In this interview, University of Waterloo English alumnus Adam Hunt may have just offered my favorite book suggestions to date, while also working in Al Purdy’s A-frame cottage, dream courses, and the indefatigable Dr. Gordon Slethaug. Thank you to Adam for participating in Words in Place!–JLH
JLH: What made you decide to do a Masters at UWaterloo?
AH: Well, to be frank, it was a combination of two things: my girlfriend was accepted into a Masters in Sociology, and I liked Waterloo because I got the chance to be a teaching assistant (TA) in both semesters. I finished the MA in a year and stayed on to start an M.Phil: in that second year, I was lucky enough to get the chance to teach “Eng 108F: The Rebel,” as well as to TA in American Literature for former Head of English, Professor Gordon Slethaug. He also taught me my first Literary Theory class. My two years at UWaterloo prepared me well for the Ph.D. I did at the University of Toronto and my future teaching career.
JLH: Can you tell us a bit about your time as an graduate student here? What stands out?
AH: Because we were a graduate student couple, my wife and I were involved in both departments. My Ph.D. thesis at U of T — “The Captain of Industry in English Literature from 1904 to 1920” — ended up being quite sociological, so I suppose that was a product of my “doubleness” at Waterloo.
JLH: You now teach high school English: what do you do to encourage students’ enthusiasm for literature?
AH: I am actually lucky enough now to be the librarian at a high school (Centennial Secondary School in Belleville) as well as an English teacher. In both my roles, I encourage the students to read widely and deeply. I hope that if they read enough, they will eventually love literature. I seldom, however, start them off with canonical works.
JLH: Are there any initiatives that particularly stand out?
AH: One initiative that stood out for me was when I was teaching “Writer’s Craft” and the class visited the Al Purdy cottage. For a few weeks before the visit the students immersed themselves in the poetry of Purdy, and then when they visited the cottage (and also met his widow, Eurithe) the verse really came alive for them. The visit was in the Spring, so we hung out the whole day, helped clean up the area a bit, and also indulged ourselves by working on a variety of artistic tasks: writng poetry, sketching the cottage, and taking photographs. The day was bucolic bliss! Also, they got to see that daily life (and habitat) of a writer was rather humble, a fact that most of them had not realized. Their heads were full of visions of writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald….
The Purdy A-frame now hosts three writers a year, so we hope to return soon. The class runs only every two years, and I am not the only teacher who teaches it. Perhaps when the cottage attains Heritage status we will go back.
JLH: If you could design a dream course for your students, what would it cover?
AH: If I could teach any course, I would like to teach a course in Utopia/Dystopia, not just the standard works but also Young Adult novels like Moira Young’s Blood Red Road and Jo Treggiari’s Ashes, Ashes. I fondly remember a university course in this subject back at University of Saskatchewan, where I got my first degree.
JLH: Finally, what have been your favorite books of the last year?
AH: I immensely enjoyed Ian McEwan’s Nut Shell, with its highly original perspective, as well as the epic Homecoming by new writer Yaa Gyasi. Along those same lines is Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, a novel that won the Booker Prize in 2015. The sheer length and sometimes confusing multiple voices may challenge the reader, but the novel certainly rewards at the end. Many other new books – Beth Goobie’s The Pain Eater, for example, and Margaret Atwood’s new novel, The Heart Goes Last – are on my bedside table and I look forward to reading them.