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Learning from Experience

Dr. Maurice O’Sullivan, the Kenneth Curry Professor of Literature, has been a staple of the Rollins College English Department since 1975. He is known for being the 2006 President of the College English Association, a board member of the Florida College English Association and a board member of the Florida Historical Society. He has been published with works ranging in topics from Florida to pop culture, Shakespeare, religion, education and current events. His life wasn’t always about writing; while he was earning his undergraduate degree he worked as a Teamster and jail guard.

Once he joined the Rollins faculty, Dr. O’Sullivan fully immersed himself into the academic community, serving in numerous committees and even serving as the President of the Faculty and Chair of Academic Affairs. He has held the chair of the English Department four different times and the chair of the Humanities Division in 1986 for twenty years.

As a Jersey City native, he seems to show just as much interest in Florida as his home state—dare I say even more interest. Dr. O’Sullivan and Jack Lane, from the Rollins History Department, collaborated together with their love of and interest in Florida to publish The Florida Reader in 1991. This sparked further involvement from O’Sullivan in the publishing world, and he co-edited numerous books including Florida in Poetry (Pineapple Press, 1995), Crime Fiction and Film in the Sunshine State: Florida Noir (Popular Culture Press, 1997), Orange Pulp (University of Florida, 2000), Bad Boys and Bad Girls in the Badlands (Popular Press, 2002), Shakespeare Plays the Classroom (Pineapple Press, 2003), and he has edited Elizabeth Smith’s Book of Job (Scholar’s Facsimiles, 1996) and Shakespeare’s Other Lives (McFarland, 1997).

This year O’Sullivan has furthered his interest in the state of Florida by teaching a full semester course on Florida Literature, celebrating the state’s last 500 years of constant change and growth through history in literature. By using his published work, The Florida Reader, to guide the course, O’Sullivan aims to teach students the evolution of Florida while understanding such a unique part of American literature. He is also using the course to help students better their own writing, develop a wider range of knowledge of literature and to help them explore their own tastes in literature.

As a student currently enrolled in O’Sullivan’s course on Florida Literature, I have been exposed to a different type of read that has widened my range of writing. I have been inspired as my interest has grown more towards publishing and a love of writing. I asked O’Sullivan what his favorite part of writing was as he replied, “The best part of writing is seeing the work in print. Most writers I know write because that’s part of their personality. They don’t really have much choice.” With an aim of writing being the final published work for him, I questioned him to give me his best advice for those who want to become published writers. He told me, “The key to publishing is developing a thick skin and taking rejection in stride. If a writer has never been rejected, she’s never aimed high enough.”

Knowing that even Maurice O’Sullivan was rejected at times and seeing all that he has accomplished proves to all of his students—and more—to never give up. At the bottom of the fall 2012 Florida Literature syllabus, he chose to quote Samuel Beckett, “Try. Fail. No matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.” Given such motivation as an English major undergrad, I now know that failure is not a final destination—but instead a pit-stop in bettering my own writing.

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