By Elisa Gonzalez. Although Wendy Lee doesn’t advertise this on OCI, if you take a class with her, you might get the chance to show off your moonwalk. After reading about Michael Jackson in Lee’s section of English 114, “Reading Violence,” last semester, one of her students did just that – Martin Shapiro SM ’14 took off his shoes and “moonwalked” his way across the smooth tile floor of the Writing Center. Telling this story, Lee seems to delight in the weird, unexpected pleasures of teaching, from taking her students out for a Frisbee full of ice cream at the end of a semester to introducing them to the “uncooperative emotions” of, for example, Jane Austen’s oeuvre.
Lee focuses on eighteenth-century British fiction, and is teaching a seminar this semester on “The Eighteenth Century Novel,” in addition to a section of the “Epic” course, English 130. She read British literature as an undergraduate at Columbia University, but as a master’s student at Cambridge University in England, she switched her focus to Asian-American literature. When pursuing a Ph.D. at Princeton University, she felt comfortable returning to British literature. Lee is currently working on a book manuscript on dysphoric feelings in the eighteenth-century novel. She hopes to answer the question “why fiction?” through this research; “fiction especially can treat the emotions in ways that other forms and disciplines can’t.”
Lee’s academic path has not been without detours: after completing her master’s degree, she began writing for American Banker, a financial newspaper, despite having no journalistic experience. She rose to section editor before she “became jealous” of friends writing dissertations and decided to return to academia. Lee retains a fondness for the tight deadlines, “collaborative process,” and “built-in irreverence of the newsroom.” As a graduate student, she continued to work as a freelance journalist for The New York Times; she once swung on a trapeze when reporting an article on new ways of exercising in New York City.
Journalism, Lee says, taught her “not to waste the reader’s time.” And while she laughingly characterizes her academic interests (theories of violence, those “uncooperative emotions”) as “not very sunny,” she won’t waste a student’s time either.