Friday, 7 January 2011

From undergrad to Chair, Part 3

When I moved to Sweden I had an option of trying to pursue my film studies or embark on a new career. My Swedish film colleagues knew enough of Soviet film studies to judge them worthless, which I reluctantly admitted. I also knew Swedish children's literature scholars, and I knew that in Sweden you could do children's literature as a literary subject, not a librarianship subject, which was the only option in Moscow. It took some time to persuade Stockholm University admissions that my degree was at least worth something, and I had to take a special oral exam in Swedish literature. Interestingly enough, I was never asked to take the correspondence to TOEFL, although I have no formal degree in Swedish.

I took two courses the first term, Children's Literature and Adolescent Literature, and wrote an essay which was to become my PhD. Comparative Literature had just introduced competitive admission to the PhD programme. I applied among sixteen candidates and was one of the four admitted. Very soon I was asked to teach. Unlike Swedish, I have a formal pedagogical certificate, but I had never taught and had never intended to teach. Yet teaching children's literature was something else than teaching English grammar, and anyway, you can't turn down a job when you are a beginner and an alien. Well before I got my degree I was teaching if not full time but at least more than was reasonable. Children's literature was an expanding area, it became mandatory in all teacher training, and we had our own undergraduate courses at different levels.

Yet a permanent position seemed beyond reach. I applied for the only chair in children's literature in Sweden, that became vacant when my own professor retired. I was shortlisted, but considered too young. I remember that in 1991, when I was elected to the Board of the International Research Society for Children's Literature, I had some doubts because I was strongly considering giving up academia and go into children's publishing. I had a registered publishing company for a while, we published one book which was a tremendous success and brought in a lot of money. I was prepared to go on, but instead I got a research grant.

To be continued


Annika said...

Sorry, I might be missing something here, but what was the unexpected turn and how come you moved to Sweden? That couldn't have been easy in those days.

Maria Nikolajeva said...

I got married to someone who, among other things, was extremely supportive of my academic pursuits. No, it wasn't easy, but that's another story that would make a good Hollywood movie.