FAQ: John Muse

Did you have a favorite class or text in college? What made it your favorite?

I loved a class called Daily Themes that asked students to write a page of fiction each day for the whole term. Generating those pages every day demanded more energy and effort than any other class I took, but I learned so much about myself as a writer.

What would you have liked to tell the 20-year-old version of yourself about college?

Don't forget to look up from the book. You're surrounded by one of the most dynamic communities you're likely to live in: take advantage.

Did you go straight to graduate school after college? If not, what was the most interesting thing you did in the interim?

No, I worked for two years at an Internet company in New York, then taught English at Chiang Mai University in Thailand for a few years. The most interesting thing I did was play the lead in a Thai short film.

What made you decide to specialize in your current subfield in English?

As an undergraduate, I studied literary modernism in class and did a lot of theater outside of class. In graduate school I started putting these two areas of interest into conversation, and both suddenly got a lot more interesting.

What is the most intriguing or quirky idea that you have learned from your recent research?

That short works of art sometimes demand more of us than long ones do.

What is your favorite work of literature to teach to undergraduates?

I love teaching Beckett's play Krapp's Last Tape. It's a deceptively simple piece, but it contains fascinating questions about memory, identity, and media.

What do you like best about teaching college students at the University of Chicago?

The sincerity of their intellectual engagement. Students at Chicago want to get in there and figure things out. I never get tired of helping them do that.