Faculty Spotlight: Leah Hager Cohen
Published: Friday, October 4, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 6, 2013 21:10
How would you describe Professor Leah Cohen? Some may describe her as a well-known author with multiple literary recognitions, while others may simply describe her as an English professor at the College of the Holy Cross. However, very few people would mention her “finger storytelling” past or that, at one time, she was a stilt dancer.
Professor Cohen is the W.H. Jenks Chair in Contemporary American Letters at the College of the Holy Cross, which is a five-year fellowship that requires her to teach three courses a year as well as one faculty seminar a year. She is also involved in recruiting speakers to campus and hosts a reading each year.
In addition, Professor Cohen recently published a book, I Don’t Know: In Praise of Admitting Ignorance (Except When You Shouldn’t), that was recognized by Oprah’s Book Club as “Book of the Week”. The book encourages people to own up to their own ignorance, and it addresses the issue of how people pretend to understand a certain topic when they actually lack knowledge of it.
Professor Cohen says, “The topic is applicable for everyone, including myself at times, and I learned there were so many more facets to the concept than I had initially thought.”
Though she has always loved to write, Professor Cohen originally thought, “I would get a job to earn money and then write for myself on the side. I had no ambitions for being published because it is so rare, which is why all of my success is such a lovely surprise.”
One of her current classes is Acting and Writing, a class she co-teaches with Theatre professor, Lynn Kremer. The class is a combination of Theatre and English students, a unique group that
“encourages a new possibility of learning to write in new ways.”
Cohen says, “I am ready to transmit my knowledge to genuine and earnest students who are open to exploring their own processes as writers. I want to pass on the gifts my teachers gave to me to my own students.”
Writing and teaching have always been a part of Professor Cohen’s life. As a young girl, she used to name her fingers after the characters in her stories and used them to dictate her tales to her mother.
She says, “When I was little, my mother recognized my interest in storytelling and wrote down each of my stories until I was able to write myself. She supported and encouraged my passion for writing.”
However, her mother also encouraged other interests, one of which was stilt dancing.
Professor Cohen admits, “My mother took me out of school for a month to learn how to become a stilt dancer. I enrolled at this avant-garde theatre, Bread and Puppet Theatre, and learned everything, and when I was seventeen, I spent a summer in Nicaragua as a stilt dancer.”
While her days of walking on stilts are over, her success as a writer and professor is not, so do not hesitate to read her book or take one of her classes.