“The books are winning here,” she says as she enters her office. “They’re winning everywhere, really – my office and my home. There’s a character in E.M. Forster’s novel ‘Howard’s End’ that gets killed when a bookcase falls on him, and I keep thinking that might be my end.”
Dr. Holly Stave is correct. Her office in Morrison Hall is overrun with books: big books, small books, old books, paperback books, textbooks. It is evidence of a lifetime of devoted reading and thirst for knowledge. Stave admits she loves getting paid to read novels.
“I was an avid, avid reader even as a child. That was my escape from a very lonely childhood in eastern Montana, so books became my friends very early on,” she says.
Stave teaches English in the Louisiana Scholars’ College. A teacher there for 19 years, Stave loves teaching highly motivated students and loves living in the South, though she isn’t a fan of small-town life.
“It’s kind of been a trade-off, because I get to teach these amazing students that I would not be teaching anywhere else,” she says.
Stave is also a wife, an outspoken feminist, a world traveler and proud cat mom. However, she has more than just teaching ties in Natchitoches.
She is also the high priestess of her coven of Wiccan witches. Achieving this stature required her to participate in training and education with a teaching coven when she lived in Atlanta before finally being initiated to the third degree and earning the high priestess title.
Stave says that while Wiccans typically keep a low profile, they can easily find one another in places like Renaissance festivals, crystal shops and new-age stores.
Stave, however, enjoys a freedom that many others who practice Wicca do not.
“In academe, there’s a great deal of sense of freedom when it comes to being what you are and not having to hide it,” she says.
“The fact that I wrote a book on Wicca is on my resume, and anyone who interviewed me knew that. I thought, I don’t want to go somewhere and then have to be, as we call it, ‘back in the broom closet.’”
Stave says she has known people who have worried about others discovering they are Wiccans. People tend to stay quiet because they fear losing custody of their children or harming their reputation. The greater worry for Stave is not any kind of danger, but that people would consider her an idiot.
“’You know, what, she flies around on a broom?’ No, she doesn’t do that,” she says. “Academics tend to be pretty agnostic. It’s like, don’t think I’m a weirdo just because I have a belief system.”
Stave has also used this academic freedom given to her by the Scholars’ College to create a curriculum she loves, centered around literature she is passionate about.
“My passion is for novels, particularly contemporary novels written by women,” she says. “I just love women’s literature. There’s a freshness to it.
“Women haven’t taken for granted for quite as long that they can write and get published, so there’s still an excitement about telling those stories that makes me happy.”
Stave considers feminism to be a heavy influence on her life. She began reading feminist literature early on in high school and quickly devoured everything she could.
She aligns herself with “radical feminism” and considers feminism ineffective if it does not account for intersections with race, sexual orientation, class and environmental issues.
She has found a wealth of inspiration in many strong feminist role models.
“I definitely admire Gloria Steinem,” she says. “But I also think of people like Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton and women who are my age; peers who have lived their lives in very similar circumstances to mine, on the one hand both being aware of and having to resist a whole bunch of stupidity and on another hand having doors open for us that our mothers didn’t have. So those women continually are an inspiration to me.”
While discouraged by the current state of American politics and the apparent regression into anti-feminist attitudes, she still maintains hope in the form of her students.
“It doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult to grasp,” she says. “But if you read the news at all these days … I never thought … we’d still be dealing with some of the foolishness we’re dealing with.”
“It’s so disheartening. Then I see young women who embrace feminism, and young men in Scholars’ who embrace feminism and it’s like ‘Okay, you know, these past years have made a difference.’”
Stave knew she wanted to be a teacher before she ever attended school.
“My poor friends – when they’d come visit to play after school, we’d play school, and I was always the teacher,” she said.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in English from Concordia College and advanced degrees from the University of Minnesota, Stave jumped around, teaching in Minnesota, Georgia and Wisconsin. It was then when she guest lectured at the Scholars’ College, invited by longtime friend and former Scholars’ history professor Dr. Rick Jensen.
She received a call from Jensen in 1998 after a while of longing to return to the South.
“He said that two faculty in the English department had just married each other and both of them had resigned, and so the Scholars’ College had an opening in English, and I applied for it,” she says. “I was just desperate to get it, and I did.”
Stave does not hesitate when asked about her favorite thing about teaching at the Scholars’ College: “the students.”
“They’re so very, very bright, but they’re not jaded. My students are so excited about learning, and that’s refreshing and exhilarating,” she says.
And her students love her back. Former student Tori Mato considers Stave one of her favorite teachers for many reasons.
“I liked how honest she was with her opinions and how willing she was to help us with our writing and with reading and delving deep into literature,” Mato says. “She really wanted us to think on a deeper level.
“She’s opened my eyes to a lot of things. I came to college from such a small town, and I was really influenced by the people there, and I didn’t have a lot of opinions of my own. Dr. Stave has taught me a lot and given me a more open mind.”
In addition to being a former student of Stave’s, Mato is also her tenant. She and another student have rented the two-bedroom guest house attached to Stave’s home for around two years. Mato is grateful for the arrangement, which has allowed her and Stave to grow from a professional student-teacher relationship into a genuine friendship.
“I think of her as sort of a mentor,” she says. “Her and Mr. Richard are great landlords, and they always invite me to talk with them on their porch and just visit.”
Richard Pool, Stave’s husband of 14 years, is also a professor. He hails from Rhode Island but now teaches criminal justice at Bossier Parish Community College.
“Yeah. Two teachers, no money!” Stave laughs.
Stave dubs Pool and herself “the Louisiana couple.” They met at a post-fireworks party during Natchitoches’ famous Christmas Festival, got engaged at midnight at a bar in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and were married in a hotel courtyard in the French Quarter.
“The Louisiana Travel Commission should put us on their webpage,” she says.
While the two have no children of their own, they have three inside cats, two cats who live outside, and they also feed neighborhood raccoons. Stave describes being a pet parent as “just the best” and delightedly tells stories about her animal companions, who she says are “just as sassy as children.”
Stave considers traveling a grand passion and has been to every state in the United States except Alaska, in addition to her international travels. She very much believes in traveling and takes trips as often as she can.
Where is she headed next?
“The Pacific Northwest,” she says.
Stave dreams of happily retiring with Pool in Vienna or on the coast of Spain, where she says, “I could spend the rest of my life.”
For now, Stave is satisfied with where she is. As a highly respected teacher, a spiritual leader, a wife, a landlady and more, it is clear the books are not the only ones winning; Stave is as well.