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something of a dilettante
Learning from those who do not like us
Forty-five years ago today (1971), I was graduated from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa with a Ph.D. in English (Dissertation: Dickens’ Use of Language for Protest). I am grateful for the counsel which Professor James McMillan, then chair of the department, gave me in the hall after I had defended my dissertation:
“Up until this point you have been rewarded mainly by writing what experts know. Hereafter, to be taken seriously, you must write what you know which experts have not yet discovered. Of course you will have to keep up with the experts to learn from them and to avoid merely repeating them.”
Dr. Williamson, a professor whom I much admired, did not serve on that committee. He had given me A’s in three of his tough courses. He was brilliant and although he never liked me, was fair in his grading. He seemed particularly put off that in addition to my teaching and graduate work, I managed to win Best Actor Award (the Ralph Bellamy St. Genesius Medal for Acting) for my performance of Shylock at the University Theater in 1967.
Two years after my ‘terminal’ degree, I was employed in another state, and a colleague who had served on the committee that recommended me for the job said that I should know that Dr. W. had written in my dossier: “He is bright but something of a dilettante. It is doubtful whether he will ever publish much.”
Dilettante was popular Victorian code for folks like Oscar Wilde. What a tribute. I wish I deserve to be in that league!
As of today’s reckoning (May 13, 2016), I have logged 2,594 publications, with new manuscripts currently being considered by 33 publishers. I am blessed to be writing several others. I remain grateful to Dr. W. for setting a high standard.
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