Hudson Strode carries on word of Shakespeare

Jason Frost

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Hudson Strode taught at The University of Alabama for 47 years. In that time, his classes spawned students who would publish more than 55 novels and 101 short stories, according to records at Hoole Special Collections.

Strode himself published 16 works, including a three-volume biography of Jefferson Davis. Well-known alumni of his class include Borden Deal, Ann Waldron and Elise Sanguinetti. Now, his memory is being preserved through the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies.

“He was tough, difficult, but stood by his students, promoted their work and helped them succeed in publishing or in many of the other fields they entered, including science, medicine, law, public service, you name it,” Program Director Sharon O’Dair said. “He was beloved by those who took his courses.”

(See also “Shakespeare makes mark on University“)

Assistant Director Nicolas Helms, who hosts the program’s Improbable Fictions, a Shakespearean-staged reading series, assists in planning various discussions about literature relating to the curriculum as he pursues a doctorate in Shakespeare and cognitive theory.

“It’s a graduate program in English Renaissance literature composed of small, seminar-style classes that cover many literary and popular works from the 16th and 17th centuries, including those of Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton,” Helms said. “Class discussions are informal, vibrant and in-depth.”

O’Dair said the program typically has about 15 students working on either master’s or doctorates. According to the English department website, 100 percent of all graduates who enroll in the program land tenure-track jobs after graduation. As a discussion-based program, it sponsors a number of discussions and lectures in addition to the Improbable Fictions series.

On Feb. 10, Grace Tiffany, from Western Michigan University, came to speak with students in the program about her books, “Paint” and “The Turquoise Ring,” which retell Shakespearean plays from the perspective of women.

“The truth? I was having trouble getting people interested in another historical novel without prominent female characters,” Tiffany said. “But there’s an expectation that historical novels need women characters, so I started ‘Paint’. Once I did start, then I got interested in it in its own right.”

(See also “UA troupe ‘makes Shakespeare characters approachable,’ worth seeing“)

Three other speakers will be featured during the spring semester, all of them women who have reworked the plays of Shakespeare in their own writing. On March 3, novelist Jean Hegland will read from her book “Still Time” at the Paul R. Jones gallery, and in April, the program will present Mary Bly, also known as Eloisa James, and Valerie Minor in Morgan Hall.

“It’s the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birthday this year,” O’Dair said. “All over the world, there are lectures and series and symposia and celebration. I thought it would be different, maybe a little edgy, to see how women writers revision Shakespeare. There’s a line in ‘Macbeth’ in which he is told he’ll never be killed by a man born of woman. Macduff comes on stage and says ‘I am not of woman born’. He was untimely ripped by cesarean section, so I decided to play with that line and call this lecture series ‘Of Woman Born: Women Novelists Adapt Shakespeare.’”

On April 14, the Hudson Strode program will also host a viewing of the Italian film “Caesar Must Die” at the Bama Theatre, which is about the attempts to bring Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” to prisons. All Hudson Strode events are free and open to the public. Undergraduate students are encouraged to attend and engage in the creative aspects of the program, even if they cannot enroll.

“If you don’t like something in a play, you can always write your own,” Tiffany said. “It’s a very Renaissance thing to do.”

(See also “Improbable Fictions to perform ‘Hamlet’“)