Georgetown English professor Maureen Corrigan received the John Seigenthaler Legends Award at the Killer Crime Writers’ Conference in Nashville, Tenn. Aug. 19.
The award, which was created to commemorate the journalist John Seigenthaler, is presented annually to a writer who uplifts other writers and honors Seigenthaler’s commitment to the First Amendment right of freedom of the press.
Corrigan has dabbled in mystery writing and is a scholar of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work. Beyond teaching at Georgetown, Corrigan has been the book critic on NPR’s pop culture show and podcast, “Fresh Air,” for 34 years.
Corrigan said her work with “Fresh Air” gives her a platform to support other writers by publicizing their work.
“I’m very proud of the fact that as part of the show, I’ve brought writers to the attention of the ‘Fresh Air’ audience, which averages over six million people for weekly broadcasts,” Corrigan told The Hoya.
Following Seigenthaler’s tradition, Corrigan has also advocated for free speech by writing and filming a 24-lecture series, “Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works.” The series chronicles controversial works of literature from the Spanish Inquisition in the late 1400s to modern-day critical race theory.
Government officials such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have banned several books from school reading lists in the past years for having pornographic or otherwise offensive content — though DeSantis denies claims that he has done so. Corrigan said that because of such policies, recounting the history of book bans is especially relevant today.
“These days, many concerted attempts to ban books come from the right, but also from the left,” Corrigan said. “Literature can be dangerous, just like all art can be dangerous, but what’s the alternative?”
Corrigan added that she thinks banning books greatly limits students’ reading options and quality of education.
“Of course, we have to be mindful of what words we’re choosing in books, but if I had to choose, I’d choose the freedom to use words that seem to be necessary rather than to be told I can’t use certain words,” Corrigan said.
Corrigan has been at Georgetown since 1989 and said that teaching complements her job at NPR, as she can make comparisons between F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work and the contemporary writers whose work she reviews.
“The intellectual conversation that goes on in-classroom is the best thing a critic like me could hope for to sharpen her own views on art and life,” Corrigan said. “I love the contact with students, seeing how their ways of reading work, and having my opinions challenged by them. It makes things fresh every year for me.”
Corrigan’s past students say she touched their lives and career choices and greatly improved their writing.
Aiden Johnson (COL ’19), now a producer at the BBC, said that he took five courses with Corrigan because her teaching style significantly impacted him.
“Corrigan fostered a way for me to develop my own thoughts about literature and other important topics,” Johnson told The Hoya. “She is a master at finding ways to use the different areas of her expertise and build them into courses that feel robust and engaging.”
Abigail Lovell (COL ’21, LAW ’24) said that Corrigan was a tough yet understanding professor who improved Lovell’s writing skills more than any other professor did.
“Corrigan was willing to sit down with me and give me not only the strong points of my writing but also when she was bored,” Lovell said.
Lovell added that one of her favorite memories of Corrigan was when she arrived with a box of Georgetown Cupcakes for her students at the last class before the COVID-19 lockdown started.
“The way she acknowledged her students really stood out to me. She handled an uncertain situation with such grace and made us feel special and appreciated,” Lovell said.
Professor Daniel Shore, the chair of Georgetown’s English department, said that the Seigenthaler Legends Award recognized Corrigan as a deserving legend in her field.
“There is no one else at Georgetown, or for that matter in the field of literary studies writ large, who has her record of accomplishment in reaching the widest of reading publics,” Shore wrote to The Hoya. “She is a true champion of reading and reading well, and her students and colleagues are immensely lucky to benefit from her talents in the classroom, on the page, and over the airwaves.”
Corrigan said she was pleased to have her book reviews recognized by the Conference for their writing quality.
“I try not to take myself too seriously, but I do take my work seriously,” Corrigan said. “It’s great to have people see what you’re doing and say, ‘We think you’re doing it really well.’”