by Rebecca Rakoczy
The cottage where Dr. Rosemary Cox grew up in Stone Mountain Park has been gone since 1983, but not the tree by the homestead. The champion Osage orange still stands, its roots twisted above the granite soil.
The English professor remembers playing dolls with her sister under the giant tree’s cool branches and reading Charles Dickens and Jane Austen sheltered by its shade. The tree is a reminder of her own roots in DeKalb County—roots that extend to Georgia Perimeter College.
In her almost 30 years as a GPC professor, Cox has nurtured thousands of students through her love of literature. In 1992, she helped found the college’s student literary magazine, “Creative License,” and served as its first faculty editor. This past spring she was honored by students, staff and faculty, who dedicated the 2012 edition to her and named the student prize categories in art, photography, poetry and short fiction in her honor.
The magazine started when student Michael Williams approached Cox and asked her why the college didn’t have a magazine that published student work. “I thought, ‘why not, indeed?’” Cox recalls.
“I am particularly proud of student involvement in this publication,” she says. “We want to continue the tradition of encouraging young writers to blossom and to provide an opportunity for aspiring student editors to learn the trade.”
Although she actively promotes student creative writing, Cox herself has no desire to write fiction. However, she is currently working on a chapbook of poetry channeling memories of growing up in DeKalb and Henry counties.
Stone Mountain Park was an integral part of her daily life—from the natural wonders to the tourists who frequented the walking trails. She remembers rising before dawn every Easter to join the thousands of strangers who climbed the mountain in the dark to enjoy the sunrise service, and she recalls that the Ku Klux Klan performed ceremonies at the mountain’s base. As a young teen, she also had a unique opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of the mountain’s Confederate war heroes carving before the carvers’ scaffolding was removed.
Cox inherited a love of nature from her father, Harold Cox, who was director of horticulture for Stone Mountain Park for more than 20 years.
“Conservation is my passion,” she says. I am a member of multiple conservation groups, including the Nature Conservancy, Trees Atlanta, Greenpeace and the Wylde Center. I try to make conservation a lifestyle.”
In the mid-1960s, the Cox family bought a second “home”: a log cabin destined to be torn down in Jackson County and moved it, Lincoln-log style, to a 10-acre wooded tract in Henry County. Today Cox has her primary residence near Avondale Estates, but she continues to maintain the Henry homestead. Over the years, she has planted wildflowers and native plants around the property, rescuing many plants from developed areas and creating a wildlife sanctuary.She hopes that someday the property will become a public nature preserve.
An alumna of DeKalb College (Georgia Perimeter’s former name), Georgia State University and Emory University, Cox initially didn’t plan to become an English professor. She first dabbled in journalism at a local weekly newspaper and then taught high school French and English. When her brother suggested she try higher education, she looked to her first alma mater.
She started out working in the writing lab at DeKalb/GPC and as a part-time English as a Second Language instructor before landing a full-time gig as an English instructor in 1985.
Cox teaches a wide range of English classes at GPC, from basic composition to literature, honors and creative writing. Her area of specialty is 19th century American literature. She is a scholar of Herman Melville and has a particular fondness for American Realism, especially the humor of the “old Southwest” and author A.B. Longstreet.
Another favorite author is Mary Shelley. “When teaching Mary Shelley and ‘Frankenstein,’ we tackle women’s issues and cloning. … I want to make literature relevant, and I always like to connect it to what is going on in the world,” she explains. “And many times, my students introduce me to new things.”
Cox’s favorite teaching moments occur when she hears students discuss literature beyond the classroom.
“One of my favorite memories is when students were discussing Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ in class and continued the discussion in the hall after the class was over. Hours later, I found them in the stairwell, still discussing and debating it,” Cox remembers. “That’s the greatest moment of teaching—when you set them on fire with ideas, and you know it has an impact on their future. It’s that light-bulb moment when you see that revelation in their faces—that’s what I really love.”