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Love for anything but the norm

Credit: Scott Cook
Credit: Scott Cook

From her Spring 2015 Mysteries and Marvels class “Gruesome Anatomy” to the 400-level “Humor in Literature,” Dr. Emily Russell of the English Department teaches some of the most unique classes on campus.

Now in her ninth year at Rollins, she describes her passion for designing interesting syllabi and encouraging students to strengthen their critical thinking skills with engaging, outside-of-the-box class activities and assignments.

“I tell my students that one of the most exciting things for them would be to think about things that seem like they don’t go together at all and then figure out a way to connect them and to show the kind of intellectual labor of how to do that,” she said.

A New York native, Russell moved to Los Angeles to pursue her graduate work at the University of California and unexpectedly found her home in Florida through Rollins.

“In working at a school like Rollins, I feel like I really won the lottery,” she said. “My husband and I, when we came down here, pretty much knew that we weren’t going to leave, and so we were going to make lemonade. We got scuba certified, and he does a lot of salt water fly-fishing. We just really embraced Florida.”

Outside of teaching, Russell has written a book entitled Reading Embodied Citizenship: Disability, Narrative, and the Body Politic, which was published by Rutgers University Press in 2011. She is now working on another project entitled Transplant Fiction.

“The one-sentence thesis for this book is that we should think that it’s disgusting to put the organs of dead bodies into our bodies, but, in fact, we don’t,” she explained. “What I want to look at is what are the kind of cultural moves and how have we used discourse to make that okay.”

When asked about her favorite book to recommend to her students, Russell pointed out the difficulty in making universal recommendations.

“I don’t like making recommendations unless I really stand by something because it so much has to do with taste. But, that said, I do think [Katherine Dunn’s 1989 novel] Geek Love is a really surprising and interesting book that a lot of people probably wouldn’t pass through, and Jonathan Lethem is probably my favorite working author,” she said.

She also noted the significance of one’s personal connection to literature.

“It’s not about a book’s importance; it’s about what you bring to the book, and what you find in it.”

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