In a way, Steven Hobbs' academic and literary pursuits parallel the mission of the School of New Resources -- that is, to bring higher education to adult learners in a manner that fits into their everyday lives.
"I'm interested in writers who, in some way, gesture toward mystery or religious, spiritual experience -- moments of grace or revelation for their characters," says Hobbs, an instructor of letters at the Co-op City Campus. These epiphanies can take place in a church, but more often than not, the stories transform the secular into the sacred, whether it's a tacky living room with the TV on, or a dark jazz club while someone sings the blues.
These post-war American writers of short fiction, such as Raymond Carver and James Baldwin, are the subjects of his research, and also feed his own writing.
"The classes I teach are generative to my own work," he says. "Canonical masterworks of short fiction provide me with inspiration." Hobbs is currently revising a manuscript of his short fiction, some of which has been published in a journal out of Yale.
Hobbs received an MFA in creative writing, with a focus on fiction, from the New School. He earned a master of arts in religion and literature from Yale, where he taught a course on religious themes in postwar American short fiction as a graduate student with his mentor, Peter Hawkins. While there, Hobbs was offered an adjunct position by David Goewey, a member of the SNR instructional staff in New Rochelle, to teach a course on religious art in New York City museums.
"It was of interest to students," Hobbs said. "They were interested in religion, and spirituality in general." The following semester, he taught a course called Modes of Analysis, which shows students ways of understanding works of literature. "The students were really into it, and the class evolved" to include more discussion of spirituality. "It's part of the reason I wanted to be at SNR."
Hobbs joined the instructional staff full-time last fall and currently teaches Modes of Analysis, The Short Story, and Journal Writing.
"I love teaching," Hobbs says, who taught ninth-grade English at a religious high school for three years. "That's why I wanted to be here, working with students in a classroom to read texts closely and critically, slowly, learning how to unfold a metaphor and be moved."
Hobbs says he enjoys how alive and dynamic student discussions are, with students of different ages and experiences, some of whom haven't been in the classroom for a while. Teaching full-time also has the added benefit of being able to work closely with students, particularly with papers -- translating in-class discussions to the written form. "It's very rewarding when they pull it off."
Down the road, Hobbs is also interested in writing about J.F. Powers, a Catholic writer of fiction who has been a big influence on his work. Powers wrote about priests with great humor, Hobbs says, showing them to be "so human in their pettiness and envy, but so committed to the Church -- very human tics that we all have." He also hopes to develop a course that looks at James Baldwin as a religious writer.
With a year of full-time teaching under his belt, Hobbs has seen some of the students come through his classroom again. "It's great to see how they've changed, in a beautiful way. They know where they're going, they're more confident. Their feet are more firmly planted, and I see improvement in their writing as well."
Hobbs also serves on the general committee, and as chair of the fiction committee, of the PEN Prison Writing Program's annual contest. The program encourages the creation of literature by those who are incarcerated, and the contest involves reading hundreds of entries. Hobbs lives in the West Village with his wife, Abigail, and, when time and the weather allows, goes surfing in Far Rockaway.