New Faculty
Karen Newman Professor of Comparative Literature Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

Karen Newman
Professor of Comparative Literature

By Mark Nickel  |  September 1, 2010  |  Email to a friend

Any list of new Brown faculty that includes Karen Newman will require asterisks or footnotes.

Newman, a graduate of the University of California–Berkeley and a 28-year veteran of the Brown faculty, will rejoin the Department of Comparative Literature this fall after almost five years at New York University.

“I love Brown. It was my first job right out of graduate school. It’s where I developed as a scholar and later as an administrator,” she said. “I had spent all of my working career here, mostly with this set of colleagues.”

It was a very busy 28 years. Newman was at various times dean of the Graduate School, department chair at comparative literature, director of the Pembroke Center, member of the Faculty Executive Committee, member of the Humanities Center Board, and University liaison with the Folger Shakespeare Library. She chaired the Affirmative Action Monitoring Committee, served on dozens of academic and faculty committees, received Wayland Collegium grants and a Wriston fellowship, and helped conduct at least a half-dozen high-level searches, including the one that brought Ruth Simmons to Brown.

Nevermind why she decamped for NYU (something about the intellectual stimulus of change): What was it that has brought her back to Brown?

“People often ask me that. There were lots of things I missed, especially the scale of Brown. NYU is a great place, but it’s a huge institution of many schools, spread all over lower Manhattan and beyond. I missed the sense of how everything fits together, the feeling of knowing what’s going on.

“I also missed the students. The best of my students at NYU were equal to many of my Brown students, but it’s more than just quality. At Brown, students are very self-motivated. They want to make their own concentrations and shape their education. That actually does make a difference.”

And how is she finding Old Brown? She got her ID card in a transformed J. Walter Wilson Hall, was astonished at what has happened to Pembroke (Butch Rovan’s multimedia performance installation was up when she made her first visit), was not expecting the green space that was once “Dumpster Alley” — and the Cabinet Building!

“Yes, the physical campus has changed — part of Ruth’s vision for Brown,” she said. “The new configuration has a definite effect on what happens inside those new spaces. The wheels are turning. Things are happening here. There’s an exciting sense of development that is reflected in the physical campus but also in Brown’s intellectual life. That’s a wonderful thing.”

Newman will be team-teaching “Introduction to the Theory of Literature” this fall with Zachary Sng, a new colleague from the Department of German Studies.

“I was in the English department at NYU, and though that was interesting in many ways, I missed the comparative dimension,” she said. “I’m pleased to be back in a comparative literature department and to be teaching comparatively again. That was another important draw.”

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