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.


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.

Unknown said...

I was just thinking about professor Shanahan. I was enlisted in the Army at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I was a first year student at Cameron University taking classes part time. I had only one English class (comp 1) when I was accepted to her 3rd year Shakespeare class. It was conducted at her house and it was readily apparent to me that I did not have the requisite background. I loved that class and worked harder in it than I think any other class I took. (went to Umkc then University of Maryland at College Park). Funny thing is, the only professor I remember clearly is Professor Shanahan. It's a shame I waited so long to look her up. Had just wanted to thank her for an experience in learning I will never forget.