Prize-winning author and essayist Anne Fadiman has accepted a position teaching non-fiction writing seminars in the English Department beginning next spring, Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said Tuesday.
Fadiman, who is the award-winning editor of The American Scholar, the Phi Beta Kappa Society’s literary journal, will teach at Yale as the Francis Writer-in-Residence for a three-year renewable term. She will teach undergraduate courses on journalism and writing personal essays, memoirs and criticism.
The appointments of Fadiman and current U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Louise Gluck, who the University tapped in February to teach poetry, are major milestones for Yale as it works to enhance its writing instruction, Brodhead said.
“This will, for me, be something I will look back at with the greatest satisfaction for helping accomplish,” said Brodhead, who will leave for Duke University this summer. “[Fadiman] is a person with a real passion for writing and passion for teaching students about writing.”
Fadiman in 1997 won the National Book Critics Circle Award, among others, for “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.” The book tells the story of a refugee family from Laos and its tragic encounters with the American medical system.
Even within the “confines of truth” of the non-fiction genre, Fadiman hopes to inspire her students to be “extremely, even wildly creative,” she said in an interview Wednesday.
“Teaching at Yale is different than teaching at most other colleges,” Fadiman said. “I’m sure I’ll have some students that I’ll know within 30 minutes of meeting them are going to have far more illustrious careers than mine, and I can’t wait for the moments when I discover that.”
Next spring, Fadiman will teach a seminar called “Writing About One’s Self,” which will explore weekly themes through reading and writing personal memoirs. Fadiman said she spent this week drafting “a very cogent blue book description” for the course and jokingly likened the process to writing a haiku.
“It’ll be an attempt to harness the natural narcissism of every 20-year-old and perhaps also every 50-year-old and put it in a form sufficiently disciplined to be of interest to others,” Fadiman said laughingly. “Each week will have a theme, such as love, loss, travel and angst. Angst, I’m sure, is a great specialty of Yale students.”
She will continue to live in her in Whately, MA, family home and plans to commute to New Haven during the week. She intends to spend two complete days on campus per week and stay in a residential college overnight, something she hopes will connect her to campus life.
“I hope to cram my schedule to the gills in every way I can think of,” Fadiman said. “Then I’ll disappear, but during my two days on campus, I have no intention of zipping in, teaching my classes, and zipping out.”
English professor Alexander Welsh said he is excited about Fadiman’s appointment.
“Half of the importance of the story is not only who she is, but that she is a wonderful, new writer-in-residence parallel to Louise Gluck,” Welsh said.
Although Fadiman taught as a visiting lecturer at Smith College between 2000 and 2002, she is established as a career author, essayist and editor. But Fadiman, 50, said she is at a “good, round age for doing something new.”
“I think it’s the quintessential age at which if one doesn’t do something new, one tends to stay in the groove in which one already does something well,” she said. “It’s a bit of a risk to get out of the groove because it’s so deep, but boy, if one doesn’t get out at 50, one will be there forever. For me, it’s a great age to make this exciting change.”