Faculty Profile: A World of Words with Kim Magowan

By Sarah HoenickeDSC_1973-768x1151

In the middle of February, Kim Magowan walked into her American Literature class, leaned against the front of her desk — she never sits at it — and began a discussion of the high modernist poets.

“I haven’t said this for a year, so I may mess up,” she said, her voice high-pitched but throaty.

She proceeded to recite T.S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” — all 131 lines of it — from memory, without making a mistake.

When entering her classrooms at Mills College, Magowan brings the usual things teachers tote to class — untidy stacks of paper, folders, a book bag, a to-go cup of coffee. But the things she holds in her mind are what make her lessons shine: myriad scraps from the books she’s read and read again, whole poems secreted away, page numbers, and word etymologies.

When Magowan recites and reads aloud to her classes, or when she tells her students that “decide” comes partly from the Latin “cesare,” which means “to cut, to kill,” she is pushing her students into a deeper relationship with language.

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