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Dr. Michael R. Catanzaro

Bio Information

Michael Catanzaro, an Assistant Professor of English, teaches courses in composition and literature and is a member of the graduate faculty.  Professor Catanzaro’s research interests include Nineteenth Century American and British literature with a focus on gay issues.  He has presented at national and international conferences and has published articles on Victorian poetry, fiction, and drama.  He is a member of the English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta, and the Spanish Honor Society, Sigma Delta Pi.  Professor Catanzaro is very proud that his article "Sexual Literary Freedom vs. Societal Hypocrisy and Ignorance: The Artistic Challenge” was included in the Studies in English Literatures collection entitled Decadence: Morality and Aesthetics in British Literature edited by Paul Fox.    His most recent publication is a book of poems entitled Beating Hearts: Expressions of Life.  Both of these books are available in the library at Tennessee State University.  Currently, he is at work on a book-length manuscript that is a comparative study of selected representative works of British and North American Victorian authors as a continuing exploration of writings that express the gay presence as an active part of Victorian society and culture and illustrate the development of the emerging gay voice from implicit to explicit in an encoded text. This study applies a reader-response approach and explores the progression of understanding from real author to real reader, examining the encoded way in which the real author relies on the knowledge of the real reader to decode his message through a process of anagnorisis (recognition not only of a person but also what that person represents) or camp (an ironic attitude that involves analysis and exaggeration by people who are willing to  make fun of themselves) since the works of literature discussed can be read as marked by consciousness of their probable reception.  This study concludes with the importance of removing qualifying labels such as homosexual or heterosexual as an introduction to a discourse on literary texts.



Teaching Philosophy

I have adopted a reader-response approach to composition and literature courses that encourages students to read specific works and present position papers for class discussion on a daily basis.  By utilizing their responses to reading assignments, I endeavor to create a classroom atmosphere that encourages interaction among the students in order to stimulate their interests and appreciation of different points of views while acquiring and developing a critical thinking approach.  Overall, students indicate an appreciation for these assignments because they realize the position paper is not a reflection of their best writing or presentation of ideas but a work in progress that is subject to change.  Rather than focus on my evaluation of the work, I encourage class conversation as a means to discuss relevant topics within the work and to afford students a sense of confidence that what they have to contribute is significant as an integral aspect of our discussions. These discussions often lead to an evaluation of grammatical and stylistic approaches to writing as well as insights to other supporting evidence that may help to defend an argument or provide a lead to a new area of exploration.

The expression of personal opinions, beliefs, and values as part of the discussion process usually leads to intense exchanges of information.  Most students are readily willing to engage in discourse that is subjective in nature drawing on personal experiences and knowledge; inevitably, however, they soon realize that the individual who is able to present the best objective argument with supporting evidence usually wins the point.  Most times I enjoy adding “fuel to the fire” by redirecting thoughts with probing questions in an attempt to test and expand their critical thinking abilities.  Sometimes this challenge ends with the expression “I can never win against you” followed by my reply of “Okay, then I win”; however, when the challenge is met and the students win the argument (as they often do), the result is an exuberant expression of pride (with lots of applause, “high-fives” and cheers) in their ability “to beat” the teacher.  When students seem unsure of how to proceed in a discourse,  suffering from a belief that there is a “right” answer and that they will appear “ignorant or naïve” if they are wrong, I usually play the role of “Devil’s advocate” to challenge the class by taking the more difficult position to defend.  In this manner, students are able to present their argument and supporting evidence while receiving my evidence to support the opposite of their beliefs.  Most students are surprised that not only are there two sides to most arguments, but also as many sides as there are students in the classroom. 

Realizing that students learn in various ways, I attempt to make use of their knowledge as a means to help them improve not only as writers but also as students who are critical thinkers.  Each student has a particular way of understanding the world that is shaped by his or her family, community, and life experiences. I attempt to draw on this information to demonstrate the process of argumentation.  I do not consider myself just a teacher with a book and a set of rules; rather, I am an individual with life experiences that are, at times, simple or complex and boring or interesting.  They reflect how I see the world and how I respond to family, community and life experiences that include my students.  My responses reflect passionate, strong opinion presented as objective statements.  I encourage interdisciplinary approaches in discussions as a model for organizing thoughts and ideas and as an approach to thinking about the world that students can apply to a wide variety of life experiences that they bring to the classroom encounter.  This method encourages students to draw on their knowledge in a similar manner as a complex process to expand to the fullest their potential as individuals who not only have opinions, but also the capability to express their thoughts.

Whenever possible, I utilize other resources to enhance the classroom activities which include but are not limited to computer work, the internet, videos, recordings, and library research.  I believe that students require guidance in the classroom to direct their activities and to motivate their participation within a cooperative and productive group setting.   I use my knowledge as a foundation to explore topics without claiming absolute knowledge.  I stress to students that a key element to teaching is to realize that there is always something new to learn and that as a teacher I endeavor to be open to new suggestions, ideas, and areas of exploration. 



Synopsis of Beating Hearts: Expressions of Life


This book of poems expresses reactions to experiences that unleash emotions, ranging from childlike observations to disturbing revelations of a mind destroyed by despair. The poems tug at heartstrings on their journey of discovery that recognizes the need to express one's innermost thoughts, while realizing the futility of the effort, similar to spent energy that is neither created nor destroyed. They simply exist and are converted into new energy like tears, laughter, sadness, or joy. The poetical effect creates new meaning as the poems are reshaped by readers into a new frame of reference that reflects their personal experiences, emotions, and reactions. This new energy that allows them to put into words what was difficult to express may cause a person's heart to beat faster.