With her sweet and grandmotherly nature, English Professor Phyllis Rackin may not seem like an award-winning scholar of Shakespeare and other Renaissance drama. In recognition befitting her stature, the spring 1997 edition of Shakespeare in the Classroom recently named Rackin one of the top 25 "master teachers of Shakespeare in the U.S., Britain and Canada for the past 125 years." The list was compiled by polling various literary authorities around the world. In her typically modest fashion, Rackin, who has taught General Honors and graduate-level courses since the early 1960s, chalked up the award to the mere "luck of the draw." The beginnings of Rackin's career are distinctly low-key. Needing to fulfill a teaching requirement, she one day ran into the English undergraduate chairperson, who nonchalantly asked, "How much do you know about a man named Shakespeare?" The not-so-innocent question resulted in Rackin spending her winter break holed up with dozens of texts, plays and studies to prepare herself to teach. The labor continued throughout the semester as Rackin "stayed barely a week ahead of the students." By that time, Rackin realized that teaching Shakespeare was "something she loved doing." She was fortunately "invited to keep doing it." Rackin's avowed goal as an educator is to free Shakespeare from the somber connotations his name evokes. "The plays were written to be performed and must be studied in that context," she explained. Her teaching eventually spurred a desire to write, which was temporarily satiated in her 1990 book Stages of History. The book deals with the philosophical issues of history and explores the question, "What happens when you put history on the stage?" Her next foray into writing was prompted by a friend and Women's Studies scholar. After initially thinking that "there was nothing of interest for Women's Studies," Rackin eventually asked, "Well, why not?" The fruition of her ensuing study was the recently published Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare's English Histories, which she co-authored. Rackin also found time in the early 1990s to serve as president of the Shakespeare Association of North America. "It consisted of endless meetings," she mused. Referring to her book and other accomplishments, English Professor and longtime colleague Rebecca Bushnell called Rackin "an important feminist voice in the University." English Undergraduate Chairperson Elisa New added, "I admire Phyllis Rackin lavishly." During her several decades at the University, Rackin has seen undergraduate teaching "improve enormously." She has undoubtedly played a vital role in that improvement. Teaching for so long has allowed Rackin to keep her "fingers on the pulse of time" by serving as a mentor to diverse generations. Along with her many years at the University has come both experience and praise. More important than any award, however, is her family -- and more specifically her grandson. "He's just adorable," she gleefully proclaimed.Comments powered by Disqus
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