Q&A / Diane Christian
Teaching is always part of it
Photo by kc kratt
Name: Diane Christian
Current title: Distinguished Professor
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Rochester, Diane Christian, University at Buffalo English Department SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor, is the oldest of four children whose mother was a teacher and Latin scholar, and father an inventor/troubleshooter for Bausch & Lomb. Early in her career, Christian became a nun, enjoying the freedom it gave her to pursue a career in academia. She left the convent for that world, eventually accepting a job offer from UB, where she's taught since 1969. Today, when you visit her historic century-old house facing Delaware Park, you enter a light-filled space festooned with art collected from global travel and other evidence of a life well lived. For four-plus decades, that life has been shared with husband, Bruce Jackson, also a SUNY Distinguished Professor in UB’s English Department. The couple is known as a formidable creative team, making acclaimed documentary films that include Death Row, Out of Order, and Creeley and running the acclaimed Buffalo Film Seminars series. Now Christian has another book out, Occasion Poems, published by Buffalo＊s BlazeVOX press.
These poems, often bluntly humorous, look at big life events. Tell us how this came about.
The late poet Robert Creeley, a dear friend and colleague, had the idea of creating poems for various occasions made up as ink stamps, ready to imprint on a postcard and send off. This book, a collection of some of my works over many years, sprang from that idea. These are not tied to specific people, but are general, with broader appeal—modeled, you might say, on Keats and Dickinson; poems people can relate to.
Photo by Bruce Jackson
Are you mostly a poet?
You can be a poet, a filmmaker, and a scholar, and I am all those things. Most deeply, though, I am a teacher. Not in an authoritarian way, but trying, always, to share knowledge. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, and always knew literature was my subject. But I also loved films. Bruce and I were asked to develop a series, which became the Buffalo Film Seminars. It started in April 2000 and continues to this day. We've shown over 600 movies, and we learn a lot; Buffalo has a very smart film audience!
Do you have a favorite subject or course you like to teach? Favorite film?
I love teaching William Blake; he's my guy! I love also the courses that deal with the history of religion. The Bible as Literature is a course I've taught for many years.
And though I'm not a fan of Disney, one of my favorite films is his magnificent Pinocchio. Also Visconti's The Leopard, a film about the waning of the old aristocratic world, with Burt Lancaster giving the performance of his career.
Who was or is your best mentor?
Wonder Woman. I read all those comics when I was growing up.
What is your best escape?
We are great travelers, and fortunate to be able to link work we love with travel. So, it’s museums, conferences—we are not beach people. St. Petersburg, Venice, and France—these are favorite places.
Little known fact about you?
How much I love to watch MSNBC? People might be surprised to hear that I am that political, something I keep out of the classroom. I was glued to the recent impeachment hearings. After all, we lived through Watergate and that moment-by-moment unfolding of events. I do love to stay attuned to what’s happening.