Ohio University

Faculty Focus - Tony Vinci

Faculty Focus - Tony Vinci

Full Name: Tony M. Vinci

  • Birthplace: Rochester, NY
  • Title: Associate Professor
  • Department: English
  • Number of Years Teaching: 20
  • Number of Years at OU Chillicothe: 6

Degrees/University/Dates:

  • Ph.D., English, Southern Illinois University, January 2014.
  • M.A., English, SUNY College at Brockport, May 2000.
  • B.S., English, SUNY College at Brockport, May 1998.

Greatest Accomplishment(s):

  • Becoming a professor.
  • Publishing my most recent book—it represents 20+ years of research and 40+ years of life.

Q. What led you to Ohio University and how long have you taught at the Chillicothe campus?

I have been on the Chillicothe campus for 6 years. This is a weird, magical little place. Chillicothe, Ohio has more creativity per capita than anywhere I have ever lived. There is so much life and passion here. I think that is because there is so much history here. And, if I could be so blunt, there is a lot of pain here. People are not shy about their lives here. They share what they experience, and I think that is beautiful. When I interviewed here and met the students, I was utterly enamored. These folks were thoughtful, energetic, creative, and weird. I think that is what I appreciated the most…Then I met my colleagues. These are some people willing to sacrifice their time, their energy, their effort, their love to change and develop this community. One of the coolest things about working for a small campus is you get to see the change you create.

Q: What are the areas of campus and community engagement in which you are involved? How does this support or impact your teaching?

I am utterly devoted to the personal, political, emotional, and artistic lives of not just my students but all of Chillicothe, Ohio. So, when it comes to campus service, anything to help students think, grow, develop, challenge, and express themselves in new and provocative ways, I want to be involved with. I teach creative writing, so I am always trying to get my students to talk about their personal experiences, their cultural experiences, and share them through writing. I work very closely with the theatre department and try to help student actors, writers, and directors. Even though we don’t have a music department, I am a professional musician myself, and I am always talking to students who are writing lyrics, working on a home recording, or just have the idea of becoming a musician. So, those are the areas I try to devote my time and energy to. I don’t just teach, but I create what I hope are lifelong relationships. I don’t plan on going anywhere…this is where I live and this is now my community…If I can help my students live better lives, my life will be better because they are my community members now.

Q: Who is your biggest role model and why?

Most of my role models are dead. Shakespeare writes Hamlet and it is first performed around 1601. It saved my life, that darn play. It taught me about how to think, how to be compassionate, how to be vulnerable as an adult male. It told me that my pain was real and it’s okay. It told me that you can try and fail and try again. It told me that if the community you live in isn’t working for you, you can create new parts of that community, but you can’t just run away. You have to stay, you have to work, and you have to change. You can’t ever escape yourself.

Most of my other role models are teachers. And, my teachers (for the most part) were wacky, creative, and strange folks. I’ve had Republican teachers, Democratic teachers, Libertarian teachers. I’ve had teachers that are literally monks and Jesuits. All these folks (not that I had to follow any one of them), they all had to sacrifice to teach me how to think and how to grow up. But, if there is one role model I have (today), it is a person named Dr. Edward Brunner. He is retired from Southern Illinois University. When I left New York, I was a tenured professor of English. I had lifelong job security, (but) decided to leave to pursue another degree. I ended up studying with Edward Brunner and he showed me really quickly that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was, I wasn’t as deep as I thought I was, and I could have been a much better teacher. More than anything, he taught me how to be professional and compassionate in a world where everyone is frustrated and angry. And, in Chillicothe, Ohio, we have a lot of frustration. We have a lot of beauty, a lot of hope, and a lot of anger. To be taught more about how to meet students with compassion and not meet them back with frustration is probably one of the best things I have ever been taught in my life.

Q. What is one thing your students may not know about you that you would like to share?

I think students would be surprised about how terrified I am all the time. I hate being in front of cameras. I don’t like being in front of people very much. Speaking is great and I can talk all day long. I also like being listened to. But, I am terrified to enter into the classroom every single day…I’ve been teaching for 20 years, but I still experience a nervousness where I want to do something amazing. I want to challenge myself. I feel that when I enter into the classroom. I have 20-30 people who have put their lives in my hands for a couple of hours. That’s no small thing! For them it might just be a class. For me it is a duty, a responsibility, an obligation to myself, to my discipline as a creative person, as an intellectual, and to Chillicothe and the state of Ohio…I go home every night and spend time wondering if I did a good job of if I did well enough.

Q. What is one (or two) books every student should read and why?

Everyone needs to read Hamlet. It’s over 400 years old and about a depressed aristocrat in Britain. But, it doesn’t matter. Think about what teenagers go through. Not just teenagers, but all of us. We get depressed, we get worried, I feel and we get paranoid that people won’t love us anymore. We get haunted by the previous generation. That play is about how I have a responsibility to the world, but I am not sure how to honor that responsibility. So, I am kind of depressed and worried about it. I don’t know if I should honor my family, a political point of view, a religion, or what I think is important. This is literary what Hamlet struggles with in the play. And, ultimately he fails. I think it is important for people to see others try and fail because that gives us inspiration to (fail until we succeed). But, if you’re not going to read Shakespeare, there is an amazingly beautiful book called The Strange Bird by Jeff VanderMeer. It’s only about 100 pages long and is one of these post-apocalyptic fantasy books. It is about the holocaust, love, and how to live in an increasingly complicated world. It’s 2020 right now and every year things are getting more complicated. We have more technology, more phones and computers. It is becoming harder to find out what’s not static in our world… The Strange Bird helps us to figure out what’s real, what’s important and what we should devote ourselves to.

Q. When you were in college, what were your interests?

I was a radical kid when I was a student. I was kept out of college and not invited to school. I was told in high school, you are a dumb farm kid and we are not going to talk to you about college. Quite literally they were surprised when I showed up to high school. We had to work to live in my house. So, school was never that important to me. I went to college on a lark…But, once I started college, I was angry every day. I didn’t like being told what to do and how to think by all of these other people. I was confused about sociology, math, and biology because none of it was like it what I learned in high school….I still lived at home and worked full time through college. I ran a convenient store, gave guitar lessons, worked at a machine shop, as a mason, and on the farm. So, college for me was the thing. Going to class was an escape from all of the other stuff. I became interested in reading books for the first time. I read my first book when I was 18 years old. It blew my mind that I could do that! I liked going to class…I liked getting angry. It gave me a reason for my blood to boil a little bit. When I wrote papers and went to class, I wanted to have arguments with my professors. I was wrong most of the time, and they knew it. But, they let me be wrong! Can you imagine going to a place where you are not going to get punished for experimenting or punished for your point of view? I couldn’t be like that at work. At work, I couldn’t explain what I thought or what I felt building someone’s fireplace. I couldn’t talk about my emotions, my feelings, my history, or what I think about politics…I was taught by some of the smartest people in the world and they never made me feel dumb. I was given a space to think, to breathe, and to feel. So what were my interests in college? Actually being a student. I thought it was the coolest thing ever because Lord knows I wasn’t suited for it in high school.

Q. How would your co-workers describe your teaching style and personality?

I hope that they think I am energetic, passionate, sincere, open to criticism. I also hope they see me as someone ready to do the job and will really sacrifice for his colleagues and students.

Q: What is one piece of advice that you would give students?

I’m going to give you two pieces of advice. One, don’t listen to anyone but yourself. Listen to yourself, but that takes work. Get rid of the first 30 voices in your head. Get rid of your phone. Go take a walk and spend a day in your room without your computer or your phone. Learn to listen to yourself! The other piece of advice is FORGET YOUR VOICE! Listen to everybody else! They all probably have some pretty good advice for you. Let your worlds talk to each other. If you do that, you will always be confused, and you will always struggle. And if you are always confused and struggling, you can be honest and sincere. You can grow. You can actually figure out who you are and what you can contribute to the world, because that way you will always know that you and the world are in conversation. Without that, something will always be missing. So many of my students have been taught that if you are smart, it comes easy. I don’t know any smart people who can do things easily. Smart people know how to make things complicated, they know how to run into the trouble, they know how to fight and how to work without any solutions. And, then after a week or a decade, they realize “that’s why I think the way I do, that’s why my family is the way it is, etc.” Answers don’t impress me at all. What impresses me is the space between asking the question and trying to find an answer. That space between your own voice and the voices of the world. There you can think, grow, and create. That’s what I want my students to be doing. Good students don’t have the answers. Good students know how to struggle.