October 23, 2000
By Eric Rangus email@example.com
For 15 years, Lucas Carpenter was a professor of English at Oxford College.
However, at graduation this past May, that status changed.
At the ceremony, Carpenter was named Charles Howard Candler Professor
of English, the first Oxford faculty member ever to earn a prestigious
That was totally out of the blue; I had no idea that was going
to happen, Carpenter said, humbly. Im very pleased,
though. Very honored.
Oxford Dean Dana Greene, however, was a bit more emotive. For 15
years Lucas Carpenter has enriched the lives of Oxford College students,
she said. It is a real honor for Oxford to have his talent recognized
through the Candler professorship. He is a creative teacher, poet and
Carpenter is a groundbreaker at Oxford in another way. He was the first
Oxford professor to earn a Fulbright scholarship. He used the grant to
travel to the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Leuven, Belgium, where
he taught two courses: an undergraduate class in modern American literature
and a seminar in American literature of the Vietnam War.
Carpenter said he wanted to experience European higher education and
compare it to that of the United States. He was also interested in comparing
European students to their American counterparts.
He spent five months in Belgium (September 1999 January 2000),
and not only did he teach several hundred students through his two courses,
but he learned a great deal himself.
It was an incredibly rich experience for me, especially as a classroom
teacher, Carpenter said. It gave me an entirely different
perspective on how things are done.
The university, which is near Brussels, was established in the 15th century
and is generally seen as Belgiums flagship institution. More than
40,000 students are enrolled thereprimarily from Belgium, but many
countries throughout Europe and the world are represented. Several American
graduate students also take classes there, and Carpenter met with them
semi-regularly to speak American, he said.
While in Belgium, Carpenter lived in the Beginhjof, which is where an
order of nuns known as the Beguines lived in the 13th century. The Beguines
were women whose husbands had died or had been killed in the Crusades
or some other conflict. They took some of the vows of nuns such as celibacy,
chastity and obediencebut not poverty, since many were wealthy.
The Beginhjof now serves not as a convent, but as apartments for visiting
faculty. The building I was in was 16th century but a fully outfitted
apartment with everything I needed, Carpenter said. It was
very comfortable housing, just extraordinarily interesting and beautiful.
Carpenters classroom experience was quite a bit different than
his classes at intimate Oxford. His modern American literature class numbered
167 studentsa whopping amount by American standards for a literature
That made it tough because there wasnt a good way to handle
a discussion with that many people, Carpenter said. It meant
that I was lecturing the entire time, the classes met once a week for
two hours a clip, so its sometimes tough to have enough material.
In 1968, the then-21-year-old Carpenter graduated from the College of
Charleston with a double major in English and mathematics. He then entered
graduate school at Vanderbilt. He never finished.
The fall of 1968 was the first semester that deferments for graduate
students had been removed.
Thousands of graduate students were swept into the armed forces that
autumn, and Carpenter was one of them. Most of my basic training
company were graduate students from various disciplines, Carpenter
said. Our platoon leader was a recent philosophy Ph.D. That made
for an interesting basic training, because you had all these very well-educated
young men who werent inclined to be indoctrinated in quite the way
the Army intended.
Like many young Americans of his generation, Carpenter faced a life-defining
choice concerning service in Vietnam.
We were all fundamentally opposed to military serviceespecially
to the war in Vietnam and the reasons we were there, Carpenter said.
I had a route to Canada, with a plane ticket I had worked out with
the peace folks at Vander-bilt. But when push came to shove, it was either
go to Canada or go to jail. When it came right down to it, most of us
decided that we would go ahead and take our chances.
At least military service was a break from graduate school,
Carpenter served three years in the Army, including a tour of duty in
Vietnam from 196970. He rose to the rank of sergeant and earned
the Bronze Star. He then returned to grad school and earned his masters
in English at North Carolina in 1973
That same year, Carpenters first book of poetry, A Year for
the Spider, was published. The poems were based on his experiences
in Vietnam, and the books tone was quite a bit different than his
early work in Charleston.
I became a far less romantic poet than I was as an undergraduate,
Carpenter said. My poetry took on some very hard edges.
For instance, a passage in the books preface reads: [The
poems] are radically subjective responses to the kinds of experiences
which have come to characterize this particularly tragic and absurd war.
While the Belgian students didnt have firsthand knowledge of the
Vietnam War, the violence that accompanied war protests in this country
also affected Western Europe. They had very strong feelings, because
1968 was a watershed year for them, too, Carpenter said. There
were widespread student demonstrations throughout Europe.
At Leuven, for instance, students blockaded the streets and burnt cars.
The governments of both France and Belgium almost fell that year.
They were very interested in Vietnam as an inciting event for their
1968 rebellion, Carpenter said.
Literature of the Vietnam era is not Carpenters sole area of interest
or expertise. He has written several essays on William Faulkner and has
produced an extensive catalog of work on the Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet
John Gould Fletcher. Introducing the literature of the American South
to his Belgian students proved to be a daunting task, but one they eventually
I had to fill in a great deal of background concerning the nature
of the American South, its history and peculiar customs, Carpenter
said. I came up with some ways of getting a lot of information into
a limited number of examples. I streamlined my teaching.
Carpenter said while he enjoyed his time in Europe, his desire to teach
abroad has been quenched.
Any other trip overseas will be as a researcher. Or a tourist.