Mark Wright: Keelite of the Month February 2014

Mark T Wright 1968 British Literature & Philosophy (Exchange)

What am I doing now?
Retired after teaching high school English for 34 years but busier than ever doing a lot of music work and spending a lot of time caring for elderly parents.
How did you get to where you are now?
Mostly good luck, I suppose. Still learning and fascinated by a lot. I’ve never focused on money and somehow, I have ended up with enough to do what I want to do.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Earning the love and respect of my students. I was lucky to get a number of teaching awards; went to the White House in 1986, two Fulbright Teaching Exchange Awards, two National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar Awards. At one seminar I discovered a missing Thoreau manuscript. I spent some time for 30 years playing jazz piano with the jazz pioneers at Preservation Hall in New Orleans. Spent eight seminars learning how to write and hand carve Roman letters into slate.

And your biggest mistake?
Wasting time in self doubt. Not spending more time growing as an artist, writer and craftsperson. Being a perpetual student is a compliment; not an insult.
Playing piano at Preservation Hall

What are your ambitions now?

I spent a good part of my life teaching kids how to write, to read sensitively and think critically. Now I would like:

1) To write a biography of my Sicilian grandfather
2) To teach a small group of students how to carve Roman letters on slate. Knowing that in the education enterprise the teacher always learns more than the students, I could continue to grow at a relatively new passion and pass on to students a difficult hand craft which, like anything worth doing, involves the mind, body and heart.

Photo Left: Playing piano with the Percy Humphrey Band at Preservation Hall, New Orleans,  in the 1980's. 

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
Love what you teach and honour your students. Know that although they may not, in effect, be taking the course at the same time you are teaching it, some day they may look back fondly on something about which you have cared deeply. Try to establish an environment in which learning can occur.

Mark teaching Thoreau What made you choose Keele University?
Keele chose me. Keele decided to take a chance on me; I set up my own year abroad program persuading my home university, New York University, to accept my work at Keele for a year’s study. From 1967 to 1968 I was one of about thre American students at Keele although I never met the others.

What kind of a student were you?
Intimidated. British students were far better prepared than I for university work. I lived in the library desperately trying to catch up. I worked harder that year than ever before and took degree examinations. I was also the happiest I had ever been having found something close to a real community of scholars.

Photo right: Mark found a Thoreau manuscript!

How has Keele influenced your life?
Profoundly. I was at Keele during the Vietnam War at the beginning of the protest movements. I lived in Lindsay 2nd floor, which was a men’s dorm at the time. How many Sunday evening meals became extended political discussions stretching into the night! I had never before been challenged to defend my country’s policies. One sees one’s country more clearly from a distance. I came home with a political scepticism that has never left me.

What is your favourite memory of Keele?
The great friends I made, two of whom I still connect with. My best friend from Keele, a girl friend of mine from the USA, and I camped through Europe in the summer of ’68. Great fun and a comedy of misadventures. Also - the brilliant lectures and tutorials of Professor Frank Doherty.

Mark in Robert Frost's cabin What is your impression of Keele now?
It’s massive compared to what it looked like in 1967 but still rural and friendly. I had a wonderful discussion with a student by phone who proved to me that she cared about people the same way Keele students did in the ‘60’s.

Anything else you would like to add?
Keele’s Foundation Year program attracted fascinating people with broad and often divergent interests. By pure luck I discovered a place that validated exploration; the perfect place for someone like me, and that has made all the difference in my life.

Photo left: Giving a tour of the Robert Frost Cabin in Ripton, Vermont, about 1990