Dr. Mark Tabone grew up in a small town in Maine, graduating high school when he was barely 17 years old. Before he went off to the University of Maine when he was 18, he took a year off and spent most of his time reading.
“I really enjoyed that. At some point during college, I went to the movies and I saw a film version of Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina.’ And I came out of that movie thinking ‘that book has got to be better than that.’ So, I read the book and I have been addicted to literature ever since,” Tabone said.
Once Tabone went off to college, he studied biology for his undergraduate career, then proceeded with his master’s degree in zoology and animal biology. From that point, he went on to work with Upward Bound in Asheville, NC.
He spent this time encouraging students to go to college and to pursue what was important to them. During this time, he decided to go back to school himself. With only nine credits of undergraduate English, he had his work cut out for him.
In time, he went back to school and finished; he now finds himself a senior lecturer at UT’s Knoxville campus in the English department.
Tabone currently teaches composition and modern literature courses; African American literature is his area of expertise.
According to previous Director of Undergraduate Studies for the English department and current Associate Professor of English Dr. Anthony Welch, Tabone is excellent at what he does.
“It's hard to think of someone better equipped to lead the difficult conversation about race and culture in America that we need right now,” Welch said.
Tabone’s enthusiasm for literature may be seen inside and outside of the classroom.
Dr. Welch was an observer in one of Dr. Tabone’s classes in 2017 for ENGL/AFST 233: Major Black Writers.
“Dr. Tabone is one of the strongest teachers I've observed in the English department. He is an extremely hard-working teacher who sets high standards for his students and treats their learning with remarkable sensitivity and respect,” Welch said.
“Although he has an energetic, often witty classroom presence, he is a self-effacing person who really listens to his students, and he tailors his teaching strategies to their individual needs.”
Dr. Tabone’s passion for teaching can be seen through the knowledge and preparedness he brings to the classroom.
According to Dr. Welch, Tabone continues to write and publish prizewinning essays and has won awards for his exceptional teaching – including the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Student Government Association Open Education Award.
Dr. Tabone’s enjoyment for literature extends beyond the classroom setting, though.
During his move to Asheville, he ended up with no cable for his television. This experience caused him to never really look back on that aspect of life. He noted that once television was not available, it seemed as though there were more hours in the day to be used for other things.
He decided to spend those newly acquired hours reading.
“Good literature, good art gets at what it means to be a human being living among other human beings in ways that, for me, nothing else does. And these, for me, are in terms of what questions are worth answering. Facts are good to know, but meaning is harder, and it’s more important and fascinating, for me at least,” Tabone said.
Currently, his interests mainly lie within utopias and dystopias because they criticize the world we live in – they critique society and they imagine a better or different society for people. Tabone’s writing and research tend to analyze and discuss these utopias and dystopias.
“In my research, I look at what these texts might have to say about how we do live and how we might live,” Tabone said.
Influenced greatly by author Toni Morrison, Tabone said reading her work changed the course of his life. Having not initially read Morrison’s work in an academic setting, his reading and understanding of the work was not influenced by anyone else.
“[Her] work is a combination of artistry and the deep American social and political issues that it engages with; those are what finally encouraged me to go back to school and pursue this,” Tabone said.
Tabone and his teaching seem to provide students with an understanding and a reading of good literature – art that requires cognitive thinking, asks hard questions, deals with contradictions and forces the reader to work through the problems of understanding someone else.
“You might say he puts the humanity in humanities,” Dr. Welch said.
This article has been updated.