A Q&A with English’s Lissette Lopez Szwydky
In this conversation, Szwydky talks about adaptation and other forms of storytelling, her love of all things Frankenstein, going beyond “how” literature works to ask “why” it does, immersing herself in the arts and popular culture, the educational value of digital literacies, and the joy of helping students prepare for and find fulfilling career paths using their Liberal Arts majors.
Q: Tell us a little about your research, academic passions and/or role within the college. What excites you about this?
I specialize in nineteenth-century literature and culture, as well as adaptation studies and gender studies. I am currently in the final phase of finishing a book that traces the emergence of a commercially-driven adaptation industry to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
In other words, if you think that all of these films, television shows, comic books, and fan fiction based on books is a new phenomenon—then you aren’t seeing (or just don’t know) the big picture that includes a long, historical view.
Adaptation and other forms of transmedia storytelling aren’t new—they are the heart of storytelling itself. This point is the central argument of my work. My research brings together literature, fine art, film and television, book illustration, and even contemporary comics to provide a new way of thinking about adaptation, literature, and cultural production across time.
I’m also an “aca-fan” (academic-fan) of all things Frankenstein, which I collect. It works out well given that much of my research and teaching also focus on Frankenstein’s cultural history, and my next book project is on The Bride of Frankenstein, in all of her multimedia manifestations.
Q: How long have you been at Fulbright College? What have you enjoyed most about your time here?
I joined the University of Arkansas faculty in August 2013.
What I enjoy most about teaching here is the opportunity to create new courses and new assignments that bring the study of literature and history into the present day.
My students work on course blogs, wikis, and collaborative projects, and I appreciate the energy and trust that they bring to trying new things and pushing themselves outside of their typical comfort zones.
That’s what learning is about, and the students we have in Fulbright College are up to that challenge.
Q: What do you most hope your students remember from their classes and/or interactions with you?
I’m a relational, big-picture thinker, and my courses are structured to reflect that approach.
Whether I’m teaching a historical survey covering British Literature from 1700-1900, a course on Frankenstein’s cultural history, the gothic novel and its adaptations, or professional development courses, the main goal is to see and understand the connections between stories, forms and the spaces in which they circulate.
I push students to go beyond the “individual author” or “great texts” paradigms that tend to dominate how people think about writers and literary history.
While it’s important to see “how” literature works, I tend to lean toward questions that ask “why” stories work instead.
What keeps stories relevant over time? What is the function of storytelling from a cultural perspective? Why is it crucial to hear stories told in different ways from new perspectives? Why is it important for us to understand literature, art, history, philosophy, and the multiple ways that humans think and communicate with one another?
These are the types of questions that drive class readings and discussions in all of the courses I teach.
I honestly have very little time outside of university-related things given that I also live on campus, serving as the Faculty in Residence where I work with Residence Education to extend educational experiences outside of the classroom.
That said, I enjoy immersing myself in the arts and popular culture—whether its movies, televisions, comics or other forms.
I attend live theater regularly, and I am a season subscriber at TheatreSquared, Fayetteville’s fantastic, professional theater company.
I also attend the many great creative writing events and visiting speakers; my partner is on the creative writing faculty here, and I do what I can to support our local creative community because it’s part of what makes Fayetteville such a great place to live.
I enjoy cooking and trying new restaurants. The thing that I miss most about living off-campus is having a large vegetable garden all to myself (but I’ll get one of those again some day!!!)
The most important thing I do outside of my professional life is spend time with my partner and our son; they are the best human beings I’ve ever known and my biggest sources of energy and joy.
Q: What’s up next on the horizon for you?
I’ve recently developed a new-found love for dying my hair bright colors—so I will definitely have a bold color-change coming up, but I haven’t decided what color just yet!
On a more serious note, I’m looking forward to collaborating on projects with some of the wonderful colleagues I’ve gotten to know during my time at the University of Arkansas.
Last summer, I co-directed an intensive, two-week institute for K-12 educators from around the country on the topic of adaptation, digital literacies, and their educational value. This program was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and we also received support from the Brown Chair in English Literacy and Fulbright College’s Humanities Steering Committee.
My collaborator on this project is Sean Connors in the College of Education. The Institute was one of the most important things I’ve done in my professional life. Dr. Connors and I are looking forward to expanding the program and working on collaborative writing projects together that focus on adaptation, its many classroom uses, and its importance in circulating literature and keeping stories alive for new generations.
You can check out our Institute’s website here with picture highlights: https://monstersandheroines.uark.edu/.
If you are interested in learning more about how Dr. Connors and I approach adaptation, you might want to check out two blog posts we published: “Teaching Classic Novels Through Popular Adaptations: An Interview” (National Endowment for the Humanities, EDSITEment Blog) and “Embracing Popular Literary Adaptations as Educational Tools” (NCTE: National Council of Teachers of English Blog).
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add or let readers know?
I’m fairly active on social media, and I regularly post about career-related topics for Liberal Arts majors because its important to show how central a Liberal Arts education is to—basically everything.
I also teach courses that help students prepare to find jobs and fulfilling career paths using their Liberal Arts majors.
If you want to learn more about my approach to professional development, you can check out two podcasts that I recorded with the Walton College’s Business Communication Lab in October 2017.
The two episodes I am on are titled “Career Readiness with Intent” and “Don’t Sound Like a Student.” The pocast can be found at: https://wordpressua.uark.edu/bclresources/biz-talk-podcast/
You can also follow me on Twitter @LissetteSz.