E-Vita for James Plath, Professor of English at Illinois Wesleyan University

(the Reader's Digest condensed version, for curious prospective students, et alia)


Born: Chicago, Ill.; also lived in Logan, Ut., Oroville, Calif., and Hartland, Wis.

Family: Married, with one teen living at home, one at college, four grown children from a previous marriage, and seven grandchildren.

Favorite Movies: The Sound of Music, It's a Wonderful Life!, Cool Hand Luke, Crosy-Hope-Lamour road pictures, The Naked Gun, Blazing Saddles, Star Wars movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark and sequels, romantic comedies, swashbucklers, John Wayne movies, countless others.

Favorite Music: Blues, Jimmy Buffett, Caribbean music, Arlo Guthrie, Steve Goodman, and oldies.

Hobbies & Interests: Reading, writing, movies, classic television shows, antiques, art, gardening, home improvement, fishing, ping-pong, billiards, travel, cooking (see Five Generations of Plath Recipes), wines, and watching da Bears, Cubs, Blackhawks and Bulls.

Craziest stunts: Hopped freight trains from Utah to Mexico and ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

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Current position

R. Forrest Colwell Endowed Chair and Professor of English, Illinois Wesleyan University (Assistant, 1988-93; Associate 1994-98)

Experience (Creative Writing)

Edited-published Clockwatch Review (a journal of the arts) from 1983-1999, which was honored in 1990 by the Council of Literary Magazines & Presses (New York City) as one of the top five literary magazines in the U.S.A.

Published fiction and poetry in numerous literary journals, including ACM (Another Chicago Magazine), Amelia, Apalachee Quarterly, The Caribbean Writer, Cream City Review, Lullwater Review, Mississippi Valley Review, Modern Short Stories, National Forum, Panhandler, Rhino, Salt Hill Journal, Spelunker Flophouse, Spillway, The Spoon River Poetry Review, and Sport Literate.

Courbet, on the Rocks, a chapbook of poems, published in 1994 by White Eagle Coffee Store Press (Fox River Grove, Ill.), and poems in numerous anthologies, including  Men of Our Time: An Anthology of Male Poetry in Contemporary America (Univ. of Georgia Press, 1992) and Imported Breads: Literature of Cultural Exchange (Mammoth Press, 2003).

Directed the Hemingway Days' Writers' Workshop & Conference, 1986-96.

Served on literature panels for the Illinois Arts Council and Indiana Arts Commission and as a judge for national writing competitions, including The Hemingway Days Short Story Competition and Young Writers' Scholarships, the A.E. Coppard Prize for Fiction, and the Billee Murray Denny Poetry Awards.

Published articles in The Writer, Writer's Digest, Fiction Writer, and Writing Fiction, with articles reprinted in The Writer's Handbook 1993 and 2000, and two original fiction exercises included in Creating Fiction (Story Press, 1999).

Readings and guest lectures at Tarrant County Junior College, Ft. Worth (Tex.), Writing Today conference, Birmingham-Southern College (Ala.), Babbitt's Books, Normal (Ill.), Hofstra University (New York City), WordsFair, Bloomington (Ill.), Assembly of Illinois Community Arts Organizations annual meeting, Bloomington (Ill.), Richland College Literary Festival, Dallas (Tex.), Elgin Community College (Ill.), Bloom Township [Ill.] Second Annual Junior High Writing Conference,"Poetry Radio" (WGLT-FM), Millikin University, Illinois Arts Alliance Foundation arts advocacy program, Bloomington (Ill.), "American Indian Voices: A Regional Literary Symposium" (Racine, Wis.), Mid-America Playwrights Theatre (Springfield, Ill.), IWU Writer's Conference, Illinois Summer School for the Arts (Normal, Ill.), Illinois Writers Inc. Annual Convention (Normal, Ill.), Olney (Ill.) Central College, Wisconsin Educational Teleconference Network, Great Lakes Writers' Workshop, Alverno College (Milwaukee, Wis.), College for Kids, University Lake School (Hartland, Wis.), Univ. of Wisconsin-Washington County, Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Wis.).

Keynote speaker, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Annual High School Creative Writing Festival (600 students and teachers), 1999.

Experience (Literature and Literary Criticism)

Presented papers on Hemingway and Fitzgerald at international conferences in Pamplona, Spain; Paris and Nice, France; Sun Valley, Id.; London, England; Baltimore, Md.; Montgomery, Ala.; Oak Park, Ill.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Havana, Cuba.

Critical essays in The Hemingway Review, The F. Scott Fitzgerald Review, Journal of Modern Literature, Studies in Short Fiction, Kansas Quarterly, Eureka Studies in Teaching Short Fiction, and North Dakota Review.

Editor of  John Updike's Pennsylvania Interviews (Lehigh University Press, 2016), Critical Insights Film: Casablanca (Salem Press, 2016), Critical Insights: Raymond Carver (Salem Press, 2013), Conversations with John Updike (University Press of Mississippi, 1994); co-author, with Frank Simons, Remembering Ernest Hemingway (Ketch & Yawl Press, 1999); author, Historic Photos of Ernest Hemingway (Turner Publishing Co., 2009).

Co-Editor, Clockwatch Reviews: An Online Quarterly of Books, 1999-01.

Recognized Hemingway and Updike scholar, with essays in John Updike Remembered (McFarland Books, 2017), Hemingway in Context (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Hemingway and Africa (Camden House, 2011), Critical Insights: John Updike (Salem Press, 2011), The Cambridge Companion to John Updike (Cambridge University Press, 2006), Hemingway and the Natural World (Univ. of Idaho Press, 1999), John Updike and Religion: The Sense of the Sacred and the Motions of Grace (W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1999), Rabbit Tales: Poetry and Politics in John Updike's "Rabbit" Novels (Univ. of Alabama Press, 1998), French Connections: Hemingway and Fitzgerald Abroad (St. Martin's, 1998), and Hemingway Repossessed (Prager, 1994).

Keynote speaker, "Remembering John Updike" tribute, Reading Public Library, Reading, Pa., 5 April 2009.

Featured speaker on Hemingway for The Great Michigan Read, with presentations at Saginaw Valley State University, Hoyt Library (Saginaw) and Alice and Jack Wirt Public Library (Bay City), 18-19 March 2008.

Keynote speaker, 1999 Fall Conference of the Michigan Hemingway Society and featured Hemingway scholar, "Hemingway in Key West" on New Florida show #308, a production of WPBT-2 public television in Miami (1993, rerun on the Travel Channel).

Experience (Journalism)

Since 1988, the sole person responsible for the journalism sequence at Illinois Wesleyan University and advisor to The Argus, one of the oldest, continuously published college newspapers in America. Two of my students have received Pulliam Fellowships, awarded annually to the top twenty graduating college students in the U.S. who plan to go on to a career in journalism.

Presented a series of lectures on "Hemingway and Journalism" at the Instituto Internacional de Periodismo Jos� Mart� in Havana, Cuba, June 2002.

Supervisor of student journalism internships at Illinois Wesleyan since 1988.

Former feature writer for Milwaukee Weekly and freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Milwaukee Journal, Miami Herald, Small Press Review, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), dialogue (Cleveland, Ohio), and The Pantagraph.

Managing Editor, Movie Metropolis (formerly DVD Town), with reviews linked on the Internet Movie Data Base (imbd.com) and RottenTomatoes.com (I'm a Tomatometer critic).

Officer of the Illinois College Press Association for eight years (including President), and recipient of the ICPA Outstanding Service Award in 1999. Currently a member of the Board.

Editor-publisher of A Lake Country Christmas and Christmas in Watertown, two hugely successful seasonal-regional publications, 1983-87.

Former publicity director for the MACC Fund (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) in Milwaukee, the Hartland (Wis.) Jaycees, and the Hemingway Days Festival in Key West, Fla.

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PhD, English, 1988, Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Concentration: 20th century American literature; dissertation on "The Painterly Aspects of John Updike's Fiction"

MA, English, 1982, Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Concentration: creative writing

BA, English, 1980, California State Univ., Chico. Minors: journalism & philosophy

Diploma, 1968, Luther High School North (Chicago)

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In the past I've also worked with students who wanted to take an Independent Study course to hone specific writing-related skills or to work on special projects, and I am the faculty member responsible for supervising all English and journalism internships--so interested students should contact me. I believe that writers write, and I encourage students to write (and publish) in all genres. 

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Finalist, 1998 Harry's Bar & American Grill International Imitation Hemingway Competition.

1994 recipient, The Pantagraph Award for Teaching Excellence, Illinois Wesleyan's highest teacher-scholar honor.

Honorary Conch [Florida Keys Citizenship], presented by the Mayor of Monroe County at the Hemingway Home & Museum on 14 July 1996, recognizing 10 years of service to the Hemingway Days Festival.

Fulbright Scholar, Caribbean Regional Lecturing Program, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados, Semester 1, 1995.

Finalist, IWU Student Senate Professor of the Year, 1992-93, 1993-94, & 2001-02.

1992 Graduate of the Last Decade Award, UWM Alumni Association.

1990 Editor's Award from the Council of Literary Magazines & Presses (for "editorial excellence & vision" in Clockwatch Review). 

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"The Widows of Eastwick: Updike's Book of the Dead . . . or rather, Dying." The John Updike Review 4:1 (Winter 2015): 77-84.

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Faculty Advisor, The Argus student newspaper (rated among the top three Illinois college non-dailies serving a campus of 4000 students or less all but six times), since 1988

Faculty Advisor, Gamma Upsilon Media Honorary Society, since 1988

Member, Faculty-Staff Recognition Committee

Member, IWU Identity Advisory Group

Chair, Hearing Committee


I believe that students learn best by aggressively taking charge of their education, rather than sitting back and taking notes or asking that age-old annoying question, "What do you want?" Rather than give asssignments and directions or templates for students to use in order to achieve nearly identical results, I favor an approach where every assignment is both a problem to be solved and an opportunity to be grasped. I give students plenty of rope to either dazzle me with their lariat tricks or hang themselves, before we get into full explanations of logic, critical theories, or proven strategies. It drives them crazy sometimes, but it also affords students more opportunities for creativity and individualized responses. When it comes to writing, I'm a perfectionist with an escape clause. I do the best I can under the circumstances and will revise and revise until the deadline finally approaches. I try to impart that philosophy to my students as well. Writing is a commitment to writing well and getting things right. Period.

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