Our professors design the courses, create classroom culture and, above all, loom large and play a dominant role in defining our community. But who are they when they aren’t lecturing, giving assignments and grading exams? “In My Other Life” is a column that intends to explore the intriguing lives of NYU’s professors both outside of the classroom and before they began teaching.
By Emma Scoble
Professor Sean Eve made quite an impression on me when he gave out the first assignment of Writing I, to “write a sex scene.” I vividly remember my embarrassment as I blurted out, “Ew!” He laughed heartily as if to say, “Welcome to NYU!”
Immediately, I knew that I was in for a wild ride — and a wild ride it has been! From that first suggestive assignment, Professor Eve created a workshop environment that was both open and fearless. Our assignments, though given in an open format, instructed us to, as he put it, throw ourselves at the world by taking actions of personal significance and then reflecting on and being inspired by them in our writing. In this intimate workshop setting, Eve sprinkled in casual stories of intriguing past endeavors, travel adventures and hilarious tales of lovers and stalkers. Through the course of our interview, Eve’s anecdotes included being abducted and held captive in the wilderness by an admirer during college, falling in love while writing a love story at NYU Florence, and partying with a collective of German lesbian sex performers.
Professor Eve is a tall, urbane man, often disheveled from rushing across campus to his classes. With his leather, lace-up sneakers and a pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket, Eve appears to be both a typical NYU professor and a seasoned New Yorker. Yet, unbeknownst to the students who pass him on the square, he is also a playwright, author, activist, art gallery owner and founder of a construction and design firm. Boundlessly energetic and full of diverse interests, Eve is a renaissance man who has lived the experiences of several lifetimes.
Born in Pembroke, Wales, in 1964, Eve grew up all over the world, residing in Wales, Hong Kong, Canada and St. Lucia, as well as New York City. He briefly studied Architecture at Cornell University before switching his focus to English Literature. After graduating with a bachelor’s, Eve pursued a Master’s of Fine Arts at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in Film and Television Writing.
Following his studies, Eve remained in New York City, writing avant-garde theater for mostly small, independent venues. One instance of his work was a public performance spectacle presented “in a series of shop fronts with someone on the fire escape and noises coming from the basement and scenes being enacted with stuffed animals in fish tanks.” He also wrote fiction, publishing under five pseudonyms (Eve is currently offering extra credit to any student who can identify his pen names). Pursuing his other passion, architecture, Eve co-founded a design and construction company, Atlas Industries, where he experimented with space and techniques from the ‘20s and ‘30s.
Eventually, however, Eve moved to London to make his big break as a playwright. His play “American Heart,” which had been successful in New York, was being produced and Eve had high hopes for the English production. However, what had seemed so promising quickly went awry for, as the classic saying goes, when it rains, it pours. Several weeks before opening night, the cast’s leading lady was injured and then “replaced by someone who didn’t speak English. I mean, she was attractive, but she couldn’t speak English — so it didn’t matter.” Then, the producer had a nervous breakdown, went into hiding and was found in the country several months later. As a result, the production was a disaster. Looking back on the incident, Eve reflected, “You don’t have that many commercial productions as a young playwright — I was still young then, and this had truly mattered to me.” Living in a closet-sized apartment and surviving on one can of soup a day, Eve decided to leave London and return to his birthplace, the small town of Pembroke, Wales, to spend time with his grandmother. There, Eve regrouped and reconnected with his lifelong pastime, gardening, and serendipitously, he did find his big break.
A friend of his grandfather, upon hearing that Eve enjoyed gardening, invited Eve to teach a local course on horticulture to people who had been deinstitutionalized from mental wards or were severely physically deformed in an initiative to help them obtain jobs as gardeners. Eve remembers his shocking first day with a wry grin and a chuckle, “I turn up and everyone’s eating the putty from the greenhouses because you could get high from [it.] A [40-year-old man] who had never been allowed out of his house … went berserk and hid in a shed.” Yet, from this unexpected opportunity, Eve reflects, “I found out that I really, really loved working with people, that I really loved teaching … it was exciting and ennobling.”
Upon his return to New York City, a friend of Eve’s who had heard about Eve’s teaching experience offered him a position as a writing professor at NYU, where Eve has been ever since. While comparing the experiences of teaching former mental patients and NYU students, Eve revealed that his experience in teaching horticulture to ex-psychiatric patients continues to shape his teaching here at NYU. Furthermore, Eve stated that his ultimate goal for his students has remained the same. Eve explained that the ex-patients “were trapped on the ‘crazy’ side,” in the pathologies that they had been diagnosed with, and NYU students are often “trapped on the sane side” in that they are fearful of expressing the innermost elements of their minds that make them unique. Eve asserted, “Everyone has a whole hell of a lot of oddball in them. [So] why is craziness only for famous people who are dead? The [Western] Canon is a series of odd-balls, exceptional figures, paranoiacs, megalomaniacs — people trusted their imaginations and visions enough to find a means for it to come into the world as writing, political tactics, the landscape of a theatrical production … Students’ greatest talents are truly what they imagine to be trivialities or pathologies.” Eve elaborated that his role as teacher is to positively impact his students’ lives, by helping them find self-fulfillment and empowerment.
These days, when not teaching, Eve is collaborating with several other NYU professors on a book called “Great Books Written in Prison.” His chapter centers on Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” and how Cervantes “produced the conceptualization of the book as a body … with political presence” and used groundbreaking technique to “construct an immediate, literary present.” Eve has also written a philosophical piece detailing his personal theory about “the institutional devolution of language,” as evidenced by how Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook’s spiritual, pluralistic, multicultural writings have been used by his son as “the theological justification for a militant nationalism.”
Perhaps most exciting of all, Eve has finished writing a novel, The Conversationalist, which is soon slated for release. The novel is about the journey of a young man in Cairo who becomes a professional conversationalist but gradually becomes silent. However, spoiler alert: Eve detailed that “in his silence, he does just as much or more to change and afford people the opportunities that he did in speaking.”
Beyond the realm of writing, though Eve has proclaimed that he is primarily a husband, he owns an art gallery in New Jersey and is in the process of creating a “bee corporation” that will be driven by the dual goals of economically improving communities as well as local ecologies. When not pursuing these projects, Eve chops wood and gardens daffodils at his New Jersey mountaintop home, which used to be a daffodil farm, where he resides with his ex, his fiancé, and a little dog named Brody. Eve, his ex, and his fiancé are also buying a building in an economically depressed town near their home in order to actively improve the town’s economy. They plan to open an art space as well as a cafe downstairs. Eve said with a smile: “Together, we’ll make the town different.”
In his personal endeavors and in the assignments that Eve gives his students, his optimistic, fearless worldview is readily apparent, “[Reality] is what we observe, create and transform. We are in the world, we act, we have the power to transform the world utterly in a moment…when you throw yourself at the world…all of a sudden it becomes more malleable.” True to form, Eve emboldens us in his writing class to be brazen and to take risks, both in our writings and in our lives. One thing is certain — we are better in his company.