Thank You Dr. Macfie: Longtime English professor retires

Camille Pfister   
Junior Editor 
Image from a previous article of April 2019.

English professor Dr. Pamela Macfie is retiring to her home in Maine after a remarkable 38 years teaching here at the University of the South. Dr. Macfie has taught, inspired, and mentored students and faculty throughout her tenure at Sewanee, and will be surely missed. 

As Dr. Macfie closes out her chapter at Sewanee, she prepares to write her own memoir. Dr. Macife remarked on her “topsy turvy” childhood and how that inspired her to write her own memoir. 

“So I’m writing a memoir,” Dr. Macfie said. “The major work that I’ve done on it so far, has always unfolded while we have been in our home in Maine. It’s a great place to write and reflect. I am looking forward to seeing where this writing takes me, and where I take it.” 

Dr. Macfie started this process back in 2020, when she published a personal essay in the Sewanee Review, entitled “Each Is Me.” “It was about an experience of sexual harrasment that I endured when I was in graduate school,” Dr. Macfie said. “It was the first kind of writing that I did in the mode of personal essay.” 

“Each Is Me” is a heartbreakingly beautiful essay that recounts Dr. Macfie’s experience with a professor of hers when she was a graduate student at Duke University. Dr. Macfie remarks on Amy Witting’s Anne Page Hates Fun, which was inspired by Shakespears’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, and compares her emotions following her harassment to Anne’s. 

Dr. Macfie’s voice and message of feeling silenced comes across amazingly as she writes in her concluding paragraph, “Once again, X was shaping the narrative. He had reappeared like an uninvited guest, a revenant who can’t be silenced. But his voice doesn’t silence me now. When Anne Page cracked me open, the words finally came, and in a torrent.”

Dr. Macfie was inspired by Sewanee Review editor, Adam Ross, to continue to explore the genre of memoir, and her second personal essay was inspired by her brother “who never spoke” and is entitled “Unlettered.” Dr. Macfie will be reading from this memory piece on April 7th. 

In her final semester at Sewanee, Dr. Macfie created a new class, “The Literature of Memoir” in which students are analyzing the art of the memoir.

“Teaching this new class, in my final semester, has been really instructive for me,” Dr. Macfie said. “I’ve learned a great deal from the memorists that we’ve been reading together, but also from my students.” 

Students are reading a total of 11 memoirs, one each week of the semester, and are asked to analyze each memoir tackles the act of recounting the past and to discuss the attributes of the memoir. 

“I’ve got 15 really interested and interesting readers sitting in a circle each week,” Dr. Macfie said. “People connect differently with different attributes of each memoir. That makes me quite aware of how the memoir’s reckoning of the past engages readers.” 

Dr. Macfie also encouraged her fellow colleagues to continue the class, with their own personal touch to it. Dr. Macfie mentioned the many different ways this class could be explored, with a different focus on which memoirs the students read. 

“I’m confident that another iteration of the class will continue,” Dr. Macfie said. “When I proposed the class, some of my colleagues very wisely said to make the course description fairly broad. I have a number of colleagues interested in teaching the class, and putting their own spin on it.” 

Dr. Macfie has been a beloved teacher since her first year here, with teachers and students alike developing friendships and mentorships with Dr. Macfie that will last a lifetime. “My favorite thing would be the students,” Dr. Macfie said. “I have lifelong friendships with students in various classes. When I first came to Sewanee, senior colleagues instructed their best students to take this class- you don’t know her, but you will like her.” 

Dr. Macfie loves nurturing her student’s love of literature, even if they aren’t English majors and has greatly appreciated Sewanee’s dedication to the study of literature, no matter what field students choose to go into past graduation. 

“I’ve loved that you don’t have to make a case here for studying literature,” Dr. Macfie said.
“Students from disparate majors will show up in a Shakespeare class. That’s a rare privilege, the way in which literary exploration is really venerated here.” 

Around this time in the year, seniors in the college are taking their Comprehensive Examinations, commonly known as “Comps.” Dr. Macfie offered some advice to students looking to prepare early for the Comp, especially those looking to or already majoring in English. 

“I really encourage people to connect with a faculty member in the English department and have a strategic conversation with that person early on, about the major, and about your particular interests in working in literature,” Dr. Macfie said. “So you have a general master plan about how you are going to move through the major.” 

Dr. Macfie also reflected on her career as a whole as she reaches the end of it. “The experience is pretty bittersweet, because I have loved my career,” Dr. Macfie said. “I feel so blessed by the opportunities that I’ve had, to continue being on an intellectual quest myself, to be a part of students’ intellectual quests.” 

Dr. Macfie offered a final piece of advice to students. “Collaborate with others. There are such great opportunities for collaboration and conversation here. Seek out a faculty member to have a conversation about the heyday of Rock N’ Roll, even though you might be in their American Presidency class. Make connections between things that seem, at first glance, as if they might not have much to do with one another. Make connections across disciplinary boundaries, and across different social groups.”