Allen Frost joined Nueva from Stanford University, where he received his PhD in English in June 2015. His dissertation focused on representations of geography and space in 20th century American novels, from William Faulkner to Jonathan Franzen. At Stanford, he taught courses in American fiction, poetry, rhetoric, and art history, and he also helped graduate students develop teaching expertise in the Department of English and through the Center for Teaching and Learning. While pursuing his doctorate, Allen spent several summers teaching literary theory to gifted high school students at the Arkansas Governor’s School in his hometown, Conway, AR. He began his teaching career in public high schools in Pennsylvania and then taught at the Chinese International School in Hong Kong. Allen received his BA in English literature and educational studies from Swarthmore College. He lives in San Francisco’s Cole Valley and plays oboe with the San Francisco Civic Symphony.
1. How did you find Nueva?
I discovered Nueva through an independent school search firm, Carney Sandoe. As soon I realized that Nueva was so close to me, I started looking for the Bay Meadows campus from the window of the Caltrain that I took every day from San Francisco to Palo Alto.
2. How was it teaching at an international school in Hong Kong?
I was so young when I started there — I’d only just turned 23 — that everything seemed like a whirl. I loved the job, my colleagues, and my students, and I stayed a year longer than I initially expected to. One of the strange aspects of the position for an American teacher was that everyone taught all grades, from 6 to 12! I’d go from teaching Hamlet to teaching a Roald Dahl short story.
3. Your dissertation focused on geography and space in 20th century American novels. Where did your interest in spatial representations come from?
As a kid I’d spend hours staring at maps of cities and countries all over the world. Because I grew up in Arkansas, much of the world seemed impossibly distant, even though my family and I traveled a lot. I started paying attention, then, to how writers created spaces in fiction. Did they spend the first ten pages describing a manor house in rural England (what I called the “strenuous production of setting” in my dissertation)? Or did they dispense with all that by having a narrator say something like “I walked by Central Park” in the first paragraph, thus leaving the setting to the mind of the reader?
4. What place has inspired you the most?
A sandbar on the banks of the Strong River in rural southern Mississippi. I spent a number of summers as a kid and during college at a summer camp there, and overnight canoe trips under the stars remain some of my most vivid memories.
5. If Nueva were a book, which would it be? Why?
That’s a hard question for an English teacher to answer simply. Here are three possibilities. Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo presents jazz as an infectious virus, but a good one that gets people thinking, and in many ways Nueva represents for me a radical idea that gets passed on as people come into contact with it. Joan Silber’s The Size of the World is a novel that presents the interlinked stories of more than five protagonists, each from her or his own perspective; I think Nueva, too, is full of characters with fascinating histories waiting to be shared in different voices. Finally, as a location, Nueva bears a strong similarity to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which actually takes place at a school for exceptional tennis players! Wallace’s novel contains hundreds of lengthy footnotes about various topics — it’s the same at Nueva, where you could stop anyone and ask for an in-depth explanation of anything from atonal music to theoretical physics.
March 10, 2017