Professor Profile: Dr. Ben Gunsberg — Educator, poet, frisbee thrower

Dr. Ben Gunsberg is a professor at Utah State University who teaches fiction writing. He is this month’s featured professor. Photo by Kendall Pack

By Kendall Pack

Staff writer

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Ben Gunsberg and I enjoy a round of Toss the Frisbee. In the course of our game, Gunsberg asks me, “How many male undergraduates would you guess went through a comic book phase?”

“One hundred percent,” I respond, tossing the Frisbee to him.

“That high, huh?” He tosses the Frisbee back. “How many female undergrads?”

“Uh,” I pause, “Lower, probably?”

Ben Gunsberg knows how to ask these kinds of questions. A quality that makes him a good educator. He comes with experience. Gunsberg also taught high school and middle school prior to accepting his current Associate Professorship here at Utah State University.

But the classroom isn’t his only arena of education. During college, he educated people about pain in the boxing ring.

“Yeah, I boxed a little as an undergrad,” he tells me, “We didn’t have, like, an NCAA team, but one guy was really good.”

The “one guy” once needed a new sparring partner because he had delivered so many concussive blows to the head of his regular opponent; then Ben Gunsberg stepped up.

“I think I had a headache for three days after that because, well, I was new to it and just trying to defend myself and he was just pounding me,” Ben says, laughing. On the way back to his office, we discuss how he fits athletic pursuits into his work schedule.

“You see a professor outside class, going for a run or biking, and you might think, ‘man, that’s the life,’ but I’m not working an 8-5 job,” he says, “I’m working until I go to sleep. But, since I’m here on campus all day, that lets me take a break once in a while and come out and do things like play Frisbee.”

Gunsberg is still moving into his office on the third floor of the Ray B. West building. The walls are blank and his desk is still fairly uncluttered. In the corner of the room stand two tall bookshelves filled with textbooks, references books, novels, and compilations all marked with sticky-notes and dog-eared.

He is teaching two classes this semester. One is Teaching Literature in High Schools; the other is a college fiction writing class.

I ask him what he believes he brings to a classroom on prose writing, since he is primarily a poet.

“Attention to language,” he responds. “As a poet you’re attending to every word, every word is significant.”

Gunsberg’s poetry has been accepted by various publications; but not without concentrated effort and healthy amounts of rejection. He suggests that writers looking to publish need to cast a wide net, read the publications they submit to, and hope that publisher wants what they’re writing.

“Writing can be kind of a lonely thing, and so suddenly you feel like somebody’s recognized that effort, the effort has come full circle. When you put it out into the world it’s like calling over a canyon. You wait for that echo. And then when you win something or get something published, it feels complete.”

Gunsberg says he is inspired by other writers, faculty members, his students, and art in all forms and traditions. “It’s not hard to find inspiration. Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words, but it’s never hard to be inspired. Living up to the inspiration with language, that’s the challenge.”

Ben Gunsberg’s mission is to teach students to give words to their inspiration. Furthermore he seems to derive actual enjoyment from doing so. He even seems to have enjoyed indulging me in a game and an interview.

He tells me as I leave, “Stop by anytime to chat, or even if you want to just toss a Frisbee around.”

LS

AJ

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