Thursday, August 22, 2019
August 22, 2019: Cville Influences: Steve Cushman
[For this year’s annual post-Charlottesville-trip series, I wanted to share tributes to various folks who were important influences during my Cville years. Leading up to a special weekend post on a peer of mine who’s aiming to become a Cville influence in 2019!]
On three reasons why I’ve been inspired by my second favorite Professor Steve from the University of Virginia (he’ll understand that ranking):
1) His Scholarship: In October 2014 Steve published two books, one a scholarly monograph and one a collection of poetry (on which more in a moment). That stunning productivity alone, emblematic of Steve’s continued writing and publishing throughout his career, has been and remains an inspiration to me to be sure. But the scholarly book, Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War, is also on its own terms (as I argued in that hyperlinked post) a deeply impressive work of interdisciplinary, public American Studies scholarship, an engagement with literature and history, collective and Civil War Memory, and why literature matters. That it was produced by a childhood family friend only makes it that much more influential, as I know well the life balance, the evolving perspective, the sense of humor, the humanity behind the scholar who wrote this great book.
2) His Poetry: In the same month that he published Belligerent Muse Steve also published his fifth poetry collection, The Red List. Taking its title from the list of endangered species, Steve’s collection (or book-length poem) offers a biting, elegiac, angry, impassioned jeremiad on the changes and threats all around us, while at the same time recognizing that “There aren’t any jobs for more Jeremiahs.” Like all of Steve’s poetry, this book really captures the voice and perspective I grew up around, while at the same time that seemingly conversational or casual style masks what I believe is a highly sophisticated structure and form. I haven’t done much creative writing since early college, but that combination of voice and structure, of a conversational style and a rigorous form, is something I strive for in all of my writing, here and everywhere else, and another way that Steve has been inspiring to me.
3) His Home: Longtime family friends are their own special kind of influence of course, and while it’s very cool that Steve was able to model these aspects of my professional career, the truth is that as family friends he and his wife Sandy were even more directly influential to a young AmericanStudier. That’s especially true of their home, in the country outside of Charlottesville (on the incredibly evocatively named Lonesome Mountain Rd.); I have multiple distinct memories of visits to that home, of long walks with our dogs in nearby fields, of warm dinners together. An under-appreciated set of childhood lessons have to do with learning how to be social in genuine ways, to be yourself among friends, and the Cushman home was one main place where I observed and practiced that important life skill.
Last Cville influence tomorrow,
PS. Influential people you’d highlight?