August 28, 2000
Volume 53, No. 1
Oxford & Emory
By Eric Rangus
This past weekend, anyone looking for Sally Wolff King would just need to find a nice, comfortable corner of the Emory gym. Among the crowd of thousands of arriving students and their families she'd be there, walkie-talkie in hand, greeting and helping new students.
As quickly as she arrives, though, she'd disappear on her way to another part of campus to address another concern.
So goes the beginning of the academic year for Wolff King, associate dean of student academic affairs in Emory College. Among her many hats is director of orientation, a post she has held since being hired in 1989. It's a responsibility she enjoys greatly.
"I like the first-year students," she said. "I enjoy working with them when they first arrive on campus, and four years later, when they cross the platform to receive their diplomas at graduation. It's rewarding to see their personal and intellectual growth as they mature through their Emory education."
Planning for the 2000 event began quickly after last year's ended. Managing freshman orientation weekend is not an easy a task. Wolff King has to coordinate among constituencies from all corners of the University and work with various student, faculty and administrative groups including all the academic departments, Campus Life, parking, the library, campus police and student health, to name a few. She accomplishes this with a small but dedicated staff.
New additions to this year's program included lectures by University Secretary Gary Hauk, who discussed the history of Emory and his book A Legacy of Heart and Mind: Emory Since 1836. He also led students and their parents on historical walking tours of campus.
Also added were new sessions called "Academics Online," which focused on how faculty use technology in Emory's new "smart" classrooms. In addition, new students will register today for the first time with the new PeopleSoft system.
Overseeing freshman orientation is just one of Wolff King's responsibilities. She also coordinates Emory's Summer School program, cross-registration, Oxford continuation, Honor Council and Honors Ceremony. She also is the college liaison to Oxford College, Georgia Tech, the Career Center, the Counseling Center, Student Government and Student Health Services-that's in addition to her research and teaching one academic course a year.
Wolff King is in continued contact with students long after orientation. In addition to serving on honors theses committees and taking directed readings, she also advises FAME groups each year. "It's a busy schedule," she said. "I enjoy the challange of balancing teaching, research, administration and advising."
Hired away from the faculty of Arkansas State University to her current Emory post, the Dumas, Ark., native returned to the University where she had previously earned two degrees as well as taught.
After receiving her undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt in 1976, Wolff King came to Emory for her masters degree (1979) and Ph.D. (1983) in English. She studied under longtime Emory professor Floyd Watkins, who passed away earlier this year.
"I came here wanting to study Southern literature and he encouraged me right away," Wolff King said. "He was a fine teacher, and he had very high standards. I learned a tremendous amount working with him, as well as with my other teachers at Emory."
She also carries on a English department tradition that began while she was a student here. Every other year Wolff King, who is also adjunct professor of English, teaches a course on Southern literature and as part of the curriculum she rents an Emory van and drives her students to Oxford, Miss., the home of William Faulkner.
Wolff King was a graduate student on one of Professor Watkins's early trips 20 years ago. They tape-recorded Faulkner's nephew, James, for 11 hours on that occasion. This interview became the basis for Wolff King's 1996 book Talking About William Faulkner: Interviews with Jimmy Faulkner and Others, a collaboration with Watkins.
Her students spend a weekend in Oxford touring the sites that Faulkner used as settings for his books and stories. They also talk to townsfolk who knew Faulkner. On their most recent trip, last fall, they met a man named Bundren, who carries the name of the main family Faulkner's novel As I Lay Dying.
"My sophisticated Emory students were speechless as they stood there looking at this man," Wolff King said. "They did not know what to say to this living Faulkner character."
The journey isn't all work, however. "My students usually want to stop in Tupelo to stop at Elvis's birth home," Wolff King laughed. "No matter how much I want them to focus on Faulkner, they insist on Elvis, too. They want to pay homage to The King."
The next Oxford trip isn't scheduled until 2001. This fall she will be teaching a class on Native American literature, another of her research areas.
"Of course, Native Americans did not initially have a written language for many centuries and they are still masters of the oral tradition, which was very strong, probably stronger than for other cultures in our country that did not have a written language," she said. "Now contemporary Native Americans write fiction and non-fiction in English, but fortunately they still listen to the voices of their ancestors."
The oral tradition that is so important in Native American literature is also an essential component of the literature of the South, Wolff King's first area of expertise.
"Southern literature has a long history," she said. "People always want to know why Southern literature is distinct from that of the rest of the country. Of the several answers to that question, but I like Eudora Welty's answer the best."
"She said, 'If you tell a story in the Rocky Mountains, all you get back is an echo,'" Wolff King recalled. "My interpretation of that line is that only a rapt audience will listen to and consider your story and then tell one back to you. In the old days especially, Southerners liked to engage in that kind of dramatic talking and listening. Faulkner and Welty, among other Southern writers, draw from old tales and talking."
Wolff King wrote her dissertation on Welty, so she is intimately familiar with the noted Jackson, Miss., author. They also meet each summer. The first time Wolff King tried to visit the author, she was rebuffed.
Welty said, "I hope there will be another occasion." Wolff King said that was a "Steel Magnolia" way of saying no: genteel, but absolute in resolve. She eventually got to meet the author when she came to Emory to receive an honorary degree. Wolff King has since published several articles and interviews with Welty and is working on two longer projects on the author-one, an examination of Welty's Depression-era fiction and the other a study of Welty's literary relationships with her editors.
Welty is one of the primary subjects of Wolff King's second book, a collection of essays called Southern Mothers: Fact and Fictions in Southern Women's Writing, which was published in the fall of last year. Wolff King co-edited the book with Nagueyalti Warren, a fellow associate dean of student academic affairs who sits one office down from her in White Hall.
Wolff King's focus, though, remains the students. "I enjoy working in academic affairs, I feel suited to the work and enjoy the varied academic challenges," she said.
"I like academic research and teaching. I thrive to see students engaged in education in an honest and serious fashion."