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Word Power: Going Between, Beyond and Inside the Lines

Jennifer Glaser, assistant professor of English, was inspired by a 'talk-y' family and a love for books.

Date: 9/20/2008
By: Britt Kennerly
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Assistant Professor of English Jennifer Glaser puts it simply: She comes from a "very talk-y" family.

That short description speaks volumes about Glaser's writing style and explains a little about her keen ability to delve unafraid into life's most intimate, joyful and sorrowful details.

For example, her "Sex and the Sickbed" is, she says, "an alternative eulogy of sorts" for her boyfriend Neil, who died of leukemia in his 20s. The powerful, poignant work was featured in Random House's "Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers: The Best New Voices of 2006," with an excerpt appearing in the New York Times in August 2006.

Jennifer Glaser, assistant professor of English

"I guess it was a way of taking what had become a public thing – his illness and death, lived out in front of doctors and nurses and his parents – into the private vernacular of our own love life," says Glaser.

"It was also an attempt to write without too much sentiment about the materiality of disease and sex and death; I've never understood the point in bathing these parts of life in a rosy glow."

The ability to get past those barriers goes back to that "talkiness" and to understanding, at an early age, "the intimacy of reading" – the relationship between reader and text.

"My parents (Ris้ and Peter) and grandparents were great storytellers, and love was measured in the number of tales that we told and the time that we spent yakking around the kitchen table," says the Schenectady native.

"My grandmother Sylvia and her sister Ruthie, in particular, were great storytellers and would move from narrating naturalistic tales of their childhood in upstate New York to helping me to write and illustrate ornate construction paper books about a family of monkeys – named, not surprisingly, 'The Monkeys.'"

Glaser started to think of herself as a writer, she says, "when I realized that writing allowed me to marry the drive to communicate inscribed into my family DNA with all that time spent reading under the comforter in my childhood bedroom."

In high school, she learned that her passion for reading "could be transformed into a life's work."

"My ninth-grade high school English teacher scrawled the words 'You have a gift” on the top of one of my essays, and I felt like something changed for me; she shoulders the blame for anything I have produced since then," Glaser recalls.

There's much to blame, as it happens, on that teacher.

Glaser moved to New York City to attend college at Columbia University, earning her PhD in comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania. She has always, she says, been inclined to research and write across a variety of disciplines: Published on Web sites including, she hopes to explore some of the issues around how shifts in media affect the way people read and think in her courses.

"This desire for interdisciplinarity can probably be traced to my readerly instincts; I can't imagine a more horrible fate than to only be allowed to read one type of book or learn about one subject!" she exclaims.

"I chose to write a dissertation about race in post-World War II American Jewish literature and culture because I realized it would allow me to dip in and out of so many topics – from politics and intellectual history to close readings of novels and analyses of films and graphic novels. It was a really fun project to pursue; I think that professors don't often encourage students to study things that they love and enjoy. I've never understood the idea that learning had to be painful and boring in order to be rigorous."

Glaser is excited about the opportunity for interdisciplinary work at McMicken College of Arts and Sciences – "the fact that I can have the opportunity to teach American fiction seminars and introductory gender studies courses, classes on the graphic novel and literary non-fiction workshops … The professors I've met here have been very encouraging about both my scholarly work and the creative writing I do; I've enjoyed feeling that being here won't limit me to just one narrow area of study."

Although Glaser is pursuing more on the topic of her boyfriend's illness and death for a full-length manuscript, she is writing "from a very different, and much less urgent, place now," she says.

"When I wrote 'Sex and the Sickbed,' I felt I needed to write about his death," she says.

"It's been a number of years since my boyfriend's death and I feel really great about the relationship I'm in and the partner I'm with now. Loving someone else makes me feel much more future-oriented and less inclined toward writing about mourning the past."

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