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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

Beloved poetry professor reflects on 35 years at GW

Courtesy of Jane Shore
English professor Jane Shore

A central thread stitches together much of poet Jane Shore’s creative works: the clothing she can’t forget.  

Shore, an English professor at GW, said she once believed that her stories from growing up above her parents’ dress shop in New Jersey weren’t interesting enough to write about.

But Shore said, in a poetic sense, the idea of sleeping  a floor above a shop that sold coveted women’s dresses — which she hoped to one day wear herself — symbolized her ambitions for the future. Her parents’ dress shop would go on to appear in a slew of Shore’s autobiographical poetry books like her 2012 narrative collection of poems “That Said.”

“It turned out to be something like a subject — something that I knew very, very well,” Shore said. “And it’s something a lot of people hadn’t written about before.” 

Shore now uses clothing as a source of inspiration in the classroom. In her course Imitations, a class on contemporary poetry that encouraged students to write poems that mirrored or challenged the prose of selected pieces, Shore gave a simple assignment: write about an article of clothing. Shore said she was amazed by the students’ willingness to open up through poetry, divulging sensitive information about their lives linked to personal items of clothing during the workshop. 

“I felt something very amazing had happened in that class, just everybody connecting in a wonderful way,” Shore said. “Just seeing what poetry can do and what teaching could be.” 

Now, after a decades-long career as a poet and educator, Shore’s 35 years at GW are coming to a “clothes” as she plans to retire to her home in Vermont.

After graduating from Goddard College and receiving her master of fine arts degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Shore’s poetry career began in 1971 through a fellowship at Radcliffe College — a former women’s college that was incorporated into Harvard University in 1999. 

During her time at Radcliffe, Shore said she studied under the poet Elizabeth Bishop, who she said many consider the best poet of the mid to late 20th century, and later worked alongside her at Harvard University. She said Bishop remains the most impactful teacher she’s ever had and demonstrated “amazing powers of observation” that continue to inspire Shore to this day.

“Although I’ve read many, many, many poets, I think I’ve been most influenced by her poetry,” Shore said. “It’s about the world, and it’s about people.”

As a working poet, Shore has published six books of poetry, including the 1996 “Music Minus One” and the 2008 “A Yes or No Answer,” a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She said her work is primarily autobiographical, covering everything from her New Jersey childhood to becoming a mother at 41 to her love for Vermont.

“I thought, ‘In order to be a poet, don’t you have to sort of have flowers in your hair and grow up and experience beauty and life and death?’” Shore said. “But in fact, I thought, ‘My parents own a clothing store, like my experience, even though I’m interested in all the arts, my parents, their life, what’s downstairs going on as I’m upstairs is pretty interesting.’”

Shore began her work at GW in 1989 as a Jenny McKean Moore writer-in-residence, a year-long teaching fellowship in creative writing within the Department of English. She said she applied for a tenure-track position after completing her fellowship and was pleased to settle down at a university after years of teaching at institutions across the country, including Tufts University and the University of Hawaii. 

“When I met the faculty and the students, this just felt like home,” Shore said. “I just loved everybody.”

Shore said GW stands out among all of the universities she’s taught at because faculty and students bring a heightened level of commitment to the craft of creative writing. 

“I think I have never met as wonderful students as I have,” Shore said. “I mean, any place I’ve gone, people have been fantastic. But every year that I come back to GW, it’s just amazing, amazing, amazing people — kind, smart, talented.”

Professor Mary-Sherman Willis, an adjunct professor in the English department, said Shore broadened students’ understanding of and appreciation for poetry, whether they enrolled in her course for personal interests or to fulfill a GPAC requirement.

Willis said Shore always created welcoming classroom environments that encouraged students to face the challenges of writing poetry, like navigating poem structure and sensitive subjects. 

“There’s an exposure and a vulnerability in writing poetry that you don’t get in the rest of the school experience,” Willis said. “And she made sure that every student knew that they were in good hands, in safe hands with her, and that they were gonna have fun.”

Jillian Noble, a senior majoring in psychology, took Shore’s Imitations course as a freshman and is now enrolled in Shore’s other course offering, Around the World in 80 Poems — a course where students read and analyze a selection of poems every week and workshop their own poetry with their peers.

“Professor Shore is just one of the most genuine professors I’ve ever met,” Noble said. “The love that she has for her students, and the encouragement she provides is just crazy unreal.” 

Since four years have passed since Noble last enrolled in one of Shore’s courses, Noble said she wanted to reach out and reintroduce herself before spring classes began.

But Shore beat her to the punch. Noble said the professor emailed her and another student who took Imitations to tell them how excited she was to be a part of their senior year after first teaching them as first-years. 

“It was really heartwarming to know she remembered us and had been thinking about us,” Noble said. 

Antonio López, an associate professor and the chair of the English department, said he has seen evidence of his colleague’s creative influence on her students’ poetry in the 18 years since they’ve known each other. 

“Jane is a superb poet who sparked in her students both a genuine curiosity about how that art form works and a desire to create wonderful poems of their own,” López said in an email.

Lisa Page, the director of creative writing for the English department, said her history with Shore goes back to the 1990s when the pair met through the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, a literary award program in D.C. Page said she appreciates Shore’s strong support of other Moore fellows at GW by inviting them to her home and sometimes even renting out her home to them.

“Students loved her ability to lighten the emotional weight of creative writing; she made them laugh even as she simultaneously invited them to put their souls on paper,” Page said in an email. 

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