Campus Celebrity: Dr. Holland, Professor Emeritus of English

Dr. Holland kindly sent us a selfie he took in front of the library.

Throughout the beginning of this school year at Davidson, one burning question has plagued many first-year students’ minds: who is the man working in the library every day? Witty, kind, and ever-present, Dr. Holland has become something of a legend in the E.H. Little Library, often gracing the computer pods on the first floor.

As we approached him to ask if we could interview him, we felt giddy with excitement and nervousness. Yet Dr. Holland’s charming stories immediately put us at ease. Looking up from his computer, he mentioned that he had just found a journal of his dreams from October 1997, showing us a flashcard-sized brown notebook. “I’ve been recording them on the computer all day,” he said with a smile.

A Professor Emeritus of English, Dr. Holland didn’t always plan on being an English professor. His father was a doctor, and he was a pre-med student at Washington and Lee. “My senior year, I decided I wouldn’t devote my life to medicine, and I had enough electives in English…a friend told me to sign up for an interview for a three-year program for English graduate school. I walked in and the interviewer said, ‘you got it,’ so I went to Chapel Hill,” he told us easily.

While at Chapel Hill, Dr. Holland met his wife, Siri. “Everything happens in Chapel Hill,” he laughed. After finishing graduate school, Dr. Holland started teaching at Davidson in 1961, stayed for two years, and then taught at various schools including UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke, before returning to Davidson in 1967.

A remarkably well-read academic, Dr. Holland couldn’t possibly select a single favorite author or work.  While he initially told us that it would have to be something from the 19th century, he caught himself; he’s quite fond of Paradise Lost (an epic he revisits often) as well as various pieces Chinese literature.

Although Dr. Holland has retired, he remains extremely active in the academic world. His recent publications include Everglading, or Time Enough, a “retrospective collection of poetry created over the last 25 years,” according to the publisher, Holland Brown Books. The poems are written entirely in heroic couplet, an impressive feat. Dr. Holland said of free verse: “It’s just not as fun as playing with rhymes and rhythms. Like Robert Frost said, free verse is like playing tennis without a net.”  

Not only has Dr. Holland worked extensively in China, but he has also traveled to places such as Prague, Budapest, Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Kenya. Several times he’s joined Davidson alumni trips, which he thinks are wonderful.  

Dr. Holland now lives at The Pines with his wife, who is from Norway – “I married a Viking,” he joked. Yet Dr. Holland still has many more places he wants to travel, among them Ireland: “I’ve been talking about Joyce and Yeats for 50 years. I might as well go see it,” he said.

A photo of a photo of Dr. Holland and his wife on Mount Tai, one of the oldest holy mountains in China. This was taken just a couple of weeks before the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 3-4, 1989. 

We asked Dr. Holland what piece of advice he would give to a group of young people.  Without pause, he said to “go for it.”  As his time spent abroad has been such a crucial part of his life, he urges students to follow their dreams, even if it leads them to rural places; “I just think people ought to travel,” he declared. 

While Dr. Holland clearly has wanderlust, he is also very fond of Davidson.  “The very best part about the college is the students!” he exclaimed.  Indeed, Dr. Holland is a retired professor, but it is no coincidence that E.H. Little Library is his preferred study spot; he just can’t get enough of this place.