Pofessor Profile: Gary Richards
By JORDAN WILLIAMS
He specializes in genres such as Southern literature and culture, American fiction, contemporary drama and sexuality studies. In 2005 he wrote, “Lovers and Beloveds: Sexual Otherness in Southern Fiction, 1936-1961.” He writes articles and often discusses his area of study. Professor Richards has been at UMW since the fall of 2008.
What classes do you teach at UMW?
My usual rotations are I teach Modern American Fiction, Contemporary American Fiction, Southern Literature. This semester I am doing Contemporary American Drama. I also teach First Year Seminars from time to time
Why did you choose to teach at UMW?
I had been at the University of New Orleans, at the time, about 18,000 student public institution. I had been teaching there since 1997. I was there at the time of Hurricane Katrina, and I evacuated so I was not there for the actual hurricane. I lost my car, and my house flooded. I pretty much lost everything other than what I took with me, more of an issue, the university just never bounced back. So I was looking for another position in an English department that did southern literature and sexuality studies. Three years after Katrina, Mary Washington advertised a job for someone who did American literature and they wanted specialties in either southern or sexuality studies, and I said, “hot dog I have both of these!”
What inspired you to write your book “Lovers and Beloveds: Sexual Otherness in Southern Fiction, 1936- 1961?”
It was my dissertation and was planned from the beginning to be a marketable book. Therefore, it draws on multiple authors of differing races and genders and tries to add something new to sexuality studies by looking at same-sex desire, incest and interracial sexuality in southern fiction at the middle of the twentieth century. In the mid-1990s, when I was in graduate school, queer studies had emerged, and yet few people had applied that critical lens to southern literature.
Do you plan on writing any other books?
I am at work on a new book surveying literary representations of male same-sex desire as imagined in the literature of New Orleans. That city has long had a history of being associated with sexual exuberance and deviance, and there is a wealth of texts associated with New Orleans that deals with male homosexuality. Writers I am looking at include Harriet Beecher Stowe, Kate Chopin, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, John Kennedy Toole, and a range of contemporary writers, such as Anne and Christopher Rice.
Have you written anything else, besides your book?
In addition to “Lovers and Beloveds,” I have written a series of articles that typically look at gender, race and sexuality in southern literature. Several are devoted to southern dramatists, such as Beth Henley, Alfred Uhry, Jim Grimsley and Tennessee Williams. Another essay, collected in “Faulkner’s Sexualities,” assesses Faulkner’s time in New Orleans in the 1920s when he was living with the gay architect William Spratling. Another essay, collected in “Comics and the U.S. South,” looks at Howard Cruse’s graphic memoir “Stuck Rubber Baby.” The latest thing I have been at work on is, “Tennessee Williams and the Burden of Southern Sexuality Studies,” which is slated to come out this year in a collection from Oxford University Press.
What have you accomplished that you are most proud of?
I’m proud of carrying through on two decisions I made last year, both of which took me outside my comfort zone. One was agreeing to chair the Department of English, Linguistics, and Communication. It has been challenging, and I have made missteps, but it is also allowed me to learn about an entirely different side of the academy. The other was facilitated by Gregg Stull, the chair of Theatre and Dance, who approached me to be the narrator in the university’s production of “Into the Woods.” It turned out it was a hell of a lot of work, but I loved every minute of it.
What piece of advice do you give to students the most?
The most cynical one I give is that “D” stands for diploma. The purpose of that is I had worked with some honor students, who were very subconscious about grades. I myself was that way a bit. If you do not do as well on an assignment, do not fret about it. Move on to the next thing. To quote Stephen Sondheim “just keep moving on.”