Students who’ve had a class (or two (or eight)) with Dr. Hamner probably know a bit about his rich history as a scholar: Master’s degrees at Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore) and Regent College (Vancouver), a PhD earned as a Presidential Fellow in English at the University of Iowa, articles published in the book The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and the journals Renascence, American Literature, and Philological Quarterly among others. People with curiosity and access to Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo know those things too.
Students also get to know other things about Dr. Hamner, like his pre-seminary training, fluency in Spanish and stories of adventure in Latin America. Some of his most popular anecdotes stem from his time spent working with prisoners in Central America (a particular tale about the incarcerated men asking for his pants as a parting gift remains a favorite for many). His work in the specialized field of Spanish-language science fiction led to an extended trip to Argentina and an article published in Science Fiction Studies (“Remembering the Disappeared: Science Fiction Film in Post-dictatorship Argentina”).
Surprisingly, science fiction (or “SF” as the cool kids are calling it) can be just as divisive as politics in Dr. Hamner’s classes. For those who love it, or at least learn to like it, reading lists of Atwood, McCarthy, Ishiguro, and Vonnegut make homework feel like a leisure activity. For those who hate it, only Dr. Hamner’s own enthusiasm for the topic can help them make it through. Religion, the other major topic in his field of study, has the more obvious potential to be volatile. Yet those on the road to finding or losing their faith can find equal inspiration in his classes. While always ready to play devil’s advocate, his willingness to hear out differing viewpoints (even the objectively crazy ones) allows students to feel safe exploring even the most controversial topics in class and in papers.
‘Put yourself out there and see what happens’ is among the most valuable lessons he teaches. His seemingly endless encouragement to even the most diffident and difficult people to speak up in class, present their work at conferences, and attempt things which scare them can come in many forms, including gentle prodding, bribery, public joshing, and personal appeals. His successful efforts at getting students out of their shells are evident at every Undergraduate Research Day, EGO conference, and Butterworth evening, where his classes are always well represented. His own stories often show that many great things come from simply asking. How else does one get to have lunch interview with Ursula Le Guin, an in-class Skype session with Ronald Green from his vacation home, a visit with Richard Powers, and an exciting night with Jeffery Eugenides (or “Jeff,” as he is known to his friends)?
While maybe the specifics of stories, comments on drafts, and grades on papers won’t stick in students’ minds long after graduation, his role as counselor certainly can. At a rare loss for funny quips, former student Nicholas Reans (’12 graduate) describes Dr. Hamner as “just the finest professor I’ve ever had. Personable and knowledgeable, able to make me think about papers in a completely different way. Couldn’t ask for a finer mentor.” Those who’ve sought him out for advice about taking assignments a step further, pursuing a life in academia, or anything, really, know the value of his mentorship. Those who’ve enjoyed his classes can see how much his diverse life experiences are woven into his work; they can tell how much he wants for students to go out and have their own adventures in the wide open world. Those things about him, at least, are not accessible by search engine.