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Warning: This Class Might Change Your Life

There’s a risk in opening our hearts and minds to good books — but it’s worth it. 

Thomas Glave never ceases to be amazed by the transformative power of literature.

The award-winning fiction and essay writer has been teaching creative writing and comparative literature courses at Binghamton University for the past nine years. And every year, he introduces students from remarkably diverse backgrounds to authors and characters whose environment and experiences couldn’t be more different from their own.

And then something incredible happens.

“One of the risks with learning is that we never know what we’re going to get out of something, the same way that we don’t know what we’ll get out of meeting someone or talking to somebody for five minutes,” says Glave, whose short stories and non-fiction essays have earned him a coveted O. Henry Fiction prize and numerous fellowships.

Three years ago, while taking one of Glave’s courses entitled, “Identity, Sexuality and Gender in Contemporary Caribbean Literature,” three white male students came out publicly for the first time as gay. The struggles and oppression faced by the seemingly foreign characters in the novels had resonated so deeply with the students that their lives were changed forever.

Such powerful and personal learning experiences are the product of an academic culture at Binghamton that doesn’t shy away from intellectual and emotional risk-taking. Students thrive in this environment because their professors aren’t strangers, but mentors.  

“I’ve learned that one of the most important things that a teacher can give a student is that generosity and that intimacy and that sense of care,” says Glave, “with the demand, of course, that the student perform at a very high level.”

Glave was recently named to the distinguished Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professorship at MIT, where he’ll spend the 2008-2009 academic year teaching creative writing and Caribbean literature courses. Born to Jamaican parents in New York City — and having studied in Jamaica as a Fulbright scholar — Glave has a powerful personal connection to the Caribbean that carries over into his professional writing, research and teaching.

At Binghamton, Glave has been an active collaborator with the Caribbean Student Association and the Rainbow Pride Union. But one of Glave’s most fulfilling experiences at the University was the semester he worked as co-director for Binghamton’s Latin American and Caribbean Area Studies program. He prized the opportunity to be part of such an interdisciplinary endeavor, working closely with students and professors from a broad spectrum of academic disciplines.

Learn more about the Latin American and Caribbean Area Studies (LACAS) program, the Creative Writing Program and the Binghamton English Department.

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Last Updated: 2/12/09