Assistant Professor Zach Hutchins received his Ph.D. from the Department of English and Comparative Literature at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where his dissertation earned the C. Hugh Holman Award. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as ELH, Early American Literature, Modern Language Studies, Leviathan, Early American Studies, Nineteenth-Century Literature, and The New England Quarterly. This semester at CSU, he taught Introduction to American Literature and American Prose Before 1900. In Fall 2014, he’ll be teaching American Literature in Cultural Contexts, American Poetry Before 1900, and Major Authors-World – Columbus Across the Centuries.
Faculty Profile: Zach Hutchins
~by Evelyn Vaughn
Why do you wear a canary yellow suit jacket?
I have owned that coat since I was eighteen. I bought it when I was on my way to college as an undergraduate, so I’ve had it forever. I love it because, although it was originally a four hundred dollar coat, it sat in the Big and Tall shop for so long that they actually gave it to me for twenty dollars! It was still marked at a hundred, but I was the only person that had ever shown any interest in it, and when I started to walk away after deciding a hundred dollars was too much, the owner came after me and said, “Make me an offer.” So that’s how it ended up in my possession. I wear it because I think it emblematizes who I want to be in the classroom. I’m a very energetic and cheerful person, especially in the classroom. But I also want to make students feel comfortable, and I also think it communicates confidence and a welcoming atmosphere.
How would you describe your work in the English Department?
I teach literature, and I teach early American literature in particular. My interest has always been in the intersection of religion and literature, so those are the types of courses that I end up teaching. They also happen to be what I’m currently writing about. Anything from Columbus and New World discovery to American writers from the late nineteenth century, like Melville and Twain and Stephen Crane.
Why do you have an interest in religion and literature?
I’m Mormon. I grew up in a very religious household. Sometimes I tell people that I was raised by the last two Puritans, and that’s not a bad description for my parents. A good example would be in high school, every morning, before I went to high school at 7 AM, from 6 to 7 I was in an early morning Bible or scripture study class that was run by the LDS church. So I got up every day at 5 AM in order to take a Bible study class. Religion has always been part of who I am. As for the books, well, when I was a small child and my mom wanted to punish me, she wouldn’t ground me, she would take away my books. I would be sent outside, or to a friend’s house to play.
What brought you to CSU?
From the moment I set foot in Fort Collins, I just loved the place. I was blown away by the friendliness of the department and of my colleagues. I’ve heard anecdotally about other English Departments that are less friendly and collegial, so everything about my first visit to Fort Collins and my interactions with the department signaled to me that this was a place I wanted to be.
Why did you pursue a degree in English?
One of the pieces of advice I received as an undergraduate and that I value highly was the encouragement to do what I love as opposed to doing what I thought other people would love. Nobody thinks of English as what other people would want to see you doing, but I decided that I would do what I loved, and what I loved happened to be literature. As a result, I think I’ve worked much harder at my job than I would have if I had gone into a field that I was less enthusiastic about. I wake up every morning with a smile on my face because I know that I get to come to campus and teach and read and write about great books. I can’t imagine anything that’s more exciting in terms of a profession. That has made me much more successful than I think I would be if I had gone into a field that was a grind and that I didn’t enjoy so much.
Why are the humanities important to learn?
The first thing I would say is that the decline in the humanities, I think, is greatly overstated. More people read now than have ever read in the history of the world. More Americans read than have ever read in the history of the nation. To say that the humanities are dying, or are on the decline, I think is a vast oversimplification of what’s a very complex cultural shift. That being said, why the humanities matter — I think one of the best ways to think about this is to recall Thomas Friedman. He wrote a book called The World is Flat in which he talked about how the world is shrinking because of technology that makes it easier for interpersonal interactions to occur as well as digital and technologically mediated interactions. This means that we’re increasingly interacting with people from other cultures, with different backgrounds, who we can’t necessarily understand intuitively, but what they’ve now demonstrated scientifically is something that anyone who has ever read a fabulous novel can tell you intuitively – and that is that the humanities increase our empathy for others. That empathy, that ability to understand what is important to and what drives others is an invaluable skill not only in monetary terms, but also in interpersonal relationships and the quest to be good human beings.
What sort of special projects are you working on right now?
My first book is coming out in June, which is very exciting for me. It encapsulates my interest in religion and literature. It’s called Inventing Eden, and is a whirlwind tour of 17th and 18th century transatlantic relations between Britain and New England, and the focus that those colonists had on the idea of Eden and trying to recapture the perfections that they associated with it.
When you’re not working, what do you do?
I would say that close to a hundred percent of the time that I am not working, I am either spending time with my family or spending in church pursuits. One of the things that I spent a lot of time doing this past fall – as a result of those floods that devastated surrounding communities – I spent a lot of Saturdays, like 6-7 hours a day in Loveland doing flood relief with my church. When I’m at home with my family we play a lot of board games. I’m a board game nut!
What’s one thing you dream of being able to accomplish at CSU?
When I was an undergraduate there was a teacher, his name was Steve Walker, who made all the difference in the world to me. He knew me by name and he believed in my capacity to do great things. I’ll never forget him. There are a lot of things that I work with on a day to day basis, and I regard those as being of some importance. But the reason that I became a teacher, the reason that I’ve always regarded it as the best of professions, is the hope that someday, some student that I had would remember a moment in class, or out of class, or in a series of classes as having made some sort of difference in their life. The relationships and human interactions, those are, I think, ultimately the things most worth accomplishing. Everything else just fades away. In 100 years somebody else will have written a new book about Eden, and nobody’s going to read mine anymore, and you know what? I’m okay with that. In 100 years if there’s a couple of people who I made a difference to as a teacher, or as a friend, or as a colleague, or as a mentor, the fruits of their life, whether it be their children or the things that they accomplish or the people that they influenced, that will live on. It’s the human connection, that’s the thing that matters most. If I accomplished something like that while I was at CSU, I’d be happy.