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Scott McWaters acts as 'utility player' in English department

Mackenzie Ross

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Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Scott McWaters said he never thought he would live in the South. But his passion for basketball changed everything.

McWaters, now an instructor in the English department at the University, said he originally wanted to be a basketball coach, so he pursued a basketball scholarship at LaGrange College in Georgia his freshman year of college. Before long, he said he developed an interest in literature thanks to authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and transferred to The University of Alabama to study English. After graduating, he earned a master’s degree in creative writing from The University of Memphis. He has taught a variety of classes at The University of Alabama since 2002.

“I see it as a positive to teach a variety of things, and that’s probably what I’ve done the most of over the past decade,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to teach world literature, American literature, British literature, specialty stuff like Cormac McCarthy or William Blake. That’s been really fun – it keeps the job exciting.”

Although McWaters no longer plays basketball, he said he’s still an avid sports fan and compared his role within the English department to that of a utility player on a baseball team. While not the most important person on the team, he said his ability to play many different positions or teach different subjects helps him contribute to the success of the English department.

In his classes, McWaters said he encourages students to view subjects from different points of view and heavily promotes class discussion as an avenue for learning.

Kelsey Brown, a junior majoring in English, had McWaters for two classes and said she wishes everyone could have him in a class at least once.

“He always relates it to the students’ perspective, and he has wonderful examples,” she said. “It’s very, very interactive. We’re not just sitting there waiting for him to ask you a question. He’s constantly pushing you to think more about the concept.”

McWaters said he encourages people to read the Bible from beginning to end and approach the reading with a fresh attitude. He said it is rich and poetic, even though it is an old manuscript. He said students should read William Faulkner, especially since his writings relate to life in the South.

Abraham Smith, an instructor of English at the University, has worked with McWaters for the past 13 years and said he admires his teaching style and literature recommendations.

“He’s an alchemist and a preacher,” Smith said. “His grandfather was a preacher, and Scott’s cadence and myriad inflections sound more like a jazz show than a tweedy scholar pontificating at the podium. That is, students who take McWaters are in for a sonic buffet.”

Outside of his classes, McWaters wrote three of his own manuscripts and said he hopes to complete one more. His characters are mostly concerned with spiritual or religious imaginations and the relationship between words and spiritual life. He has not published any of his books yet and said he struggles to balance creativity and the critical side of writing. For now, he said he plans to focus on teaching.

“If someone really loves to teach, there’s just nothing else, even within the academic institution in administration,” he said. “None of that would fulfill what you get out of teaching. So while I sometimes find Tuscaloosa boring and don’t know why I’m here, I thoroughly enjoy my classes and students, and that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”

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Scott McWaters acts as 'utility player' in English department