I was born in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1960, where I lived and went through school until I was 18 years old. At college, I started out in pre-medicine, taking courses in biology, chemistry, physics and math. My school, Brown University, had very open requirements, so I could also take courses in humanities at the same time. I came to love philosophy and literature more than science.
Brown University also had a great film club, showing art, classic and counterculture films nightly, as well as regularly holding lectures and concerts. These “night classes” were almost as important as the regular classes. The great writer Mark Twain once said, “Never let your schooling get in the way of your education,” and for me, that was good advice.
After graduating college, I did not want to work or go to graduate school, so I saved a little money and took off to travel the world. I worked part-time jobs and traveled for two years, from New Zealand and Australia to Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean and Europe. That was also a powerful education, but I returned to the University of Kansas to get an M.A. degree in Education. As I was finishing my master’s thesis, I received a call from Beijing, China offering me a job teaching English. I spent two years there in the mid-1980s, teaching and traveling all over China.
After China, I came to Tokyo, where I taught English, presentation skills, literature, and philosophy. My restlessness drove me to return (again) to graduate school to study Comparative Literature, the perfect blend of philosophy and literature. I got a scholarship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and left Japan to go back to graduate school. After more travel, I returned to Tokyo and taught at ICU for six years before coming to Meiji Gakuin University. I finished my PhD at the University of Kent at Canterbury in the field of adaptation studies, which examines the difference between novels and films, and the relation of both types of narrative.
Now at MeiGaku, my main area of interest is American Literature and Culture. I teach seminars that include works by Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, Don DeLillo, Joseph Heller, Jack Kerouac, road novels, postmodern fiction and the Beat Generation. I also teach classes in American film, especially comedy, satire and indie films, but also documentary films and classic dramatic films. I am always trying to find interesting new ways to approach literary and cultural texts in the classroom. In Tokyo, I started my own website, Jazz in Japan, to write about this great musical art form. I also write for magazines, newspapers and published several books about living and working in Tokyo. Sometimes those other topics seem far away from literature, but of course, literature is really about life. Literature connects deeply to every part of life, and gives us insights into human beings and their choices. What more interesting subject could there be than humanity?
SEMINARS | CLASSES
My seminars are conducted all in English and include lots of discussion, writing and interaction. The seminar is very active, with students presenting, discussing and asking questions every class. The novels and stories are all in the original English, with other reading materials to help read more fully and deeply.
Fourth Year Seminar
American Novels: Comedy, Tragedy and In Between
In this seminar, we will first read novels from two powerful writers, Ernest Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy. They write with a simplicity of style, but a complexity of ideas. Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, one of the most famous American love stories, is a moving one set in Italy. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is also a love story but in a very different setting.
In the second semester, we will read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and watch the film of the novel. This postmodernist novel uses irony, comedy and absurdity to make serious points about humanity. The film is both surprisingly funny and thematically deep. The last novel we will read is Don DeLillo's novel White Noise. This recent novel about family, education and technology mixes comedy and philosophy with a unique style and sharp insight into contemporary life.
All these writers’ themes are universal ones: life, death, love, and truth. The course will examine their styles of writing, but also look deeply at the ideas and criticisms the writers make. This seminar aims to understand how novels criticize the worst aspects of culture, society and common beliefs, but at the same time promote the positive side of life that comes from fresh ways of thinking. The class will be conducted in English, so students should be ready to participate actively. Each week, we will read one section of the novel and in class ask questions, discuss, and present ideas and responses.
Third Year Seminar
American Short Stories—Reading about Life
In this seminar, we will read short stories from the most lively, funny and dynamic American writers. The short story is one of the most interesting and powerful forms of literature, and an important part of American culture. The stories in this seminar will make you think, explore issues and discover new ideas. Short stories are more than just creative language. Short stories explore serious issues while making us laugh, think and reconsider the world and our place in it. The best stories make a close connection between writing and living, because stories, after all, are one of the most basic and important ways we all find value, pleasure and meaning in life.
The class will be organized according to the great themes of literature—identity, love, growth and society. Each week, we will analyze a short story together by actively exploring the irony, action, symbols and dialogue. We will examine the emotions and conflicts of the characters to find out how stories clearly, and forcefully, present ideas, opinions and emotions. Reading and discussing them helps you understand humanity and know your own ideas and opinions.
We will start with very short stories and gradually build up to longer ones. Some of the stories come from famous realist writers like Ernest Hemingway, John Cheever and Raymond Carver. But we will also read comic and ironic stories by newer writers like Donald Barthelme, Woody Allen and Lorrie Moore. We will watch several film adaptations of the stories, too.
Topics in American Culture
The two-course sequence runs for one year, with music and film in the first semester and film and art in the second semester. The class also will encourage students to think critically while learning. The goals of the class are to provide a solid introduction to American culture, with an opportunity to think deeply about the works and to respond to them critically and creatively. The course provides an overview and introduction to the variety, concepts and elements of music, film and art in American culture.
This music section will examine blues, gospel, jazz, rock and roll, protest music and other American styles. The film section will focus on classic films, comedies, dramas and early black and white films that expose and criticize elements of American culture. The artists will start in the 1920s, such as Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe and go all the way up to contemporary artists working today.
American Film Satire and Indie Films
The first semester of this yearlong course will focus on American Film Satire from the 1960s to the present. These highly ironic films look at American culture from unique perspectives and offer humorous, sharp critiques of issues in American society and life. The class will look at what satire means and how it exposes and evaluates American culture. The course will focus on American Indie Films that have a human story.
Many film directors are still making stories that focus on emotion, personal struggle and human relations. The stories in these films are about daily life and real people. They are humorous, deep in feeling, and well-crafted explorations of human life. The class will look at films from classic directors of the American indie film movement. To understand American culture more deeply it is helpful to understand stories about people told with insight and warmth.
MY RESEARCH AND WRITING
My research and writing covers many different areas from comedy, to creative non-fiction to editorials, television work, and literary theory. For more information on what I study and research, you can see the abbreviated list below.
For more complete information, please feel free to contact me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also find more information by looking at the official list of publications and presentations.
I supervise many theses in the area of American culture, politics, music, art, film and experience. That is many areas from philosophy to fashion. Those graduation theses are always topics chosen by students, and written in a very individual way with research and opinions based on the works in the library, field research and online studies.
The following section contains a list of titles for graduation theses, MA theses and PhD dissertations I supervise for students. The topics students write about range from American literature to art to music to social issues and American foreign policy, and also often include creative writing as well as comparative Japanese-American issues.
Examples of B.A. Graduation Theses (‘sotsuron’)
“Kurt Vonnegut’s Nihilism and Criticism”
“White Fear and Inferiority Complex under Black Discrimination”
“Psychosocial Flatness: American Influences, Japanese Art”
“The Evolution of the Jazz Diaspora”
“Beating American 50s—the Lifestyle and Work of the Beat Generation”
“Sons of the Blues—Pop Music under the Influence of Blues”
“The rock poets”
“Individuality and Jackson Pollock”
“The 1960s American New York Art World and Expressionism”
“American culture made by great artists –John Coltrane, Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell“
“A Study of American Society Focusing on American Films”
“Struggle With Race On Hemingway’s Works”
“Kurt Vonnegut as Humorous Salvationist: What the Slaughterhouse-five Rescued”
“Analysis of works by Joseph Cornell”
“Character’s Growth through Change in Indie Films”
Supervised M.A. Theses
“Kurt Vonnegut’s Humanism”
“Vietnam War Film Adaptations”
Supervised PhD Dissertations
“Effective Ways to Use Literature in the Language Classroom” (to be completed 2015)
PhD. School of English, University of Kent at Canterbury, Canterbury, UK (2008)
M.A. Department of Comparative Literature, University of Wisconsin-Madison,
Madison, Wisconsin USA (1994)
M.A. Education Department, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA (1985)
B.A. Philosophy Department, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, USA(1982)
My research areas
These are the primary areas in which I do research, reading and writing:
American postmodern novel
American contemporary novel
American comedy and humor
Satire and indie films
Jazz and blues
My Journal Publications and Presentations
I publish research in many areas, including contemporary American novels, adaptations of novels into film, comedy, modernist novels, postmodern novels, film theory, education and many other areas. What I try to look for are connections between different types of expressions such as the way music interacts with writing, or film interacts with society. I also present on topics related to education and teaching. An important area I focus on is the methods and techniques of teaching literature, film and culture.
Books (as author)
I have written several books about life in Tokyo as an original author writing creative non-fiction. I have published two textbooks about studying literature. As a contributor to other books, I have worked on many different types of things ranging from jazz to teaching to test-taking and English study. Please see the official list for more information.
I run several homepages on different topics, including jazz in Japan, essays about studying, my own site with essays about Tokyo, and another site about teaching literature, which also includes an online open access journal about literature teaching.
Jazz in Japan www.jazzinjapan.com
Essays on English in Japan www.essayengjp.com
Michael Pronko author www.michaelpronko.com
Liberlit and Lit Matters www.liberlit.com and www.liberlit.com/litmatters/
Magazines, Newspaper and Websites
As a writer, I write regularly for different magazines and newspapers in Japan, ranging from editorials to personal essays to cultural criticism. Those publications include Artscape Japan, ST Shukan, The Japan Times, Newsweek Japan, TokyoQ, among others.
Television and Radio Appearances
Crazy as it may seem, I’ve been invited to appear on television many times. I have done shows on Japanese culture for NHK Overseas, and NHK’s視点論点, 世界一受けたい授業 Nihon TV, and other TV programs.
For more information and details please see the link to the official list of publications or contact me directly at: email@example.com