In the Spotlight: Gary Mathews

Gary Mathews

Gary Mathews at Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto, Japan (summer 2015). He is standing in front of a group of small shrines within the main Shimogamo complex that honor the twelve years of the Chinese zodiac. People come here to pray for good fortune from the guardian spirit of their birth year. The white sign shows the syllables “hitsuji” and “mi,” "sheep" and "snake," two of the twelve years. Gary’s year is "snake."

Gary Mathews is a man of many talents and interests. An inspiring teacher, Gary completed his bachelor degree at Harvard and his PhD in Comparative Literature at Berkeley. He has been teaching comparative and world literatures at NC State since 2009. Currently, he also coordinates the Classical Languages and Literatures Program at the Department of Foreign Language and Literatures. Gary sat down with us to talk about his love for teaching and his many passions, including his work as a Japanese Noh theater performer.

Gary’s academic interests align with Greek and Latin language and literature, providing students with texts that enable them to experience a broad and deep exploration of the Ancient World. He believes that the Classics field has a dual mission — to preserve and pass on the heritage of ancient languages and cultures in their original form as well as educating the broader public in the Ancient World by providing translations of the literature. These are missions that he takes very seriously and that he fosters both at the University and beyond.

One of the most challenging aspects of Gary’s job has been ensuring that students are learning. “The learning process is impossible to program,” he explains. “You don’t want to just fill students with information – you want them to discover.” Fortunately, succeeding at this is what makes Gary’s job so rewarding. He enjoys being able to see that his students are truly learning. “When I see that they’ve got it,” Gary says, “it’s just wonderful!”

Outside of Academia, Gary is also a Noh theater performer and part of the Theatre Nohgaku’s company. Noh theatre is over 700 years old with a very formal and long-established movement, vocal, and musical vocabulary. After receiving training in both the US and Japan and delivering Noh performances in Japanese, Gary began performing with Theatre Nohgaku, bringing performances to English-speaking audiences that retain the style and technique of traditional Noh theatre while portraying ideas and legends from American life. One such play revolves around the legend of the Jersey Devil, while another —  titled “Blue Moon Over Memphis,” Gary’s personal favorite — has Elvis as a ghost participating in an annual pilgrimage to commemorate his own death, reliving the sadness of his life.

Throughout his life, Gary has always looked towards his teachers for inspiration and guidance, as he is now invested in providing the same kind of inspiration and guidance to his own students. In recent years, he has been working with Noh theater teacher, Richard Emmert. “His dedication and love of the art, and sincerity about students getting all they can from studying the art is inspirational,” Gary explains. Gary carries this attitude over into his own classroom. 

In his free time, Gary tends to his Japanese garden and secretly balances out his serious classicist personality with Bollywood movies. He also hopes to one day travel to Ireland, and frequently visits Japan. He brings an unparalleled level of experience and passion into his classroom, and the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures is enriched with his many talents.

Thank you for all that you do, Gary!

By Jasmyn Morere

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