English & Philosophy

Dr. William A. Kumbier

Associate Professor, English

Office Number, Building: Kuhn Annex 103

Telephone: 417-625-9639

On-campus Email: Kumbier-W@mssu.edu

First Semester at Missouri Southern: Fall 1989

Education:

  • Bachelor’s (B.A.), Michigan State University
  • Doctorate (Ph.D), State University of New York at Buffalo

Recent Publication: Evening Voices. An anthology of poetry read at the Frost Place, Franconia, NH, 1995 (desktop publcation). Afterimages: A Festschrift in honor of Irving Massey. Co-edited with Ann Colley. Toronto: Shuffaloff Press, 1996. Collection of critical essays and poetry by students, colleagues and friends of Irving Massey. Various articles on music and literature, published in Studies in Romanticism and elsewhere.

A Favorite Quotation: "...It is a delicious thing to write, whether well or badly--to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating." --Gustave Flaubert, in a letter to Louise Colet, 1853

I was born and raised in Michigan, growing up in a family of public school teachers who always put a very high value on education, in the home, at school and in the community. I suppose the most important thing I ever learned was learning to read: it wasn’t hard with a mother and an aunt who were English teachers, an insatiably curious science teacher for a father and a colorful, life-loving grandfather who told great, rich stories. I also enjoyed excellent, encouraging high school English teachers: Mrs. Smith, Mr. Waller, Mr. Waskin and Mr. Rowan; Mr. Rowan’s AP English course, in which we read everything from Homer’s Iliad to existentialist texts like Camus’ The Stranger, convinced me that I wanted not just to read, write and teach but to teach literature. My aunt, my parents and my high school teachers were also instrumental in getting me to the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, for the first time when I was 16, triggering a lifetime interest in Shakespeare, modern drama and live theater.

I completed my undergraduate study at Michigan State University as an English major. In order to read what I wanted to read, though, I also began trying to learn other languages, French, German and Classical Greek. I’m still not fluent in those, but what I do know of them has vastly enriched my reading experience and made me realize that I was intrigued by much literature not originally composed in English. A young and especially stimulating professor, Dr. Clint Goodson, picked up on my interest in a course about the Faust myth and encouraged me to attempt graduate study where he had studied, the State University of New York at Buffalo, which seemed very cool at the time (the early 1970s) because it had direct connections to state-of-the-art French critical theory. With his help, I was admitted to the Program in Comparative Literature there in Fall 1974 and received my Ph.D. in 1982.

Buffalo was in ferment in the Seventies and it proved to be, unlikely as it may seem, the perfect place for getting in touch with provocative new theories about literature and literature’s place in culture. I was extremely fortunate to study with three of the deepest, far-ranging thinkers—and remarkable human beings—I’ve ever known: Al Cook, René Girard and Irving Massey. Today, every day I teach and every day I write I’m grateful to these guiding mentors! Buffalo also put me in touch with thinkers whose work at the time was “hot”: Edward Said, Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, Leslie Fiedler and many others. Gradually, my own work came to center on interactions between literature and music, especially in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with focus on poets like William Blake and Christopher Smart, and writer/musicians like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and E. T. A. Hoffmann. Almost all the scholarly work I’ve been able to finish and publish reflects this abiding fascination with how literary and musical texts interplay.

When I left Buffalo to find a full-time teaching job, none was available to me, so, after floundering for about a year as a record (music) store manager, I found work as a legislative analyst for the state Senate in Michigan. For over six years I summarized and analyzed—and translated into understandable English—pending legislation for a diverse and demanding audience. This was invaluable training for someone who had up until then done mostly less immediately urgent academic writing. I kept applying for teaching positions, however, and finally was offered a three-year, adjunct assistant professorship at Iowa State University in 1986, which I gladly accepted and in which I taught almost exclusively technical writing to mechanical, nuclear, electrical, industrial and chemical engineers. It was from Iowa that I discovered an opening at Missouri Southern that led to my position here in 1989.

At Missouri Southern I continue to enjoy teaching a wide range of courses but mainly courses in writing and world literature. My favorite writers, both over my lifetime and at the moment, seem to be Shakespeare, Hoffmann, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Homer, Blake and Joyce and many, many poets from all over the United States and the globe. I really enjoy working with our students, most of whom have interests very different from mine, I’m happy to say. I’m a faculty co-advisor to Missouri Southern’s Model UN Club, Sigma Tau Delta and the newly-forming International Justice Mission, and a member of the Modern Language Association. I’m also active on our department’s Curriculum Committee and the Saltzman Visiting Writers Committee. Aside from being close to and interacting with family and friends, I love going to live concerts and still make it a point to get to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and/or poetry workshops and readings every year, to work in my church and to try to stay as globally engaged as I can!

A friend recently asked me why I wanted to be a teacher. My response was that though the work is hard and often not rewarding, nothing can match the moment when something you say or do sparks an interest or awakens a connection in a student or in a class. I love watching people flourish. Also, teaching allows me never to stop learning. As one of my heroes, the conductor Leonard Bernstein, chiasmatically said, “When I learn, I teach, when I teach, I learn.”

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