Sabbaticals are in the books

Sabbaticals over the last year have carried Kenyon professors to artists' colonies, the cities of Europe, and seclusion in home offices. Research has been refined, material presented at conferences, and books pummeled into shape, some even finished.

Seventeen tenured faculty members completed academic-year sabbaticals, crafted reports on their work to Provost Gregory P. Spaid '68, and turned their attention once again to the classroom.

Sabbaticals keep the faculty engaged in their discipline, Spaid said. Sometimes faculty actually use it as a way of striking out in new directions. It can be innovative for them. They develop expertise, an understanding of the world they didn't have before.

It adds to what they can bring to the classroom. Ultimately, it's all about the students.

Here are some sabbatical snapshots:

Melissa Dabakis, professor of art history.
The founding director of the Kenyon in Rome and Florence Program tackled the first draft of a book on American women sculptors who worked in Rome in the mid-nineteenth century. The main body of it is written, she said. That's the hardest part.

Approach: "I write every day. It's the only way it gets done. It takes a lot of effort--total concentration and work on it every day."

Lewis Hyde, Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing.
The poet and author continued work on a book assembling a modern and American model of the cultural commons--the treasure of ideas, inventions, and art without ownership. Hyde charts the boundary between commonwealth and private wealth.

The book needs another draft, he said.

Getaway: Hyde spent a month at the MacDowell Colony, a retreat center for artists in New Hampshire. "You get a cabin in the woods, and there are twenty-five people in residence. You hang out in the evening with painters, filmmakers, and poets. It's a perfect combination of solitude and conviviality."

Jesse Matz, associate professor of English.
The specialist in modernist literature and narrative theory continued work on a book about the ways that narrative improves the understanding of time. Progress on the book led to development of an article version of the introductory chapter. Matz presented his work at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Indiana University in Bloomington; Ohio State University in Columbus; and Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Back in the saddle: "I'm actually pretty eager to get back in the classroom. You can get a little too detached from the main thing about this profession."

Janet McAdams, Robert P. Hubbard Professor of Poetry.
Project: The poet, whose work is informed by American Indian creative writing, used much of her sabbatical to revise a novel. She also wrote an essay on modern Indian identity in the southeastern United States; tracked publication of Feral, her new book of poetry; and edited Earthworks, a book series featuring American Indian writers.

Getaway: McAdams spent seven weeks in a woodland studio at the Hambridge Center, an artists' colony in Rabun Gap, Georgia. "I love being in the woods. I love to be writing and being able to go for a long walk," she said. "You walk and you walk, and you don't see anybody. And then you have the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with other writers."

Clara Román-Odio, professor of Spanish.
The main focus for this specialist in Mexican literature was investigating a group of Chicana writers and visual artists who explored gender and cultural identity in the 1970s. Her work included in-depth interviews with four writers. Part of her year was spent co-editing the summer volume of the Hispanic feminist journal Letras Femeninas. "The value of a sabbatical year is incommensurable," she said. "A key aspect was the opportunity to recover a broad-based perspective of my overall scholarly activity."

Back in the saddle: "I feel I have gained a renewed sense of internal balance and a fresh and vigorous impetus to resume my place in the classroom and the active life of the College."

Linda Smolak, Samuel L. Cummings Professor of Psychology.
The expert on body image and eating problems spent much of her time assembling a second edition of Body Image, Eating Disorders and Obesity in Youth: Assessment, Prevention, and Treatment, a book she co-edited and had published in 2001. Demand remains high for the book, which deals with a range of interrelated problems in children and adolescents. Smolak also wrote chapters on body-image problems for other books, helped examine data at the Center for Balanced Living in Worthington, Ohio, and worked as associate editor of the journal Body Image.

Back in the saddle: "The students are very, very bright and well-motivated. They're fun to work with and interesting to work with. That's the greatest thing," she said. "I can't say I missed the grading."

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