Prof. Tonia L. Payne received a B.A. in theater from the University of Colorado-Boulder in 1979. After working in several different fields, including ten years as an editor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she received her Ph.D. in May of 1999 from the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York. Her dissertation is entitled "'A Heart That Watches and Receives': Ursula Le Guin and the American Nature-Writing Tradition." She is an associate professor in the English department at Nassau Community College. In addition to the scholarly publications in this exhibition, she has published essays in journals in the U.S. and abroad, as well as the article "Dark Brothers and Shadow Souls: Ursula Le Guin's Animal 'Fables,'" in the critical anthology What Are the Animals to Us? Approaches from Science, Religion, Folklore, Literature, and Art (U Tennessee P, 2007). She has presented papers at scholarly conferences in many locations throughout the U.S. as well as in Victoria, British Columbia; Münster, Germany; and Lisbon, Portugal. She writes creatively as well, and her poem "Prairie" was published in California Quarterly.
Excerpt from "Birds in the Head"
"Hey, Mitch," Willie yelled to him, and Tempe looked up and thumped his tail so the grit under it rattled a little. "Hey, Mitch, what the hell are you doing?" Willie felt a little guilty and shy to have yelled the word hell, and hoped Mitch hadn't really noticed. A lot of the kids at school were starting to swear, they thought it was tough, and so Willie was learning to swear, but it made him feel funny to do it, especially loud—like he'd stepped in something smelly on purpose. Mitch didn't answer but Willie could see him grinning. "Hey, Mitch!" Willie yelled even louder, with as much authority as he could muster.
"I can't hear you," Mitch yelled back, "I got birds in my head!" and he started laughing.
"What?" Willie shouted, his voice cracking a little.
"I can't hear you," Mitch yelled again, "I got birds in my head!" Mitch lay back on the gravel and laughed like he'd just heard the funniest joke in the world.
"Stupid kid," Willie said to himself, and then remembered. That morning when he'd been helping his mom get Mitch ready for their art class at the YMCA, Mitch had been in one of his more exasperating moods. Some days Mitch just didn't seem to be very interested in what was happening around him. He would barely eat, and would have to be reminded almost with every bite that he was supposed to be having breakfast. When he was getting dressed, he'd sit on the edge of his mattress on the floor, one arm in his shirt sleeve, the other still bare, the shirt trailing off his shoulder like a cape while he just stared out the window high above his head. Willie was supposed to get them both ready while their mom was getting dressed, and they had to hurry so she wouldn't be late to her waitressing job, but nothing seemed to make Mitch pay attention. Finally Willie ended up dressing Mitch like he was still a baby, and as he did, Mitch suddenly said in a dreamy, soft voice, "Willie, I got a friend who's an elephant."
"No you don't, Mitch, you never even seen an elephant."
"But I do," Mitch said, still in that soft, tender voice, "I got a friend who's an elephant and he came to see me last night."