August 2010


I was recently asked to speak at the Library of Congress at an SF lecture series hosted by Colleen Cahill and Nate Evans on the subject of my teaching in SF.  It’s nothing fancy, a lunchtime lecture, but I enjoyed reflecting on the classes I’ve had, the  hundreds of minds I’ve poisoned with evil genre literature.  A few friends have asked me what I said, so here it is:

What I’ve Learned Teaching Science Fiction
A Talk Presented at the Library of Congress, August 5, 2010

I finished teaching the most recent versions of these classes I’ll be talking about just a week ago. It’s been humbling after a summer of assigning homework to my students, to then be faced with homework of my own. First let me say that I had prepared a breathtaking Power Point presentation with slow dissolves that would’ve made your teeth ache with envy, but my dog ate my jump drive, and all I have are these few crummy paper pages.

As those who know my fiction may have noticed, I’m excessively fond of epigraphs, so I’ve appended one to this talk with my apologies to T. S. Eliot and J. Alfred Prufrock, Hamlet too, I suppose. For those of you who might not know, John Clute is the author of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and knows everything:

I am not John Clute, nor was meant to be;
Am an adjunct faculty, one that will do
To swell enrollment, fill a section or two.

I suppose I should apologize to John too, but he’s a friend, with a good sense of humor.

It’s been my good fortune for the last seven years to teach a science fiction literature course every summer at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. For five years, I’ve  taught an Urban Fantasy class every summer as well. Most of my students are seniors, from a wide range of majors. While there’s always a fan or two in every class, the vast majority are, to use the snobbish fan term, Mundanes, those who never browse the Science Fiction & Fantasy ghetto at Barnes & Noble or attend conventions where people don costumes or filk. Many of them aren’t big fiction readers of any sort. They’re looking to graduate, to become doctors, artists, engineers; they need credits. “Science Fiction? Urban Fantasy? Why not?” they say. “I’ve learned plenty of useless shit already.” In a fluke this last summer, no one in the science fiction class knew that was what they were signing up for. The class schedule just said “Readings in Literature.” One of the best classes I’ve had in a recent years, as it turned out. (more…)

I love saying that.  People are so impressed, as well they should be—with the library not me.  As part of the What IF… Science Fiction & Fantasy Forum series, I’ll be speaking on “What I’ve Learned Teaching Science Fiction.” The lecture will be held Thursday, August 5 at 12:10 pm in the Pickford Theater in  the Madison Building of the Library of Congress.  Please come.  I promise it will be wildly entertaining and brief.  I spoke in this series a few years ago and found them a very congenial bunch.  Any former students out there who’d like to tell me what I should’ve learned by now, keep it clean.