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Canadian Review of American Studies/Revue canadrenne d'etudes amertcame's Volume 26, Number 1, Wmter 1996, pp. 159-177 Oral History: An Interview with Robert Martin Bruce Tucker Introduction 159 As part of the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the Canadian Review of American Studies, the editors are pleased to present the third in a series of interviews of former editors and presidents of the Canadian Association of American Studies (CAAS). In the following interview, president of the Canadian Association for American Studies, Robert Martin, reflects on his professional and personal experience teaching and writing about American literature. He discusses his focus on gay issues, and shares his views on the topic of studying American Studies in Quebec. Robert Martin is professor of literature at the Universite de Montreal. BRUCE TUCKER (BT): When did you first become interested in American Studies, Robert? ROBERT MARTIN (RM): I suppose my interest was first awakened when I was an undergraduate, although it was not in an American studies program . It was in American literature courses that I took, notably with Alexander Cowie, who had written a book called The Rise of the American Novel, a very important early work in the history of American literature . I also worked with Ihab Hassan who was writing a great deal about what we would now call postmodernism. At the time it was sort of avantgarde American writing. These courses really struck me because of the 160 Canadian Review of Amencan Studies Revue canad1enne d'etu.desamencaines wealth of contextual information that they gave and the ways of reading America through American literature. They were very different from the new critical courses that I had, for instance, with Richard Wilbur, the poet, who was a fine teacher and a fascinating person, but not particularly interested in cultural questions. I was at Wesleyan from 1959 to 1963. At that point, I was still searching for an area. I was taking German, history, political science, as well as English. Partly because of this lack of clear focus in my undergraduate education, and partly because I had been so interested in the cultural approaches of Cowie and Hassan, even though they were very different kinds of people and clearly of different generations, I looked for an interdisciplinary graduate program. I decided to go into American studies and applied to several graduate schools and eventually decided to go to Brown University, which was, at the time, one of the leading places for American studies and had a long tradition of people like Randall Stewart. At that point, the program was run by Hyatt Waggoner. He was somewhat of an ironic choice as head of the American studies program since he himself was a new critic with strong affinities to the agrarians and the religious new criticism. He was, I believe, an Episcopalian by conversion, so there was a rather sharp conflict between the American Studies idea and the man who was in fact directing the program. The teachers at Brown who influenced me the most were not the American literature teachers that I had there, but, in fact, were historians, notably Jack Thomas (I was his teaching assistant) and Bill McLaughlin. The two of them were the people I learned most from and was most excited by. I took a number of courses in American religious history and American social history and a course which focused on the abolitionist movement with Jack Thomas. I really developed my literary interests to some degree on my own because no one was doing the kind of work that I was interested in in the literature program at the time. BT: Were they all new critics? Bntce Tucker I 161 RM: They were mostly all new critics, yes. During the course of graduate school, I became increasingly interested in pursuing questions of gender. My time in graduate school coincided with my coming out as a gay man. I also found that most people were extremely hostile to that. I think it put a very strong brake on me in pursuing questions like this, even in areas like the study of Whitman, where it seemed it would have been obvious, but, in fact, was not...


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