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PHOTO:
(Bottom row left - right)
Paul and Angela Curtis.
(Top row left - right)
Alexi and Emerson Curtis.

*Alexi is named after Spokane Native American writer Sherman Alexi.

Contact & Location

Moscow

Department of English

Physical Address:
Brink Hall 200
(208) 885-6156 phone
(208) 885-5944 fax
englishdept@uidaho.edu

Mailing Address:
English Department
c/o University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive MS 1102
Moscow, Idaho
83844-1102

"Teachers Really Do Change Lives"

The Curtis Family(Alumna Angela Curtis wrote this letter to Professor Gary Williams in response to a note he sent thanking her for the financial gift she made to the Grace Nixon Scholarship Fund.)

Hi, Dr. Williams. Thanks for the nice note.

I need to thank you. I took an upper-division survey of American literature from you in the late 1980s. One of our assigned readings was "Self-Reliance," and it changed my life, as did your passionate teaching of Ralph Waldo Emerson's work. (I can still see you standing at the front of the classroom, gesturing dramatically and gleefully reciting, "I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim.")

I was a scared, confused kid at the time, struggling with reconciling the self I was becoming with the person my parents had wanted me to become. Religion was a particular sticking point. Studying Emerson in your class was my light-bulb moment. Emerson's message resonated powerfully with me as I realized for the first time that my life was my own and that following my own conscience was an act of responsibility, not selfishness. It was not only liberating, it was life-changing. Yes, Emerson deserves a lot of the credit, but much also goes to you for making his ideas come alive. (You also wrote encouraging notes in my journal as I struggled to find myself through literature.)

Emerson was so pivotal in becoming the person I am that my husband Paul* and I named our firstborn daughter Emerson when she was born in 1995. She is now attending the University of Alabama on scholarship, majoring in metallurgical and materials engineering. (I've attached a photo; she looks a lot like I did at that age.) She's principled, passionate, driven, smart, tolerant, kind, and funny. She loves her name — and what it represents. She and I have talked at length about her namesake and the importance of being true to oneself.

What have I been doing since college? I finished my UI degree in two phases, taking six years in the middle to be a newspaper reporter in Reno. While there I particularly enjoyed writing about the subliminal-messages trial against heavy-metal band Judas Priest (filed by the families of two suicide victims). When Emerson was a baby we returned to Moscow for my husband to attend law school. I resumed my undergraduate studies, graduating in 1996. During my first time at UI, when I took your class, I was a Nixon Scholar and a good but quiet student. I never did become an official English teacher, although I taught writing to many reporters one-on-one during stints as a newspaper editor in Moscow and Salt Lake City. My favorite former reporter calls me "Sensei."

My career has been a blast, and I'm grateful to the University of Idaho's Department of English for teaching me the critical thinking, writing, and storytelling skills that prepared me. Nowadays I'm a writer and editor for the Office of the President at The University of Texas at Austin, where I’ve been for the past nine years. I work with the university's fundraising office, writing proposals, case statements, feature stories, and tribute books for donors. The books are my favorite. I’ve recently been assigned to supervise two other writers, and I’m our department’s guru on style and grammar. Additionally, I consult with development officers and others on their own writing, with an eye toward storytelling.

My work in higher-education philanthropy has reminded me of the importance of giving back. Without the Nixon Scholarship I could not have afforded college. I hope to donate yearly.

Other favorite professors during my time at UI were Barbara Meldrum and Walter Hesford. I also enjoyed working with Mary Ann Judge as a tutor in the Writing Center.

Teachers really do change lives. Emerson and I thank you.

Sincerely,
Angela Curtis


*Paul AlLee Curtis completed an undergraduate UI degree in communications, as well as a graduate degree in law.