April 21, 2023 | NEWS | By Mariel Zech
Steve Hayward, English Professor and Director of the Journalism Institute, talks about becoming a writer, his tradition of gifting books to students, the Block Plan, getting lost, and memorable moments from Shakespeare in London.
What brought you to CC?
Well, all my schooling was in Toronto. I went to University of Toronto for undergraduate and then graduate work at York University in Toronto. I did postdoctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania, and it was then that my first book of fiction came out. My supervisor there said, you know, you are doing this thing on Shakespeare, but really what you should think about doing is teaching at a small liberal arts college. I’d never been to a school like Colorado College. I didn’t even know they existed. I saw a movie called “Wonder Boys” that starred Mike Douglas. It’s based on the novel by Michael Chabon. And I remember seeing that movie in Toronto, when I was doing my undergraduate degree and thinking about being a writer. I said to my mother “I would teach at a place like that.” My first job was at John Carroll University in Ohio. I had been there for like five years, and I knew that I wanted to switch jobs. When you search for an academic job, you think not so much about places that you want to be, as places that you would never go. And then Colorado College came up and I said to [my wife] Katherine, why don’t we go to Colorado Springs?
When did you know you wanted to be a fiction writer?
Writing was always kind of part of my life. I was sort of a bad writer, like in grade school and in high school. I was in special-ed a lot of the time, because I had a perceptual handicap, like kind of a dyslexia type thing. I couldn’t spell – I still can’t and my handwriting is still just awful. And then in high school, I was in theater. I originally thought that I was going to be an actor, but then I got to college, and I realized I was interested in all the wrong things about acting. I was interested in writing the plays, not being in them. Also, things changed for me in terms of the way the writing is produced. All of a sudden, things were on word processors, and things could be spell-checked, and all of the parts of writing I struggled with, like spelling, could be automated. And so that was like a revolution in terms of textual production that was similar to what ChatGPT reminds me of now. It felt like a great leap forward.
I remember during the precollege program you gifted each student a book. Is that a tradition? How do you choose the books?
I do it in every class that I teach. I give everybody a book at the end. I don’t do it in my Shakespeare class, but in my creative writing classes, I do it every year and I think about who the person is and the work they’ve done in the class. I offer it like a prescription, but I always hesitate to do it because giving someone a book is like shackling them with an albatross that they have to carry around for the rest of their life. I accumulate the books. I’ve never walked by a table in the college where there are books that I didn’t take. I don’t take them all, but you know, I must have given away hundreds of books to students over the years. What’s been amazing is I don’t remember exactly the books that I gave away to every student. But the students remember, and years later, students will come up to me and say, do you remember you gave me this book? I used to give away books that I wasn’t attached to. Now I make a point of giving one away if I know a book that’s perfect for a student. And I feel so great about it.
What’s your favorite book that you’ve ever been gifted?
I once had somebody give me a copy of Canadian literary recipes, which is a cookbook that Margaret Atwood edited, and I think it was my mom who gave it to me. At the time I thought it was the most ridiculous book. You know, I was like, probably in my senior year of college, and I was like, what am I going to do with this? But really, it’s one of my most precious books. I really love that book. And I’ll give you another version of that. A friend of mine, Andrew Pyper, who I’ve done a lot of teaching with. He wrote a book called “The Damned.” One of the characters is named Eddie and is based on (my son) Eddie. He’s very much like Eddie. When Andrew was here teaching, I think Katherine was back home in Toronto, and we dragged Eddie to everything, so they got to spend a ton of time together. That’s a really precious book to me, especially the copy that he gave me inscribed to me that acknowledges Eddie our son.
So, you’re a Block Plan enthusiast, and you co-directed a documentary feature film to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Block Plan. Was there anything about the history of the Block Plan that you found particularly interesting or surprising?
It was quite an adventure. It took a long time to do it. Maybe the single moment that I learned the most about the Block Plan was when I was interviewing a former president of the college, and the person who I was interviewing with was Susan Ashley. Susan kept asking people about the moment in which Colorado College moved from nine Blocks to eight Blocks, and from faculty teaching all eight Blocks to teaching less than all eight Blocks. At the time I didn’t understand why she was so interested in it. I didn’t know why. We were interviewing a former president of the college and I must have done something to indicate my feeling of like, I don’t know why we’re asking this kind of question. So, he looked at me and he said, listen, when people hear about the Block Plan, what they think of is they think of a schedule. Really, it’s a different thing. It’s a way of learning. You do one thing at a time, which goes back to the core idea of Glenn Brooks. And he said to me: Steven, the reason why the Block Plan sticks around, when so many other educational innovations of the late 1960s and early 70s are gone. The reason why the Block Plan sticks around, and so many other things don’t, is because the Block Plan is a structure that can change. That was a real epiphany for me. It’s a continual interrogation. Does everybody who’s on the semester system wonder to themselves “are we doing this semester right?” I don’t think so. I don’t think they have the same kind of spirit of interrogation that permeates all aspects of both the curriculum and student life.
What kind of feedback have you received from that documentary?
I think we’re at a moment right now where there is new international interest in the Block Plan. I think that that the Block Plan opens up possibilities and that technology really enables in a really different kind of way. People really responded in a way to the film; they just sort of loved it. They loved the idea of it. I mean, I think that they also probably have a romantic view of it. There are problems with the Block Plan, but there’s also problems with every other kind of educational plan.
I am going to England soon to give a talk on the origins of the Block Plan. I’m going to Australia. I went to Finland. What’s interesting is that the Block Plan in all those places has its own shape. In England most particularly – the schools in England that are adopting the Block Plan – they don’t necessarily want to use the terminology of the Block. They don’t like that. They sort of have a different way of sort of figuring it around.
I’m a founding member of something called IBILTA, which is the International Block and Intensive Learning Association. And these are schools from all over the world that are on some kind of Block-type methodology. Some of them are in the states, but some of them are in Australia, and some of them are in Europe, and some of them are in Asia. And it’s very interesting to have those conversations. It sprung up during the pandemic when we were all sort of stuck inside. The other kind of people who I hear from are people who have been on schools that were on the Block Plan temporarily or are considering it.
Is there anything you want to share about your upcoming TED talk?
Yeah, it’s in about a month. I’m excited about it. It’s called “Is it Time for the One Week Semester?” It’s like the same kind of single focus Block Plan thing, but like really super compressed, and it’s a little bit funny. It’s meant to be a provocation. We’ll see how it goes. It’s a TED talk, so it’s a whole other modality of writing, but it’s been interesting to me to go through that process. A TED talk is located in one place, but really it’s a digital artifact that gets shared and has a more lengthy life than the event. The event of the TED talk is more digitally dispersed than I think that most people think.
And then after that, you’ll be taking teaching Shakespeare in London. How has that class evolved throughout the years?
Well, it’s never the same class. We don’t know what plays are going to be on, so we’re always seeing different plays. We don’t know what opportunities are going to be available to us. And the thing I always say to students is, I don’t know how it will go, but we are all in this together and what it requires is for us to be supportive and understanding of each other. It’s up to us all to make the class a success. It’ll be our tenth year going, and the class is always changing; if we’re seeing the same plays, we’re often going to a different theater. Different students bring different interests, and different things happen.
The great thing about the class is that it’s about Shakespeare and it’s about the literature, but it’s also about the people. And you really do spend time with students, and you really get to know them in ways that stay with you forever. I think it’s the best part of the job. And you know from taking that class, like it’s not an exaggeration in that you can literally not predict anything. Like you can try. You can try to say we’re going to do this whole class without any kind of hitch but there’s always somebody who gets lost on the Tube, or we don’t make a connection, or we miss a stop. Or we get to the theater and the theater is closed down… and that’s awesome.
I am doing this other talk and it’s called “Who are you when you are lost?”, which is about the ways in which the study abroad has really changed in a way. Your phone used to not work when you left North America, and then everybody could be lost in a really big way. I tell the story about when I was in London and I was ready to get on the Tube, and somebody came up behind me and jostled my phone out of my hand. It was thrown onto the Tube, and it was gone. And I was like, “Oh my gosh.” Someone said, “Are you all right?” And I said, “I’m lost.” What are you going to find when you’re lost? Like what do you do when you lose your phone? It’s this like, amazingly shattering moment. You’re like, who am I now?
Do you have any funny stories from Shakespeare in London?
You know, when you arrive, you’re jet lagged. And we’ve learned now to not put plays too close to the arrival. So we were seeing a play in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which is next to The Globe (Theatre). It’s a facsimile, or a reproduction of the Blackfriars Theatre, which is the indoor theater that Shakespeare’s company performs at after The Globe burns down in 1608. It’s very much a small theatre and the audience comes right up to the stage. So we had a student who was extremely jet lagged, very, very tired. And you could see it happening. He had one of the best seats in the house, he was like right up on the stage. And I think he maybe lasted maybe 20 minutes into the play, and then he just fell asleep in the most spectacular way, right on the stage. Just having the most amazingly peaceful sleep right there. And so what the actors did is they made him part of the performance. They would do a certain amount of business of stepping over him, and I thought that was really cool. But it also captured some aspect of the early modern theater where there isn’t a fourth wall, right? The audience is part of the performance. Of course, the student slept — and this was amazing — slept all the way through the hour and a half of the production. When it was over, everybody clapped and the student woke up and started clapping, incredibly enthusiastic. Everyone in the theater was just laughing and laughing and laughing.
I once saw “Taming of the Shrew” with the class. We were sitting off to the side. And there was this guy who was sitting behind us. He was wearing this football jersey, like a British soccer team jersey. And it was time for the play to begin. I had never been to a production at the Globe. This guy was going, “When is this play going to start, like what is going on?” He had this beer, and he was like “What is going on? This is ridiculous.” He was being so loud, a lot of people were staring. He started to interact with me, “you’re teaching this course? You’re teaching this fucking Shakespeare course?” And he then stands up and kind of stumbles over and walks up onto the stage. And he turns around and pees on a member of The Globe’s staff. And then he starts doing the first lines of Taming of the Shrew: he’s in the play. The beginning of “Taming of the Shrew” is all about this kind of like metatheatre, and he just went right into the play. It was one of my favorite moments of theater of all time. I was so taken in by it. That was just absolutely incredible. The Globe can do that. That’s what’s particular about this class, it can really feel like you’re in the play. My doctoral thesis was on metatheatre in Shakespeare’s time, and I thought that was a cool moment.