I had thought that, taken together, these entries might constitute a “success story” in the Great American tradition of rags to riches. Not, certainly, an epic or grand one, like Marilyn Monroe coming from nowhere to stardom and then suicide; more minimalist, surely, but nowhere to somewhere, at least. But that’s hard for me to maintain when I consider my point of departure not a “nowhere” but a very distinct and particular somewhere in time and space.
But that place because it is in time is no longer what it was: the very rural south after WWII. The last time I visited I had a hard time recognizing the place; changes are occurring at an accelerated rate. Not far from where we lived now sits a monstrous Wal-Mart distribution center.
And the place where I was going, well, for a very long time I really had no idea where that was. I just moved along as I could doing my best to stand on my feet. And when things settled down a little and I aimed to get the PhD and got it, things did not turn out as expected. Back in the late 60s a person could have walked in with a PhD from anywhere tech and got some fairly decent offers for a job in lit. But by the time I got mine the market for PhDs in literature had collapsed. With that the place you had been graduated from became all the more important, and I had graduated from a university that at that time was probably not ranked in the top 50% of graduate schools in literature.
Also the time had come for institutions of higher education to hire women. I think this was the right thing to do, but being male the trend didn’t help me any. I went out on the market, wrote letters of application, went to conferences, was interviewed, was called to campuses, was interviewed and nothing over the next ten years turned up. By that point, the very concept of a PhD in literature had changed substantially.
I wanted a job at a small liberal arts college. I would have been an excellent teacher at one of those places, involved and concerned. I might having students for four year stretches have developed significant relationships with some few of them and reaped the rewards eventually of that in respect and honored memory. I would have read too and written on literature, and I would have enjoyed that. And I would have reached the holy grail of tenure.
So maybe this isn’t at all a rags to riches tale. My nowhere is somewhere and my somewhere vanished before my eyes. So that in the years since receiving the PhD I have gone on pretty much as I did before, moving along and trying to stay on my feet.
PhD literature job market no tenure rags riches