By DEREK BEAVEN – NEWS EDITOR
Recently, Centre’s own Alfred P. and Katherine B. Jobson Professor of English Mark Lucas was named CASE Kentucky Professor of the Year. Lucas was one of 36 honorees from across the country.
Lucas majored in English while at Centre and was a self-described “lackluster student” until he took a class with Charles Hazelrigg.
“He was a great teacher,” Lucas said. “He found me sitting in the back in the shadows and he really lifted me up.”
After leaving Centre with an English degree, Lucas went to UNC at Chapel Hill, where he obtained a PhD with a specialty in 20th Century American Literature. Lucas’ ideal place was a liberal arts school.
“People asked what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to teach at a place like Centre because it seemed like my professors were all having such a good time,” Lucas said. “Just by chance, one of my mentors [at Centre] was retiring when I finished grad school and so there was an opening. You can’t get any more like Centre than Centre.”
This year makes Lucas’ 33rd year at Centre. In his time at the college, Lucas has led the study abroad program in London and class trips across the United States.
“I like teaching on campus,” he said. “Someone’s got to stay here. Living in London for a year made an American out of me. So, I lead trips particularly to America- Georgia, Mississippi, New Orleans, and my Walden cabin outside of town.”
Though Lucas spends most of his time on campus and in the classroom, some of his sharpest memories come from these trips, like the time he and his class stumbled across a drunken poet on a midnight pilgrimage to Faulkner’s grave.
“I checked to see if he was breathing,” Lucas said, “which he was… Turns out, he was just a drunken poet communing with the spirit of Faulkner. When he woke up, he probably thought he’d gone to the great beyond, considering all of these people standing around him with candles.”
In his free time, Lucas enjoys playing music. He’s released two albums, Dust (2010) and Uncle Bones (2012), both full of powerful and lyrical bluegrass/folk.
While most students might have difficulty imagining Lucas doing anything but explaining Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury to confused undergraduates, teaching isn’t the only profession he could imagine having followed.
“I look back and think I might have been doing something with music,” Lucas said. “I like making music and I like the technical side of it. I could have been a studio engineer or producer… The other career that I dream about is landscape architecture. If you make a name for yourself, you get to transform the land… an arboretum here, native grasses there, a row of oak tress along the driveway. That’s the same thing you do as a teacher, grow trees.”
Lucas cites his favorite album as The Band by The Band and his favorite novel as Absalom, Absalom! by Faulkner.
In his tenure, Lucas has known or corresponded with many Southern authors including William Styron, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, Andrew Lytle, Larry Brown, Lee Smith, and Peter Taylor.
When asked if he had any advice for students wanting to teach, Lucas said that it’s good to offer a bit of resistance to test the student’s resolve.
Lucas cited both the brutally competitive job market and the time it takes to get a PhD as serious considerations, but said if they persist, then his advice is strong.
“If they have the deep drive, then I’d say it’s a really rewarding profession,” Lucas said. “When they’re born to do it, I say go for it… because no one ever said it better than Thoreau: ‘If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.’”
When asked about potential retirement, Lucas seemed shocked and was adamant in his response.
“I just hit my stride… I’m enjoying it now more than ever.”