Q&A with Bill Coulter

Bill Coulter, Katherine Haas Eichelbaum Professor of English, Randolph College, 1977-2017

Bill Coulter, Katherine Haas Eichelbaum Professor of English, Randolph College, 1977-2017

Changing of the Guard: Bill Coulter | Paul Irwin | Bill Mattson | Ted Hostetler

What has been your favorite course to teach and why?

My favorite courses have been defined not by their content but by their students—the right combination, the right classroom chemistry, where there’s real excitement and real intellectual curiosity. That has happened from time to time and in a number of different courses.

If you could go back in time, which author would you want to meet, and what would you ask him/her?

Since I’ve devoted a good deal of scholarly attention to John Milton, George Herbert, and Samuel Johnson, it would be very instructive to be in the presence of any of them. In a different vein, it would be highly entertaining to be present at the Mermaid Tavern sometime when William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson were both in full flow.

Over your tenure here, how has your teaching changed and evolved and what’s had the biggest influence on that change?

Literary study is about a reader and a text. That’s the same as it has always been. It’s true, though, that I have always used as much music and visual art as I could, so the ready availability on the internet of symphonic performances, art song, reproductions of paintings, virtual tours of buildings, and so on has been a great enrichment.

What’s your favorite place on campus and why?

I’m fond of the whole campus, because when our kids were small we treated the whole campus as our playground. In a more recent framework, my favorite room on campus is the renovated Wimberly Recital Hall: it’s beautiful to look at, an elegant and friendly space, and it has fine acoustics for chamber music and art song.

What will you miss the most?

Getting acquainted with a new set of students at the beginning of each semester and knowing that some of them will turn out to be interesting and rewarding and fun to know.

What odd fact best captures your connection with the College?

I was present for my wife’s graduation, even though we didn’t know each other. I watched the class of 1971’s commencement from a seat in the balcony of Smith, about 50 feet from where my current office is located.

I was here to support Sherley Osgood Keith ’71, who had become a good friend, and so in complete ignorance I watched Ann Eutsler walk across the stage and receive her diploma from Dr. Quillian. It was three years later that Sherley introduced us, and the rest, as they say, is history.

So although I joined the R-MWC faculty in 1977 and have taught here for 40 years, there is a sense in which my connection to the College goes back 10 more years, to 1967, when Ann entered as a freshman. A tidy half-century.