Dennis Moore retires from his "academic home"
Dennis Moore is not just retiring from Florida State University after 28 years of teaching, mentoring, research, and service to the scholarly community at large. He is leaving the Department of English, the place during those nearly three decades that he says “has been an academic home, indeed, my fun home. Full stop.”
“Over the last year, it has become increasingly clear that it’s time to retire and to open up space for another colleague,” Moore says, as he sits in the Williams Building’s fourth-floor Skybox and discusses his career. He expresses appreciation for the department’s decision in the spring of 2019 to hire John Garcia, “a brilliant young Early Americanist and Hispanist,” Moore says. Garcia, from California State University, Northridge, begins teaching as an assistant professor in the fall of 2019.
“I met him at his job interview, and he and I have been traveling in literally some of the same academic and scholarly circles,” Moore says.
Identifying those circles Moore has traveled in since he arrived at FSU as an assistant professor in 1991 is an exhaustive endeavor. He came to Tallahassee via a somewhat circuitous route, first earning his bachelor’s degree in English from Clemson University in 1970. He quickly followed that by earning his master’s degree in English American Literature from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1972.
After working for 12 years in writing and editing jobs, Moore returned to UNC-Chapel Hill, where he earned his doctoral degree in American Literature to 1900 as well as British Literature, Restoration and Eighteenth Century.
With his newly minted Ph.D., Moore taught at the University of Texas-El Paso for one year before landing a faculty position at FSU.
“I appreciated having the opportunity to move into an institution that had a well-established Ph.D. program, and being able to mentor Ph.D. students and working at that level of scholarship,” Moore says about FSU.
In 1995, he became the associate director of FSU’s Bryan Hall Learning Community, working with motivated first-year students and encouraging them to express their curiosity and desire to learn. Moore went on to serve two terms as the program’s faculty director.
“I saw over the years how contagious that excitement is when someone is learning, not just what is going on in a novel they’re studying, but learning more how to approach reading fiction and nonfiction,” Moore says. “There are times when you can actually see students’ eyes open, and when that happens, it is contagious.”
Moore’s ability to spark students’ interest in literature and understanding scholarly perspectives is evidenced by his numerous teaching awards. He won his first University Teaching Award in 1993, his second year on the FSU faculty, and he has won several of those awards during his time at FSU. In 1999, Moore won the University Distinguished Teaching Award.
At the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies’ 2017 national conference in Minneapolis, Moore received ASECS’s Graduate Student Caucus Excellence in Mentorship Award.
“This award recognizes a faculty member who has generously supported his or her graduate students by helping them excel in their scholarship, teaching, and professionalization,” read the statement accompanying the certificate. “Professor Moore's commitment to mentorship and teaching is exemplary, and has moved the committee to honor him as this year's 2017 Excellence in Graduate Mentorship winner.”
Creative writing alumna Dorothy Chan, who earned her doctoral degree in the spring of 2019, is one of the innumerable students who Moore has influenced over the years. She says that she knew right away when she arrived at FSU that she wanted to work with him.
“He’s simply so kind and welcoming – he's such a friendly face,” Chan says. “I have many fond memories of the Early American class I took with him, and I loved the way he described the difference between ‘a history’ and ‘a romance.’”
Chan also worked with Moore extensively on the department’s U.S. Literature discussion group, but says her fondest memories of her time with him are when he stopped by her office just to chat with her.
“I seriously can’t imagine FSU without him,” she says.
FSU English doctoral student Cocoa Williams echoes Chan’s sentiments regarding Moore providing a friendly space for graduate students in the department. Williams appreciates Moore’s “personal mission to help graduate students in the English department navigate the sometimes intimidating terrain of academia. The examples of Dr. Moore’s spirit of stewardship are too numerous to recount.”
Williams says Moore's mentorship extends beyond the classroom and campus and that he is always willing to connect students with others nationally and internationally who can help the students in their academic pursuits.
“He encourages us to foster relationships with scholars from in and outside of higher education and orchestrates these very valuable networking opportunities for the benefit of his students,” says Williams, who has been at FSU since 2013, working on her Ph.D. in African-American Literature and Cultural Studies. “Dr. Moore has always reserved opportunities for graduate students to showcase their interests and talents before audiences of seasoned intellectuals in order for us to foster the kind of easy-going confidence in our scholarship that we as students admire most in him.”
FSU English Creative Writing Professor David Kirby, whose fourth-floor Williams Building office is two doors down from Moore’s, says he’ll “miss his sunny presence.”
“Dennis is one of the funniest people I know, and he’s certainly the best-natured,” Kirby says. “As you see from his long list of awards, he’s the department's most decorated teacher, and little wonder: year after year, the students flocked to him because he’s helpful, kind, friendly, open, and, more than anything, just a great listener.”
Chatting with undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty colleagues and making them feel comfortable is one of the qualities most say Moore uses to help make those around him feel welcomed.
“I jumped at the opportunity to come to FSU to work with Dennis in 2007,” says Cristobal Silva, who taught at Texas Tech University before taking an assistant professor position at FSU. Silva is currently an associate professor at UCLA. “I will never forget our lunches at the Suwannee Room and at Momo’s, where we talked about our work, about the St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge, about our students, and about our families.”
In addition to Moore investing time in learning more about Silva’s personal life, “he was the first scholar outside of my home institution who welcomed me into the profession,” Silva says.
“I wish I could say that it was because of something he saw in me or my work, but the truth is that it says far more about who he is as a scholar and mentor than it does about me,” he adds. “Quite apart from his important contributions to our reading of Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, Dennis’s ability to encourage young scholars and to bring people together has had an immeasurable impact on the profession: I don’t know of a young early Americanist today whose life and career haven’t been positively affected by his generosity.
“More than anything, Dennis showed me how to become the scholar and colleague that I am today.”
A past president of the interdisciplinary Society of Early Americanists, Moore agreed in 2015 to serve a three-year term as Founding Mentor for the SEA’s then-brand-new Junior Scholars Caucus. Beyond his mentorship and guidance, Moore has made his presence well known, well appreciated, and well respected in Early American scholarship. His various positions with numerous organizations and committees have helped push the field forward.
“Through his scholarly work on Crèvecoeur and engaging teaching along with his service to the department, the university, and the profession at large, Dennis has greatly enhanced the curricular landscape in Early American Literary and Cultural Studies in ways that enhance the University's national profile,” FSU English Literature, Media, and Culture Professor Maxine Montgomery says. “Our department has benefited greatly from his expertise in United States Literature and his willingness to challenge graduate scholars across all programs to reach their full potential.”
Five years after his start at FSU, Moore recalls how an informal discussion with other members of the American Studies Association led to him founding the Early American Matters Caucus.
“About two dozen of us in the A.S.A. couldn’t help noticing that there was very little emphasis at the organization’s national conferences on early American content,” Moore said. During what he thought would be a “nerve racking phone call” to the A.S.A.’s command module, the A.S.A. accepted his proposal to add Early American Matters to its array of special interest groups. “That has touched and shaped some of the really sharp graduate students at FSU as well as people around the country. In terms of things I’ve managed to do that are productive, that’s one of them.”
In 2018, after Moore announced his plans to rotate out of the role as the caucus’s leader, the A.S.A. posted on its website a “thank you” to Moore and his leadership.
“He has been a staunch supporter of the caucus and all of its scholars for years, and we look forward to his continued presence at the A.S.A. and in the caucus for many more,” wrote Northeastern University Professor Sari Altschuler, who moved into a co-coordinator position for the caucus, in the post titled “Changing of the Guard.” “Moore’s voice stands out as perhaps the most consistent voice in advocating for early American matters and early American scholars at the A.S.A., and it is a voice we all have looked forward to hearing at each conference.”
When FSU’s English department posted a blurb on its Facebook page about the article, the comments expressing gratitude for Moore’s interdisciplinary scholarly networking rolled in.
“Congratulations, Dennis!” wrote Paul Erickson, program director for The Humanities, Arts, and Culture and American Institutions, Society, and the Public Good with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. “So few people in this profession can say that they changed how future generations of scholars encounter the field, but you have done just that.”
University of Washington Associate Professor of History Stephanie Smallwood wrote, “Dennis Moore, I am personally deeply indebted to you and the caucus—A.S.A. is now my intellectual home and it started with your invitation,” referring to Moore’s work with Smallwood at the 2009 A.S.A. conference, when he organized and chaired the interdisciplinary colloquy on her book Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora.
“So grateful for your inspiring and generous leadership, Dennis!!” Emory University Professor of Spanish Karen Stolley wrote.
More recently, at the Southeastern American Studies Association’s biennial conference in March 2019, at Emory University, fellow members on the SASA board announced the Barbara Stevens Heusel and Dennis Moore Graduate Student Travel Grants.
Moore’s own scholarly interest, a focus on French-born writer J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur and his volume of narrative essays Letters from an American Farmer, has its origin in Moore’s time as a doctoral student at UNC. Moore’s mentor at the university, Professor Everett Emerson, was researching and writing about Crèvecoeur. Moore worked on the staff at the journal Early American Literature, and Emerson eventually became Moore’s dissertation director.
When the Library of Congress purchased the manuscript of Letters,, Emerson encouraged Moore to work on the letters. Shortly after Moore arrived at FSU, he met the acquisitions editor from University of Georgia Press at the initial meeting of the Society for Eighteenth-Century American Studies. Her visit led to Moore’s editing and 1995 publication of More Letters from the American Farmer: An Edition of the Essays in English Left Unpublished by J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur. In 2013, Harvard University Press published a follow-up edition, Letters from an American Farmer and Other Essays, which Moore edited, drawing on additional research he did at Yale University’s Beinecke Library.
Not long after that edition appeared, Moore was at a conference and a colleague from Clemson University made a friendly invitation: “Dennis, I want you to know that any ACC school that dares to come to [Clemson's football stadium] Death Valley, I’m going to invite someone from there in the humanities to show that it’s not all about athletics.”
That conversation led Moore to become the FSU representative in Clemson’s Road Scholars series, where Moore initially presented on Crèvecoeur and the Harvard Press edition of Letters. A few months later, FSU’s Faculty Senate created its own Road Scholars committee, with Moore as its first chair.
As Moore looks back on his academic career, he says he is grateful for opportunity after opportunity “to work with good people, graduate students and professors. And I have seen more students who were willing to do impressive work.”
“A number of people have become active and blossomed with many of the professional associations I have been active in, which is reassuring,” Moore says. “Students here were seeing the benefits of that kind of networking with professional associations.”
A recognizable phrase of Moore’s is a signature email sign-off, “Looking forward…” As he ponders a future without a direct academic connection to FSU and the English department, he still plans to continue to be involved with the institution. For example, he will continue as a member of the library’s advancement board and has already agreed to lead a book discussion, with a history professor, at Strozier Library.
“I love teaching,” Moore says. “The part I will miss about teaching is seeing the spark when students get it, the wonder they have in the classroom. And being around good people.”
Whether he was in the classroom, meeting with students one on one, chatting with those who entered his circle, diving into archives for his research on Early American culture, or leading various academic groups, Moore had an impact on those around him.
When contacted for comments about Dennis Moore retiring, these former students and colleagues of his responded with heartfelt and extensive messages.
Liz Polcha graduated from FSU’s Master of Arts program in 2012 and she since earned her Ph.D. in English at Northeastern University. She is currently a Barra Postdoctoral Fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
In terms of academic mentoring from Dennis:
Dennis is a genius when it comes to connecting graduate students with larger communities and networks. He is a powerhouse of networking and outreach. What this means is that his mentorship extends beyond his own guidance, as he has the unique ability to match junior scholars with mentors in his wide-reaching network of colleagues. At FSU, he helped me identify scholars whose research and ethos matched my own, which has been invaluable to my career.
Dennis encouraged me to take seriously my pedagogical work as a graduate student teacher at FSU. After learning about my interests in feminist community building in the college writing classroom, Dennis helped me secure a position teaching a writing course for FSU’s Bryan Hall Learning Community, a Living Learning Community for undergraduate students with interdisciplinary majors. As a Bryan Hall instructor, I was able to expand upon my feminist pedagogical practices in the writing classroom with insight from some of the most proactive and engaged students I have ever had the privilege of teaching. Furthermore, Dennis offered to observe my Bryan Hall course, and wrote me a letter of observation for my teaching portfolio. Dennis’s pedagogical support led to my nomination and my eventual granting of a teaching award by FSU’s First Year Composition Committee.
Anecdotes about working with Dennis:
I always tell people that Dennis recruited me to early American studies by pairing me with scholars like Elizabeth Maddock Dillon and Nicole Aljoe at Northeastern University (where I completed my Ph.D.), whose work is focused on feminist and anti-colonial critiques of early American history and literature. When I was applying to PhD programs and uncertain where I would end up, Dennis invited me to coffee and helped me compile a list of programs that he thought would be a good match. This was an enormous act of kindness at FSU, where as one of many graduate students I felt a bit invisible and unrecognized within the chaos of a large department. I have so much gratitude and respect for Dennis as a mentor. I hope that I can someday support my own students in a similar way.
Jenifer Elmore earned her doctoral degree from FSU. Moore directed her M.A. thesis and her dissertation, which earned Elmore the department’s 2003 Russell Reaver Award for Outstanding Dissertation in American Literature or Folklore. Jenifer is currently Professor and Chair of English at Palm Beach Atlantic University.
Dennis was the best dissertation director anyone could ever want. He was so engaged with my project—constantly sending me more research suggestions and tips, asking questions about my drafts, and challenging me to dig deeper into historical research while also considering different theoretical implications of my thesis. In all my experience since grad school, I have never heard anyone describe having better guidance. He's the kind of mentor who inspires his students to excel without giving them the sense that he's judging them, and that's invaluable.
There are two things I will always remember and cherish about Dennis's style, and I'm sure I can't be alone here. One is the way he constantly gives gifts informally, handing me a book, or a journal, or a poster, or bookmark, or a souvenir he picked up from a trip or a conference, or even just a piece of candy, saying “Here. Take this, and don't say I never gave you anything.” He did that the very first time I went to his office hours to discuss a paper idea (which was maybe a few weeks after I started my MA at FSU) and continued throughout my entire time there, and he extended the practice to my children and has continued to give me those little gifts every time that I have visited Tallahassee since then. I surely cannot say he never gave me anything! Every piece of candy came in handy, but the greatest gifts were his time and his wisdom.
The second is the way he always reassured me every time I felt discouraged or overwhelmed by the task of writing a dissertation by saying, “Listen, dumber people than you and I have done this.” I remember once following up with “But do they have jobs?” to which Dennis responded, “No comment.” That line always worked for me, partly through humor and partly just through truth, and I have consistently used it with my own students to great effect.
Laura Stevens is associate professor of English at the University of Tulsa.
“Four summers ago, while president of the Society of Early Americanists,” Moore says, “Laura asked if I would serve as Founding Mentor for the SEA’s new Junior Scholars Caucus. In April of 2019, she got a dozen of her fellow prominent early Americanists to take dear Barbara and me to supper to celebrate my retirement, while we were out in chilly Eugene, Oregon, for the biennial SEA conference.”
There is the way academia should be, and there is the way that it really is. Of the many people I have encountered in my career, few have worked harder than Dennis Moore to make our field more the way it should be.
I have worked closely with Dennis within the Society of Early Americanists—I succeeded him as one of the Society’s presidents, and I often came to him for advice. More recently, I worked with Dennis in establishing a Junior Scholars caucus and asking him to serve as the caucus’ first mentor. This was an obvious choice, for Dennis has always shone as a mentor within our field.
His approach to mentoring is understated and self-erasing: he excels at welcoming newcomers into discussions, introducing graduate students to senior scholars working in similar areas, and featuring the work of junior scholars in his famous colloquia or “living book review” panels.
In all of his interactions he has been devoted to fostering an awareness of scholarship as a communal endeavor. He is simply the most humane, and most human, scholar I know.