Debora Greger and Joe Roman Visit Roanoke College

Debora Greger and Joe Roman Speak

By Meagan Cole

As an institution for liberal arts education and higher learning, Roanoke College’s faculty encourages intermingling the humanities with science courses. Why can’t subjects such as poetry and biology be studied together? Well, in fact, they are being discussed in the same discipline on campus thanks to the latest academic talk, A Fork in the Road: Where Science and Poetry Meet, with guest speakers, Debora Greger and Joe Roman.

Dr. Melanie Almeder, an associate professor of Creative Writing and Literature, has greatly invested her time to arrange for Greger and Roman’s presentations, all for the benefit of the Roanoke College community. She says, “One of my goals is to expose students to these wonderful, dynamic writers. The point is to emphasize the ways in which seemingly disparate fields of study can collaborate in meaningful and exciting ways; in this case, the collaboration of poets and biologists.”

As written by Dr. Almeder, Greger and Roman’s biographies read: “Joe Roman is an award winning conservation biologist, author, and researcher at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Whale and Listed: Dispatches from America’s Endangered Species Act, winner of the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award. His research has appeared in Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, and other journals.

“Editor ‘n’ Chef of eattheinvaders.org, a site dedicated to ‘fighting invasive species, one bite at a time,’ Joe recently completed a Fulbright Fellowship in Brazil researching invertebrate conservation. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2003 in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and his Master’s degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida. He was born and raised in New York and counts King Kong as an early conservation influence.”

Roman’s particular segment focuses on the broad topic of the ecology of whales and narrows the science down to save the environment. He says, “Whales for the lonest time have been valued as goods, something you take from the ocean and use. Nowadays, they’re important, not only for the ecology of the ocean, but also for the services they provide for the people by inhibiting carbon. This makes a big difference. There are many ways that whales can restore the oceans.”

In addition to his presentation, Roman will hopefully be allowing students to sample some of the food from eattheinvaders.org. His website offers exclusive recipes that incorporate ingredients that are invasive species such as dandelions and kudzu. He’s currently looking into publishing a potential novel or cookbook with the site as his inspiration, or even pitching a television program to National Geographic.

Now, Debora Greger’s part in an otherwise alienated world of poetry from that of marine biology is how Roman got his start. One could say she is his editor. Her purpose in collaborating on his publications is to look at the language with a fresh eye. She is not a person of science and can look past the academic paper to cover what’s really important, what’s really the heart and soul of the piece.

Dr. Almeder’s biography for Debora Greger states, “Debora Greger is an award-winning American poet as well as a visual artist. She was raised in Richland, Washington. She attended the University of Washington and then the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She then went on to hold fellowships at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She is a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Florida.

“Her poetry has been included in six volumes of The Best American Poetry and she has exhibited her artwork at several galleries and museums across the country. She also has a poem on Poetry 180 in number 42. Her work appeared in Paris Review, The Nation, Poetry, and The New Criterion.

“She lives in Gainesville, Florida and Cambridge, England with her life-partner, the poet and critic, William Logan.”

With all of that success in mind, the campus wide conversation bloomed into so much more than a simple lecture. Hour-long readings and discussions by both visiting speakers were/are open to the public on April 4th at 7:30 PM in Massengill and on April 5th at 3 PM in Pickle Lounge. In addition, students from the English department were given the opportunity to share meals and even go on a hike with Greger and Roman to further engage with such inspiring talent.

Debora Greger, in fact, is Dr. Almeder’s mentor, and she has this to say about her elder: “She is a great writer, a great mentor, and I try to incorporate her in my teaching. She taught [my class in college] how to cultivate wonder in our writing and in our lives. Joe was [also] her student, and they collaborate together. She was the professor a lifetime.”

Greger says, “I am humbled that Melanie has been teaching my books. It’s not always the case that people have read your work beforehand. That can make a difference.”

Both Dr. Almeder and Joe Roman were in school together at the University of Florida and both took independent classes with Debora Greger, which is how they got their start—as students.

Dr. Almeder goes on to say, “What I like is it’s multi-layered. They’re willing to give readings from their work and so much more, and the students can see what happens when a poet and scientist talk.”

Finally, Roman hopes that students will take away what he and Greger have to say with a serious fervor, “I hope people can bring some hard questions, that the questions at the end will lead people to new ideas.” And, Greger has similar hopes, “I want people to wake up and become conversationalists.” All in all, they are thrilled to be at Roanoke College.