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Nom de Plume
U of I English lecturer is 'outed' as McSweeney's reveals the true identity of columnist Oronte Churm.
Samuel Clemens had Mark Twain. Charles Dodgson used Lewis Carroll. And as was revealed recently by the online literary magazine McSweeney's, U of I English lecturer John Griswold has Oronte Churm.
On its website, McSweeney's noted Griswold as the real person behind its periodic "Dispatches from Adjunct Faculty at a Large State University." The news is expected to create a buzz at U of I as people guess whether they were the administrator or faculty satirized in one of Griswold's columns.
Griswold started the column in 2005 using wry humor to take occasional swipes at higher education. Job protection for this untenured adjunct faculty member was one reason he used a pseudonym, even though the focus of the column quickly broadened to be, as he says, "an anatomy of being a teacher, writer, husband, father, and son—a whole life's education." Another reason for the anonymity was his career: he was writing a novel at the time and wanted to separate the humorous essays from the rest of his writing life.
Ironically, the reason he is coming out now is also a career move. McSweeney's, which is published by U of I alumnus Dave Eggers, is a hip publication known for launching careers, and the exposure Griswold has gained as Oronte Churm has opened up new writing avenues. Last year he landed a paid position as a blogger for InsideHigherEd.com as a result of his work for McSweeney's. He also has a novel he is shopping around that, if published, would help him land a tenure-track college teaching position; a.k.a., job stability. (He has also published short stories, essays, and poems in journals and on websites.) "It just seems the right time to unite the two halves of my writing lives and take advantage of the momentum," says Griswold.
Griswold—who has also worked as corporate writer and editor, a manager of an ad agency, a city bus driver, an Army deep-sea diver, and an interpretive ranger at a state park—says the experience has enriched his teaching. In finding his own voice, he is better able to help students discover theirs.
Despite the outing, Oronte Churm will still byline the Insider Higher Ed blog and any future McSweeney's columns. "He's got his own following, and the name still seems pertinent," explains Griswold. Oronte Churm was made by combining two characters' names from the Henry James story "The Real Thing," a story that questioned who or what is "real" in art and life.
Check Out Churm Fest
Inside Higher Ed will link to an interview with Churm at litpark.com. His online friends are also sponsoring a writing contest for a creative nonfiction story or essay, 75 words or less, in which someone reveals something, is unmasked, or comes to a new understanding. First prize is $100.
Read the interview and learn more about the writing contest.
By Holly Korab
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