Willis Konick

When I first walked into Willis Konick's class on Tolstoi, I hadn't expected to stay, but by the end of the hour, nothing could make me leave.

Konick was unlike any professor I've encountered. Handsomely distinguished in a tweed suit, rocking on his heels with an impish grin, he began to sing something along the lines of "I only have eyes for you." He wrote "love" on the blackboard in enormous chalk letters and started talking about romance. Here was some knowledge I could use!

A thespian at heart, Konick engaged in daily theatrics, calling classmates down front to act out scenarios that illustrated the emotional state of Anna Karenina and Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky. Other classes found him walking across our desktops or uniting the class in protest chants, enacting a nihilistic scene from Turgenev's Fathers and Sons.

Over dinner at Haggett Hall, conversation often turned to my Russian Lit classes and "What had Willis done today?" His performances fueled our evening chats as we discussed topics from infidelity and motherhood to the nature of God as informed by Dostoyevski's "Grand Inquisitor" argument. We almost felt like intellectuals, applying the philosophy found in classic literature to our contemporary lives.

Thanks to Konick's unique teaching methods, my mild interest in Russian Literature, (based on Omar Sharif's performance in Doctor Zhivago), became a full-fledged passion. I opted to take electives in Chekov, Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, and Dostoyevski, as well as Contemporary Soviet Literature.

This year, I complete a creative writing M.F.A. at Emerson College in Boston and begin to teach my own course in freshman writing. I can't quite see myself marching across desktops or singing the Carpenters' "Close to You," but if I can make literature as relevant to my students' lives as Konick did, I'll have followed in a great mentor's footsteps.

Nicole Vollrath, '90
Allston, Mass.

"Don't let go of me!" whispered the director in my ear. Without hesitation, I gripped a forearm and battled an awesome force pushing me to work harder and stronger. I didn't let go.

The scene passed, class ended, my first quarter came to a close, and I recently graduated, but I vividly recall being an undeniable force in Gregor's life in Kafka's Metamorphosis. In retrospect, I was blessed with an opportunity to play a role created by a brilliant author and directed by a brilliant professor. There I began my higher learning.

Comparative Literature 271 was oft-prompted by an articulated narration of the "scene" in the novella we were reading. To assist in the description of the scene, the professor hand-picked a bashful student or two. Just then, Kafka's presence was eminent. The air fell silent to a pedagogical transformation. Front and center Kane 120 rapidly became a stage. Elements of Metamorphosis took life and indeed the moment turned surreal.

PRESTO! We were all sitting in a Broadway playhouse watching the bare and raw talents of an awe-inspiring director getting the best out of aspiring actors (the students had no choice). Soon you saw flopping bodies and balancing acts...and you heard squeals, wicked calls, and laughter. The engaging physical metaphors from the scene left a visually stimulating interpretation for the student to find in the text.

The professor/director beautifully laid out the scene in a manner conducive to learning. The scene pushed the student to go beyond the literature. It was a visceral inhale of art. It acted as an entrance to a world of wonder.

This professional richly deserves my utmost admiration. Appraisal on the other hand, would not suit him well. He defines humble, in the sense that he teaches in an anonymous manner. The authors of the novellas created the path to learning, Professor Willis Konick guided us with his voice. Contrariwise, Professor Konick's wisdom taught us to guide ourselves. Professor Konick, if you're listening, "I thank you and I haven't let go."

Brett Drugge, '99

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