A Books@Work session held at Fairbanks Morse in January 2017. Photo credit: Jessica Issac.
A number of Beloit College professors have been donating their time to the Books@Work program, a literature initiative at local machining manufacturer Fairbanks Morse Engine. T he program allows employees of Fairbanks to read and discuss fiction with Beloit professors, all while on company time. According to the Beloit Daily News, a full plant session in January 2017 attracted nearly 370 participants.
For Professor of English and Books@Work participant Chuck Lewis, the program offered him the opportunity "to get out of the classroom to talk about literature with somebody else than undergrads (God bless them)."
Chuck has tried to pick readings for his group that would reflect the blending of the academic and blue-collar worlds. "I picked Jim Shepard's collection of short stories Like You'd Understand Anyway because it has a wonky blend of historical and technical issues I thought the group might find engaging and accessible," he said. "And short stories are, well, short. It also helps that he's very funny, smart, and can write beautifully."Chuck is joined at Books@Work by a number of other Beloit professors: Visiting Assistant Professor of Art David Boffa; Visiting Assistant Professor of English Christi Clancy; Professor of English Chris Fink; Assistant Professor of Modern Languages and Literature, and Moaut Junior Professor of International Studies Susan Furukawa; Professor of English Tamara Ketabgian; Professor of History and Anthropology Rob LaFleur; Professor of English Diane Lichtenstein; Liberal Arts in Practice Center Program Coordinator Megan Muthupandiyan; Professor of Philosophy and Hales Family Professor Ethics Phil Shields; Emeritus Kohnstamm Professor of Chemistry Brock Spencer; Associate Professor of Spanish Amy Tibbitts; Assistant Professor of English Matt Vadnais; Adjunct Instructor of Sociology, and Director of the Duffy Community Partnerships and the Leadership Initiative Carol Wickersham; Professor of Chinese Language and Literature Daniel Youd; and Associate Professor of Cognitive Science Robin Zebrowski.
Chuck sees Books@Work as the perfect means for himself and his colleagues to move beyond the pomp and circumstance of academia, and push their interests into the surrounding community. "I think we all need to make the effort to put ourselves in places we don't usually operate in (if only to shake off the rust)," he says. "I was grateful for their welcoming me into their workspace and letting literature be a way to facilitate fresh thinking and to share different perspectives with each other. It's a little like getting reacquainted with people you see every day. That's good for work and beyond it."