McNeely gives modern look at literature

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McNeely gives modern look at literature

McNeely's puppet of his favorite author James Joyce features the author's signature spectacles and hat. Photo: Nick Zukowski

One member of the English faculty is so passionate about his favorite author, James Joyce, that he has a finger puppet of him. “When I was in the final stages of the dissertation, I had family members who came by and brought [the finger puppet] for me,” Dr. Brent McNeely said. “They saw it in a bookstore.”

McNeely, a faculty member in the Division of English Language and Literature, teaches En 103, Modern World Literature, British Literature since 1688, Multiethnic Literature and English Seminar. McNeely also teaches modern English literature classes and has taught graduate-level literature courses in the past.

“When I was a senior in high school, I started praying about my future,” McNeely said. “I knew early on that I wanted to teach.”

McNeely switched between majors a couple of times before settling on an undergraduate degree in English. He then went on to get his master’s in English from Clemson University. While at Clemson, McNeely discovered his passion for modern literature, especially Irish author James Joyce, best known for his novel Ulysses that parallels Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey.

McNeely was saved at 9 years old through his uncle’s witness. Photo: Nick Zukowski

“I took a few modern courses and immediately I just really loved it,” McNeely said. This passion for modern literature proved useful when McNeely joined the BJU faculty in 1998. “That really worked out because when I was hired here, I was the only one who liked modern,” McNeely said. “It really helped fill a hole in the program here. I’m not bragging, but there was no one else to teach [modern literature].”

“He’s not the traditional English teacher,” said senior Katelyn Lain, creative writing major. “He thinks of things differently and evaluates text in a fresh, more modern way.” Lain particularly enjoys his class discussions and text evaluations.

Four years after he was hired at BJU, McNeely completed his doctorate in English at the University of South Carolina. He wrote his dissertation on the early works of James Joyce. “[Joyce] was influential in so many ways on other authors,” McNeely said. He enjoys teaching Joyce’s Dubliners, a collection of 15 short stories. “It’s the greatest collection of short stories ever,” McNeely said. He also enjoys reading other books. “I tend to like encyclopedic or all-encompassing books like Dante’s Divine Comedy or Joyce’s Ulysses,” McNeely said.

As a Christian in the English field, McNeely said he can remain objective on secular authors. “Ten years ago I would’ve been more defensive of [Joyce], but now I’m more objective,” McNeely said.

McNeely says he’s not as much of a fanboy of Joyce as he used to be. “I view Scripture itself as the center of all literature. Even non-Christian authors still allude to Scripture a lot.”

McNeely’s puppet of his favorite author James Joyce features the author’s signature spectacles and hat. Photo: Nick Zukowski

McNeely said he believes the English department could be improved by hiring a Black faculty member to teach Black literature. He currently teaches a multiethnic literature class where onethird of the content focuses on Black literature. “It would be awesome to hand that off to a Black colleague,” McNeely said. He would also like to encourage more participation in professional activities, such as academic publications, attendance at conferences and involvement in scholarly groups.

In his spare time, McNeely reads, collects vinyl records and spends time with his family. McNeely is married with three sons and a daughter. His wife, Heather, has her doctorate in music. She teaches at Greenville Tech, gives private trumpet lessons and works at a rock climbing gym.

His eldest son is following in his father’s footsteps and is currently applying for M.A. and Ph.D. programs in English. He has a son currently enrolled at Clemson University, and his youngest two children are enrolled at Bob Jones Academy.