Jessica Richard

Jessica Richard, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of EnglishJessica Richard

Are you reading anything that’s giving you insight or useful and usable distraction at this point?

At first I had a hard time concentrating on reading books while tracking news and university developments constantly, which felt like yet another loss. But I listen to audiobooks while I run, and I’ve been listening to Victorian novels during this time: North and South and Wives and Daughters, both by Elizabeth Gaskell, and now I’m deep into Dickens’ Bleak House. Victorian novelists understood dark, complicated times, venal politicians, labor politics, and mysterious illnesses.

At dinner, my husband, 15-year-old son, and I have been taking turns choosing a poem to read aloud from various anthologies. Now that we don’t have any evening concerts or events to rush off to, we’ve enjoyed sharing old favorites or new discoveries.

How about music? Films?

It was our son’s idea that we also take turns sharing a song, later in the night after the dishes are done. While we all love classical music, we have distinct and not always overlapping tastes in everything else so it’s been fun to surprise each other with everything from The Who to Morrissey to Emmylou Harris.

We love movies but had not lately had much time to watch together before everything was canceled: since staying home we’ve watched things like Contagion, Failsafe, and Dr. Strangelove together. None of these offer a comforting vision of arriving on the other side of a crisis! But they are wonderfully constructed works of art that, like my Victorian audiobooks, prompt a lot of thought about the worlds we have created.

What do you miss the most about being on campus?

I miss my colleagues, who are also my friends! I miss real-time, in-person discussions about literature, curriculum, the university; email is a weak substitute for engaged dialogue with colleagues around a table.

I miss events, performances, concerts, talks, lectures, symposia — the intellectual and creative life of a campus beyond the classroom that makes me so grateful to be a member of a university community.

I miss students and the immediacy of our class discussions and advising conversations. While both faculty and students are making heroic efforts to replicate these in digital environments, I think all of us in the English Department feel the loss of real-time conversation with students about literature and writing, conversation that is so central to our vocation.

I miss my treadmill desk!

The least?

I don’t miss the stress of the academic calendar. April is always packed with events, celebrations, screenings, awards receptions, lectures, plus grading and final administrative tasks that close out the academic year. Even though I miss the stimulation of those events, I don’t miss the stress of having multiple evening events per week.

What research, scholarship, or academic meetings have you had to cancel or miss?

My annual scholarly conference, the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies scheduled for late March in St. Louis was cancelled.

Together with colleagues in the ZSR Library, I was planning on hosting my collaborators at the University of Tennessee, Texas A & M, and Xavier University on the Maria Edgeworth Letters Project, a multi-institutional digital edition of the letters of an early nineteenth-century novelist, on campus for a 2-day working retreat in May.

I was planning a weekend research trip to New York for the Maria Edgeworth Letters Project.

I was going to lead a new 4-week summer program for Wake Forest at Cambridge University, in the UK, from mid-May to mid-June, teaching 12 students in an immersive literature course. I was also planning to do additional research on Maria Edgeworth’s letters and to meet with other Edgeworth scholars while in the UK.

Are you rescheduling any of the above, or . . . ?

My hope is that all of these will eventually be rescheduled.

What’s been the biggest challenge about working at home?

I feel pretty lucky overall, compared to the challenges others face now. I have a comfortable home office and a snuggly cat; my husband, son, and I have enough room that we can each do our work in our separate zones. My high-schooler is fairly self-sufficient. After the first two weeks of being home I bought a 150-ft ethernet cable on the advice of a neighbor which solved our initial bandwidth problems; now whoever is streaming pulls the cable into their room. I do find Zoom strangely exhausting.

Picked up any new skills or hobbies, or revisited any old ones? (Zoom doesn’t count as a skill)

Like everybody else, I’ve gotten back into sourdough. I made starter from potato water and baked a delicious loaf of whole wheat bread. I’m nurturing other weird kitchen creatures as well: kombucha, yogurt, and I just started growing oyster mushrooms! I’m running more miles than ever. I knit through faculty meetings on Zoom just as much as I did on campus and have almost finished a sweater for my son with yarn I bought on the Oregon coast over spring break, in what is likely the last travel we’ll do in some time.

Complete the following: “I can’t wait for summer, because then . . .”

Never has a sentence felt less relevant. This is a summer of not looking forward, because I can’t imagine what it will bring. We’re not traveling, our son isn’t going to music camp, we won’t see family. Usually I look forward to summer as a time to regroup, to recover from the intensity of campus life, to nest at home reading and writing and then to travel for research, family, and vacation. This summer I’ll do much of what I’ve been doing for the past 5 weeks: read, write, run, knit, cook, bake, garden, share poetry and music with my husband and son, wonder and try to plan for an as yet unknowable fall semester.

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