BY Claire Mcnamara
Joanne Rochman, an English professor at Sacred Heart, has brought a variety of poets, authors, journalists, screenwriters and members of the community to come speak to her Experiencing Literature classes.
Rochman said she has always enjoyed writing and working with words. She has written for The New York Times, and continues to write for Hearst Publications and Republican American newspapers. Along with teaching English courses at Sacred Heart, she teaches Introduction to Media Culture, a Communications course.
Rochman said, “My guests show how pertinent literature is in the real world today and that it can change lives.”
Rochman said she brings these speakers to Sacred Heart because she thinks the class needs to meet interesting and successful people who can inspire them in their own work.
“The fact is that I am a writer and theater critic and most of my friends are writers, actors, directors, poets, artists and quite simply some of the most creative people I know. If they don’t have the expertise I’m looking for, one of them is bound to know someone who does,” said Rochman.
Rochman correlates the speakers she brings in with what her class is reading. In the past, when reading Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet,’ she brought people who have a lot of knowledge about it to come talk to the class.
“I invited professional actors and directors who all dealt one-on-one with that masterpiece. It’s one thing to read ‘Hamlet,’ but to listen to current experts in the field about why that play is essential to our lives today is what makes literary works come alive,” said Rochman.
This past semester, Rochman invited three successful senior citizens from the Watermark Retirement facility in Bridgeport after her classes had finished reading “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran.
The first of these speakers was Irene Backalenick, an author, theater critic, poet and playwright. She has a PhD in theater history and graduated first in her class from Brown University.
“Not many women even went to college then. She shared her life lessons and advised students not to give up on their goals,” said Rochman.
Gloria Cole Sugarman, the second guest, was a past writer for United Press International and a broadcast journalist for NBC.
“She spoke about her interviews with notable people such as Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She also shared an experience she had interviewing Alfred Hitchcock, who to this day is regarded as a master director of cinema. Her advice was to aim high,” said Rochman.
Lastly, Rochman brought in Gerald Fried. He was a composer, conductor and screenwriter who has won an Emmy, an Oscar, as well as multiple Grammys and countless nominations.
“My students were so excited when they discovered he wrote the music for ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ and so many more soundtracks. He advised students to keep close to family and not to get distracted by making money,” said Rochman.
All three of these guest speakers brought in by Rochman are still writing and being creative today. They taught the students about life lessons they think are valuable from their own life experiences.
Prof. Cara Kilgallen, the chair of the Department of Languages and Literatures at Sacred Heart, said: “Professor Rochman truly enhances and enriches the student experience of literature. Stories transform lives, Rochman and her classes empower students to live this literature beyond the classroom and campus. We are so fortunate in the Department of Languages and Literatures to have Professor Rochman, who takes active and engaged learning to the next level.”
Rochman said she extends her passion for writing and literature by having these guest speakers come speak to her classes.
“I get to teach what I love – English Literature. I invite guests to share their enthusiasm for the written word with my students who might experience literature as never before through hearing what these speakers have to say,” said Rochman. “Students need to know that English Literature is not some historic writing. Literature contains the stories of our lives.”