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Poetry in the classroom

June 1, 2016

In the world of contemporary American poetry, NIU English Professor Amy Newman is a shining star.

That might seem like a bold statement, but it’s easy to back up.

Her numerous awards, five books and more than 250 poems, often published in top journals or magazines, speak volumes. Her feminist revision of Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem, “Howl,” was published last year in Poetry magazine, won a prestigious prize, was featured at a celebration in London and generated an impressive amount of media response. More recently, the New York Times published a glowing review of her latest book, “On This Day in Poetry History,” an innovative hybrid of poetry and biography.

Amy Newman

Amy Newman

Newman brings incredible enthusiasm, innovation and passion to her art. And those same qualities burn brightly in her teaching.

Perhaps it’s because she identifies with NIU students, a fact made evident in a bracelet she often wears. It is inscribed in Italian, ancora imparo, which translates to “I am still learning.”

“I wear this bracelet to every class I teach as a reminder that I am still learning daily from my students,” says Newman, who was named an NIU Board of Trustees Professor this spring. The top NIU honor recognizes faculty for extraordinary scholarship and teaching.

“I learn from my students through our conversations in and out of class,” Newman says. “I learn by listening to them as they think and as they begin to articulate ideas. Their insights are often refreshing and enlightening. And though it’s hard to put into words, I’ve learned fresh insights, how art impacts their lives, new ways of engaging with literature and striking ways of thinking about the world.”

Students say Newman inspires them. “She’s just phenomenal,” says alumnus Jerene-Elise Nall. “She’s such an inspiration as a person, as a professor, as a professional.”

“She’s cool and funny – and as brilliant as she is caring,” adds English graduate student Kirsten Grimes. “She goes above and beyond always for her students.”

In her classroom, Newman creates an environment that fosters creativity, sparks student excitement in literature and nurtures a life-long love of language.


The inscription translates to “I am still learning.”

“I value my work as a mentor of students in the classroom, my office, the halls and beyond,” Newman says. “I engage my students in ways that bring their ideas into the world, and vice versa.”

During her two decades at NIU, Newman has taught 20 different courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels. She revises classroom materials yearly to introduce new texts, theories and techniques.

And when she sees a need, she fills it.

That was the case recently when she developed and taught courses on the history, narrative, rhetoric and reading of the graphic novel. She also designed, with professor Joe Bonomo, the English department’s creative writing certificate.

Ultimately, the real measure of Newman’s success is her students. And they have flourished – publishing books, winning national awards, placing their work in scholarly journals and gaining entry into prestigious graduate programs and writers workshops. They go on to careers in teaching, business, nonprofits, media, music and the arts, with Newman often continuing to serve as a mentor and consultant.

“Her teaching files are full of letters commending her for having been selected by students as one of their most influential professors,” says Amy Levin, former English chair. “Every day, Amy engages and inspires students – not only to write but to reflect on the world and their place in it.”