March 22, 2016  

Purdue Profiles: Jerry Holt

Jerry Holt

Jerry Holt, chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Purdue North Central. (Photo provided) 
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Jerry Holt, chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Purdue North Central, has the desire to advocate and learn about diversity through writing and teaching. As a recipient of Purdue's 2015 Dreamer Award, Holt was recognized for work as a writer and teacher that has "embodied Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of service to others and furthers the University's commitment to diversity."

Holt has written four major plays, one novel and nine short plays. His stage play "Rickey," about Major League Baseball owner Branch Rickey and Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, has been performed across the United States, including at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  

What are your major responsibilities as chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages?

I have the responsibility of developing and maintaining the curriculum for the department. This includes all the English classes of all levels and the various other languages we offer, such as Spanish, French, German and American Sign Language. I also teach classes. Currently, I am teaching Introduction to Literature, a survey course for the sophomore level and above, and Freshman Composition. Occasionally I'll teach classes of different decades or special seminars.

Why do you have a passion for diversity?

I teach American history and American literature, so I'm very caught up in the many different cultures that make up our country. I'm very concerned about how society has not yet realized the dream of equality, which is stated in the Declaration of Independence. My passion for diversity can be seen in my play "Julia Marlowe," which I am very proud about because it tells the story about an actress who had a passion for Shakespeare. When I search for story or play topics pertaining to diversity, I look for civil rights, women's rights, or stories where it's clear that race, creed, or core is not a factor in a person's talents or abilities.

What do you want your students to learn from you?

There are two main things I want my students to learn. The first is learning the ability to think for themselves. The first thing I tell my students is that I'm a lecturer and I have a lot to give them; however, in this class the beginning of education does not come from note taking and regurgitating the information. The beginning of education comes from when the students begin to think about the notes and readings. I often say the first way to know that my students are getting an education in my class is when they begin to question me, because that's what thinking is about. Second, I want students to feel something for the material. The student does not have to be excited about what I'm excited about. I want my students to find their passion, something they can embrace the way I've embraced American literature and history.

Where does your inspiration for your plays come from?

I have been in Indiana for about eight years now and most of my writing between now and the time I moved here have been about Indiana subjects, such as "Ernie," the story of the WWII correspondent Ernie Pyle, who was a Hoosier and functioned as the eyes and ears of America as a writing soldier. He went every place the troops went and conveyed the experience of what Indiana soldiers went through during the war. I've tried to absorb the places I've been and Indiana is so rich in history. I want people to know the untold stories of people from Indiana. I want to share these stories with the people in the state and give something back to the state I'm residing in.

Writer: Aspen Deno, denoa@purdue.edu

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