Interview with a Prof: Dr. Paxton

Written by: Julia DiPalo

I have had the chance to meet some amazing professors while at TrentU Durham, but Dr. Amanda Paxton has definitely left the biggest mark on me, both as a part of my university experience as well as growing into the professor I hope to be. I had the pleasure of asking Dr. Paxton a few questions and I’d like to share them with you.

Q: Where did you complete your schooling?
A: I completed my undergrad degree at the University of Toronto, and my MA and PhD at York.

Q: Why did you choose to pursue English Lit?
A: I completed my Honours BA as a double-major in English and Religious Studies. I wanted to study things in university that would help me understand the world around me in terms of the stories and art that people create. English is the best of all disciplines – and I say that with no personal bias. Literary studies encompass every other type of study: culture, gender, aesthetics, math, science, and any number of fields can all get folded into it. And studying language is like studying the air we breathe: we’re living inside of it and it lives inside of us. If we want to understand ourselves, it’s a great place to start.

Q: What is your favourite part of teaching at TrentU Durham?
A: TrentU Durham is remarkable for its sense of community. As an undergrad at the U of T, I was one among thousands. Being an introvert, I relished the anonymity of being in a massive institution where I didn’t have to make eye contact with anyone. When I came to TrentU Durham, I began to see the appeal of being part of a small campus where everyone knows each other. My Grinchy heart grew, and I’ve come to delight in recognizing familiar faces and actually getting to know people instead of disappearing into a crowd.

Q: Who is your all time favourite writer? Why? Favourite book?
A: Writers that moved me early on include Gwendolyn MacEwen, Kurt Vonnegut, and Iris Murdoch. I’ve also always had a weakness for the truly bizarre moments in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature, like William Beckford’s novel Vathek and James Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater is one of my enduring favourites, too. I love writers whose works fire on a number of cylinders, evincing emotional and social sensitivity alongside intellectual rigour and aesthetic innovation. One of those aspects without the others just doesn’t cut it: smarts without sensitivity are sterile; sensitivity without smarts is tawdry.

Q: If you could have any job in the world (other than being a professor) what would it be?
A: Vegetarian restaurant critic. Pay me to eat and opine!

Q: What are your top three most over used sentences/phrases?
A: I’ve been thinking about this type of thing recently after reading about the app Just Not Sorry. The app is supposed to help cull words like “just” and “sorry” from women’s emails. Now I’ve been consciously trying to excise these types of words from my emails, and I’m realizing how often I include them unthinkingly. And, of course, I probably also overuse the word “sesquipedalian.”

Q: Where is your favourite place you’ve travelled to and why?
Barcelona. Seeing Gaudi buildings in real life is like being in a fairy tale. And the gazpacho can’t be beat.

Big thanks to Dr. Paxton for letting me ask some questions and have her as my spotlight on a member of the TrentU Durham faculty.

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