Meet New English Professor Dr. Di Leo

Sep 1, 2016

by Dr. Erica Bernheim
Associate Professor of English
Dr. Louis Di Leo joined us in August from the University of Southern Mississippi as Florida Southern College’s newest addition to the Department of English and Modern Languages. His areas of specialty include Rhetoric, Composition, Fiction, and Caribbean literature. Between unpacking and learning his way around Lakeland, Dr. Di Leo found time to answer a few questions for us, and to explain which canonical texts make the best primitive weapons.

You have an eclectic background, ranging from a law degree to composition and rhetoric to fiction writing! How did you end up pursuing so many avenues?

I’d like to say I had a master plan for my education, but it’s really just a case of refusing to give up on two different pursuits. I’ve always been interested in writing and law, but it wasn’t until the second year of my master’s program, also my first year of law school, that I began to understand the ways my interests intersected. Working on two degrees concurrently may sound crazy, but I felt a pull from two ostensibly dissimilar fields, and I refused to walk away from either one. What happened was the lessons began to overlap. Craft began informing my legal analyses while logic and reason affected my fiction writing.

Along with my studies in rhetoric and Caribbean literature, this background looks very eclectic, but it’s not discordant. The thread that weaves creative writing, literature, and law together is the focus on authority, interpretability, and persuasion—to use the language of rhetoricians. So, where rhetoric taught me these elements as components of all discourse, law helped me to understand their consequences. And where literature proved their centrality to all great texts, creative writing taught execution while providing an avenue for my own experimentation and growth.

Tell us about what you'll be teaching in the fall semester!

My first semester at FSC will be an exciting one! I will be teaching two sections of ENG 1005 themed as “Writing about Law.” This is an interdisciplinary emphasis that focuses on the modes of legal discourse and will allow students to explore rhetorical links between law and justice, as represented in literature and legal texts. I will also be teaching ENG 3217 Creative Nonfiction Writing, which will focus on enhancing students’ understandings of usage, technique, structure, and style through readings, workshops, and discussions that foster a deeper appreciation of nonfiction.

A sampling of books from Dr. DiLeo's office shelf.
What are your first impressions of Florida Southern College?

The campus’ architecture and natural beauty are remarkable, its faculty is distinguished and deeply invested, but what struck me most about FSC was the students. As I walked between the buildings, sat in on classes, and gave my own lecture, I consistently observed thoughtful engagement from the students. Engagement is at the heart of learning, but it seems to only exist in pockets at some colleges. In my brief time at FSC, I’ve already seen that engagement is prevalent among the students. That, perhaps more than anything else, is what made my decision to join the faculty here such an easy one.

Do you have any study tips for students?

Like anything else, being a good reader takes practice. For those students who are not avid readers, spending some time before the semester begins to get back into the habit can make a big difference. Two or three weeks out, I recommend students set some time aside each day to read, and to steadily increase that time as the semester nears. It’s brain training that helps students be better prepared for a semester of reading. If the prospect of being a better reader weren’t enough incentive, there is also a chain of benefits stemming from it, where better reading makes for better writing, and better writing makes for a better grasp of the subject.

Which four books would you bring to a desert island?

This is so much more than a favorite-books list, isn’t it? It’s creating a hypothetical life pursuit: which texts would I—could I—study forever? They could dazzle with prose or poetry, or have plots that thrill or shock or tug the heartstrings. But how many times can a person reread the same text before it becomes a tired project? And maybe that makes desert-island books more interesting than favorites. There’s really no dispositive quality to search out; instead, the books must offer such a range of qualities and experiences that one reading wouldn’t be enough even on the mainland. Each book should invite different approaches, hold glimpses of sublimity, and bear both a loftiness and a depth that incite hours of delight and reflection in the shade away from the midday island sunshine or showers—and how better to spend the time? These books would give me enough to dawdle over: James Baldwin’s Collected Essays, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (with both editions, I’d hope), The Riverside Shakespeare, and any unabridged English dictionary, which could double as a mighty weapon or flyswatter.