Columbia or prison: similarities and differences?

Terry Gross’ interview with Scott Spencer (of A Man in the Woods) notes that the author has “taught fiction writing at Columbia University, and in prison” (1:10; I think she says “in prison,” although it might be “at prisons”). The tone sounds like this sort of trajectory is completely normal, like a sandwich and soup. To me, it invites questions:

  • Can I be the only one who finds the juxtaposition of those two fine American institutions curious or notable?
  • How many writers or professors have taught at an Ivy League school and a penal facility?
  • Is teaching at the one pretty much like teaching at the other?
  • If you’ve currently got a gig at a prison, how do you make the transition to Columbia? I assume relatively few people want to make the opposite leap.

One response

  1. I would think the decision to teach at either place originates from the same primordial feeling, which is to pass on one’s knowledge to others in the hopes that they utilize one’s teachings for their own good, and maybe for the good of others. Although the audiences and their level of “social respectability” differ, the fundamental cause and potential effect is the same.


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