Karen Gross, Professor of English

“When I used to travel, I had to set destinations. Now, I’m just trying to make sure that I have space to let the unexpected happen, to see where I am and not just what the guidebook has directed me to. You’re never lost, you’re exploring, even if it’s an indirect route or ends up somewhere you weren’t anticipating. If a train is delayed or a restaurant is closed, that’s alright, you’re still learning something. Don’t panic, you’ll get somewhere eventually.” – Karen Gross

Professor Karen Gross has an infectious zest for life. When you ask her what she loves, a likely answer will be, everything! She describes her childhood, “I was an only child and I loved to read. I spent a lot of my childhood in Oz or solving mysteries, traveling alongside investigators. I was omnivorous; I would check out whatever was at the public library. I’m sure I was reading Agatha Christie when I was way too young. I was obsessed with murder mysteries. I remember writing and illustrating stories and going and reading them to my parents.” What was her favorite subject in school? “I loved everything. I suppose reading and art but I really did enjoy math and science too. All through school, even when I started off to college, I was set to study English and biochem. I remember finding photosynthesis really beautiful as a process.”

Karen has a great appreciation for the impact international travel can have. “My undergrad study abroad program in Italy changed me. I thought I was going to law school. Before that trip I was not drawn to research or really passionate about my education beyond getting good grades. I ended up going on this trip mainly because I wanted to escape and it absolutely transformed me.”

She was drawn to Lewis & Clark after meeting Lyell Asher and Rishona Zimring at a conference. “I thought, I would like to have these people as my community and my friends. I did have offers to other places but I knew I would be happy at Lewis & Clark and that people would see me for who I am and not just as a professional cog. I was really struck by the way they spoke about their students.”

When it come to her areas of expertise and favorite studies, there are many areas she finds fascinating. “I love the middle ages, Dante, the mystics, and I currently am studying illuminated apocalypse manuscripts. I especially love teaching Chaucer. There is something magical about the class turning into a group of pilgrims going out to Canterbury together. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is phenomenal to talk about with students. ENG 205, the major periods survey, is also a blast: it’s so rewarding to watch others be transformed by encountering literature that they assumed is too old to speak to their concerns, their joys and fears.”

When not engaged in professorial duties, you might find her hitting the road. “I love travelingI I love hiking. I love walking. I love the way the world opens up by your feet. A lot of vacations I take on my own are walking vacations, long distance walking vacations. I like reading walking memoirs.”

When it’s your turn to hit the road, she has some great advice for you. “Pack your medicine and your underwear in a carry-on and don’t sweat it when things don’t go according to plan. Make the best of where you are at that moment.” She describes how she likes to acclimate when arriving in a new place. “I like to walk to one of the public parks or public squares and maybe sit for a while with a coffee or an ice cream and just see the ebb and flow of where people are. I like to get a 360 view of the city from that point.”

“It is a wonderful thing to be traveling with people who have had these rich and beautiful experiences. I love the wisdom that comes from the alumni both their own personal experiences at Lewis & Clark, but also how whatever their other life experiences are, whether that be travel, or professional, or family, color what they’re experiencing on the trip together. Each one of us brings a different frame and then we get to each peek through, gain insight from each other. I was impressed with how well everyone traveled together, how quickly we became a group of pilgrims.”