"The Love Song" of Jewel Spears Brooker

Eminent T.S. Eliot scholar and USF alumna to receive

USF Distinguished Humanities Scholar Award.



By Mary Beth Erskine

TAMPA, Fla. (March 11, 2010)The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is one of T.S. Eliot’s earliest poems. A modernistic masterpiece replete with themes of regret, longing, and loneliness, it’s a staple of many high school English classes.

Reading the work as a teenager during the late 1950s, Jewel Spears Brooker was intrigued. “As a girl, I understood what it meant to ‘put on a face to meet the faces that you meet,’ as the poem says, to be bursting with passion and yet unable to say ‘just what I meant.’”


Today, Brooker still bursts with passion – a passion for the work of the poet who first intrigued her years ago. Now, however, as one of the most eminent Eliot scholars of the day, she is renowned worldwide for saying exactly what she means when it comes to the twentieth century’s most important English-language poet.


“Reading Eliot is like entering into the British Museum or the Library of Congress,” she says. “He is a vast reservoir, the depth of which keeps inviting you to look and listen, someone who gives you bits and pieces of life and thought that make you hunger for more. He catches in his rhythm and sounds and images the essence, the heart beat, of 20th-century life – from war to traffic jams to jazz bars – and, on this level, one does not need to be learned or sophisticated to understand him. At the same time, he whispers between the lines suggestions about the self – who am I, where am I going; about history – the presence of the past; about good and evil and about God.”


In recognition of her significant contributions to liberal arts scholarship, Brooker, who received her doctorate in English from USF in 1976, will be awarded the USF Humanities Institute’s second Distinguished Humanities Graduate Award on March 18th. The award honors USF alumni who illustrate the academic strength of the university through their achievements within, and contributions to, a humanities-based discipline.


“USF was a turning point for me, first of all, simply by being there and being welcoming, and by giving me the opportunity to fulfill my dreams,” says Brooker, who came to USF with the goal of joining her avocation with her vocation, by becoming a college teacher of literature.


“USF gave me the opportunity for conversation with informed people who were also passionate about poetry and art and ideas. When you find a book or a poem that really excites you, you need to be able to share it with someone who responds similarly. Trying to articulate one’s ideas to someone who cares is a major step in becoming a good teacher and writer.”


Brooker recalls with gratitude and fondness the time she spent with USF Professor Joseph Bentley, who taught modern fiction and poetry and directed her dissertation. “He was a brilliant teacher, mentor, and model,” she says. “His classes on T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, and other writers, as well as his literary criticism, were very exciting to me. I can still see him sitting on the edge of his desk and hear his voice as he talked about poetry.”


Those conversations with Bentley, which Brooker continued for years after she received her doctorate, enabled her to launch herself professionally. “He read the first papers that I submitted for publication, and he contributed to the first book that I edited. We collaborated in writing articles for publications, and then, in the most significant project, we collaborated on a book about a poem that we both loved, Eliot’s The Waste Land. The experience of working with Professor Bentley on this book was my baptism into serious scholarship.”


Brooker has published over one hundred essays on modern literature. During her career she has received numerous fellowships and grants, including prestigious fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Knight Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trust. She currently teaches at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, has taught at Columbia, and has held research appointments at Yale, Harvard, and Cambridge Universities. She is also a member of the faculty of the T. S. Eliot International Summer School at the University of London.


In addition to her scholarly work, Brooker is actively involved as either president or member of various humanities and professional societies. She has served on numerous committees for the National Endowment for the Humanities and works with the National Humanities Council. This year, her international lecture schedule will take her to Switzerland, England, Malta and South Korea.


“It is a pleasure to recognize the achievements of an alumna whose love of literature was nurtured at USF and has since committed her professional life to sharing the discipline with a new generation of students,” says USF Executive Vice President and Provost Ralph Wilcox.

“Dr. Brooker epitomizes the type of scholar this award is intended to honor,” says Silvio Gaggi, director of the USF Humanities Institute. “She has received wide recognition for her outstanding scholarly work and we are extremely proud that she laid the foundation of her career at USF.”

The USF Humanities Institute promotes the presence of the humanities at USF through the support of humanities-focused research, as well as lectures and discussions. “Through the leadership of the USF Humanities Institute, the university remains committed to a strong, vibrant, and challenging liberal arts curriculum, which is the foundation of any great university,” says Wilcox.

The institute will host the Distinguished Humanities Scholar Award ceremony on Thursday, March 18 at Traditions Hall in the USF Alumni Center beginning with a reception at 3:30 p.m. The award presentation will take place at 4 p.m.

For more information about the ceremony, contact Melanie Formentin at 813-974-3657 or formenti@cas.usf.edu.


 Photos courtesy Jewel Spears Brooker


The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.