Thanks everybody for your comments on my bittersweet post. But enough about me, let's talk about Oronte Churm, one of my favorite features of these here parts. Oronte, for those of you who don't know, has a column called "Dispatches from Adjunct Faculty at Large Research University" at McSweeney's and a blog/column at Inside Higher Ed called "The Education of Oronte Churm." "Oronte Churm" is of course a pseudonym, and while it used to be an air-tight pseudonym, it's now a pseudo-pseudonym, because he revealed his identity earlier this year, and with a fair bit of local publicity, I might add.
But I had been on to Oronte before that. It started when I was sitting in the waiting room with my colleague who was about to have his wisdom teeth removed, and said colleague (also a fan of Oronte's) announced to me that he had almost tracked down this person's identity and that maybe I could help him because he was fairly sure Oronte taught in my other department. He explained that he kept noticing little local coincidences. Apparently the clincher was the topic of a particular talk Churm mentioned in one of his columns, and it happened to be a talk my colleague had noticed in the scores of titles that flash across our screens. He then started to narrow things down.
While my colleague's head was rolling from his surgery drugs, I came home and picked up the matter from there. I looked through McSweeney's backlogs and discovered an anecdote that overlapped with my first year here in which Oronte was asked to leave a job market meeting. It was a meeting I also happened to be in (as a guest speaker), and I remember the moment as quite tense. I didn't understand why people who didn't happen to hold degrees from our program ought to be asked to leave, but as a brand new assistant professor, I really couldn't say anything. Anyway, his descriptions of the players were unmistakable. This particular entry, like so many of his others, combines range with wit, the intimate with the political. His prose usually makes me forget I'm reading on a screen, or reading at all.
Anyway, it has been cool knowing that he's in our department, and reading his occasional pieces that reference life in and around the University of Illinois Hinterland University, even though I never see him. Check that: ours was one of the random houses he brought his kid by this year for trick-or-treating, and it was kind of appropriate that his son, whose screen name is "Starbuck" and whom I've read about but have never seen, was in disguise. I was distributing candy and looked up at John/Oronte waiting on the stairs. I have never properly met him, but not knowing his son's real name, and not bothering to introduce myself, I asked: "which one is Starbuck?" He sweetly pointed out one of the masked characters clamoring for tootsie rolls. Being a local celebrity is probably weird that way.
All of this is to say, that the department that hires him will be a lucky department indeed.