By Raquel Leifer, Features Editor
Each month, the YU Observer aims to highlight a YU faculty member. For the September 2022 edition, the YU Observer is highlighting Dr. Nora Nachumi, PhD.
I am lucky to have been in two of Dr. Nachumi’s courses during my time at Stern. During the spring semester of my sophomore year I took “Comedy and Satire” which analyzed comedy and satire as distinct genres in diverse formats. I am currently taking “Novels and Screens” where we have been comparing pieces of literature to their film counterparts. Dr. Nachumi is incredibly personable and is the kind of professor that genuinely cares for her students. If you have the opportunity to take her, you definitely should!
RL: Please introduce yourself.
NN: Hi! I am an Associate Professor in the Department of English at Stern College for Women. I received my PhD in Literature and a certificate in Women’s Studies from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. I specialize in a number of different areas of the long eighteenth century, including celebrity culture, the novel, the theater, and women writers, including Jane Austen. I also work on film adaptation and popular culture.
RL: How long have you worked at YU?
NN: I’ve been at Stern for about 21 years.
RL: What do you like most about working at YU?
NN: Number one for me would be the students, most of whom are curious, driven, and fun. When you get an engaged or really curious student, it’s the best. I like my colleagues, in and out of my department, as well.
RL: What made you passionate about your field?
NN: When I began college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. One day my favorite English professor told a story about his father who gave him this advice: “in any job you do, there is a lot of little picky work, so choose a field where you already do the little picky work.” I thought about this advice, and I realized that the one thread running throughout my entire life was reading. I’d always been an avid reader, and so I decided to major in Literature. Initially I thought I would focus on twentieth-century American literature, but I became fascinated by eighteenth-century British literature and culture. In addition to plagues, pirates, and revolutions, it was also the period that saw the emergence of the novel. It also was when women began to write professionally (which was quite scandalous at the time). What we now think of as the “celebrity bio” emerged then as well. Some of the issues that were relevant to eighteenth-century women writers are still very important to women today. I suppose this is why I also love teaching Introduction to Women’s Studies, the foundational course in the women’s studies minor at Stern.
RL: Is there anything interesting you are currently working on?
NN: Two books that I just edited have come out. The first is called Making Stars, Biography and Celebrity in Eighteenth-Century Britain. The essays in here are game changing in terms of the way we understand the relationship between biography and celebrity during the period. The second book, Jane Austen, Sex and Romance, Engaging with Desire in the Novels and Beyond is the product of a long collaboration that began in graduate school with my friend Stephanie Oppenheim, when we realized that academics and non- academics didn’t relate to Austen in the same way. The stereotype was that non-academics thought of Austen as a romance novelist and academics thought of her as a satirist. But the more we looked at things, the more we saw that this was a huge and inaccurate misrepresentation. Our collection is the first to include pieces by both academic and non- academics, about desire in all things Austen. A chapter I wrote on the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice is in it. Meanwhile, another essay–which Stephanie and I co-authored–on comedy and satire in Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Austen’s Lady Susan, has just been published in a collection called Austen After 200. My next project is a biography of an eighteenth-century actress named Eliza Farren.
RL: Do you have any advice for students interested in a career in your field?
NN: We live in a world that values business, science, and technology far more than the humanities. If you choose a career in the humanities, know that what you are doing is extremely important.
RL: What makes your field special?
NN: Literature invites readers to enter imaginatively and empathetically into the lives of others. Reading allows us to have an out of body empathic experience that we can’t get anywhere else.
RL: If you could bring in any guest lecturer, alive or deceased, who would it be, and what would she speak about?
NN: Definitely Virginia Woolf. She was an early twentieth century modernist writer. She wrote A Room of One’s Own, which is based on a series of lectures she gave at a women’s university. Woolf tells the women to imagine Shakespeare’s sister, who was just as much of a genius as he, but could not write plays or act because of the limited options available to women. In Woolf’s tale, Shakespeare’s sister commits suicide in despair. Woolf tells her audience that–if they continue to work for a world in which women can write–Shakespeare’s sister will be reborn, probably in about 100 years. That’s about now and it would be amazing to see what she would think of the opportunities available to women writers today. The other person I would bring is Alice Walker, whose essay, “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,” responds to A Room of One’s Own. Walker, an African American, asks how Black women kept their creative spirits alive through generations facing far more difficult challenges than the women Woolf considers.
RL: What is one thing you want students to know about you?
NN: I want my students to know that if they ever need advice, I am here for them and happy to help.
RL: Is there a particular book you would recommend that everyone read?
NN: Oh gosh – if you ask me tomorrow, I might say something different but I’d recommend reading at least one of Austen’s mature novels carefully. All of her novels make people better readers. In fact, in 2012, researchers at Stanford University discovered that, like listening to Mozart, reading Jane Austen makes people smarter.