The theme of University Press Week 2022 is Next UP, reflecting university presses' constant spirit of learning, adaptation and evolution. On Wednesday, November 16, the Association of University Presses asks "What Author is Next UP?" We asked Dr. Christine Schott, author of Canon Fanfiction: Reading, Writing, and Teaching with Adaptations of Premodern and Early Modern Literature (coming in December 2022), to write about her experience writing her first book.
writing while wearing multiple hats
The last time I wrote a two hundred-page piece of scholarship, I was a graduate student at an R-1 university. I taught one class per semester while dissertating and thought I was terribly busy. In contrast, when I committed to writing my first monograph, I was working at a teaching institution, teaching four or more classes per semester, advising undergraduates and serving on four or five committees. Since I am still working at that same institution and hope to carry on doing so, very little about my situation changed as I wrote my book (though now I am on fewer committees; I’m the department chair instead, a position that does not entail course relief).
It should be obvious that I am keenly aware that the life of many academics does not look anything like what I saw in my professors when I was in graduate school. For those of us at teaching-focused institutions, the demands on our time and energy are seemingly endless. I questioned my own decision-making skills when I submitted a proposal for Canon Fanfiction: Reading, Writing, and Teaching with Adaptations of Premodern and Early Modern Literature in the summer of 2020, which also happened to be the very moment the world shut down. How was I going to write a book when I couldn’t buy toilet paper? And how was I going to finish a book when we went back to school and I had hundreds of papers to grade every semester?
As it turns out, the pandemic was surprisingly useful for my writing, even therapeutic. I was fortunate to have done a lot of the research before the libraries closed, so for the first time in my professional life, I got to live the dream of spending multiple hours every day just writing. There was nothing else to do during lockdown. Probably if I'd lived in an urban environment, where the stress fractures caused by COVID were deeper and more visible, I would have been too anxious to write. I was lucky to live in a rural area; the pastures and pine forests look the same even when the human world is spiraling into chaos.
It was really when classes began in the fall that I felt the burden of what I had volunteered to do. As I hunched over my keyboard on Saturday mornings, the only time I could spare to work on my book, I occasionally asked myself whether it might be nice to sleep in, or to take up a hobby like I had back in grad school. But one thing I didn't question was whether the project itself was worth it. It was worth it because it was about the most urgent questions I ask myself as a teacher. How do I get students to understand that literature is valuable to them? How do I help them see what I love in it? And what do I do about all the harmful aspects of older literature—the misogyny, the antisemitism, the homophobia? This book helped me generate a set of answers those questions, and although I know there are as many ways to engage students as there are teachers trying to do it, I hope the book might help others arrive at answers to those questions too.
In short, this book project wasn't an "extra" or something I was doing "just in case" I ever wanted to move to a research institution. Even though it's not solely a pedagogy book, it is a natural expression of what occupies nearly every waking thought: how to teach literature to people who have been raised in a culture that tells them literature is frivolous. I have realized over the years that the scholarship I am most interested in doesn't just talk to other scholars; it talks to intellectually curious people of all sorts, including undergraduate students. I don't want to talk over my students' heads. I want to engage them in the high-level analysis and critical thinking that we do as scholars, but I don't want anyone to feel that literature is too remote to matter, or that the study of literature is only for residents of the ivory tower. So much is going on in the world of public scholarship, I know that my book is just one among many attempts to introduce academic research to the public sphere, but I hope we will continue to see more works in the same vein, bringing scholarship into the classroom and bringing the classroom into our scholarship.