by former student Susan Cox
I remember the September evening I arrived at my assigned classroom at Montclair State for a graduate class in the modern novel. I believe it was 1980, but I cannot be certain. The course was being taught by Sharon Spencer, a professor I never had as an undergraduate. Many of the students who arrived had her courses before and were excited. They spoke of what a great teacher she was and how exciting her classes were.
Sharon arrived: young, pretty, graceful, and with a sense of glowing happiness about her. She immediately decided that we needed a room with a window and had the classroom changed. I was totally in awe of her. She exuded intelligence and creativity. She shared with the class stories about her friendship with Anaïs Nin as we were studying A Spy in the House of Love. During that semester, Sharon introduced me to so many wonderful authors, including Lawrence Durrell, Alain Pierre Robbe-Grillet, and Malcolm Lowry. She also had us read novels by Latin American authors. In that, she was decades ahead of her times.
When it came time to begin writing my master’s thesis, I had chosen a Victorian author as my subject, so the graduate advisor recommended a professor who taught Victorian literature as my thesis advisor. I expressed my dislike for that professor, and the advisor wisely asked what professor I enjoyed the most. Of course, I chose Sharon. I knew that her intelligence and creativity would make her the perfect advisor, even in a field of literature that was not her chosen area of study. She worked very hard with me, leading me in many directions. The product was something I am still proud of today, and I value the one-on-one guidance I received from her.
I returned to Montclair State in the late 1990s to take some teacher education courses. When I would go to the bookstore at the beginning of each semester, I would browse through the section containing books for the English courses just to see what she was teaching. I believe it was in the year 2000 that I no longer saw her name in the catalogue, and her selected novels were missing from the bookstore. I assumed she had retired, and I thought it was a shame that more students wouldn’t have the pleasure of taking one of her courses. I just now discovered by viewing the Anaïs Nin website that Sharon passed away.
It’s difficult to imagine that the vibrant and brilliant woman who was my professor and who became my role model is no longer with us. However, what she taught me and her many other students lives on. Through us, as well as all the people whose lived she touched and all her writing, Sharon is in a very real sense still a part of the wonder of higher education and literature.