All posts by George David Clark


Selling Snow to Eskimos

This past weekend I sold a year’s subscription to a poetry journal to a woman who introduced herself by saying she didn’t care for poetry. We were at the 2013 Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ conference, the nation’s largest such gathering, and she had stopped at my booth in the book fair because the journal’s covers caught her eye. Talking her into a subscription to something she initially thought she disliked marked a highlight of the conference, but to be honest, I think a lot of …


From Scholarly Scaffolding to the 3-Second Rule

This afternoon a friend of mine will be giving a job talk as part of an on-campus interview. She has done this several times before, but since she’s tackling a new topic, she gathered a group of colleagues last week for a trial run. My friend is an exceptionally talented scholar—that was abundantly clear in her talk—but, as specialists in criticism, our little focus group came up with a number of notes to improve her already compelling presentation. Several of those “advanced” job-talk ideas wer…


How to Heed the Warning

By now many of you have read Kenneth Bernstein’s “Warning to College Profs From a High School Teacher” over at The Answer Sheet, an education blog at The Washington Post. Since it went viral this past weekend, the essay has garnered a couple of thousand comments.

For those who have not yet come across it, paraphrasing Bernstein does a certain injustice to the passion underlying his argument, but the crux of his case is that ballooning class sizes and the increased importance placed on standardiz…


Beginners, Experts, and Everyone in Between

Last weekend I participated in a small conference of writers at a nearby university. My panel wasn’t scheduled until late in the afternoon, but I arrived early and sat in on a workshop led by a young poet who has recently published his first book. There were maybe 40 people attending the session, only a few of them academics. As everyone settled in, I introduced myself to the woman across the aisle and learned that she edits a popular book series. In the row in front of us I recognized the retir…


The Success of Frightened Professors

“When she was young, Mary saw a brilliant and original man lose his job because he had expressed ideas that were offensive to the trustees of the college where they both taught. She shared his views but did not sign the protest petition.”

So begins Tobias Wolff’s short story, “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs.” Mary, a historian, recognizes that she too is always on trial in one sense or another, and in response she perfects a kind of unimpeachable blandness, carefully scripting her l…


Building a Reputation for Our Teaching

This semester I’ll be teaching a class that I’m absolutely thrilled about, an upper-level special-topics course that’s rather unlike anything I’ve done before. This is also the first time I’ve really designed a syllabus from scratch, as opposed to modeling it on something I took as a student or have seen others teach.

I pitched the idea to my department chair this fall, then I took the syllabus to the universitywide general-education committee and had it approved to fulfill the diversity require…


Job-Market Conspiracy Theories

A few weeks back I wrote about the experience of knowing someone in a department that was hiring in my field. I was interested in thinking through how one might make ethical use of inside information, but in the comments section the conversation widened to include all sorts of hiring conspiracies: token candidates, sham searches, etc.

Even though my own experience contradicts some of those theories (that phone interviews are never serious, for one), I can’t help but shiver at the sheer volume of…


After Class, Learning Among Colleagues

After a particularly successful class, I’ve sometimes heard professors say they enjoy teaching so much they would do it for free. But while we probably all feel that euphoria when we see students “get it,” we also are likely to know how discouraging it can be to try to measure our professional worth solely through triumphs in the classroom. I’ve found beginning writers who thrilled and challenged me at every institution I’ve taught at, but this past week as I counted my academic blessings, I kep…


The Insider

Since I am just a few months into a two-year postdoc, this fall I’m pursuing only a couple of dream jobs. As it turns out, a good friend of mine was recently hired at one of the institutions that has caught my eye, so I called him up before sending off my application.

Mainly I just wanted to ask if he thought I would stand a chance. Since the position is open rank, I know senior scholars will be attracted as well. After all, the school enjoys a wonderful reputation in the field, is located in a …


The Patience Problem

Sometime around the first of November, many of my students seem to hit a wall. The most dedicated writers may miss one of their weekly assignments for the first time in the semester. Other students, who have regularly contributed to discussion, go suddenly mute.

In the past I’ve tended to write off that malaise as a symptom of the season: Colds are catching, the social calendar hits a peak, and (as one working student mentioned today) the move to “holiday hours” in the retail industry means some…