Texas Tech University

Dr. Bryce Conrad in Memoriam

If you were lucky enough to be drawn into Bryce Conrad's orbit as a student or colleague, you know that of the words one might use to describe him—intelligent, compassionate, gentle, witty, serious, quirky, funny, etc.—perhaps the best is generosity. As a teacher, he was generous with his time, both in class for students grappling with an idea he proposed, and in his office, sitting quietly and patiently as students grappled with a fresh idea of their own. His generosity of spirit drew students to him and inspired our cohort of “young modernists” to follow in his footsteps in the early 2000s. The gentleness with which he moved through the world made those steps look both admirable and attainable. It is not an exaggeration to say that studying with Bryce set the course of many of our lives. He opened up possibilities and modeled a life that balanced his love for family and academics. He lived wholly in the world while still seeming a step outside it.

Though we share our love and admiration for Bryce Conrad with you in a collective voice, we would also like to share some of the individual ways in which he touched us.

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Rebecca Nicholson-Weir, East Central Oklahoma University

The first English graduate class I ever took was a readings course in American Modernism in summer 2002, and the way he presented early twentieth century literature as both an intellectual puzzle and an invitation directly from the author grabbed my imagination then and still compel me forward now.

Whenever I read Gertrude Stein, his work and legacy are with me. Usually, I can't even cut up chicken for a recipe without hearing him crack himself up with “alas, a dirty word…alas, a dirty bird.”

 

Amy Wells, Université de Caen Normandie, France

Summer school could not have been any more exciting or invigorating: for two years in a row, we had Modernism with Bryce Conrad. Although it has been over fifteen years now, it does seem like yesterday that our group was sitting around the table in the “new” English building listening and watching Bryce. I say watching because, as he explained the rhythm and cyclic tension in Melanctha, Bryce's eyes radiated a certain energy, an electricity even. Reading any Modernist work, from Stein to Djuna Barnes to Faulkner, seemed manageable and enjoyable in his seminar.

Stein's own words are the reflection of my remembrance of Bryce Conrad: “I could undertake to be an efficient pupil if it were possible to find an efficient teacher” (“Adele,” Three Lives). Thank you Bryce for rooting Modernism in my heart and mind, for transmitting to me a veritable passion for one of the world's most cryptic writers, and for helping me to secure a future with the university career of my choice.

 

Dean Bowers, Ann Arundel Community College, Maryland

At a time when the English department at TTU was in great upheaval, and I was stressed to the point of being physically ill at times, I would regularly go to Bryce's office just to calm down and feel better. Sometimes I would feel better because he would encourage me with my research or my writing. But whether we were talking about that, or Modernism, or teaching classes, or even things that were not school related, just listening to him and being in his presence made me feel calm and quite literally that everything would be ok. I will always owe him a great debt as a mentor and as easily the best dissertation chair I have ever heard of. But more than being my academic mentor, I owe him for being a great colleague and a great friend. When some of my current colleagues and I get to reminiscing about our grad school experiences, I sing Bryce's praises as loudly as I can; I can't help myself. I have always felt that I could not sing them loudly enough.

 

Todd Giles, Midwestern State University, Texas

My inscribed copy of Bryce's groundbreaking book on William Carlos Williams reads: “From Bryce to Todd—May the teacher be worthy of the student.” Bryce was never one for effusive comments; his quiet intensity was part of what drew so many students to him. He has not only remained “worthy,” his is truly the light by which I have navigated my own life and career. I see him in my mind as he was when he was the age I am now—a slightly out of place and disheveled new assistant professor at Texas Tech—every time I interact with my own students in and out of the classroom.

When we learned of Bryce's passing on 9/15/17, I was in the midst of teaching a book he taught me as an undergraduate in 1991, Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creekthe book, literally, with his own words written in my hand in the margins. I shared this passage he read aloud to us twenty-six years ago with my own students the day before driving to Lubbock to attend his memorial:

I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I'm still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until that moment I was lifted and struck.

When Bryce finished reading this passage aloud in front of the classroom, he looked up, paused a moment for effect, and said, “I'm still looking for the tree with the lights in it.” I repeat Dillard's words back to you, Bryce, all these years later: “The flood of fire abated, but I'm still spending [your] power.”

 

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Bryce's legacy as a teacher and scholar runs much deeper and spreads much farther than the four of us can possibly know and share. As such, we encourage you to join us in contributing to the Bryce Conrad Memorial Scholarship Fund in English. Your generous contribution to this English Department scholarship will help ensure that countless future students who study American literature at Texas Tech can themselves partake in our mentor's legacy. Imagine all the students who read William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and others with Bryce's voice in their ears, and help support their work with his knowing and loving hand on their shoulders.

For more information on how to contribute, contact Dr. Brian Still, chair of the department.