Earlier in the semester, the Department of English announced the appointment of several new faculty members. In this post, we get to know Dr. Mica Hilson as part of an ongoing “Q and A” series with our most recent faculty additions.
Dr. Hilson comes to us from Indiana University, where he taught literature and composition courses, or as Dr. Hilson explains, “everything from critical theory to drama to stand-up comedy to professional writing.”
Below, Dr. Hilson explains his teaching and research interests as well as the importance of cultivating new experiences, especially during one’s college years.
Right now, you’re teaching an English 200 class on the topic of “Hospitality and Sharing.” What inspired you to come up with that theme?
The concept for the course came from a combination of personal experiences and research interests. First of all, when I came to Francis Marion to interview for this position, I was immediately struck by the amazing hospitality I received. For instance, Dr. Chris Johnson, our department chair, not only personally picked me up at the airport—he drove me back to the airport at 4:30 in the morning, so I could be back in Indiana in time to give my students their final exam. Ideas of hospitality and gift-giving are also central to the book project I’ve been working on this summer, which examines the different conceptual structures that we might use to define “family” and “inheritance,” as well as the ways in which certain family relationships might strain the customs of hospitality.
Also, in two chapters of my dissertation, I looked at fiction that was posted to freely accessible story-sharing websites, and I explored how the plots of these stories often celebrated the sharing of items that would be normally be considered private. From that, I became interested in how issues of sharing and private property were key to many different issues in 21st century life—everything from tissue samples to music samples—and thus could be related to a lot of different disciplines. Since English 200 is all about learning how to write for different disciplines, it seemed like the perfect fit of course goals and topic.
Many of the texts and authors you study are pretty obscure. What do you think is the value of studying and teaching lesser-known works?
Although the process by which books and films and albums become famous isn’t totally random, there is a fair amount of luck involved, and as a result, there are some truly fantastic works that never achieved the fame they deserved (or were once famous, but have now fallen out of fashion). You’ll sometimes see lists of “100 Great Books that You Must Read,” but as a voracious reader, I can tell you that I’ve read a lot more than 100 great books. And so when I teach literature classes, I try to include a combination of well-known and lesser-known works, because I feel like that encourages students to venture off the beaten path and seek out literature that really speaks to them.
Back when you were a college student, you had a pretty unusual double major—English and Math. How did you end up deciding to pursue a career in English rather than Math, and do you ever still use what you learned as a Math major?
I was lucky to have some really good mentoring in English, with professors who both served as role models and let me try my hand at the kind of work that professional literary scholars did. I already knew that I loved teaching, but finding out how much I enjoyed doing literary scholarship really sealed the deal for me. On the other hand, I knew I had fun in my math courses, but I wasn’t so sure that I would love doing advanced research in math. Though some of the “math muscles” in my brain have now gone flabby, I still find lots of opportunities to apply concepts I learned as a math major—whether it’s discussing logical proofs with my English 112 students or simply showing students how to calculate their grades, math still comes in handy!
Finally, if you could pass along one piece of advice to your students at FMU, what would it be?
Well, not long after I graduated college, when I was in my early 20s, I went through a rough couple of years—I was an only child, and my mom and dad died within a year of each other. One good thing that came out of that experience was that it taught me just how short life really is. In the following years, I went on trips to a number of places I’d always wanted to visit (including Spain, Turkey, Australia, and Croatia) because I realized that I needed to seize those opportunities while I could. In my English 200 class, we’ve been thinking a lot about the value of encountering new people, places, and languages, even when those interactions take you outside of your comfort zone. So I guess my advice for students would be to embrace all the opportunities that FMU offers for travelling to new places, meeting new people, learning new ideas, and working at new jobs—even if those experiences initially strike you as a little too foreign or make you uncomfortable at first.