- B.A., English, Bethel College (North Newton, Kan.)
- M.A., English, University of Oklahoma (Norman)
- Ph.D., English, University of Oklahoma (Norman), 19th and 20th Century American Literature
Research Interests: Medical Humanities and Health Communications; Teaching and Learning; Performance Studies; Gender and Identity
Affiliated Departments or Programs
- Engl 100 Basic Writing
- Engl 125 College Writing I
- Engl 135 College Writing II
- Engl 225 Advanced College Writing
- Engl 112 Studies in Literature
- Engl 216 Modern Literature
- Engl 217 Literature of Race, Ethnicity and Gender
- Engl 220 Creative Writing
- SCS 101 First-Year Seminar
In Addition …
What draws you to literature and writing?
In literature readers meet characters who represent the complexities of being human that authors find dear, defining, and threatening. In college papers, students represent their own developing ideas and manifest what they are learning from others’ writing. In both of these written forms — published texts and student writing — I consider it an honor to read another person’s carefully crafted text. The page is as much a meeting place as anywhere else; it’s a place that magnifies one’s participation as either the reader or the writer. Both are roles I take seriously and with great love. To help a writer express more fully what she or he intends is a thrilling and humbling experience.
Literary theory, as much as fiction, poetry, drama, or essays, draws me to the discipline of English. I believe we write our life experience, and that it is essential we develop awareness of the critical lenses we use to interpret texts, one another, and the world. Of course, experiences happen to people that cannot be put into words, and bodily memory is strong, but sense-making and sharing of memories and identity requires language. I believe as Ludwig Wittgenstein asserts, that “the limits of our language are the limits of our world,” and that it is critical we carefully develop abilities to express and interpret the diverse complexities of the human condition. Being a small part of that great effort is what draws me to literature and writing.
What about teaching energizes you?
Teaching keeps me constantly learning and growing. I do not know a context more consistently challenging or rewarding than the classroom — especially the literature and writing classroom where nothing is given and everything is open to interpretation and representation.
Close reading, critical inquiry, and successful writing require attention to one’s approaches, assumptions, and meaning-making habits. Students in my classes study diverse writers, question texts as they would their closest friends or kin, and apply literary approaches that expand their ways of thinking and writing.
My favorite and most certain idea about literature is that in it readers encounter diverse people and psychological, historical, and cultural circumstances they otherwise would not. Writing and literature, I believe, simply make people more fully developed human beings.
Who are your role models and mentors?
My mentors include writers and teachers who model for me the value of distinguishing and honoring individuals’ feelings, backgrounds, circumstances, and choices of expression and representation. My father, John Sheriff, who has been an English professor for most of his life, taught me to interpret texts with a lens that is generous, curious, and critical — and therefore respectful. American transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman helped me think critically and passionately about language, nature, community, and identity. Poets such as William Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost enhanced my love of place, showing me the mutually transformative relationships of words, punctuation, time, and space. Modernist and postmodernist writers display for me the crippling, human reality of angst and loss as well as the hope and peace that with them can eventually come — “for peace comes dropping slow,” to quote William Butler Yeats. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century women writers such as Louisa May Alcott, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Julia Alvarez, and Toni Morrison taught me how playing with themes and conventions can destabilize and reshape them as well as confirm them. Writers of all ages and abilities continue to teach me that carefully constructed narratives have the power to change the ways we think about and experience race, ethnicity, gender, age, and class. These and many other writers and teachers have taught me to speak and read and write knowing that every word matters.
Of course, in real time and off the page, I am mentored by my family who keeps me grounded in the stunning power and beauty of the miraculous mundane and by Hesston College colleagues and students who continue to challenge me with the rhythms and tensions of teaching and learning.