Name: Geoffrey Sanborn
Place of Birth: Dover, NH
Current Home: Northampton, MA
Education: I got my B.A. at Stanford in 1987 and my Ph.D. at UCLA in 1992.
What is favorite aspect of teaching at Amherst?
I get excited about my classes in the lead-up to every semester, not just because of the baseline quality of Amherst students but also because of their willingness to work hard and in the direction of the unpredictable. There’s something essentially mysterious, something never-quite-graspable, on the horizon of the educational process, and to be in the midst of students who are willing to run as fast and as far as they can in pursuit of that very strange object is a great joy.
I mainly study nineteenth-century American literature, with an emphasis on literature before 1865, but since coming to Amherst I’ve spread my net a bit wider, so I would now say that my research interests include African-American literature, the relationship between literature and the non-human world, the relationship between literature and psychoanalysis, and the uses of plagiarism in the compositional process.
Awards and Prizes
The Foerster Prize for Best Essay in American Literature in 2005 and the Parker Prize for Best Essay in PMLA in 2001.
Herman Melville, as you might have guessed.
Tips for aspiring writers?
Write a little (or a lot) every day. Whatever you’re writing will begin depositing traces in your unconscious, and your unconscious will become curious to see how your writing will turn out, and over time, it’ll sort of pitch in whenever it can.
Tell us a bit about your path to becoming an author
I started as a creative writing major at Stanford, then discovered, after graduating, that I was becoming appalled by the blankness of the pages that I was trying to fill—it was like they were my adversaries, and writing became not just a chore but a kind of humiliatingly impossible task. But I was working at a bookstore and taking books home and reading them, and that started me off in the direction of a Ph.D. program in English, where I discovered that writing about literature was a total joy, because there was always a starting place in someone else’s language—I was always picking something up and carrying it forward, as opposed to making something out of nothing. For whatever reason, that was the kickstarter for my whole career as a writer. I’m much better at making something out of nothing now, but I still love finding jumping-off places in other people’s language.