Ever wanted to know how the English Department Lecturers of Southampton Solent University got to their current careers? Or wished to know if they had any stories to tell? The first lecturer who was only too happy to be interviewed was the lovely and absolute sweetheart, Devon Campbell-Hall. A certain Solent English Student went along to interview her and find out…
What inspired you to teach English?
What a good question. It’s not what I set out to do initially. I blame my English teachers in high school and college. Three I loved and one I loathed (the feeling was mutual), and it is at their feet I squarely place the blame for my obsession with literature. I loved studying English, but at that time I thought I was destined to become a nurse practitioner – can you imagine? I volunteered in a hospital on weekends, but realised early on that sick people just weren’t for me. After I had been married forever and had a lovely daughter, I was overcome with the urge to go back to university and the next thing we knew, it was my PhD graduation. After my first lecture – on Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter, it was clear I loved teaching. I realised this was what I was on the planet for. I will teach until I drop!
What is your favourite piece of literature and why?
That’s a tough one. If I had to choose a single work – there are two novels and I can’t choose between them … The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. These are the two novels I come back to over and over again. I suppose it’s the poetry of the language, especially within The God of Small Things, which uses some experimental literary techniques because of course it’s a post-colonial novel – the post-coloniality of these novels is what appeals to me.
In reference into both your current studies into ‘Asian Britain’ and ‘The Grand Tour in American Children’s Literature’, what inspired these subject matters?
My interest in Asian Britain started in a sideways fashion. I knew I wanted to do a PhD in English, and I found some universities that had studentship funding. Winchester was looking for someone to do a project on British National Identity. My literary passion at that time was Indian English Literature (Indo-Anglian writing), and I decided to write a proposal that combined the two – Writing Asian Britain in Contemporary Anglophone Literature. I have a real interest in migrant identity. When it comes to the Grand Tour in literature, I suppose this is largely inspired by my passion for taking our staff and students on one leg of our Solent English Alternative Grand Tour each year – this combines adventuring with educational value!
When did you decide to teach English?
Immediately after I gave my first lecture as a PhD at the University of Winchester – even though I completely lost my voice afterwards through stress — it was crystal clear that teaching was for me.
What is it like being a Course Leader for Single Honours English and what is your favourite unit to teach?
I am so lucky that I work with a wonderful team that I respect, like and trust. We’ve been a team for several years. Originally I was with Dr Stephen Purcell who left after a few years to go to Warwick. After doing the job on my own for two years, I knew we needed a second course leader. In came the fabulous Carolyn Cummings-Osmond to the rescue, and we now work joined at the hip professionally. She is someone I love working with. Do I have a favourite unit? No, I like them all. Our students are amazing every year!
Any memorable moments when teaching?
Oh, there are so many! You can just see that anagnoresis moment –like a lightbulb flashing –when students begin to understand a difficult concept. There are hundreds of those moments so I can’t choose one. There is nothing on the planet I’d rather be doing.
Do you have any religious beliefs or if you don’t then why?
Sure – I would like to think that I am, in my fumbling way, ‘in touch with the infinite.’ Kindness seems the most important thing to me. I’m from a relaxed, liberal Christian background, but it seems to me that God is a little too big to fit into a one-size-fits-all box.
Who is the most famous person you have met and why?
I used to work as a milliner and I was commissioned to make a hat for Michael Douglas’s wife, who came to my hat stall at the Santa Barbara Polo Club, where ironically I was asked to come to promote British craft in California.
Being originally from the United States, do you think it has shaped your career? Or has it been shaped from living in the United Kingdom?
Both. I have been in UK more than I have been in the US – I have spent nearly all of my adult life here. Being in the US, there is something about that work ethic, culturally it is just part of my makeup. I will always feel a little foreign here but the UK is home.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to study and explore Post-colonial literature in the future?
Read read read read read read! Read everything! Talk to people and find out their stories. Every person you meet, from the bus driver to the cleaner to the librarian to your neighbour – everyone has a story. Find out their perspective on life. Take an interest in other people’s situations. Just try to understand things from another’s point of view. Post-colonialism can help us to understand other cultural and political viewpoints. If we can become aware of the European viewpoint over the last few hundred years, that’s one perspective. If we can understand another perspective, it’s having the open-mindedness and willingness to and putting on a different pair of cultural lenses in the pursuit of understanding.
Watch this space for another Lecturer Interview coming very soon- the wonderful Carolyn Cummings-Osmond!