Thursday, June 16, 2016

Farewell, Mary Shanahan

She was tall and terrifying. She stalked through the classroom, always somehow finding students who were unprepared for her classes. She fired questions rat-a-tat. Students dodged and weaved and tried to keep up. As for leading students to understanding, she would go along with that for a while, then she would pick a class up collectively and throw it through the door of knowledge.

She was Mary Shanahan, and she was one of my undergraduate professors when I was an English major at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma.

 I thrilled to her hauteur, her theatrical style of teaching. I idolized her and feared her and came out of her classes trembling and wrecked from trying to keep up with her forehand smash tennis-match style lectures. I swore each semester that I would not return, and the following semester found me front and center.

Shakespeare (16 plays in 16 weeks). English Literature, I and II. Bloomsbury. She cracked me open as a learner; I've never been the same.

I don't read what Mary Shanahan read, but she changed how I read. I pay fierce attention. I am obsessive about sussing out meaning.

Mary Shanahan died in Wisconsin last month on May 11. I found out last week, and it was hard news to take. I had hoped to see her again one day and bask in her steely gaze.

Paying tribute here feels small and pale and incomplete, so I want to read something in her honor. Perhaps Bleak House (at one time, she had a cat named Lady Dedlock) or a novel by her especial favorite, Virginia Woolf.

Go here to see Mary Shanahan remembered beautifully and properly, as was her due.

1 comment:

James Chester said...

What a nice tribute. Lady Dedlock is a perfect name for a cat, too. You know, you do't have to read Bleak House all at once. It was meant to be read in installments. I've read it several times, one of my favorites.