Jim Shepard, English

J. Leland Miller Professor of American History, Literature, and Eloquence, Emeritus

Here is a story idea for you: A kid from a neighborhood called Lordship lies on his back on the local runway while jets touch down just overhead. He hurls asbestos brake linings like Frisbees down at the dump. And listens to his mother talking about “ingrown swimming pools” and giving someone “the skin off your back.”

No wonder you called one of your books, Like You’d Understand, Anyway. That is not a title: It is a cry for help!

Truly, understanding is the core of your pedagogy. Your students laud you for helping them express ideas they barely knew they had. Embracing Robert Frost’s notion that “the work is play for mortal stakes,” you show them how to treat literary conventions not as a cage but as a scaffold across which to confidently, joyfully scamper.

Your teaching is rooted in a special combination of life experiences and professional successes: Eight novels and five story collections. Numerous inclusions in Best American Short Stories. And a National Book Award nomination in the same year as one of your former students—a first. 

Artistic risks may not be daunting to the kid from Lordship. But your students leave your care more courageous. More appreciative of life’s absurdities. And, to quote another of your book titles, ready for The World to Come

I hereby declare you the J. Leland Miller Professor of American History, Literature, and Eloquence, Emeritus, entitled to all the rights, honors and privileges appertaining thereto.

June 2, 2024