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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Kathy Lawrence to offer English class in spring

Published: November 4, 2011
Section: News

Beginning this spring, Kathy Lawrence, wife of the president, will be teaching an English class titled, “When Genius is a Family Affair: Henry, William, and Alice James,” focusing on how the James siblings represent human interactions, perception and suffering in their writings.

William James was an American psychologist and philosopher, his brother Henry was a novelist and regarded as one of the main figures in 19th-century literary realism, and his sister Alice was known for her insightful published diary.

Teaching is not a new profession for Lawrence, who previously worked at George Washington University. “I gave up teaching at GW and am not on the payroll at Brandeis. I’m doing this to contribute,” Lawrence said, explaining that she will serve as a part-time professor at Brandeis.

Her husband is teaching his first class this semester; President Lawrence is teaching a seminar class called, “Crime and Punishment.”

The president has apt knowledge on this topic, as an expert on civil rights, free expression and bias crimes. His class covers a range of material on the topic of crime in the law. The class is for undergraduate students only and is primarily lead by the students. It is discussion-based but the discussions do not stem from President Lawrence’s lecturing but by students’ questioning. Despite the fact that the president of the university teaches the class, none of the students, in a class visit by The Hoot, seemed to be intimidated by their famous professor. The atmosphere of the class is very informal and students are encouraged to speak up and take initiative.

Kathy Lawrence said she hopes students will “learn to love Henry James as an author,” understand the context and significance of the authors and learn the “elegance of written and spoken expression.” In addition to reading the works of the authors students also watch film adaptions.

Lawrence has a B.A. in 19th-century American Literature and discovered the joys of Henry James upon entering college. “I felt like I was a character in his novel … I could step into his novel as though it was a looking glass … James understood my childhood, even growing up in L.A.,” she said.

Lawrence’s passion for the “timeless” subject influenced her to write early publications all related to Henry James. In school, Lawrence’s favorite classes included a seminar on contemporary poetry and a class on Milton.

She also took classes on Melville and Emerson that helped spark her passion for literature. Some of her favorite writers include Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman and Dickinson.