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Higher Learning - Dr. Rone Shavers

An associate professor of English at Saint Rose since 2008, Rone Shavers teaches creative writing and contemporary literature. He holds an MFA from The New School and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago, writes fiction and nonfiction, and has written for several art magazines. He recently co-curated “In Place of Now,” an art exhibit at Albany’s Opalka Gallery dedicated to Afrofuturism, and stands comfortably at the juncture of literature, art, and culture.

Although I knew quite a bit about art before I curated the exhibit, I learned so much by doing the show. When you see a gallery exhibit, you don’t think about the practical matters: What art goes where. How many pieces will fit on a wall. Shipping. Insurance. It was fun to get my hands dirty with all those things.

We didn’t have the resources to do an “Art Stars” sort of exhibition, so we were deliberate in terms of how we planned the show. We wanted emerging, mid-career, and established artists. We also wanted to keep a focus on nationally, internationally, and regionally known entities. For some artists, we visited their studios and selected specific pieces. That’s normal in the curating process.

In many ways, curating is like editing an anthology. You have a theme, so you select for thematic coherence. At least that’s how my literary brain processes it. The show was a way to blend my art-world background, my editorial background — I did most of the writing, including the wall text – and my academic interests. It was fun exercising my brain in that way.

Lately, I’ve been writing cronicas. They’re these very disjointed narratives that don’t completely fit together – they’re not intended to; the reader has to do some work. The first one I did, “A Cronica da Cidade,” was inspired by the Lothar Osterburg piece that exhibited here, “Tower of Babel.”

A cronica is a looser form of narrative, practiced by writers like Fernando Pessoa and Clarice Lispector. Different writers approach writing cronicas differently: Some are just daily writings or simple reportage. Some are just gossipy snippets of overheard things. Others are confessional. I like writing them as experimental fiction. I like works that play with literary form and challenge the idea of what defines a narrative.

Academically, I want to do a lot more research into Afrofuturism. It has a pop culture side that includes such things as “Black Panther,” but there’s a very theoretical side to it, too. Basically, I’d like to do more indepth exploration into Afrofuturism as a specific contemporary cultural phenomenon, so that I can develop a few more classes around it and make it as exciting for students as it is for me.

I teach, but I also learn from my students all the time. When I teach a literature course, it usually covers some aspect of race, class, or culture. Those were the “big three” when I was younger, but lately I’ve noticed an incredible sea change in terms of the attention students bring to gender and sexuality. That’s definitely influenced my pedagogical approach to how I teach texts that I already know very well.

I like exposing people to what’s outside their comfort zone, whatever that may be. Even when teaching creative writing, I’ll have handouts of things that may not appear in a Norton anthology, such as experimental fiction. I want to expose students to a broad range of literature — what it is, as well as what it can do.

I think it’s helpful for students to remember that college is just the beginning of their life of learning, not the pinnacle or the end. I’m 20-plus years out of college, and some of the lessons I learned in school are only just now beginning to manifest. This shows that learning is a process, not something that ends once the class is over. Take advantage and soak up everything you can while in school, because what you learn today, you’ll apply to all your tomorrows.

By Irene Kim

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