Dr. Chris Willerton, professor in the Department of Language and Literature, presented his research on detective fiction and and performed in an “old-fashioned radio murder mystery” as a part of the fifth annual Culp Professor Reading.
Dr. Willerton is in his second year serving as the university’s Culp professor. The Culp Professorship is awarded competitively for three-year terms and research must be presented once a year. Recipients have reduced teaching loads and a research budget and must pursue a major professional project. Dr. Willerton has chosen to spend his time investigating the question, “Is there a Christian way of reading detective fiction?”
The last Culp professor, Dr. Al Haley, professor in the Department of Language and Literature and writer in residence, presented his research while enjoying live jazz music, a skit and a reading from his latest novel. Dr. Willerton wanted his presentation to be different, but still exciting.
“What’s drawn me on into it is the fun,” said Willerton. “I’ve used a different set of professors this year and next spring I’ll work with four different people. That way a good section of the department has had a chance on the stage and we can build up some awareness.”
“What we are doing is sort of the comic relief for his serious presentation of his serious research,” said Dr. Joe Stephenson, assistant professor of language and literature.
“Murder by Heartburn,” with a script written by Willerton, imitated the half-hour radio murder mystery popular in the 1940s. Five professors from the department. Five professors from the department of language and literature gathered on stage and read their lines into a microphone as if they were broadcasting. The cast consisted of Willerton, Stephenson, Yann Opsitch, instructor of French, Dr. Shelly Sanders, assistant professor of language and literature and Dr. Jeanine Varner, professor of language and literature.
Willerton said he has high hopes for this project.
“I’d love for this recording to go out to graduates of English and foreign language,” he said. “I’d love for some trustees to hear it. I’d like for people to get the sense of excitement in what Culp professors do, then build support for at least one more professorship like it.”
Willerton believes more opportunities similar to the Culp professorship will encourage more scholarship in the department.
“For a school this size we have a remarkable number of people with a drive for research in English and foreign language. We really need more opportunities for them to take a couple of years with reduced teaching so they can do more scholarly articles articles, more novels, more papers and more research travel,” he said. “That’s one way we can recruit the very best people to come here.”