There are more than just new students’ faces on campus this year. Ashley Miller, of the English department, came to campus this past fall as an assistant professor. Originally from Ann Arbor, she went to undergraduate at Vassar College before receiving her Ph. D. from Indiana University at Bloomington. Having recently come from the University of Texas we sat down to talk about the liberal arts experience and who she is beyond a professor.
Jamal Yearwood: So what are the differences coming from Dallas and now living in Ann Arbor?
Ashley Miller: There was definitely some culture shock. Texas feels like a different planet sometimes, definitely a different country. They have a lot of self-identity there, and I really like winter. So I was a fish out of water there. I was there for three years though, and I did enjoy it. It was very diverse. [It’s] actually one of the top five most diverse universities in the country, but there wasn’t as much support for student learning as I would have liked. So the chance to come to Albion is great for two reasons—one I got to come back to Michigan, and two I got to come to a place where English is a more integral part of the curriculum.
JY: So what led you to decide to get your Ph. D.?
AM: A variety of things. I couldn’t find anything else I liked to do as much as read and talk about books. I thought about working in publishing, but it wasn’t as satisfying. And I also was having a lot of fun in New York, but it wasn’t sustainable.
JY Do you like to be able to predict books when you read, or do you have some sort of disdain towards predictability?
AM: I think I’m primarily interested in character. I kind of like novels that challenge our idea that everything hinges on whether or not we should be surprised … it’s a fairly new dance. I like to teach some early detective fiction because students are always like, “I knew from the beginning what happened—what’s the point?” And then we get to explore some other points other than being surprised.
JY: Are there any remakes that you like in film or that you just appreciate?
AM: I guess I’m a hard critic of remakes. Partly I wonder why we’re remaking everything … And it’s frustrating because it removes the challenge to watch something or read about something that’s not contemporary … Historical literature challenges us to remember that our own time and place is a time in place in history.
JY: So it’s almost like spoonfeeding?
AM: Yeah, it removes the things that are challenging and forces us to get more distance from ourselves and to have to practice sympathizing or identifying with people in situations that are not like our own. In that, it makes everything like our own situation, and you don’t have to do that work.
To end the interview I played a few rounds of over/under, an interview style seen in Pitchfork media videos, to get an insight into Dr. Miller’s opinion on items of pop culture.
JY: Live music
AM: Vastly underrated.
AM:Selection of movies underrated. Underrated in impact on society.
JY: Hardcover novels
AM: Underrated. They are much more material objects in a world where material objects are disappearing.
AM: Oh definitely underrated—you don’t have to use a pencil sharpener!
JY: New Star Wars movie
AM: It could never be overrated.
Photo by Albion Communications Department