Donald Weber

Citation for 2006 Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship

Donald Weber, Professor of English, joined the Mount Holyoke College faculty in 1981 with a M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. from Columbia University. A graduate of Camp Kinderland, he received his B.A. from SUNY at Stony Brook.

Don, great kibitzer (though never a kvetch), mean guitar picker, connoisseur of fine pickles and other great foods (ethnic and otherwise), teller of tall tales and proud curator of a seemingly endless repository of jokes, is also a phenomenal teacher, a dedicated and much admired colleague, and a highly regarded scholar. At Mount Holyoke he has taught an ever-changing roster of classes on modern American Literature, multicultural families, ethnic expression, film (including “Henry James into Film” and the work of Woody Allen) and the political imagination in American and South African literature, to name a few.

Students convert to English or American Studies after taking his classes so they can linger on and listen and learn to discuss the subtleties of the culture that is their own. Of Don, they have this to say: “phenomenal teacher whose playfulness tempers the seriousness of the material; brilliant mind; imaginative teacher; loves this stuff and his enthusiasm is contagious; handwriting is dreadful; one of the best professors that I have worked with at any of the Five Colleges.”

As chair, Don has helped steer the English department, the largest on our campus, for the past eight years. He is tirelessly devoted to the junior faculty and it is to him they have turned as they try to balance teaching, scholarship and community service against the secret desire to “live a life” even before tenure.

And as a scholar and essayist, with more than a dozen chapters in edited volumes and articles in top academic journals such as American Literary History, American Quarterly, and Jewish Social Studies, Don is recognized as one of the leading specialists on Jewish-American popular culture. His writing, analytically astute yet eminently readable, draws the reader into a narrative fold that is, like its author, reassuring. Thankfully, for he takes us to a time and place that is anything but that.

In his just published book, aptly titled Haunted in the New World, Don skillfully retraces the immigrant world of East European Jews caught between the desire for America’s promises and the Shtetl identities they left behind. Drawn into the centrifugal forces of Americanization, they held on to the cultural habits that made it possible to recognize themselves in the process. From the greenhorns David Levinsky and Christopher Newman, through The Goldbergs to the truly masterful and haunting analyses of Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep and Saul Bellow’s Herzog and Seize the Day, we follow the rise of the Jewish-American imagination as it finds its rightful place in mainstream American culture and re-enters neighborhood homes through radio, film and television and the great American novel.

It would not be Don if, in the end, we were not invited to visit with his extended family at his childhood home in the Bronx. In this beautiful, funny, loving and moving final chapter about the angst of memory driven by generations of nostalgia (some of it gastronomic) we meet our hero and his father Hyman Weber standing in the foyer of Apartment 2C, 165 Seaman Avenue, circa 1957. As if to suggest that, not unlike foyers where we rest as we transition, this Epilogue is but the Prologue to Don’s next move; there is more, much more, to come and we are honored to have Professor Don Weber share his gift with us.