April 25, 1997
Toman Awarded Fulbright to Teach in Czech Republic
By Ellie Walradth
UW-RF News Bureau
UW-River Falls English Professor Marshall Toman has received a prestigious Fulbright scholarship award to teach in the Czech Republic for the next academic year.
The Fulbright Program, established in 1946 by the U.S. Congress under the sponsorship of former Sen. J. William Fulbright, annually awards grants for study, teaching, lecture and research. Fulbright grants are awarded to scholars who have academic or professional qualifications and the ability and willingness to share ideas with people of diverse cultures.
Since the national 50-year-old program was created, 10 scholars from UW-RF have received grants. Toman, who has a doctorate in English from Boston College, is among two others at UW-RF who have been awarded grants this year.
"I didn't realize how much I wanted to go until I got the offer," Toman says. The Fulbright Program awarded 10 scholarships this year for travel to the Czech Republic. While in the Czech Republic, Toman will live and teach in the city of Olomouc at Palacky University, and one day a week he will commute 50 miles to teach at Masaryk University in the city of Brno.
He plans to teach classes in his areas of expertise: American Ethnic Literature, American Satire and American Short Story.
Since graduate school, Toman has been intrigued by the forms of short story and how they differ from longer prose. His interest in American satire stems from graduate school, and he has written and published works of satire. When Toman travels to the Czech Republic next fall, he plans to bring cartoon slides that illustrate satire.
As director of the Ethnic Studies program at UW-RF, Toman has extensively studied issues of ethnic diversity in America and how that diversity is reflected in literature.
By studying literature, Toman wants to educate Czech students about America.
"There might be the perception in former Soviet-dominated countries, who have a Marxist philosophy, that the U.S. is incredibly materialistic," Toman says. "I want to emphasize the counter-strains that protest against materialism-those who are concerned with the moral spiritual truth opposed to material comfort."
Toman says that American intellectual writers have never been comfortable with materialism, and he will teach students from the literature of ethnic writer O.E. Rolvaag, who writes about how immigrants to the United States are losing their spiritualness in the materialistic culture.
"The land they come to is viewed as a land of plenty and opportunity. And that opportunity is defined as an opportunity to gain wealth rather than, for example, as an opportunity to contemplate man's relationship with nature."
Toman has also offered to teach a class about the American author Willa Cather who has written three works about Czechoslovakians coming to the United States. He hopes students will like Cather because she has only good things to say about Czechs.
"They are always glorified-Cather is an artist, not a propagandist, and her main characters are strong artists who are virtually heroes," Toman says. "I hope students will be flattered by this."
Beginning in the 1920s, Cather corresponded with the first president of the Czech Republic, T.G. Masaryk, for whom a university was named. Masaryk greatly admired Cather's work, Toman says.
Toman's interest in this part of the world has evolved from his childhood. With emigrated grandparents from Czechoslovakia, Toman grew up surrounded by history and stories about the region.
While in the Czech Republic, one of Toman's biggest goals is to learn to speak Czech like his ancestors. He has studied over seven languages but is only fluent in English.
"Learning a language connects you to so much-I love that connection," Toman says. "To be able to read a short story in Czech would be a real highlight."