Catching up with Richard Kopley

Molly Levine, Research Unplugged intern
March 23, 2009

How did you first become interested in your specialty?

I became interested in Poe in around 1977, when I was a graduate student at SUNY Buffalo reading The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym with Leslie Fiedler. I was amazed by the mysterious vision at the end of the novel and convinced that there was a solution to be found. It took me nine years to work it out.

What is the most exciting or fascinating part of your job?

I enjoy all aspects of my job, from teaching American literature and composition to contributing service to the Penn State Campus to continuing my research on Poe and Hawthorne and other American Renaissance writers.

What is your favorite aspect of working at Penn State DuBois?

What I particularly enjoy about working at Penn State DuBois is sharing my love of literature with my students.

Where do you see your field 10 years from now?

Ten years from now, archival research and close reading will continue to thrive, bringing us new discoveries about American authors and their works. Doubtless new theoretical methodologies will emerge and cross-disciplinary study will increase, and we will continue to enjoy a lively blend of approaches.

When you're not working, how do you spend your free time?

I enjoy collecting books concerning nineteenth-century American literature and just having a nice meal with friends.

Essay by Richard Kopley: The Village of Stories

Many years ago, on a bus in New York City, a little old lady in a babushka stared at me. I looked away, and then back, and she was still staring. I rose to get off, and she stared as I approached. And she said, matter-of-factly, catching my eye as I passed, "In my little village, everybody looked like you." I stepped off the bus, mystified, wondering where that village was and whether I would ever find it.

Well, I never found that village, but I've always known another one—a village of stories. Dr. Seuss and Robert McCloskey lived nearby, and Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe only a few blocks away. I eventually explored more distant streets and found Fyodor Dostoevsky and Franz Kakfa and then returned to my own neighborhood and stopped by Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville. None of them looked like me, it's true, but they all thought in terms of stories. At first my connection was through their characters and plots and themes, but over time I became interested in language and allusion and form. Yet whatever my connection, it was the same village. And whatever I was doing, that village was there for me to visit.

I grew up in Watertown, Massachusetts; Bayside, Queens; and New Rochelle, New York. And I went to New Rochelle High School; Brandeis University; Teachers College, Columbia University; and SUNY Buffalo. I taught English at Walden School in New York City; Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois; and finally Penn State DuBois, where I've been for twenty-six years. And wherever I've lived and worked, I've lived also in that village of stories.

My wife Amy lives in a village of pictures—her mother was an artist; she is an art historian at Lycoming College. We visit on occasion—I look at her pictures; she reads my books. But mostly we meet in the middle and tell each other about our villages. My trip to DuBois and hers to Williamsport are not our only commutes. We have two fabulous children who are finding their own villages. Emily, 24, a graduate student in English at Stanford, seems to have taken a cottage down the street from mine. And Gabe, 22, and undergraduate at Pitt, stayed in my village for awhile (he has a BA in English), then moved, preparing to set up shop in my father's old town and Amy's father's as well—a place of digital derring-do.

I visit with my mother in her apartment in New York City and we talk about our lives. She's been a traveler, having been an accountant, a teacher, a guidance counselor, a business magazine editor, a computer exhibit organizer, and a financial advisor. Now, in retirement, she is visiting my village more frequently. She's reading, writing, taking courses at Hunter College. I sent her one of my course syllabi recently, and she—who first read to me, "Tom! No answer. 'Tom!' No answer. 'What's wrong with that boy, I wonder? You TOM!'" –now reads what I teach—and what I write.

Richard Kopley sits next to Edgar Allan Poe doll

In the office with Poe


man leans against wall with sign “Rue Edgar Poe”

Last Updated March 23, 2009