It was summer 1975 and Carol DeBoer-Langworthy was a student in the very first women’s history course offered at the University of Denver, working toward a master’s in American history. While reading portraits of several early feminists like Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger, and Crystal Eastman in June Sochen’s pioneering book, Movers and Shakers: Women of Greenwich Village, one figure stood out among the pantheon: Neith Boyce, a Progressive-era writer who worked in poetry, theater, short stories, novels, and various forms of creative nonfiction.
“Boyce seemed very different from the others — she was married, she had four children, was from the Midwest, and she didn’t go to college,” DeBoer-Langworthy recalled. “I was intrigued by the differences between Boyce and the other women discussed in that book, in terms of both her biography and her point of view.”
DeBoer-Langworthy was hooked and she has since spent her entire scholarly career studying Boyce’s life and writings.
Following her master’s degree, DeBoer-Langworthy went on to earn a Ph.D. in American studies from The Union Institute & University in Ohio, all while working full-time in various higher education administrative roles. For her doctoral research, DeBoer-Langworthy tracked down Boyce’s relatives and friends, who helped provide insight on the writer’s personal history and marriage, including a few family secrets. She also read every piece of Boyce’s literature that she could find, including hundreds of short stories, plays, and novels, as well as her papers, autobiography, and diaries. As part of her study of women’s writing, DeBoer-Langworthy often used texts and readings from the collection of the Women’s Writers Project (WWP) at Brown, a long-term research project devoted to early modern women’s writing. Impressed by the WWP and “stunned” by its innovative methodology, she courted them for a job. In 1994, DeBoer-Langworthy was named director of the WWP, a post she held until 1998, when she became a visiting lecturer in the Department of English.
For the last 13 years, DeBoer-Langworthy has been a part of Brown’s Nonfiction Writing Program, teaching courses on the academic essay, research essay, creative nonfiction, letters and diaries, and her “signature” class, “Lifewriting” (i.e., “a broad term that encompasses all forms of writing about human, animal, and plant lives”). She says she loves teaching Brown students because they resonate with the philosophy of the program - they take the writing courses because they want to, not because they have to. She also has a good time teaching.
“I think all authors are implicated in their work, even in science, so it’s fun to show science geeks that their personalities are expressed in how they write and talk about their work. That’s always a kind of revelation for them.”
Beyond Brown, she taught American literature at a Turkish university under a Fulbright grant in 2003-04.
In addition to publishing nearly one dozen articles and chapters on Boyce, DeBoer-Langworthy edited The Modern World of Neith Boyce (University of New Mexico Press, 2003), an edition of the writer’s autobiography and diaries. She is currently working on a literary biography of Boyce, incorporating the story of her life with her writings. She continues to discover obscurely published stories by Boyce.
“There’s this sort of enigma or mystery about her. ... I’ve been doing research on her for many years and I’m still finding surprises.”