Most MC students know Dr. Sam Overstreet from his friendly smile as they walk through the second floor of Anderson or his wild passion for literature and his dramatic examples of Greek heroes in the LIT 270 class, but this literature and humanities professor has so much to share that he should pen his own Greek epic.
Overstreet’s hometown is not so far away; he is from Louisville, Ky. When asked what he wanted to be when he was growing up, he laughed. “That’s a good question,” he said.
By 11 or 12, he had already been informed that he had an aptitude for teaching: “I was taking a judo class, and my instructor invited another young man and myself to be assistant teachers. I think it was a way of building my confidence.”
“All of the males on my father’s side had been doctors, so I’m sure my father would have loved for me to become one, too,” he said. “But teaching was a matter of following my interests.”
He chose literature for “a variety of reasons.” Literature enables one to better understand people, as well as learn the valuable skill of sympathetic listening. “That’s what all should do,” he said.
He also wanted to learn the principles of interpreting the Bible, and he simply just truly enjoyed writing essays.
He received his bachelor’s degree from Yale University and then studied at Cornell University for his doctorate. He graduated with a focus in medieval literature, writing his senior thesis on “Varieties of Allegory in The Fairy Queen,” a late-16th century poem.
“I wanted to be useful to other people,” Overstreet said. “And I felt that because I have a talent and passion for literature, I could be useful to others by helping them understand it.”
After graduating, he did not enter the American job market right away. He traveled for two years with his wife, Marj, a Chinese studies major, to Shanxi University, teaching classes such as American literature, composition and conversation, and origins of Western literary traditions.
He said he felt “teaching overseas as a Christian witness was a good direction.”
He also lived in Ithaca, Greece, for a few years, where he spent time “soul-searching and talking with God,” and spent a year in seminary.
After all this experience, Overstreet said accepting the job at Maryville was “a no-brainer.” He said he values that at MC there is “more freedom to talk about matters of faith,” and that there is “a community of people that is serious about civility in conversation, as well as debate.”He said that Maryville was for him, “a good fit.”
His favorite class to teach is either Chaucer or Shakespeare; he considers Shakespeare “a privilege to teach because of the great depths of his characters.” However, he said that his favorite part of the job is being actually able to talk and have contact with the students and being able to help. “I love when students come to my office,” he said.
When he’s not teaching Homer or grading papers, Overstreet is homeschooling his two daughters, Shashana and Elana. Both girls were adopted from China. His face immediately lights up when he speaks of them.
He said that being able to adopt them was a factor in returning to the U.S. for both him and his wife. “The process of adoption took a year and a half of paperwork for each girl,” he said. “But it was very worthwhile.”
He also enjoys playing folk guitar. “Not very well,” he said, modestly. Overstreet said that he enjoys accompanying others, and he and his wife lead music at Maryville Evangelical Church. He also relaxes by watching baseball games with his wife or taking his daughters bicycling on the Greenway.
When asked how he felt about students saying that he resembled Clark Kent, Overstreet said that he has been hearing the comparison for years.
“I think it began in a LIT 270 class,” he said. “A window was stuck, and I had to work to get it open. As I did, a student walked in and said, ‘It looked like you were about to fly out!’” He laughed. “I guess it has just stuck with me.”
He said the comparison between him and Superman was as unbelievable as thinking that no one recognized Clark as Superman after he put on his glasses.
“It’s no more silly than Shakespeare,” he said, referring to the bard’s use of simple disguises for his characters.
However, most students would agree that Overstreet is much like a super hero with his great kindness, talent for teaching and ability to help any of us understand even the most complicated piece of literature as if it were truly as simple as watching a movie like “Superman.”