Carlos Martinez will join Boston University Academy as an English Instructor in the fall of 2019. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas in San Antonio and received his doctorate in English from Brandeis University. His dissertation, entitled “Cormac McCarthy and the American Absurd,” is a monograph on the author that treats themes associated with Southern and Southwestern American Literature. He has taught writing and literature courses at Purdue University, Brandeis University, Wheelock College, Boston University, Framingham State University, and Newbury College.
This summer, we sat down with Dr. Martinez to learn what makes him tick.
Where did you grow up, and how did that impact who you are today?
I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, but my family is from a small town near Monterrey, Mexico. I spent much of my youth going back and forth to Mexico, and that helped me appreciate cultural difference on a very personal level. When I started graduate school, I was focused on European Modernism and was interested in a career in Comparative Literature, but I gravitated more and more to my roots, slowly through the process. My dissertation ultimately became about the places I grew up, and my current research and writing is almost exclusively focused on them.
What drew you to English as a discipline?
I’ve always loved story-telling. And reading largely came naturally to me. But my first choice was to become a psychologist like my older brother. But when I started studying psychology in college and interned in a lab, I quickly realized the day-to-day experience of the work was not right for me. Meanwhile, I felt like my mind was being blown the most in my English classes. Then I developed friendships with my literature professors as I worked and studied in the McNair Scholars program, and I never looked back. Since a young age I’d always loved the idea of Literature, the idea that tough novels existed and that reading them would reveal interesting things about the world that could only be arrived at through patience and diligence. Making a career out of it ultimately came out of that love.
Name three things that you can’t live without (oxygen, food, and water don’t count).
The first would be tennis, playing and maybe even watching it. The exercise is great when playing it, obviously (and I can’t seem to motivate myself to do exercise without it), but mainly it’s the camaraderie and the spirit of competition it affords. What I love most about it is that it affords a space to practice in order to improve, and that there will always be room for improvement. Thus, watching tennis often feels like training, since I’m often learning so much about how to improve my own game. And I find watching the sport incredibly exciting at times, especially now that my wife is largely into it also.
In a time not too long ago, music would have come first, playing and listening. But now tennis is at the forefront. Playing music has been one of the most humbling things I’ve ever done. I’m not naturally good at it, so I needed to get outside of my comfort zone to make it work on any level. But listening to music is one of the greatest feelings I experience. I’m currently on a bit of record hunting spree that’s been developing over the last five years. So, now it’s also more active in that I’m often traveling to and then working my way through antique shops and old record stores, rifling through to see if I can find an elusive Peter Gabriel or Badfinger album, or, and this has not yet happened, a stray Smiths single.
This one should have gone first, but it seemed too hokey to put it first, I couldn’t do any of this without the support of my family and wife. At every turn I’ve always had at least five people there egging me on: to prioritize education, to push for good schools, then to finish the dissertation, to push to the next level of everything. I never take it for granted, and I also don’t know how to thank them enough.
What are some attributes that make a school great?
This is a biased answer, but I feel the most important thing is for the teachers to care about what they are doing. I’ve been privileged to work at places where all of my closest colleagues were giving everything they had to the job because they fully understood how much needs to go into it in order to make it really work. I think great schools need to be student-centered, and not just trying to keep students or to be meeting requirements. It’s always felt to me that when the teachers are really into what they are doing, then the support teams really start to rally around them, which also seems necessary for a great school. I’ve been very luck to work at places where everyone collaborates and tries to produce the best experience for all of the students. Then, of course, the students feed off of this and really make it great.
Related question: what are some attributes that make a great teacher?
Now all of my answers are feeling hokey, but I do believe that humility is the base of good teaching. I think that much of my training amounted to a ‘fake it till you make it’ mentality, but I was never good at faking things, so this strategy was a tough one for me. From the very beginning, I knew I had so much to learn about how to become a good teacher, and now that I am a little more comfortable with my skills and ability, I find it even more necessary to hold on to my sense that I am still nowhere near where I can be as a teacher. What grounds me, then, and what I think makes teachers great, is the ability to listen to students and teach the students in front of us. I was always so impressed by teachers who seemed to have both an agenda and then an amazing ability to riff off of it, almost like musical improv. It inspired me to want to reread texts to see what else I could wring from them. The best classes for me are those that seem guided by the discussion, and not by a fixed agenda, but that then still cover all the materials I set out to cover.
How do you like to spend your free time?
Gardening, and often intense landscaping, and in a broader scope just home improvements. Ever since we were fortunate enough to ‘own’ where we live, there have been seemingly endless possibilities for things to improve. What I most love about gardening is that just enough care is needed in order to grow things well. And what I love about landscaping and home improvements is that both offer an opportunity to be outside in a focused capacity, and when it’s done I can then marvel at the pristine, finished product.
I’m also really into movies and love going to the Brattle in Harvard.
What were your hobbies and interests in high school?
In high school my first extracurricular activity/priority was music. I started a band my freshman year and spent at least three-to-five days a week practicing and writing. It was, thus far, one of the happiest experiences of artistic collaboration that I have experienced. And then playing shows around town was always so thrilling. I had been collecting and really into music since I was five, and finally being able to be in a band to try to emulate and then expand upon on the stuff I’d been listening to was a major highlight of my youth.
But I also played on the tennis team and kept a fairly busy tennis-playing schedule with friends.
Lastly, I was part of a book-reading circle that pushed each other to read tough books. That took up whatever free time was left. We used to go to an all-night diner, buy the $2 cup of coffee, and just talk about the books through the night. I’m not entirely sure they loved having us there.
What are you binge watching this summer?
When possible, I watch as much of the tennis grand slams as possible. So, I can say I binge-watched a lot of the French Open and then Wimbledon. The U.S. Open, of course, is right around the corner. I don’t try to watch every match, but I often get hooked into very many matches.
But I’m also finally watching GoT. I’m really impressed by it. On the back burner, I have a season and a half of Masterpiece Mystery’s Endeavor to catch up on. And on and on and on. Too much!
Do you have a hidden talent?
This question has really stumped me. I’m not sure I do have a hidden talent, and now I’m thinking I should go and try to get one.
Nutrition aside, if you could choose one food — and one food only — to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Pasta. Going to Italy for my honeymoon was one of the best experiences of my life. The food in Rome was the best.
What books have you read recently that you would recommend to BUAers?
I really liked Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese. It’s the first graphic novel I’ve read, and I can’t say enough great things about it. I would also recommend reading Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives. People seem to either really like or really hate that book, but I think it’s an interesting way to think about the ways that literary author’s lives impact people, and I like that it takes place in Mexico.
Follow-up question: can you name just ONE favorite book?
My all-time favorite book has been The Picture of Dorian Gray, if mainly because it was the first novel I read that seemed so different from anything I had ever thought about or experienced. I had not ever liked or hated characters at the level that book inspired.
What are you most looking forward to at BUA?
I can’t wait to get into the classroom and hear what students have to say about these great texts I’ll be teaching. I was blown away by the discussion the students brought during my teaching demonstration, so I’m itching to start delving into these texts.