SUNY New Paltz English Professor Thomas Festa has been named the 2013 recipient of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (LA&S) Excellence in Scholarship Award.
The award aims to distinguish outstanding achievements in research, scholarship or creative activity accomplished by a faculty member of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Festa’s main field of scholarship is based upon early modern English literature, but one of his main concentrations is on the study of English poet John Milton.
According to the LA&S Excellence in Scholarship Award guidelines, applicants are evaluated based on excellence as demonstrated in books, professional journals or other publications, and presentations at professional meetings or other venues that are subject to peer review processes. The committee considers work published or presented in the past three years from the time of nomination.
Interim Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences Mary Stella Deen said Festa was nominated for this award on behalf of English Department Chair Nancy Johnson, who recognized the foundations of his first-rate publication and conference presentations in the fields of Milton studies and sixteenth and seventeenth century English literature.
“In addition to this prolific publication, Professor Festa’s scholarship has been included in prestigious volumes and has garnered national and international acclaim,” Deen said. “In the past three years, Professor Festa has published an anthology of Women’s writing in the early modern period and eight articles on [English poets John Milton and Edmund Spenser], and the poetic imagination.”
Deen also said aside from Festa’s accolades in the world of literature and Milton studies, she is thoroughly impressed with his abilities to connect with his students through his literary passions in the classroom.
“Professor Festa is an outstanding classroom instructor, one who engages students’ interest in seventeenth century literature through his knowledge of and passion for his subject,” she said. “As Director of the Graduate Program in English, Professor Festa advises and mentors some 70 graduate students and leads his colleagues in curricular development [and he] richly deserves the honor of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Excellence in Scholarship Award.”
As the recipient of this award, Festa is very pleased that his home institution has chosen to recognize his work in a topic of study that he is so passionate about.
“I’m honored and delighted to be recognized by the college for my scholarship,” Festa said. “It feels particularly gratifying to receive such positive attention from my colleagues in LA&S from across the disciplines. I feel lucky to be able to teach at a supportive university that encourages research as well as teaching.”
When Festa first enrolled in college at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for his undergraduate degree, his intention was to study English as a “stepping stone” for law school. After working as an intern for a couple of summers at his uncle’s law firm, he encountered the powerful realization that instead of law, English literature was the path that he wanted to pursue in life.
“I loved reading English literature so much that I didn’t want to stop studying, so I put my plans to apply to law school on indefinite hold and applied to Ph.D. programs instead during my senior year,” Festa said.
Through his decision to study literature, Festa then discovered his affinity for studying Milton and teaching students later in life about the poet’s work.
“The first upper division course I walked into was a lecture on John Milton taught by Chris Grose, the professor who eventually became my Honors Thesis advisor, unofficial mentor and all-round literary guru,” Festa said. “From the first moments of the class, I was transfixed by Milton’s sublime poetry and intrigued by the [complex] philosophical depth that the professor seemed effortlessly to coax from the text. I guess you could say that from that moment on, I was hooked.”
Preceding his studies of Milton’s works in a college setting, Festa has continued to research the seventeenth century poet’s work throughout his professional career and has authored an extensive collection of publications to record his findings. He has since recently appeared on print in Huntington Library Quarterly, where he discusses the rival traditions of editing and annotating Milton’s Paradise Regained and is also in the process of co-editing collections of scholarly essays that are showcased in “The Conference on John Milton”— a writer’s seminar focused on Milton — which is held at Middle Tennessee State University every other year.
Among his most recent accomplishments, Festa also feels that teaching at SUNY New Paltz for the past nine years has been a fulfilling experience.
“I feel fortunate to have had such outstanding students and great colleagues in my time here,” Festa said. “I think my experiences teaching here at the college have led to some of my best scholarly ideas, and I certainly feel grateful to my students and colleagues for helping inspire me to keep growing and learning as a thinker and teacher.”