I’m an Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature and the Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University. I arrived at Penn State in 2001, having taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for twelve years, and became IAH Director in 2010. 

I am the author of ten books to date, including Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics (Verso, 1994); Life as We Know It: A Father, A Family, and an Exceptional Child (Pantheon, 1996; paper, Vintage, 1998); and What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? Classroom Politics and “ Bias” in Higher Education (W. W. Norton, 2006). I am also the editor of The Aesthetics of Cultural Studies (Blackwell, 2004) and, with Cary Nelson, of Higher Education Under Fire: Politics, Economics, and the Crisis of the Humanities (Routledge, 1995).

In 2015 I published The Humanities, Higher Education, and Academic Freedom: Three Necessary Arguments, co-authored with Jennifer Ruth (Palgrave). My ninth book, The Secret Life of Stories: From Don Quixote to Harry Potter, How Understanding Intellectual Disability Transforms the Way We Read, was published by NYU Press in early 2016; in October 2016, Beacon Press will publish Life as Jamie Knows It: An Exceptional Child Grows Up, which was written with extensive input from Jamie himself.

Life as We Know It was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 1996 and was chosen as one of the best books of the year (on a list of seven) by Maureen Corrigan of National Public Radio.

In a former life, I was a drummer for bands such as The Trollops, Normal Men, The Beaux Arts Society, Baby Opaque, the Rosenbergs, and Nastybake. My highlight– with Normal Men– involved opening for the Ramones in 1982, getting two encores, and meeting Dee Dee backstage. Though I have to say that recording a cover of Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil” with Baby Opaque and Ian Mackaye on guest vocals was pretty good, too. That one actually got some airplay on college radio in 1985.

I also serve on the American Association of University Professors’ Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, and on the International Advisory Board of the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes. In 2012 I was president of the Modern Language Association, having been elected to the second vice presidency in 2010 through no fault of my own. I live in State College, Pennsylvania with my wife, Janet Lyon, and, of course, with Jamie. My son Nicholas, an architect, lives with his wife Rachel, a graphic designer, in Boston.

Interview with Jeffrey Williams