Stephanie Burt

Category Faculty Spotlight

Author

A portrait of Samantha Sarafin '21.
Samantha Sarafin Class of '21
Authored on September 03, 2020

Article

Stephanie Burt’s office is every bookworm’s dream.

After climbing up to the second floor of the Barker Center and stepping through the office door, one is met with walls covered floor-to-ceiling in books, poetry collections, and comics. This impressive library belongs to Stephanie Burt - a beloved professor of the English department and a self-defined “mutant from space.”

Professor Stephanie Burt works in her office, located in the Barker Center.

Professor Stephanie Burt works in her office, located in the Barker Center. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer.

Burt grew up in Washington, D.C., completing her early education among a supportive family and school system. Even from a young age, she was extremely passionate about many different topics - but she knew her future career would be in education and poetry.

“When I was 16 years old, I knew that I wanted to be a molecular biologist, a singer songwriter like Billy Bragg, a science fiction novelist, or a poetry professor. It turns out I have a great deal of difficulty sustaining a narrative in prose. Nobody wants to hear me sing, and nobody should. And you really don't want me near a lab. So that left the poetry professor.”

Burt went on to complete her undergraduate degree at Harvard, studying English. While on campus, she lived in Adams House, wrote for The Harvard Advocate and Let’s Go travel guides, and worked as a DJ at WHRB.

After her undergraduate degree, Burt earned her PhD from Yale. She taught English courses at Macalester College before returning to Harvard. As a current professor of English, the director of undergraduate studies in the English department, a literary critic, poet, writer, visible transgender woman, and mother, Burt is certainly busy - but she truly loves what she does.

“I spend my time teaching, writing poetry, writing about poetry, writing about transgender robots in space, writing about queer and trans topics that do not include robots or space, working with my colleagues to determine how we can do the right things for our students, advising senior thesis writers, and rushing home in time to pick up our kids and make them dinner,” Burt says. “The problem is that when I really like something, sooner or later I write or teach about it. Then I wonder if it is a hobby or if I am becoming a professional critic of that thing.”

Burt’s talks about how her work, passions, and hobbies not only span many topics, but also many time periods.

“There are a lot of thoughtful writers and students, especially in America, who encourage one another to pay attention to only very recent work that speaks to us directly. And that's understandable, especially for those of us who have identities that wouldn't have been legible, or wouldn't be permitted, in a lot of the earlier historical periods. But there's a lot of old stuff out there that's really wonderful, that can really speak to you and offer its beauty, its tenderness, and its strength to you. But you have to spend a little time figuring out how to listen to it. I get a lot of pleasure from helping people do that.”

Outside of the Barker Center, Burt takes great joy in being a mother to her two children, as well as engaging with the greater Boston community. 

“I want to make things better for the next generation, which means, first, trying to be a good mom,” Burt says. “It also means working with the local and state government. On a level where you can really make change for people, you may not be able to do something about your favorite large cause, but you can make a contribution somehow. You can get a wheelchair ramp put in. You can get a film closed-captioned. My partner is really involved in the local government of our town, so a lot of my contributions are being home to watch our nine-year old so that she can go to town meetings. And I like to think that this is one of my primary contributions to local politics. But it is a contribution. No contribution is too small.”

Professor Stephanie Burt poses in her office, surrounded by books.

Professor Stephanie Burt's work spans a wide variety of topics, time periods, and genres. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer.

Stephanie Burt is constantly giving. She gives care and love to her children, she gives guidance to her senior thesis advisees, and she gives students free books from her office. She gives lessons about queer literature and Middle English poetry. She finds ways to give parents advice, through literature and comic books, about how to be accepting of their transgender children. But most of all, Stephanie Burt gives a voice to all that she believes in and all that she is passionate about - and translates this practice to her students.

 

Stephanie Burt teaches many courses in the English department, including “Comics and Graphic Novels,” “Queer Literature,” and “Science Fiction,” which can be viewed in the course directory.

Samantha Sarafin Class of '21

Hi! My name is Samantha, and I'm a senior from Lancaster, Massachusetts. I am an English concentrator living in Cabot House.

Student Profile
A portrait of Samantha Sarafin '21.