Currently Winders is finishing her PhD at Cornell, a University where she has also previously taught. To add to the new blood of American fiction (Dr. Sweeney) and Composition and New Media studies (Dr. Marlow) faculty in the department, Winders brings in Medievalism, specializing in 14th century English literature. Her dissertation, she explains, is on “courtesy and conduct literature, a tradition of literature that includes everything from the rules of table etiquette to advice on choosing a spouse and settling conflicts with neighbors, sometimes within the same poem.” Winders says she is also interested in “how the issues central to courtesy literature—living a well-ordered life, making one’s way in society, observing the forms of correct behavior—play out in more literary works, like the poems of Chaucer, the Gawain Poet, and Langland.”
Winders paved her path to teaching by practicing her skills as a child. Assembling a school for her dolls, who were, of course, in much need of a good education, and teaching them she gained the experience of a “more confident learner” since she could “practice explaining things to someone else.” She was also greatly inspired by “the Little House on the Prairie books, where teaching seemed strangely glamorous and adventure-packed.” Through her play-time turned profession, Winders enjoys the new perspective that she gains in literature “through new eyes” –those of her students. She comments, “I come out with a much different understanding of a work of literature after teaching it. Teaching lets me think about texts that would normally be outside my field. I love hearing my students’ reactions to texts, what they notice.”
A teaching experience that sticks with Winders is having once taught “Nabokov’s novel Despair in a class on mysteries and thrillers.” She was very excited when one of her students “really took to it,” telling Winders “that tracing the way Nabokov artfully weaves together motifs and patterns, building up their significance, opened her [the student’s] eyes to a way of reading literature she’d never experienced before.” Winders added that the student’s “first language was Russian, and she was looking forward to reading other early Nabokov novels in Russian. I felt excited for her—I can only read Nabokov in English!”
Between working on her PhD and teaching, Winders somehow finds time for other interests. She enjoys “knitting, baking, bird-watching, hiking, and running,” to name a few things, and she is also a fan of Albany’s Pine Bush Preserve, a great place to check out in the fall.
Here are some final fun facts about Melissa Winders:
Favorite text in her field: Langland’s Piers Plowman (her “specialty as a medievalist”).
Halloween costume of choice: An owl! Winders comments about her pick, “I like birds, and the costume would be fun to put together.”