Getting to know...Deno Trakas
Until about three years ago, literature professor Deno Trakas could look out his office window on the third floor of the Main Building and see the house his mother grew up in. The Village now stands there in its place, a testament to the change that inevitably occurs over 29 years, the length of time Trakas has been teaching at Wofford. He's now the Chair of the English Department and Laura and Winston Hoy Endowed Professor of American Literature.
Trakas didn't attend Wofford, even though his father did and both parents are Spartanburg natives. Instead he traveled quite a bit for his higher education, attending Emory and the University of Madrid before getting an undergraduate degree from Eckerd. He got his Masters degree from Tulsa and was finishing up his Ph.D. at South Carolina when he got some welcome news.
"The job market was tough, as it is now, and I heard there was a job opening at Wofford College," says Trakas. "Of course I knew Wofford very well because of my parents. I was lucky. It's been a great job for almost three decades, and I'm sure it will be for one more."
That's a lot of Great Gatsby assignments.
"I love F. Scott Fitzgerald and have taught a Fitzgerald course to freshmen almost every year I've been here," says Trakas. "But it changes as I change and as the country changes. For example, discussions with students about the American dream have a different tone in a financial climate like the one we have today."
Those discussions are what make teaching fun. Challenging young minds and being challenged in return helps keep a job fresh.
"I think most teachers will tell you that what they love the most is working with young people," Trakas says. "Trying to help them learn and guiding them. Just being in touch with youth . . . it may not keep me young, but it keeps me feeling young."
In that vein, Trakas has headed down to Andrews Field House almost every Friday afternoon to play hoops with students on campus. Almost every Friday, that is, until two weeks ago, when he broke his nose for the second time in just four months. The man who once coached Wofford's women's tennis team now sticks to that court twice a week.
"I figure the danger to my nose is much smaller on a tennis court," he says.
When not working on his backhand, Trakas can usually be found at home reading, writing, or working in his yard.
"I'm a yard nerd," he admits. "I spend way too much time cutting grass, raking leaves, and tinkering around."
Trakas has two novels in the works. One is about a professor who lives in a house "not unlike the one my mother grew up in" near a college "not unlike Wofford" who knows F. Scott Fitzgerald--Fitzgerald causes him to lose his job. The other is about a graduate student who gets wrapped up in the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. Trakas also writes short stories and poetry, and he's finishing up a book about his family and the Greeks of the Upstate.
"I don't actually love writing," he says. "I love having written. I love it when it's done, kind of like exercise."
Trakas and his wife Kathy have two children, a daughter living in Washington, D.C. and a son in Austin, Texas.
"They live in cool places, but they're too far away, and I don't get to see them nearly as much as I'd like to," he says.
In the meantime, Deno and Kathy have two four-legged children living at home.
"We always have a dog adopted from the animal shelter at my house," he says, "and they all have 'personalities' and special talents. For example, my dog Lexie chases her tail ambidextrously. I blame my wife for that…I mean...I give her all the credit."