Kellerman’s kaleidoscope: Faculty spotlight on Dr. Joan Kellerman

By Contributing Writer Jennifer Wolmer.

I reported to class on the first Thursday after add/drop to a very small group of mostly younger women waiting for our instructor. Being the chatty, curious type, I struck up a conversation with one of my new classmates about how this class was going and if they enjoyed the instructor.

As the noon hour approached and class was about to begin, a woman entered the room accompanied by what I assumed was a teaching assistant. A classmate quietly whispered to me gesturing, “That’s her.”, pointing to Professor Kellerman.

With bags and suitcase in tow, Professor Kellerman has a characteristic stoop in her posture that immediately alerted me to the fact that this woman has been through some tough times. Her gait is random, her vision is compromised, and she often loses her train of thought. Her mode of dress is eclectic with black and white printed sneakers, polka-dotted socks and bright colored shirts with psychedelic patterns. Her nails are painted as well as her ageless face that is encircled with a head of beautifully cropped, but still whimsical hair.

By her outward apperance, I wondered how many students would take her seriously. I sat quietly watching Professor Kellerman collect her thoughts as she took command of the class, even from her seated position. Suddenly, out of frustration, Professor Kellerman flopped her book closed she sighed deeply. The class became quiet, as all of us searched each other’s faces for what to do next. Then, from thin air Professor Kellerman began reciting from memory, the very poems she could not find in the text. For all her fumbling’s and frustration, it all melted away and the words flowed with no effort and no edits. I sat in awe as my mouth was agape I knew I was in a very unique place in Creative Poetry 267.

Born in the Bronx, NY, Joan Kellerman grew up a consummate child of the sixties. She obtained her graduate degree 1968 and PhD from SUNY in English in 1976. Dr. Kellerman became enlightened and collaborated with many icons of literature and poetry of the “hippie” era while she attended SUNY which what was considered the “Berkeley of the East.” Notables like Leslie Fielder, Murray Schwartz, Allen Ginsburg, Robert Creeley, Edward Sanders and even Bob Dylan were just a few of the influential writers and artists Professor Kellerman had the occasion of meeting. She was even featured in the photography collection by Cynthia Adams alongside Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Lilly Tomlin. Kellerman says, “I’m the one in the Mexican poncho, the vest and the boots. I didn’t have much money then and it was winter, and this lady approached me and asked if she could take my picture. I said sure!”

Dr. Kellerman joined the UMASS-D family in 1981 and received tenure in 1984. When I asked Dr. Kellerman to sum up what has been the biggest change for her when it comes to the atmosphere in classes today, Professor Kellerman broke into a good five-minute rant about the sixties and “how far removed we have become from a place of collaboration, love, and selflessness and there is way too much focus on competition and evaluation,” pausing heavily she said, “Forget all that, let me just say this…”Dr. Kellerman went on to quote an excerpt from the poem by Matt Arnold, “Dover Beach”

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems To lie before us like a land of dreams (29-31)

Once again, Dr. Kellerman has left me speechless.

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