I was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1955. I attended local public schools there and, after my family moved in 1965, in suburban Boston and suburban Pittsburgh. I received a BA in English from Wesleyan University (1976), a second BA from Oxford (Hertford College, 1978), and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1981). Teaching appointments have taken me from the East Coast to California. Scholarly travel and visiting appointments have taken me to Europe and England.
I teach, lecture on, and write about language and literature. Whatever the specifics of my topic, course, or publication, I have always been interested in the place of literacy in society: in the ways that learning how to read and write fosters both an intimate private life and an effective public one. Whether I am working on Children’s Literature, Old English, Shakespeare, the History of the English Language, cultural criticism, or a personal essay, I ask questions such as the following: how are we taught to see the world as a book and the book as a world; what is the place of verbal beauty in the exercise of power; how does the material quality of imaginative literature (whether in the manuscript, the printed book, or the digital screen) affect our appreciation of a story and our own cognitive development?