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Focus on Faculty: Mike Kuczynski

October 23, 2017 3:45 PM
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A photo of Mike Kuczynski who runs the Books and Reading society in Wall Residential Hall.

Professor Mike Kuczynski runs the Books and Reading society in Wall Residence Hall.

 

Professor Mike Kuczynski is the Chair of the English department at Tulane, and an expert on medieval and early modern English literature.  As a long-time supporter of the Honors Program, he also leads the Books and Reading society in the first-year Honors RLC (Residential Learning Community) in Wall Residential College, one of nine intellectually-oriented societies in the community.  For him, the society represents a unique aspect of life at Tulane: the opportunity for undergraduate students to connect to faculty in a range of disciplines outside the classroom.

Professor Kuczynski defines his society as much more than a book club.  It is “imaginative, multi-form,” involving a far greater range of activities than any book club.  One annual event is a trip to read 18th Century graveyard poetry in a New Orleans cemetery, connecting this distant genre to the city and the present.  The group has also staged a poetry slam, bringing poetry to the residence hall and other students.  It regularly rounds off the academic year with a formal dinner with a Tulane faculty member in creative writing—exhibiting to students the ongoing importance of literature on their campus.

Overall, Kuczynski says, the society is built around “relaxed, but intellectually-exciting” programming outside the classroom.  However, he sees a reciprocal relationship between what happens outside the classroom, in groups like this, and inside the classroom, in regular courses.  Students who have interacted with faculty in co-curricular environments feel more able to engage in their courses, helping them develop an intellectual outlook on all aspects of life.  Tulane, by virtue of a groundwork laid by the Honors Program, is uniquely equipped to provide its students opportunities for this unique interaction.

Furthermore, the benefits of this interaction are not simply one-way.  Kuczynski says that talking with relative beginners about his area of research expertise often helps him to see problems with a fresh pair of eyes.  For example, when looking at works in Tulane’s Rare Books collection, housed on the sixth floor of Howard-Tilton Library, students frequently point to something interesting he had not noticed before, or had taken for granted.  He describes the experience of working with a new group of honors freshmen each year as rejuvenating, bringing excitement, enthusiasm, and energy to his work.

All faculty interviewed recommend a book that they find compelling and important.

Professor Kuczynski’s Book Recommendation: A Legacy of Spies, by John Le Carré

This latest work from the prolific British spy novelist is a world away from Kuczynski’s research focus, but he nevertheless applauds it as a “wonderful” read.  The book can stand alone, but represents also the “culminating achievement” of Le Carré’s career.  It is “a tribute to these characters, whom over many years he’s imagined, and given a palpable life to.”