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A Passion for Getting It Right

Essays and Appreciations in Honor of Michael J. Colacurcio’s 50 Years of Teaching

Edited By Carol M. Bensick

For 50 years Michael J. Colacurcio has been a leader in the criticism of early and antebellum American literature. In The Province of Piety, New Essays on The Scarlet Letter, Doctrine and Difference, and Godly Letters, as well as editions and often-reprinted reviews and essays, Dr. Colacurcio has continued to defend a rare vision of the political and intellectual depth of America’s serious fiction and the aesthetic power and charm of its religious poetry and prose. In light of many honors such as the Book of the Year Award from the Conference of Christianity and Literature and election in 2007 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, UCLA raised him to the rank of Distinguished Professor. Yet for all his dedication to research, his students know him as an unforgettable teacher, who has continued to win several teaching awards at both Cornell and UCLA. The present volume aspires to celebrate Dr. Colacurcio’s 50 years of transformative teaching through an exciting bounty of original and classic essays by some of his most talented students and eminent colleagues from his very first years at Cornell up to and including his current students at UCLA.
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The Gnomic Pronouncements of Michael J. Colacurcio



Since I ended up becoming a journalist rather than a scholar, I thought I would most usefully contribute to this volume by reporting some highlights of the many hours of student “interviews” granted to me by Michael J. Colacurcio between 1998 and 2005. As any page of his scholarly work demonstrates, he has a gift for highly compressed phraseology.

When the fledgling scholar would approach his office with a question, sometimes Colacurcio couldn’t be bothered to do the student’s homework. “Go and read Sacvan Bercovitch,” he would say, or “Go and read Hume,” or “Go and read Wai Chee Dimock,” or “Go and read Fred Somkin.” Go and read. This three-word phrase was the trusty dray mare that powered 39 dissertations—and counting.

However, if the question proved interesting enough, which occurred more frequently the more advanced the student became, then a long conversation might ensue. Colacurcio would launch into lengthy, erudite discussions, growing more and more excited, gathering energy like a boulder rolling downhill. And every once in a while he would top off the discussion with a genuine epigram. Some of these, no doubt, he had already invented during his countless early morning sessions at his writing desk. But sometimes hearing the phrases repeated later, he would say, “I said that?” He had achieved spontaneous composition via disquisition.

With a nod to the conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, who likes to create long lists of provocative sayings,...

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