Nancy K. Barry

Mentors and Liberal Arts Play Important Roles

As a senior in college, Nancy Barry knew she wanted to follow in the path of some of her mentors in writing and literature. Plus, she always felt at home with the liberal arts. “Because I’m drawn to nonfiction writing and the history of ideas,” she says, “pretty much anything in the world can be interesting to me if it’s couched in compelling stories or language.”

Barry also loves teaching at a liberal arts college where her mind on any given day can wander amid questions of economics, psychology, health, or even chemistry. “My own specialty—20th century American literature and contemporary nonfiction writing—makes me most at home in classes on poetry or creative nonfiction,” she says. “My interests also fit well with my teaching in Luther’s Paideia program.”

In addition to teaching English courses, Barry serves as director of advising, where she works with students who are struggling to declare a major, or coming to the uncomfortable realization that the “expected” major really isn't for them. “I do my best teaching in those conversations where we talk through the specifics of the ‘most favorite’ or ‘least favorite’ class,” she says. “We really sort through what a student enjoys and wants to work at, and where they might focus their efforts.”

Her Study-Away Courses

Barry has often led students on the January Term course English Theatre as a Mirror of Society. “Next spring, I’ll be the director of the London portion of the ACM (Associated Colleges of the Midwest) semester-long course Florence and London:  Arts in Context,” she says. “I’ll teach a class called Theatrical Spaces, Enduring Questions, Changeable Lives: Theatre in London Then and Now." In 2010, Barry translated her love of theatre into a one-woman show, Lessons from Cancer College, based on her memoir as a breast-cancer survivor, a play funded in part by a grant from the Iowa Arts Council.

A Mix of Interests

As students get to know Barry, they soon realize she has a diverse set of interests. “I’ve been teaching at Luther for 25 years,” she says. “Students are just as likely to see me in Main building or attending the local Poetry Slam as running on the Frisbee field on Sunday afternoons, or even swimming laps with the Decorah Masters Swim club.”

Barry feels that the liberal arts has become part of her DNA at this point. “I believe profoundly that the best training for becoming an engaged citizen of the world is to spend four years as an authentic student—using the liberal arts to shape not just what you study but how you live.”

Samples of Barry’s work:

  • "Lessons from Cancer College," one-person play funded in part by Iowa Arts Council Grant, 2010.
  • Chapel talks published in Agora
  • Nonfiction Now Conference in October 2015 on "Making (Radio) Waves"
  • Faculty member for University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival for the past 25 years

Teaching writing is an art, and it's one I've been practicing for 25+ years.

—Nancy K. Barry