Irwin Streight

Irwin Streight
Irwin Streight
Associate Professor
Massey 315 (SSC 31, 2018-2019)
(613) 541-6000 ext 6335
(613) 541-6405
Department of English

College Address

Royal Military College of Canada
PO Box 17000, Station Forces
Kingston, Ontario, CANADA
K7K 7B4

Personal and Professional Bio

I spent a classic Canadian boyhood on the prairies in the 1960s. Since then I have lived on both Canadian coasts and several spots in the middle, before settling in reportedly the happiest city in Canada. Kingston, Ontario has been home since arriving here in 1989 to pursue graduate studies in English at Queen's. We have raised our five kids here and put down solid roots through cracks in the limestone.

I am a proud Canadian, which adds to the paradox that my research and teaching interests are largely in American literature and popular culture: career-long work on the fictions of Flannery O'Connor, and, of late, singer-songwriters of the Americana genre. My scholarly journey began in the late 1970s when I attended the University of Victoria to study creative writing with some notable Canadian writers, and followed on to an MA in Modern British Literature, writing a thesis on the "supernatural thrillers" of novelist and poet and writer of potboilers, Charles Williams (friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien). Compelled by an interest in the short stories of Flannery O'Connor, which I discovered while working on my MA, I completed a PhD in American literature at Queen's in 1994 with a dissertation entitled The Word Made Fiction: The Stories of Flannery O'Connor, and had a busy career as an adjunct at both Queen's and RMC until I was granted a permanent position at the College in 2005.

I have developed two credit courses for the Division of Continuing Studies at RMC—ENE101: Introduction to Literary Studies: Fiction, and ENE150: University Writing Skills—as well as an online interactive handbook of writing tailored for members of the CF, A Military Writer's Handbook. For 13 years I was the DCS Professor-in-Charge (PiC) in the Department of English.

When I am not teaching or working on scholarly stuff, I occasionally sing and play guitar, and dulcimer at a farmers' market or coffee shop or long-term care facility. I enjoy canoe camping, angling when the fish and not the flies are biting, journaling in a clean, well-lighted place, and, several times a day, a cup of premium dark roast coffee, black, with a scant sprinkling of cinnamon.

Specialization(s) and Scholarly interests:

Flannery O'Connor, Bruce Springsteen, spirituality and literature, the song lyric as literature.

Co-editor of BOSS: The Biannual Online-Journal of Springsteen Studies. 

Current Research or Projects:

A monograph with the working title Flannery at the Grammys that explores O'Connor's extensive influence on a suite of contemporary singer-songwriters and pop music groups. The book will comprise discrete chapters on Bruce Springsteen, Lucinda Williams, Sufjan Stevens, Mary Gauthier, and Nick Cave & PJ Harvey, and include a further, expanding chapter/section that explores O'Connor's influence on more than twenty other recording artists and bands—from punk to heavy metal to synth-pop. A nearly-completed manuscript is currently under consideration by an American university press.

A chapter on O'Connor's influence on popular music is forthcoming (2018) in an MLA publication, Approaches to Teaching the Works of Flannery O'Connor, edited by Bruce Gentry and Robert Donahoo.

Selected Publications:

  • "Flannery O'Connor: Critical Reception." Critical Insights: Flannery O'Connor. Ed. Charles E. May. Salem Press, 2011.
  • Co-editor with Roxanne Harde (U of Alberta-Augustana), Reading the Boss: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Works of Bruce Springsteen, Lexington Press, August 2010. [This work has become a scholarly best seller, with sales surpassing 1000 copies.]
  • Co-editor with R. Neil Scott (Tennessee Middle State U), Flannery O'Connor: The Contemporary Reviews, Cambridge University Press, 2009. [Volume 16 in the American Critical Archives series.]
  • "The Ghost of Flannery O'Connor in the Songs of Bruce Springsteen." Flannery O'Connor Review 6 (2008).
  • "The Semiotics of Time and Place and Eternity in Two Stories by Flannery O'Connor." The Strategic Smorgasbord of Postmodernity: Literature and the Christian Critic. Ed. Deborah Bowen. Newcastle UK: Cambridge Scholar's Press, 2007.
  • A Military Writer's Handbook. CD-ROM. Edited by Dr. Christine Hamelin; html programming and design by Michael Lortie. Published by the Royal Military College of Canada, January 2006.
  • Editor, Flannery O'Connor: A Reference Guide to Criticism, compiled and written by R. Neil Scott and published by Timberlane Publishing, Milledgeville, Georgia, 2002. Winner of a Choice "Outstanding Academic Title" award.

Teaching Philosophy:

I have grounded my teaching philosophy in an idea expressed by Parker Palmer in To Know as We Are Known: A Spirituality of Education (Harper 1983) that "to teach is to create a space in which obedience to truth is practiced." In my classes and seminars I try to create a space in which students feel comfortable, known and accepted, part of a learning community. The critical reading and thinking skills that literary study develops enable students to explore claims of truth on their lives as they are articulated and/or incarnated in imaginative literature. Literature engages the whole person—mind, and spirit, and social being. However 19th-century the notion may be to some, I believe strongly in the idea of applied literature: we read to discover what and how we think of ourselves and others and the often mysterious world around us; and what and how we read affects who we are and what we do—our worth, our work, our sense of wonder. The word in the poem, story, novel, play has the power to move the heart and to change consciousness. And so I enter the teaching space humbly, sometimes anxiously, always expectantly.

Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened, and its deepest mystery probed? — Annie Dillard

Courses Taught:

  • ENE100/110: Introduction to Literary Studies and University Writing Skills
  • ENE361: American Literature I: The Puritans to the Transcendentalists
  • ENE362: American Literature II: The American Dream
  • ENE375: Literature and Spirituality

Humanitarian Interests:

Below are links to a suite of humanitarian projects in Kenya that I am involved with:

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