Tributes to Roger

Roger rarely got angry with me, but one time in his office he barked, “Amy, the Ph.D. program is not a cakewalk!” I have no idea what prompted this, but since Roger was normally gentle as a lamb, it got my attention.

Mostly I remember his thoughtful longhand comments and his seemingly endless patience in teaching me to “cut, cut, cut—focus, focus, focus!” I quote him to my students all the time. He’s a dear, sweet man who opened his heart and his home to me and my husband countless times. One time when the demands of being a mother and finishing my dissertation were so overwhelming that I planned to give up finishing the Ph.D. altogether, he took me out to lunch and told me that it would be an awful shame if I quit. He convinced me that my project was meaningful and that I should stick with it so I could share my talents with future students.

Amy Kesegich (’01)

All of my “major events” as a graduate student have Roger solidly in the picture: from my admittance when he was graduate director . . . to sitting at my doctoral oral examinations. He was truly a guidepost for me, and I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor. And so many parties! So much fun!

One of my first classes in graduate school was a Joyce seminar with Roger. Being new grad students, we had no idea what to expect, but I know we didn’t expect being treated so much like fellow scholars, not as mere students. When we told him a few of us were going out for Guinness (it was a Joyce class, after all) he came merrily along—“By all means!” he said—drinking a few pints, eating mussels, and picking up a large portion of the tab (we were new grad students, after all). I enjoyed Roger’s camaraderie in and out of the classroom; he was instrumental in forming me as a whole person and taught me much about how to balance the rigors of graduate school and growing up responsibly with having a whole lot of fun. When I’m back in Cleveland for visits, he and Betty top the list of people to look up.

Carla Kungl (’00)

After ten years of wandering through life after college, I realized that my calling was to become a professor. Even with my clarity of vision, I lacked confidence. It took months to take the first step of contacting the English Department at CWRU, but within weeks of my first meeting with graduate director Roger Salomon, I was in the program, enjoying classes and a graduate teaching assistantship. Roger deserves all of the credit for pulling me in and setting me in the right direction. At that first meeting, both of us sitting side by side at his desk in his crowded office, his guest chair pulled up to the side of his desk so that we could together study the same documents, he examined my undergraduate transcripts carefully. After a long moment of silence, he asked “When can you start?” I was speechless. Because my daughter was only two, I mumbled “Fall,” some ten months in the future. Roger was quick to ask “Why the wait?” and suggested I start in January. As he has done for so many others, Roger inspired my confidence with his quiet ways, his sparkling eyes, his quick perception, and his sincere advice. He pulled me into the vortex (Moby Dick reference intentional) of Guilford House—engaging interchanges, thoughtful mentoring, and, above all else, an eloquence of ideas.

Donna Gessell (’95)

Because Roger took me seriously as a scholar before I deserved it, he permitted me to grow. As a neophyte, I had no way of knowing that my thoughts about Stephen Dedalus or Giles and Isa Oliver were cliché. But Roger entertained my ideas with interest and respect, carefully questioning me to help draw them out “more sharply,” as he often said. I am humbled beyond measure each time I consider how this intellectual colossus, whose curriculum vitae includes Harvard, Berkeley, CWRU Director of Graduate Studies in English and Oviatt Professor Emeritus, had the compassion to let me walk before I could run. Yet by the time I reached my Ph.D. orals he was my most exacting examiner, demanding, for instance, that I discuss modernism in terms that satisfied new critics as well as post-structuralists and feminist theorists.

He also counseled me during difficult times. When the unfortunate timing of a personal health crisis and the loss of a parent coincided with my first article acceptance, I called Roger, who reassured me I should relinquish the article in order to attend to private matters because more acceptances would come. As both a professional and a person, Roger exemplifies for me the very best that the professoriate has to offer. Beyond embodying the life of the mind, he is living testament to the idea that the very purpose of the humanities is to humanize.

Forever indebted,
Bonnie Shaker (’98)

I first met Roger when he interviewed me for the graduate program in English at CWRU. He was at that time the graduate student advisor. I remember that he was very honest about the job prospects for aspiring English professors, though he also said that opportunities would be opening as the faculty population was aging and preparing for retirement. Certainly, he had no idea how the economy would evolve, but his honesty made an impression. And, throughout my graduate career, I always felt that I could count on him to be honest with me, even if the information was something that I may not really want to hear.

Like all graduate students, I met with Roger at least once a term, during registration. I, however, found myself in his office more often because I struggled my first term in transitioning from undergraduate writing to graduate school writing. Those were the days when undergraduates didn’t read theory. I had read only literature in undergraduate school and had fallen in love with literature. I was not quite prepared to dissect it with theoretical ideas. Roger picked up the burden of helping me. I registered for an independent study in Forster and Bloomsbury with him for the following semester. We focused on how to write a graduate paper in that seminar, but I also read such wonderful books that to this day, E.M. Forster ranks among my favorite novelists. In recently reading Howards End for the one thousandth time, I recalled the torturous paper that I wrote about houses in that seminar with Roger. We dissected, analyzed, reviewed, and discussed that idea. The paper was ponderous and, I think, just awful. But, here is the biggest point: I did learn to write a graduate paper, though I may have failed to cultivate a voice or a style.

In reading Roger Salomon’s writing, I hear the beauty and ease of his prose: ripe with knowledge but so unburdened by self-consciousness. That is a gift that he tried to give me. I know that my efforts were disappointing, but he saw my work as progress and he worked as assiduously as I did. I know that at that time in my life, I often missed his point, but I have come back to those lessons over the years in my writing life.

Roger also taught me lessons about the profession. At my first conference, I was quite excited to offer a response to a paper about Hardy’s novel, Far From the Madding Crowd. In my response, I praised Bathsheba as a strong, sensuous woman, and disagreed with the scholar’s approach to her. After the session was over, a woman came up to me and told me that I was ungracious to the paper presenter, my ideas were wrong-headed, and my opinions were not worth offering. I was crushed. I thought we were having a discussion. I had not realized that I wasn’t supposed to answer the main point of the paper. When I returned from the conference, I went to Roger to share my experience and to ask him what I had done wrong. He chuckled and said, “You see, Kirsten, this is why I don’t like going to conferences. People expect you to be a toady and to make nice to everyone whether or not you agree. Don’t worry about it.”

. . . . I also remember taking the Bloomsbury seminar with Roger. We all went to his house when he and Betty made boeuf en daube. How incredible that we experienced that dinner—vegetarian or not, the whole experience of reading the literature, having the meal, and discussing literature over such an elegant meal with wine was a gift that I will treasure my whole life. I have tried to give those types of gifts back to my students. He acted as a model for the teaching profession and scholarly life.

I also remember all of the wonderful holiday parties that Roger and Betty hosted for the English Department. I remember once helping Betty in the kitchen, putting on an apron and carrying food out to the table. I noticed a huge box of chocolates and asked Betty if I could have a piece, and then I realized there was no way of identifying the types of chocolates. Betty handed me a large knife and said, “Slice into it and see what it is before you bite it.” How wonderful that sounded!! . . . . I remember those holiday parties every year with great nostalgia. And, I want to say thanks again for being so generous hearted in sharing your home.

One last memory comes to me about conferring with Roger when I received my first full time job offer. It wasn’t exactly the plum of an offer, but only because it was on the other side of the world: University of Guam. I was all for going, but my parents were trying to raise a solid argument against it. I reviewed the whole situation with Roger, including the parental battle. He looked at me, smiled, and said, “Well, Kirsten, if they are that against it, don’t you think that is even more a reason to go?” He chuckled again, and a light sort of clicked on for me. I went, and I do not for one minute regret it. Indeed, that job gave me the experiences of a lifetime and set me up on a life path. Thank you again, Roger, for helping me to do what I wanted to do. No coaxing, no prodding, but just a question and a smile that allowed me to find the right answer.

Kirsten Komara (’96)

Roger: What a lovely man. Of course, my favorite memories come from the Victorian course with Virginia Woolf. To the Lighthouse was taught with great sensitivity. He was so encouraging. I remember going to his office with a kernel of an idea and talking it out into a thesis and then a paper. . . . I always felt challenged and supported in equal measure, and at a time when I was unconsciously, and sometimes very consciously, working out tensions in my own psyche. I chose to write about the artist as saint, I remember, in a paper about Mrs. Ramsey, and I was self-conscious about revealing my own religious tradition in the Case environment, but that was what stood out to me and helped me explore my own struggle at the time. Roger was very respectful and helped me learn how to position my ideas in a scholarly way; helped me put them on the public stage in a way that I could claim them. I was grappling with the image of “Mother” a great deal then! Roger was wonderful. And so was Betty. They had the class to dinner and it was a feast! An evening I still remember with pleasure.

Elizabeth Welch (formerly Robenalt) (’90)

When I decided to return to graduate school in my mid-forties for a Ph.D., Roger Salomon was the first person in the English Department whom I met.  I was quite concerned about my ability to keep up with the younger students,  but in his kind and gentle manner, Roger assured me that I would be fine.  Those two words – “kind” and “gentle” – describe Roger as a scholar, advisor, teacher, and person.  His classes were stimulating and challenging, particularly his course on Virginia Woolf.  He gave so much to all of us, and expected much in return.

I remember him inviting the class to his house for dinner after we had read To the Lighthouse.  Betty prepared boeuf en daube, which was fabulous, and it was one of those evenings where you just knew that there could be no better format for the sharing of knowledge than what we students were experiencing right then.  Thank you, Roger.

Celeste Wiggins (’96)