It was the end of the term. Reason enough for a party, but a pizza party at Lisa Steinman's house held a special allure. It would be a fresh opportunity to engage in prolonged conversation about poets and poetry. When Steinman asked for a count in class, to estimate her pizza order, nearly all the students' hands shot up.|
Lisa Malinowski Steinman, 46, Kenan Professor of English and Humanities, winner of awards for both her poetry and her teaching, need never dine on pizza alone. She is so popular an instructor that students consider it a privilege to be in her company, whether there is pizza on the table or not.
"She's awesome," says Kirsten Hilgeford '98 in Steinman's class "Poetry and History: The American Grain in the Late 18th/Early 19th Centuries." "I took a class from her as a sophomore, and I knew I wanted to take another. She has a way of explaining a subject by opening it up and drawing you in."
"Her enthusiasm is infectious," says Derek Little '97. "She's really exciting and one of the most inspirational teachers I've ever had."
Watching her interact with students, it is easy to see why she has such a devoted following. Before and after class she disappears behind a stand of students, who loom like timber over their diminutive professor, eager to exchange ideas. Once class begins, Steinman democratically selects a chair from those clustered around a rectangular formation of long tables and makes it her perch.
As a student speaks, Steinman's head bobs with encouragement. She turns her head from side to side to gauge with a grin the others' responses. The tempo of discussion quickens and Steinman's hazel eyes dance in tune to the ideas. She prods, gently; persuades, warmly and respectfully.
Someone enters the classroom late, and Steinman smiles in sincere greeting. When she speaks to her students it is with respect, as colleagues with shared experience. She reads a line of verse. "Haven't we all written something like this?" she says, about a hapless style that marks the neophyte.
The fact that she is an accomplished poet does not alter her collegial tone. Steinman has published three books of poetry: Lost Poems (Ithaca House, 1976), All That Comes to Light (Arrowood Books, 1989), and A Book of Other Days (Arrowood Books, 1993). A Book of Other Days won the Oregon Book Award in 1995 from the Oregon Institute of Literary Arts. She is also the author of the widely acclaimed critical study Made in America: Science, Technology and American Modernist Poets (Yale University Press, 1987).
She recently finished writing a book on 18th- and 19th-century British and American poetry. Also, Steinman edits Hubbub, a poetry magazine, and serves on the editorial boards of the Wallace Stevens Journal and the William Carlos Williams Review.
After receiving an M.F.A. in creative writing and a Ph.D. in English literature from Cornell University, Steinman came to Reed in 1976 as an assistant professor of English. She says Reed's intellectual smorgasbord was a refreshing and enlightening change for her. At Cornell, there had been little intermingling between departments, even among the creative writing people and the English literature people. At Reed there were no ivory towers; Steinman loved the free exchange of ideas. But most of all, she loved the way Reedies got excited over ideas, even in public.