Reading While Working: English Professor Stephen Whited Loves His Job
This series spotlights the people who educate Piedmont University students. We ask them about their childhood, their first jobs, and why they love what they do.
Piedmont University English Professor Dr. Stephen Whited grew up enjoying the typical suburban experience: “school, church, and neighborhood kids playing all the seasonal sports in somebody’s backyard.” In high school, he read a lot (and was once awarded a certificate by his favorite teacher for “having read the most books”) and played basketball until he “shifted to a guitar-playing obsession.”
Whited’s first job was on a farm. At 14, he took a job picking up hay for $1.25 an hour. The “regulars” let him drive the truck, and, as the smallest of the crew, he was often in the loft of the barn stacking hay bales to the roof.
A friend’s father went to Georgia Tech, so Whited applied and began pursuing a degree in architecture. He liked drafting and drawing, but after a few “academic detours,” Whited found inspiration in the English department at Georgia State University and later the English doctoral program at the University of Kentucky.
Whited lists those who inspired and mentored him at those institutions as if everyone should know who they are. Among them were Dr. Thomas McHaney, who published books and essays on William Faulkner; Dr. William Sessions, a British Renaissance scholar and friend of Flannery O’Connor; and Thomas Merton scholar Dr. Victor Kramer. All taught at Georgia State, where Whited earned bachelor's and master’s degrees in English and poetry.
At the University of Kentucky, Whited studied under poet and photographer Dr. James Baker Hall, the state’s 2001 poet laureate. Another professor was the novelist, poet, essayist, and farmer Wendell Berry, the first living writer inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame. Whited also learned from Dr. Guy Davenport, author of many books of criticism, poetry, and short fiction, including Da Vinci’s Bicycle, which he also illustrated, and who was a friend to Ezra Pound.
Had he not so enjoyed his studies, Whited probably might have wound up working in advertising or journalism, but he believed teaching at a small, private college suited him. After a stint at a Congregational college in Wisconsin, he joined Piedmont in August 1993.
Piedmont faculty and administrators were warm and welcoming to the Whited family: Stephen, his wife, Jo, and their children, Sam and Walker (who was just a week old at the time). Three decades later, Whited remains enamored with Piedmont.
“I love our little university. There’s nobody better to spend time with than a bright Piedmont student.”
Whited loves the subject he teaches because “literary study involves knowledge of art, poetry, music, history, theology, and philosophy, my favorite pastimes. With serious reading and critical inquiry, we can teach each other and share the good life.”
What is the best part about being an English professor?
“I meet wonderful people who love to read as much as I do, and we get to talk about it. I also love that I can read at work without getting in trouble for reading at work.”
“I’m amazed by my good fortune.”