English PhD Student Honored with National Higher Ed Award
by Colleen Kropp
Darla Ida Himeles, doctoral student in the English Department, is a 2018 recipient of the K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award. The award recognizes students who have shown a remarkable commitment to the improvement and development of higher education. The award, honoring the work of K. Patricia Cross, Professor Emerita of Higher Education at the University of California-Berkeley, reflects the passionate and sincere commitment to teaching and learning in the work of the recipients.
Himeles studies twentieth- and twenty-first century American poetry and multiethnic American literature. She has written and published a poetry chapbook, Flesh Enough (2017) that explores the nature of loss and extinction, both human and animal. Much of her work is driven by an interest to analyze the relationship between art and activism, and her dissertation specifically focuses on how Jewish activist and interpretive traditions have come to mold the lyric tradition within American activist poetry, most especially in relation to animal rights.
She explains why animal rights has continued to interest her throughout her studies, specifically how animals are represented in literature and working her way though analyzing and assessing the ethics of those representations. Himeles states:
I am interested in [animal studies] partly because I am really anxious about our environmental crisis and animal extinction rates. I’ve always felt that art, and in particular, literature, is a way for us to invite change – I believe in the power of change in literature. The way that we give language to our world’s problems and crises can have power because it creates opportunities for connection between readers, critics and students and issues they might not have fully analyzed or considered.
Himeles’ current work focuses on the poetry of three Jewish-American poets: Gerald Stern, Maxine Kumin, and Adrienne Rich. She explains how each poet writes about animals in different ways but each works to “create moments of emotional connection – trying to connect human experience to animal experience.” She fondly recounts her time taking a course (the only one) outside of the English Department --- an Introduction to Judaism in the Religious Studies Department with Laura Levitt. That course in tandem with her own reading helped her think through and notice what she saw as distinct patterns in the work of Jewish-American poets --- “this activist bent” --- that she found inspiring.
Part of what I’m looking at is different teachings about animals in the Bible and in Torah and how they shaped not just Jewish thought about animals but more broadly Judeo-Christian, Western world thought about animals. I’m looking at how those particular teachings, which are sometimes contradictory, seem to inform the works of these poets.
Himeles is teaching a poetry workshop this semester at Temple where she exposes her students to contemporary poets from a multitude of backgrounds, trying to maintain both a gender balance as well as racial, class, and geographical diversity. They do an extensive amount of reading in the first half of the semester and write weekly drafts that engage with that week’s poems in some way. The second half of the semester is dedicated to revision, where they are tasked to push their work into new, experimental directions.
This all ties back to her teaching philosophy of “unfinishedness” which she draws from Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of Freedom. Here, Freire claims that it is due to our awareness of our own “unfinishedness” that we are capable of realizing our humanity in addition to our ability to be hopeful and continually educated. The simultaneous actions of teaching and learning are never complete, just as much as the teachers and learners themselves are continually in process. Himeles explains that embracing our work as “in process is the only way to get to the real heart of what you’re trying to say. I think that’s true of most writing. You jot something down and call it done, you foreclose your ability to get anywhere interesting.”
It sounds like such a simple and obvious thing, but in our current cultural climate, this is not necessarily something we automatically accept. As Himeles relates, this notion of unfinishedness, while not something she outwardly labels in her classroom, is always informing the way she approaches teaching. It is the effort to make her students feel comfortable enough to drop their guards to a degree in order to allow and encourage “something meaningful to happen in the classroom,” accepting the knowledge that “nothing is done, we are not done, we are not fixed in stone.” She humbly describes the sincere honesty of this teaching philosophy:
It [unfinishedness] connects to the importance of vulnerability in the classroom, which I think real learning, real change, real revision, takes place when you’re able to admit – which is a vulnerable act – that you’re not 100% sure of what you just said and what you just wrote is not completely done, that there are other possibilities here on the table. And it’s a really ineffable thing to teach, so I just try to come at it from a lot of ways – one of which is modeling it, as much as I possibly can. Yes, I have a lot of education at this point in poetry, writing, literature, but I don’t know everything and I misspeak and I try as much as possible to embrace the transparency of that.
More than just a nurturing force in the classroom, Himeles is also the graduate assistant in the First-Year Writing Program at Temple, where she coordinates teaching circles for instructors, helps organize staff development meetings, processes student feedback, in addition to many other behind-the-scenes tasks. She had the opportunity to serve on the CLA Strategic Planning Committee last year as the only graduate student, and while she knows her heart and mind belong in the classroom, she has a great interest in the curriculum-based, administrative side of academia, appreciating and valuing what it means to make change within a department or school.
Dr. Eli Goldblatt, who has worked closely with Himeles in the department, has described her as someone so crucial to graduate student support, as she “radiates a sense of commitment to justice and fairness --- she doesn’t do what she does for the honor.” Her presence outside of the classroom deserves just as much recognition as that within it --- she is thoughtful and maintains clear perspective, but as Dr. Goldblatt has observed, “she doesn’t hold back,” and is “the kind of person people like to go to with concerns that they have.” That Temple has provided her with these opportunities is something Himeles recognizes as having helped shaped her vision of what she does and what she wishes to accomplish as an instructor, a learner, a writer, and a thinker.