did you learn about Colby-Sawyer College?

A friend of mine at ISU [Illinois State University] forwarded to me the job description from Colby-Sawyer. We were both doing the job search and we were exchanging various job ads (call it a collaborative job search). She thought I would be appropriate for this position. After researching the college and place, I felt it was worth applying here.

What are your academic areas of expertise and interest?

The areas of my academic interest are: Comparative Literature, including Contemporary Poetry; European Romanticism; Writing, including Creative Writing, especially poetry; Translation; and Cognitive Poetics, including neurological theories of aesthetic experience.

I was an avid reader and writer beginning in elementary school and loved to study words and their origins. I had a marvelous teacher then who knew how to ignite my passion for reading and literature.

At the academic level, I got more interested in the idea of closure as it applies to poetry. I came to the conclusion, in my Ph.D. dissertation, that within poetry there is a third space, a conceptual blend, which oscillates between open and closed texts. In my thesis, I demonstrate how good art both summons and subverts the simplistic closure/non-closure dichotomy.

Which class(es) are you teaching this semester?

I am teaching Contemporary Literature, Short Story and Composition.

What is your favorite class to teach?

I like to teach literature classes in which discussions revolve around the concept of epiphany which, as I claim, is the most consequential way in which the debate over closure and non-closure has been presented in literature.

What do you find most challenging about teaching?

The question I often pose to myself in my teaching is: "How should I situate literature in a contemporary context and make it culturally relevant?" What methods should I use in order to immerse students in their current lives rather than estrange them from them? I firmly believe that teaching should be an introduction to reality rather than an escape from it.

However, within an increasingly vocationally driven curriculum and multi-media society, students have the right to question the importance and relevance of reading and writing literary texts that seem to be estranged from their reality.

How do we as teachers help students to recognize wider cultural truths beyond their individual cultures and the current cultures of their societies? I believe one of the methods of making our literary classroom relevant to our students and to our times is a comparative approach to literature, which examines the relationship between literature and other areas of knowledge, such as the arts, philosophy, history, the social sciences, sciences, religion, and all other possible spheres of human expression. I also firmly believe that the study of literature should reach beyond the confines of one country.

I also think that our memory is affective— we learn best things that strike us and correspond to our needs, to our heart. In that sense education is an encounter that engages the "I" at the deepest possible level and increases self-awareness and the consciousness of the world around us.

To show our students, for example, that reading is an event, literary texts cannot just be dissected and analyzed and remain abstract; rather, they should be experienced and enjoyed. Only then will they increase our scope of consciousness. Such consciousness should ideally lead to "the emergence of a radical and uninhibited self which makes its owner capable of choosing his/her own life," as Thomas Merton claims. Such consciousness supercedes and transcends simplified binaries of right and left or liberal and conservative.

What were you doing prior to joining the faculty here?

After completing my master's degree at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, I taught English as a Second Language at the Jagiellonian University and other private Enlish language schools. I also worked for a publishing house translating selected books of Conrad, London, Singer into Polish. After three years of teaching and translating, I decided to come to the U.S. to do my doctorate which I defended on 22nd of August, 2006.

Can you tell us more about your work with women writers (poets) and your own interest in poetry?

My interest in poetry is not exclusive to women poets. My favorite poets are Wallace Stevens and Czes_aw Mi_osz (both males), by the way. But I also like Emily Dickinson. My doctoral research, however, did focus on contemporary women poets, especially Jorie Graham and Lyn Hejinian because these two best exemplify for me the third space poetics which supercedes the binary of closure and non-closure.

Hejinian's book My Life inspired my new creative work which started as a tribute and a polemic with her, but then took on a life of its own and is still writing itself. My Life is a hybrid text incorporating letters, poems, as well as investigating the issues of identity, mediation, protest, the politics of the Eastern Block, and the Sublime.

Where are you originally from?

I was born in southern Poland (south of Krakow) and spent most of my life there. Many of my childhood reminiscences come from the rural (somehow bucolic) places where my grandparents lived. After completing my high school I moved to Krakow— a very international city thriving with tourists and students. (There are as many pubs and coffee places in Krakow as trees in New Hampshire. You can meet many beer and coffee bums there.)

What are your early impressions of life at Colby-Sawyer?

I find Colby-Sawyer a very friendly and cozy place. It is a very student-oriented college. I am really impressed with faculty here who are dedicated teachers and scholars. I like the atmosphere. I could not imagine a friendlier welcome.

Tell us about some of your other interests.

I would like to do so many things that I get restless when I start thinking about them. I would like to continue my translation projects and my own writing but there is also the call of the wild— hiking, skiing. I would like to try mountain biking and slightly improve on my climbing.

Do you have a sense of what you'd like to accomplish in your first year at Colby-Sawyer?

Apart from my investment in teaching, I hope to complete some of my poetry collections. I am sending a manuscript in Polish to some publishers in Poland and one manuscript in English here. Also there is a project for a book in Italian (if my translator ever finishes translating). Also, I would like to translate at least one or two American poets into Polish.