Assistant Professor of English
Suzanne Tartamella has “loved” reading and writing since she was a young girl. She credits her mother for prompting her passion at an early age.
“She read to my sister and me every day and took us to the local library on a weekly basis,” Tartamella said. “We would often come home with more than a dozen books at a time.”
When she attended Gettysburg College, Tartamella said she enjoyed taking courses in all different disciplines, including music history and theory, economics, and even computer science.
“But I felt most comfortable with English,” she said. “During my freshman year, I took introductory courses in Renaissance and eighteenth-century literature; those particular areas are now my specialties here at Henderson.”
After graduating with a B.A. in English and minor in music, Tartamella enrolled at the University of Maryland in College Park to pursue her doctorate in Renaissance literature.
“Although some of my favorite books are nineteenth-century novels like Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Middlemarch, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature offered the kinds of intellectual challenges I wanted to focus on in my academic career,” she said.
“While completing my dissertation in Shakespeare, I taught writing and literature courses at Gettysburg College. Here at Henderson, I teach Shakespeare every fall, which is a total joy.”
Tartamella began teaching at Henderson in 2012. She said she was attracted by the university’s “institutional identity.”
“I feel at home in a liberal arts environment and will always passionately defend its importance both in higher education and in society generally,” she said. “I was also attracted to the position itself, which gives me a chance to teach not only Shakespeare, but also eighteenth-century literature and argumentative writing.
“Finally, I was impressed with the people I met when I interviewed here. I was delighted to find common ground with a faculty who genuinely enjoyed talking about their favorite books, about the courses they love to teach, about their commitment to interdisciplinary study, and about their own research interests. I found the people here to be friendly and authentic – two things I value very much.”
Tartamella said the classroom is one of the “best places in the world” for true intellectual engagement.
“I am passionate about the works I teach, and I enjoy communicating that enthusiasm to my students,” she said. “I always come to class with a concrete agenda, but I try to guide my students toward uncovering some things on their own.
“It is important for learning to be a collaborative experience on some level so students are empowered in the educational process. Motivated students are better able to improve their level of reading and writing – both of which should ideally be active, rather than passive, exercises.”
Tartamella finds working with truly engaged students in the classroom setting to be one of the most satisfying aspects of her job.
“I love walking into class to find my students already discussing the reading assignment or hearing them still debating ideas when they leave class,” she said. “I think it is important for students to think across borders, not only between disciplines, but also between the classroom and the great wide world.”
Tartamella said the English major prepares students for a number of fields, including education, law, professional writing and editing, library science, and even social work and counseling.
“But the activities students perform in this major – close reading, critical analysis, writing, research – are actually important skills in just about every field, from the social sciences to business,” she said. “I think more students should major in English, or consider pairing it with another major.”
Tartamella said research is an important part of her job and of her “identity as a lifelong student.”
“My scholarly projects have largely centered on early modern literature, especially Shakespeare,” she said. “During my first year at Henderson, I finished revising an essay on Shakespeare’s dark-lady sonnets and The Taming of the Shrew and completed my first book, Rethinking Shakespeare’s Skepticism: The Aesthetics of Doubt in the Sonnets and Plays.
“Some of my projects since then have focused on early modern travel and theology. I recently finished an essay on Pericles and Eastern Christianity, and another on As You Like It and the Book of Ruth.”
If she wasn’t an English professor, Tartamella said she could see herself working as a professional writer, an editor, or even a chef.
She started learning piano at the age of 9 and still enjoys playing and singing.
“Beethoven was my composer of choice in college, but my recent favorite is Chopin,” she said. “I also love cooking. My Italian father taught me how to make my own sauce, but I also enjoy experimenting in the kitchen with all different kinds of cuisine.
“It is actually quite satisfying to start the cooking process knowing that a tasty, aesthetically-interesting meal is often only a couple of hours away.”
English, Foreign Languages, and Philosophy
Degree and School:
Ph.D. in Renaissance Literature, University of Maryland-College Park
* Early modern literature
I've been at Henderson since: