GS: Where are you from?
JG: I grew up in Clanton, AL, a small town near the middle of the state.
GS: What degree did you receive and when?
JG: I received my Master of Arts degree in English in May of this year.
GS: How long have you been at UAB?
JG: Since I did my undergraduate work at UAB as well, this will be my sixth year here.
GS: What is your research?
JG: My research has spread across several different subjects. I have publications pending on James Joyce, Woody Allen, Joe Orton, and Michel Foucault, and I have conference presentations on other authors and philosophers, such as Alan Sillitoe and Friedrich Nietzsche. In general, however, my research interests are 20th century British and Irish literature, working class studies, postcolonial literature, and various 19th and 20th century schools of philosophy.
GS: Why did you choose UAB for your graduate studies?
JG: I chose to stay at UAB solely because of the strength of the faculty in the English department. The strength of any graduate program is based on both the classroom experience and the students' access to the professors. Since UAB English offers both of these elements on an incredibly professional level, I decided to stay and work here for my MA degree.
GS: Have you received any awards or honors?
JG: I am a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society, Golden Key, Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society, and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. I graduated with my BA in English magna cum laude with honors in English. I am also an Eagle Scout.
GS: What has been your most rewarding experience at UAB?
JG: My most rewarding experience at UAB was unquestionably when I presented some of my research at the International James Joyce Symposium in Prague, Czech Republic last summer. Because this was my first research presentation occurring off campus, I was obviously very nervous. However, the experience was wonderful, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
GS: Who was your greatest influence here at UAB and why?
JG: While the entire English department faculty has been involved in my development as both an undergrad and graduate student in some way, I would name Dr. William Hutchings as the person who had the most influence upon me here at UAB. Besides being a wonderful instructor in the classroom, he took time to personally look over my work and offer suggestions for new directions I could take my ideas in the future. He taught me how to give a solid conference presentation, and he helped me edit my first article submission to a scholarly journal. In short, without his patience and guidance, I would not be where I am today.
GS: What is your motivation in your academics/research?
JG: My motivation for studying and researching literature has been and I think will always continue to be a quest to answer one question: why do we study literature? I have always wondered why it is that we as human beings are consistently fascinated with stories and storytelling. It is easy to say that we study these things because they are important historically or because they have demonstrated a certain amount of staying power or some other trite response like that. But, I think that if the study of literature, and of art in general, is going to remain relevant in a fast food culture that is continually driven by instant gratification and the newest flashing lights of Hollywood Boulevard, the answers for why we study literary works has to be better defined. Overall, the main idea that drives my study of literature can be put into one sentence: while scientific advancements are daily moving us closer to becoming the gods of yore, art—and literature—is constantly reminding of us of what it is, and what it means, to be human beings. Every piece of literature from Beowulf to the most recent bestseller is in some way trying to convey to us as readers some aspect of what it means to be a part of humanity: hope, desire, love, sadness, ambition, greed, lust, pain, joy, happiness, sorrow, tragedy, and heroism. These are things that are an indelible part of the human experience, and if we miss out on them, we miss out on our own lives. This conception of literature is what drives me as a student, an instructor, and a scholar.
GS: What are your plans after graduating and for the future?
JG: My plans for the future are to pursue a Ph.D. in 20th Century British and Irish literature with a particular focus in working class studies. I also plan to write fiction and to perhaps put in a short stint with a publishing company.
GS: Is there anything else you would like to say?
JG: I would like to add that it is important for us as university students to remember that going to college is not merely about getting credentials—it is about getting an education. If we find that we are satisfied with learning only enough to get by, with going to class only enough to make the bare minimum grade to move on to the next class where we will repeat the same process, we will find that we are in fact only undercutting ourselves. The value of a college education, whether measured in academic or economic terms, is created not by some strange abstract force that exists in the world at large. Rather, the value of a college education is determined by the achievements of those with degrees. When we devalue our own education so much that getting a piece paper with a degree certification printed on it is more important that enriching ourselves and taking our experience out into the world in some meaningful or beneficial way that improves society for the future, we will have effectively wasted our own time. Thus, I only ask that we all remind ourselves occasionally that our attendance in class and our completion of assignments is not always about the due date that is immediately before us; instead, we need to realize that our true purpose and meaning as educated people lies far out into a future which we cannot yet see, but for which we must always be prepared.
James’s advice for other graduate students:
I would tell graduate students only the same thing that was told to me before embarking on my own graduate career: graduate school is what you make of it. The classroom should only be the jumping off point. It is only what you do once class is dismissed that will allow you to define yourself as a scholar, as a professional, and as a person.
For more information regarding the Samuel B. Barker Award for Excellence in Graduate Studies, visit http://main.uab.edu/Sites/gradschool/students/current/groups/researchday/barkeraward/