James Phelan

Faculty Mentor
Distinguished University Professor, College of Arts and Sciences
Department of English, Columbus Campus

Bio: Dr. James Phelan teaches and writes about the English and American novel, especially from modernism to the present, as well as nonfiction narrative and narrative theory. He is the first person in the English Department to be awarded both the Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award and the Distinguished Scholar Award.

Phelan received the 2021 Wayne C. Booth Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for the Study of Narrative.  The citation for the Award reads in part “James Phelan has influenced generations of narrative theorists and literary scholars, as he has provided a powerful model for thinking about the purposes of literature and reasons and methods to engage with it.  In so doing, he has transformed and energized the interdisciplinary field of narrative studies. Phelan has devoted his scholarship to developing a comprehensive understanding of narrative as rhetoric, and his rhetorical poetics has become one of the most influential ways of thinking about narrative as a way of knowing and a way of doing.”.  Among Phelan’s most important works are Reading People, Reading Plots (1989), Narrative as Rhetoric (1996), Living to Tell about It (2005), Experiencing Fiction (2007), Somebody Telling Somebody Else (2017) and the recent collaboration with Matthew Clark, Debating Rhetorical Narratology (2020). In other recent work, he has been contributing to the emerging field of narrative medicine.

Teaching philosophy: Care about the success of every student. Construct courses so that they emphasize both "knowing-that" and "knowing-how" (content and skills).

On being a mentor: Commitment to the University's teaching mission; interest in helping and learning from new faculty. I've found it rewarding to foster an environment in which we can all learn from each other.

Rewarding moment: I almost always find it rewarding to have a class discussion go to places I haven't anticipated.

Best teaching advice received or given: At the heart, there are three main variables in any teaching situation: the teacher, the student, and the subject matter. Effective teachers find ways to make the interactions among all three greater than the sum of their parts. One good way is to convey your enthusiasm for being in the classroom with this group of students teaching these particular subjects.

Advice for new faculty: Lean in.