Paula Feldman’s big reveal
By Craig Brandhorst, CRAIGB1@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-3681
Longtime University of South Carolina English professor Paula Feldman is harboring a secret—one she describes as “surprising,” “unexpected,” perhaps even “shocking.” However, she won’t let you in on it unless you attend her Nov. 14 lecture in the Gressette Room at Harper College.
Feldman, you see, is the latest USC faculty member to participate in the so-called “Last Lecture” series, sponsored by the Carolina Scholars Association. The series is intended as a platform for professors to compose a hypothetical talk about a topic of their choosing — and then to deliver that talk as though it is the last they will ever have the privilege to give.
Feldman’s lecture will explore how she ended up with what she describes as “a life in literature.” During a playful pre-lecture interview she hinted at some of her lecture’s themes — notably, literature’s importance to the imaginative life, using her own experiences as an example — but she stopped shy of revealing much more.
“I can tell you that there will be some shocking elements to it,” she said, smiling as she danced around the essential question. “I just don’t want to say what they are because we don’t want to give it away, right?”
She laughed again, clearly reveling in the mystery of her own creation.
“It’s a story that is atypical. It is not the story of most college professors," she said. "I tried to look at the trajectory of my life and how I came to be where I am.”
Of course, doing that meant examining her life the way a storyteller would and picking out those pivotal moments that will illustrate the unique arc of her experience in a way that is both interesting and honest—“and maybe,” she said, “even a little bit inspiring.”
For Feldman, who declined an offer to deliver a “last lecture” a few years ago when she was battling breast cancer, that has meant digging particularly deep into her own psyche.
“I never intended to tell this story,” said Feldman. “So in a way, being asked to do the Last Lecture forced me to really think — What is it that I can give an audience that they really might want to know?”
Being asked to do the Last Lecture also made Feldman “very, very nervous,” for even though she has spent a career at the front of the classroom, she considers herself a fundamentally shy person, and someone who has hidden behind “a certain façade” that she is only now ready to lower.
“The title of my lecture has the word ‘secret’ in it,” she said, still grinning. “So I’m going to talk about stuff that my colleagues, even some of my closest friends don’t know about me.”
Feldman’s lecture will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 14, in the Gressette Room at Harper College.
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