English prof delivers ‘Last Lecture,’ urges lifelong reading

Emma Knudson, Staff writer

Many Linfield students, both within and outside of the English department, can attest to retiring English professor and department chair Barbara Seidman’s love for literature. Students who’ve studied with her are all aware of not only her in-depth lectures and detailed timelines, but also her affinity for bringing stuffed dolls of major literary figures to inspire discussion.

To a packed crowd of both current and former Linfield students and colleagues, her last lecture, as part of the “Last Lecture” series, was no different.

Debbie Harmon Ferry introduced Seidman, who became a Linfield professor in 1983, by listing a few words that people used to describe her, including “articulate,” “intelligent,” and “intimidating.” When Seidman approached the podium, she said, smiling, that she “never understood the intimidating thing.”

Her lecture, titled “What’s Love Got to Do with It? Apologia for a Lifelong Literary Education,” discussed not only her love for literature, which she described as both humbling and a means to “provoke connection, wake [her] up from her own privileged existence,” but also how teaching allowed her to continue learning.

Seidman said she was grateful to be able to engage in new subjects as she taught, such as gender studies, African American literature, and film studies. This continued learning led her to her self-proclamation as a “lifelong novice.” When discussing her gratitude for her indulgence in learning as a professor, she stated that her students were her “accomplices.”

Drawing inspiration from Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky to contemporary Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, Seidman emphasized the importance of literary studies, and how it gives voice to those “erased or oppressed.”

In addition, literary studies allowed for her (and allows for others) to engage in experiences beyond their own, drawing back to her personal experience of being humbled by literature. To this, she countered liberal arts skeptics by calling the nature of literary studies “hardly snowflake material.”

“To know one’s history is to discover the resiliency of those who survived it,” she said.

Upon discussing her plans beyond retirement, she stated simply that she would “keep reading, of course.” She summarized her years of teaching at Linfield as a “great gig,” as it enabled her to pursue her love and guide students alongside her in the exploration of life and literature’s questions