Hello, everyone, and welcome to our installment, “Acts of Reading and Writing: Faculty Profiles.” This week we feature Dr. Dawn Walts, Lewis University English Professor. Lewis student Sabrina Parr interviewed Dr. Walts. The mini-interview, that the Jet Fuel Review editors are also partaking in for the “Meet the Editors” series, is located after the profile.
Professor Dawn Walts is beloved by many of her students and as one of her students I can attest to this firsthand. Dr. Walts is always happy and upbeat in class, whether it is acting out a part of Beowulf or simply explaining a passage of text from Shakespeare. You can clearly see the love for reading shining out of Dr. Walts whenever she stands in front of her class; there is never a dull moment. Dr. Walts is like a book waiting to be read and we will do just that as we unpack her in the following profile.
Reading books is not something many people enjoy nowadays with all the distractions around. Smartphones make it easy to get the newest TV show right in your hand and why would you need a book when you can see it in front of you without any effort on your part? Dr. Dawn Walts is one of the few who still enjoys reading for fun. When asked where her favorite place to read is she replied, “I love reading on planes and trains.” Dr. Walts likes to be in motion. She likes to move while she reads, as she believes that reading provides the perfect escape to the crowded train or plane; although she is sitting, reading can transport her to someplace new or old. Books are a way of jumping out of our world and moving into someone else’s. Having a book in your hand is like holding a whole new world in your palm–all you have to do is open it and escape into it and all it has to offer.
Dr. Walts loves classical literature. She has a personal library of books that involve Medieval and Early Modern English Literature, such as Chaucer and Shakespeare. Her ideal library would be several rooms wide, and have everything she loves including Latin books. Libraries are every book lover’s dream: a place where you can go and be surrounded by books and never read enough. Dr. Walts is no exception. When asked about her library she said, “I’m a big fan of the library; just ask anyone who works at the Lewis library or my two local libraries.” Every book lover has to have a least one library that they can consider their second home; whereas, Dr. Walts has three!
I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a book made into a movie and thought the book was better, or, if it had been my job, I would have insisted the movie be better constructed, but Dr. Walts disagrees: “I don’t think I should be enlisted in a project to re-make any movie. I will say that I respect the relationship between film and literature. When a movie makes you open your mind and want to go out and buy that book then I’d say the movie did its job.” Movies are a great doorway to books that are often overlooked because a movie is easier and takes less time than to sitting down and reading the book. While Dr. Walts would love to see literature such as Beowulf and Paradise Lost made into movies, she knows many great pieces of literature have already been made into amazing movies. So I’m going to leave the movies to the professionals and no doubt Dr. Walts is going to do the same.
Have you ever had a book you could just read over and over again? Most book lovers do. Dr. Walts loves to read all things Shakespeare, Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, and anything else she teaches. When asked about what she could read over again and again she said, “I am incredibly lucky that I get to read great works of literature for my ‘job.’ I never tire of the classics.” How lucky indeed. Not many people have the opportunity to do what they love all day, every day of their life. Dr. Walts is a reader whose job is to teach others about the books she loves to read. I can’t think of a better way to spend one’s time than doing what you love.
I think I can safely say that at least one time in many people’s life they have wanted to meet a fictional character, but not Dr. Walts. When asked if she could meet any fictional character, she said the following:
“I can’t think of anyone I would like to meet. I much prefer my version of them and would be so disappointed in the ‘reality’ of their lives. Characters are always more fascinating in fiction. I would much rather wonder about them than know for certain. It’s that mystery that makes reading so magical, yes?”
I have to agree, one of the best parts of reading, in my opinion, is that you can visualize what you imagine all the characters to be like. If you meet a character you imagined and they didn’t live up to your expectations then you would be greatly disappointed. It’s better to keep the characters in the books.
Have you ever asked someone what their favorite book is? You may have received an answer such as “ummm,” or “I don’t know,” or “I can’t think of any.” I think this question is one of the most difficult to answer and apparently I’m not alone. Dr. Walts notes, “I always find this question unfair. It’s like asking a mother to name her favorite child.” She doesn’t like being asked what her top five favorite books are so she just answered this question by listing five books she likes, but aren’t necessarily the books she teaches. Those books would be as follows: An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears, Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, White Noise by Don Delillo, The End of Alice by A.M. Homes, and The Waves by Virginia Woolf. I have to agree with Dr. Walts that picking a favorite book isn’t fair; there are too many good books to choose a favorite one.
Dr. Walts is the first in her family to earn a college degree. When asked what she wanted to do when she was a child she answered:
“My dad was a blue-collar worker and was laid off when I started elementary school. I was always cautioned not to dream big to avoid being disappointed, so I never really allowed myself to think much about my future.”
Dr. Walts has much to be proud of, going to college and earning a degree, becoming a professor and teaching kids about the literature she loves so dearly. She truly is a hard worker and a wonderful teacher. While she may not have foreseen it as a child, Dr. Walts has made a life for herself that many could only dream of.
When asked what her favorite part of being a professor in the English department was, she replied, “Working with the students. I love watching students in my classes grow intellectually and become more confident in their skills as readers and writers.” Walts truly cares about her students and you can see it in the way she teaches. When teaching classical literature Dr. Walts lights up, she brightens like a light bulb just turned on, saying, “I have always loved ‘old’ literature: the older the better. I see literature as a kind of time machine. Reading allows me to travel through time and experience the past.” She shows the students she teaches how to appreciate old literature and she makes the characters come alive.
Dawn Walts is an amazing woman with a high spirit and you will never be bored with her around. She truly loves what she does and you can see that in her work. As a student in one of her classes I can honestly say that Dr. Walts has a passion for literature that’s easily seen. She makes literature come alive right before your eyes. She challenges you to discover what you see in a literary passage; yet, she never tells you how you interpreted something is wrong. She is an amazing woman who has touched many students with her love of classical literature. She truly is a classical woman.
Acts of Reading and Writing: Meet Dawn Walts
Q: What book might we find on your night stand right now?
My night stand is pretty crowded. I just finished Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. I’m also slowly working my way through 38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier’s End by Scott W. Berg, an exceptionally well-written account of the Dakota War. And, of course, George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.
Q: If you had the chance to co-write with one author, whom would you choose? Why?
A few years ago, I worked on a project about Progressive Era Women’s Shakespeare Societies with Dr. Amy Mecklenburg-Faenger at the College of Charleston. Her background is in Historical Rhetoric with an emphasis in the Progressive Era Women’s Societies. My background is Literary Analysis with an emphasis in Medieval and Early Modern England (Shakespeare). Individually, we would never have been able to pursue this topic; but by combining our expertise and backgrounds, we were able to produce an impressive paper that was very well-received. Those are the kind of collaborations I enjoy: when I’m learning as much as I’m contributing.
Q: Describe your perfect reading atmosphere.
I love reading on planes and trains. When I lived in San Francisco, I always had a book when I rode public transportation. Reading provides a perfect escape from the confining space of a plane or train. Plus, I think there is something to be said about reading while moving from place to another.
Q: What might your personal library look like?
Wow! Um, big. It’s in several different rooms in my house and on campus. As a professor of Medieval and Early Modern English Literature, I own a great deal of literature from those eras: books on Chaucer, Old English, Middle English, Shakespeare, etc. I also have my Latin books, historical fiction and non-fiction, and some contemporary fiction. I’m a big fan of the library; just ask anyone who works at the Lewis library or my two local libraries! So the books in my personal collection need to have a reason for being there.
Q: If you could “re-make” any movie that was based on a book, what movie would it be?
I don’t think I should be enlisted in a project to re-make any movie. I will say that I respect the relationship between film and literature. It’s all too easy to find films that don’t “live up to” the book, but I think we overlook those films that open readers to new literature. When I was an undergraduate, I remember seeing two films that shaped my reading patterns for years after: The Lover and Wide Sargasso Sea. Both films are based on books I had never read and made me seek them out. I don’t know that I would have been able to appreciate the work and vision of Marguerite Duras if I had encountered the book without the introduction and context the film provided. Seeing the film made me challenge my notions of what I expected out of literature. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys made me consider the back story and significance of “minor” characters in novels and to imagine the story from their perspectives. Tom Stoppard does this also in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, another great play made into a great movie.
Q. What piece of literature can you read over and over again?
Anything by Shakespeare, which is great because it’s my job to read his work over and over again. And Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales and pretty much everything I teach. I am incredibly lucky that I get to read great works of literature for my “job.” I never tire of the classics.
Q: Give quote from your favorite book or movie.
“Straight ahead of him, nobody can go very far…” from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
And Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s “That is my principal objection to life, I think: It is too easy, when alive, to make perfectly horrible mistakes.” from Dead-eye Dick.
Q: If you were invited to have coffee with any fictional character, whom would you most like to meet? Why?
I can’t think of anyone I would like to meet. I much prefer my version of them and would be so disappointed in the “reality” of their lives. Characters are always more fascinating in fiction. I would much rather wonder about them than know for certain. It’s that mystery that makes reading so magical, yes?
Q: What are your top five favorite pieces of writing. (anything included)
An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
White Noise by Don Delillo
The End of Alice by A.M. Homes
The Waves by Virginia Woolf
Thanks, Dr. Walts!