The English Honors Seminar for the 2016-17 year at Queens College focuses on literary works that tell stories about relationships between the brain, mind, body and self.
Professor Jason Tougaw facilitates the course and has engineered the title “Reading Minds, Touching Brains” to represent the connection between neuroscience and literature.
Tougaw is an associate professor in the Department of English and has been teaching at QC for 10 years. Before working at QC, he taught in the writing program at Princeton and the literature program at American University in Washington, DC.
Tougaw was the first person in his family to go to college.
“When I got to college, the place seemed like a miracle. People were thinking and reading and talking about ideas,” Tougaw said.
He hopes to share the value of precise writing and communication, as well as learning from books and other people, through dialogue and conversation with his students.
Zahava Glucksman, a junior English major in this year’s English Honors Seminar, is happy to be in Professor Tougaw’s class.
“I think it’s important to note that he really cares about his students. He corresponds with them throughout the brainstorming process of essays and projects and sends constructive criticism,” Glucksman said.
Tougaw says that he values making himself available to talk with students about their hopes and aspirations.
“I enjoy listening to Queens College students talking candidly about what they want and even the struggles and uncertainty they feel about their goals,” Tougaw said.
He credits his own inspiration to his professors in college.
“[I] wanted to do what they were doing: thinking and writing and contributing to the world of ideas,” Tougaw said.
James Marone, a junior, took the Honors Seminar based on a recommendation by Professor Silyn Roberts. He said the open mindedness of the class makes it interesting.
“The open discussions we hold encourage free thinking and allow for multiple perspectives with constructive debate and discourse,” Marone said.
Tougaw is also a writer and is publishing two books in the coming year that represent his range of research and writing.
“Touching Brains: Literary Experiments in Twenty-First-Century Neuromania” is about the influence of neuroscience on literature—and the ways that writers experiment with neuroscientific theories about the brain’s role in the making of self.
“The One You Get: Portrait of a Family Organism” is a memoir about growing up as a child of hippies in 1970s southern California.
Tougaw also briefly mentioned working on a novel that blends art and science in various ways.
“The plot of that is a secret for now!” Tougaw said.
Professor Maaza Mengiste, an assistant professor in the English Department, member of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at QC and a published author, has known Professor Tougaw since 2012.
Mengiste admires Tougaw’s dedication to his students and how his intellect and curiosity seem to transfer to them.
“I’m fascinated by Professor Tougaw’s research. He’s also an incredible writer and will soon have a memoir published that combines his interest in neuroscience. How cool is that?” Mengiste said.
Outside of lecturing and writing, Tougaw hosts a weekly radio show called The Mixtape on WJFF Radio Catskill in Sullivan County, where he has a house with his husband.
Tougaw’s English Honors Seminar course blog, Reading Minds, displays very concise plans for his English Honors students that reflect his research and what can be learnt about being human through examining altered states of consciousness or neurological differences.