Graham Gordy

I’ve struggled with writing this statement because every attempt I make at articulating what UCA’s English Department means to me comes across as hyperbole, yet I’m genuinely not sure where I would be without my experiences there. Read more.

I fully believe the first and most important step toward becoming a good writer is to become a good reader. I went into UCA self-seeking and not terribly interested in learning or changing, all while completely unsure of who I was or what kind of human I wanted to be. And then professors like Dr. Shumaker and Dr. Schaefer, Dr. Gaughan and Dr. Fowler and Dr. Stengel, introduced me to stories and taught me how to truly read. It wasn’t merely introducing me to great writers, it was the transformative process of jolting me out of my own myopic experience and shoving me into a world and humanity that I should care about. What in God’s name could be more meaningful than that?

Great stories and great teachers do something similar for us. They put us into a life that is not our own, we have this empathetic experience we didn’t expect, and we come out of it knowing how others feel. Being an artist, then, is the process of remaining sensitive enough to feel the world and then reproducing it through description, through painting it, through saying it, through writing it. It is feeling things deeply and capturing those feelings in a way that the reader will say, “That! I have felt that. I have hurt like that. I have loved like that.” And because we, as readers, became acquainted with that feeling through the novel, the painting, or the play, that experience gives us the strength to articulate it for ourselves, and then to feel it again, and to maybe feel it more deeply the next time. Writers articulate for the collective. Writers show us how they see and thereby help us to see. They confront us with the frailty of human judgment, of material pursuits, of ideological certainty. They make us feel extraordinary by giving such focus to what we’ve also experienced, while simultaneously making us feel less alone. And through this, the rest of humanity becomes less distant, our convictions become less certain, and the world becomes less cold.

There’s the Wordsworth quote, “What we have loved, others will love, and we will teach them how.” That’s what these professors did for me. They modeled a generosity of spirit to which I still aspire. They taught me how to be a reader, and through that, they taught me how to feel, which eventually led to me to writing myself. I can say with absolute certainty that if I ever write anything worthwhile, it was these people who laid the foundation for that and I would not be doing what I do if it weren’t for them.