English Department Headed by New Chair

Staff Writer: Fizza Mahmood
1 Nov. 2017

The English Department is excited to welcome Professor Benjamin Reiss as he begins his term as department chair this semester. Prof. Reiss has been a professor at Emory for eleven years, teaching a range of courses on American literature and other fascinating topics at the undergraduate and graduate level on health, disability, and American culture. A few years ago, he collaborated with neurologist David Rye in teaching a class called Sleep in Science and Culture, and out of that experience he developed ideas for his most recent book, Wild Nights: How Taming Sleep Created Our Restless World.  He is also a founding director of Emory’s Disability Studies Initiative.

When asked what drew him to Emory specifically,  Reiss explained that at first it was “luck and accident.” His family evacuated from New Orleans, where he had been teaching at Tulane University, due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and they spent a year in Boston before Reiss found a faculty position at Emory and moved to Atlanta.  The more he learned about Emory, though, the more it seemed like a great move professionally – in large part because of the interdisciplinary scholarship that Emory enables.  Unlike many other universities, Emory is “a place where you can really work across the aisle,” he says. Reiss practices this interdisciplinarity in his own work as he examines intersections among literature, culture, health, and disability.

Professor. Reiss’ passion for his classes and for the English department played a role in his desire to become chair. “I wanted to step back and devote more time to the department,” he said;  “Because Emory has been such an amazing place for me to cultivate new interests, I’m looking forward to unleashing the passions of my faculty colleagues and providing support for them.”   He is also in dialogue with other chairs and program directors about possible joint hires that might bring additional faculty members to Emory who can help students to make connections between literature, writing, and very different kinds of pursuits. “If you’re a computer science whiz or an aspiring epidemiologist who loves poetry, you ought to be able to put those things together in the English department,” he says.

This goes for everyone, not just faculty. Dr. Reiss plans to connect with both undergraduate and graduate students in the department through his teaching and advising and looks forward to learning more about where students’ interests are leading them in their research and writing. He also plans to improve connections between different courses within the English department, making for a more holistic curriculum; and to experiment with different-sized courses at different levels. For instance, especially popular classes that appeal to non-English majors might do better with large enrollments, which will make it easier to reserve seats for English majors in the courses they need to develop a concentration in one area of study.

The English Department looks forward to all of the things Dr. Reiss has planned and is excited to see what he will accomplish in this new role!