Face Value: Maureen Quilligan

March 31, 2004

Maureen Quilligan
R. Florence Brinkley Professor of English and chair of the department, specialist in Renaissance literature, author of four books, wife, mother, would-be gardener 

Describe yourself in three words:

Energetic, enthusiastic ... It just seems so pretentious to say I'm unpretentious. Okay. I'm interested.

Describe Duke in three words:

Great gardens, students


Why Duke?

It was a chance to be of use. They said they needed someone to put the English department back together, and when I came here I realized that, in fact, the English department was already together. [Former department chair] Stanley Fish had been my undergraduate teacher when I was at [the University of California at] Berkeley. I felt he built a great department. What everybody was saying was a real problem with it meant that there was an immense amount of energy in the department. It wasn't a dysfunctional department. It was a department that had just sort of lost its rhythm. And so it had to get back in sync with itself. I think I helped with this. I attended on this. You wait for it. You don't force it.

Maureen Quilligan


photo by Chris Hildreth


What one thing would you change about Duke?

I would switch the position of cultural capital. I would have the mainstream, intellectually committed majority of Duke students have the most visibility. They would just know they are the most important part of the place, as they are.

Who is your favorite person?

My husband. He's a great novelist and an amazing human being: Michael Malone.

What do you value?

Honesty. Without it, you don't know who you are.

In her words:

I'm old. I know who I am. Finally. I want to keep doing what I've been doing, because I haven't gotten it quite right yet. I want to write two more books. I want to do a garden. I realized what I wanted to do when I was a freshman at the University of California in the Sixties. The teaching assistant and the professor in my English composition class were carrying on a conversation about grades, and they had this little repartee about symbols they used when they corrected papers. And I thought, "Those two are having so much fun. That's what I want to do for the rest of my life." Want to hear the joke? The T.A. said, "That CCL in the margin means circumlocutory. That means you're using too many words." And the professor said, "I just write wordy."

A joint project of University Photography and Duke Magazine, Face Value is an evolving gallery of portraits displayed in Perkins Library and represented in the magazine.

By capturing these individuals in images and words, the project celebrates some of the staff, faculty, and students whose contributions define a diverse community.

Portrait by Chris Hildreth. Photo finishing by Brent Clayton.