After More Than 30 Years with Duke English, Professor Melissa Malouf Retires

After three decades as a valued member of the Duke English Department, Professor Melissa Malouf retired at the end of the summer of 2020.

Professor Malouf joined the department in 1986. During her 34 years with the department, she served on creative writing committees and undergraduate studies committees, and supervised dozens of senior distinction projects (in both creative writing and literary research).

Photo of a group of Prof. Malouf student outside he cupcake store in downtown Durham
Group of Prof. Malouf students outside of cupcake
shop in downtown Durham after a field trip.

She was a respected and even beloved advisor and mentor to countless students, many of whom stay in touch with her well after they graduate from Duke. She said in a phone interview that she has particularly enjoyed being able to take her students on class-time field trips, from the Lemur Center to the downtown Augmentality [Virtual Reality] Lab, and of course the gardens, where she found a “hidden gazebo that is perfectly designed for poetry and fiction readings.”

Photo of Arts Focus students at Prof. Melissa Malouf's home
Students in one of Professor Malouf's Arts Focus courses
meeting at the professor's home to learn about
culinary arts.

There were many occasions when field-trips meant course time at Professor Malouf’s home in Trinity Park, a short walk from East Campus. This offered opportunities for students to write micro-stories about kitchens and cooking (and do some eating), and to perform their short plays. For the ArtsFocus program, she hired a chef (a Duke senior) to prepare a five-course meal and give the class instruction in the culinary arts.

Meanwhile, she spent some 20 years on the Advisory Committee for the Duke Graduate Liberal Studies program, for which she also conducted seminars for exceptionally diverse groups of students, aged 25 to 75, from all walks of life. For that program, she supervised 30 Master’s degree projects.

For Trinity College, Professor Malouf served as the Faculty Director of what became, under Dean Robert Thompson, the Office of Undergraduate Scholars and Fellows: the umbrella organization for Duke’s undergraduate scholarship programs.

Beyond the classroom and administrative offices, Professor Malouf managed to produce three works of fiction, a Pushcart Prize-winning short story, subsequently-anthologized stories, three one-act plays, and approximately 30 reviews of books by major writers for the News & Observer.

For this article, I solicited comments from a few of her colleagues, old and new:

"In my American Lit Since 1960 course, featuring works by John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Cormac McCarthy, and Toni Morrison, a surprising number of students down through the years have named Melissa Malouf their favorite author on the syllabus.  I concur with them that her best stories, in books such as No Guarantees and It Had to Be You, are absolutely first-rate, deserving a place alongside any published by those celebrated writers.  Better yet, she is personally first-rate, as a colleague, friend, and unfailingly lovely person.  I raise a toast to your splendid career in teaching and writing, Melissa, as well as your Herculean labors in administration. And, like countless colleagues past and present, I give thanks for your gracious presence among us these many years.  Best wishes in your retirement." -- Vic Strandberg

"While the time that I have shared with Melissa Malouf at Duke has been brief, it has been immensely impactful. I came to know Melissa through her generous hospitality and the exuberance of her students. When I joined the Duke English Department in the Fall of 2019, Melissa went out of her way to make sure that I felt welcomed and oriented. At a social gathering that Melissa hosted at her house, I met a group of creative writing students who shared their great admiration and enthusiasm for Melissa Malouf and her teaching methods. I continued to know Melissa in person and through her current and former students throughout the following two semesters.  Students who have taken classes with Melissa Malouf all seem to come away from experience with a certain almost indefinable spark—a way of looking at writing and the world around them that is electric and contagious. I will greatly miss her presence on campus, but I know that her generous and creative spirit will continue to be a huge part of the ethos of the department." - Mesha Maren-Hogan

"Melissa was an unfailingly welcoming, warm, and open presence, even before I officially joined the department. When I came to campus for my visit in March, Melissa teased me that she’d been disappointed not to see what books might be on my bookshelf (I’d met with her and the rest of the hiring committee over Zoom a month earlier, and I’d studiously chosen a blank wall as my background). I said I’d chosen a blank wall because the hiring committee would’ve found nothing but a bunch of cheap paperback thrillers on my bookshelf. Melissa deadpanned: “Well, what’s wrong with that?” I think Melissa has a gift for putting people at their ease. You can see it especially, how she interacts with her students, who adore and respect her. Although I’ve only known her for a year, she has been a great mentor and model.” - JP Gritton

“It was a pleasure to be Melissa’s a colleague, as she invariably brought a good mood to meetings and hallway discussions. She was also a great teacher of creative writing, a fact amply exemplified by many, many student testimonials of her inspiring approach to writing. Though her retirement is well-earned, we shall miss her!”
– Rob Mitchell, Duke English, Chair

Photo of Prof. Malouf students who are 2003 alums that visited Professor Malouf at her home in 2019
​Professor Malouf students who visited the professor at
her home in 2019 ​

Please join us in celebrating and thanking Professor Malouf for her decades of hard work and service to the English Department and Duke University.