Getting a Ph.D. in literature from New York University may not have been the most practical thing I’ve ever done, but utility isn’t everything.
True, the degree didn’t come in very handy once I decided not to go into academia. It makes you socially suspect (“Ooh, I’d better watch my grammar around you”) and, outside of academia, less employable (“With your doctorate in literature, Ms. Jarolim, would you really feel comfortable editing romance novels?”).
And writing academic papers did a number on my prose style. By the time I finished, I had the sentence structure of Henry James and the clarity of Yogi Berra.
But holing up for more than a decade and reading and thinking about books? That I could never regret.
And the subject of my dissertation, Paul Blackburn, died at the age of 44 in 1971, so a lot of his wild and crazy poet friends were still around when I started my research work. I had a blast hanging out with them in beauteous San Diego, where Blackburn’s widow, Joan, sold his papers to UCSD. I even got my dissertation published, and in two versions: The Collected Poems of Paul Blackburn (out of print) and the Selected Poems of Paul Blackburn, which I edited and introduced.
For the backstory of the editing process–and a final assessment, 30 years after the fact–read Paul Blackburn and Me, posted on the 45th anniversary of Blackburn’s death.
Getting a Ph.D. also gave me the moxie to write book reviews, including several shorts in the New York Times. Here’s one I wrote for the Tucson Weekly when I first moved to Arizona.