Senior lecturer John Hollowell’s literary journalism travel-writing class is always full of life. As a well-experienced professor who has been teaching at UC Irvine since 1982, he brings something new to every course, all delivered with a good sense of humor. In addition, the grandfather-like educator, who is going to retire after this quarter, is very good at making students speak up.
In addition to his longtime teaching experience, Hollowell’s life has been very interesting. He’s been everywhere; he grew up in a town north of Los Angeles and went to Columbia University as an undergraduate, then lived in Africa. while working as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years. Then came a move to Maryland, Michigan, Arizona and finally here.
Hollowell’s first book, ‘Fact and Fiction: the New Journalism and the Nonfiction Novel,’ is a study of the work of Truman Capote, Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe.
The New University sat down with Hollowell to hear about his experiences as a professor and to get some advice on how to become a better writer.
New University: Why did you choose to be a professor?
Hollowell: From the late 1960s to the late 1970s, I was working as a high school teacher in Baltimore but I wanted to do something beyond that. That’s why I became a university professor.
New U.: What do you do at UCI now?
Hollowell: Besides teaching and writing, much of my time here has been devoted to curriculum development and supervision of the lower-division composition program, Writing 39A, B and C.
This is the required course for non-humanities majors and, therefore, it’s very large, with over 340 sections, each consisting of about 23 students. It’s my job to train, organize and supervise the curriculum.
I like what comes along with both administrative work and writing.
New U.: What are you going to do after you retire?
Hollowell: I’m moving to Arizona to work on two projects. One is a book-length study of [Truman] Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood,’ and the other is a long-range project examining the relationship between death, memory and writing with reference to novels by [Joseph] Conrad, [F. Scott] Fitzgerald, [William] Faulkner, [Robert Penn] Warren and Joan Didion. I already have drafts of these so I will rewrite them. I’m looking to being able to spend more time on writing.
Also, I want to travel. I think that I’ll travel to at least Europe, Italy and France.
New U.: What are the best parts of being a professor?
Hollowell: I like the considerable freedom we have to choose the courses we teach.
For example, when this year started, the dean of the literary journalism department came to me and asked if I could propose two courses for lit. journalism. So I proposed sports writing and travel writing, and then chose the books to use.
Also, I like [the fact] that you are free to research the area you are interested in and your daily schedule is, by and large, up to you. You don’t have to come in at a certain time and punch a time card.
New U.: Are there any downsides about being a professor?
Hollowell: I can’t think of anything bad, but if I have to say something: the fact that we are subjected to uncertainty of the state economy.
If you are in a state university and the state economy goes bad, it affects the school budget. Therefore, the school budget varies from year to year. In 1992, it got pretty bad and people got fired or laid off. This financial uncertainty is hard.
New U.: Do you think that you are going to miss UCI?
Hollowell: Oh, well, I’m sure I will. I now say that I won’t, but I know that I will. I’ll miss something about the daily routine and the unpredictability.
Every day brings a different class. It might be the day that every student did the reading and speaks up, or the kind of a day that nobody read and everything has to come from you. I love this unpredictability. It’s challenging and fun.
New U.: There are lots of students who don’t like writing and want to improve their skills. Can you give students tips on how to be a better writer?
Hollowell: The best advice I can give you is to try to go over the paper one more time than you normally would. When you think that you are done with the writing, you are not really done.
Rewriting is very important. Try to finish it earlier so that you have time to reread and edit it. I know that it’s hard, but it’s my best advice.
Another thing students should do is to read lots of different kinds of books