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New English Prof Explores Connections Between Life & Language

11/01/17

Victoria PapaAssistant Professor Dr. Victoria Papa loves learning about life through stories. In fact, it was this preference that put her on the path to her new position at MCLA this fall, as part of our English/Communications faculty.

“As I advanced in my studies, I came to know more of the intricate relationship between life and story; the ways that language shapes our realities,” Papa explained. “I’m fascinated by the relationship between life and language, and the way that language is always reaching to make meaning beyond its own capacity.” Those connections, she said, are why she does what she does.

According to Papa, her MCLA students are “eager, open, and fun. “I like to think of my ‘Intro. to Lit’ class as having the vibe of a book club, albeit a very rigorous one. We’re having such lively discussions in that class sometimes I can’t even get a word in! It’s wonderful to witness the students so engaged in the topics and materials at hand.”

Papa was a college sophomore when she decided to teach at the university level for her life’s work. “I have a vivid memory of stepping outside on my campus’s quad after an enthralling class on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. My professor had really pushed me to the edge of my thinking about this profound novel. Something had opened up in me: I decided right then and there that I must continue my studies and get a Ph.D.”

Now, Papa finds that her work allows her to dwell in the world of ideas on a daily basis, and she encourages her students to join her there. “It’s very rewarding to witness a student cross over a threshold in their thinking,” she said. “What excites me about MCLA, as a small liberal arts college dedicated to innovative teaching, is that it invites these kinds of interactions.”

Throughout this academic year, she is teaching “Introduction to Literature,” as well as “College Writing.” She looks forward to teaching “Visions and Voices: Multi-Ethnic Studies” in the spring. This mixed genre class will include fiction, poetry, memoir, music, new media, and photography – all coming from a range of 20th century and contemporary American multi-ethnic writers, thinkers, and artists. It reflects her approach to teaching and research.

“I’m invested in decentering white patriarchal writers. My scholarship and syllabi bring women, people of color, and/or queer authors, artists, and thinkers to the forefront,” Papa explained.

Her current book project – about literary aesthetics of 20th century American literature and “everyday” traumas of oppression – tentatively is titled “The Invention of Survival.” Papa explained, “Moving ahead, I’d like to develop a course focused on an exploration of how creativity’s relationship to trauma is represented in 20th century American literature.”

She hopes to teach her students how to become curious about difficulty, rather than resisting it or shutting down. “When a literary text feels unapproachable, instead of getting caught up in feelings of doubt or boredom, get curious about what makes this so hard,” Papa said. “So much can be discovered about ourselves and literature if we remain open to challenge.”  

Papa holds her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., her master’s degree in English from the SUNY-Albany, and she completed her Ph.D in English at Northeastern University in Boston, where she also taught in their writing program.