A portrait of Bryant Mangum
Bryant Mangum, Ph.D., pictured at The Algonquin in New York, a hotel with a famous literary history. Mangum's "enthusiasm for the discipline and his care for students lie at the heart of what made him a great teacher, mentor and friend," said Angelica Bega, a VCU graduate. (Courtesy photo)

Revered professor Bryant Mangum retires after 50 years of teaching at VCU

An expert on F. Scott Fitzgerald and The New Yorker magazine, Mangum leaves behind a legacy of kindness and generosity.

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Bryant Mangum, Ph.D., was touched and surprised when his daughter, Charlotte Wincott, presented him with a scrapbook full of memories from students about his teaching. She compiled the accolades as a present for Mangum’s retirement in September from the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences after 50 years of teaching in the Department of English.

“I didn’t want him to know we were making this scrapbook, because I felt sure he would insist that we not make a big deal over his retirement so I went back through years of emails to find old evaluations that he would sometimes send to my brothers (Wrenn and Skip) and me,” said Wincott, a VCU alum, adding that she found additional quotes online at RateMyProfessor.

The quotes were similar in their admiration for Mangum, as a person and a professor.

“Ever feel like God blessed you to have a person enter your life that would change how you viewed yourself and your future?” one former student wrote. “Dr. Mangum was that person for me.”

Modest and kindhearted, Mangum values his years of teaching and inspiring creativity in his students.

“I think of a college classroom as a place where the conventional rules of conversation are suspended by mutual, if unspoken agreement in the interest of creating a world in which every individual’s ideas are encouraged, heard, considered and responded to,” he said, adding that he considers his teaching successful “when I am able to see that the power of storytelling has helped them make connections in their lives and when students come by two, five or 10 years later to tell me that an idea we discussed in class influenced their lives.”

An early affinity for English

Mangum was born in the small South Carolina town of Ruby where the general store, grocery store and barber shop served as gathering places. “It was a different way of life then,” he said of the rural Southern atmosphere.

He became interested in English early in his life. His mother was an English major and graduate student who was very focused on grammar and language, sometimes correcting Bryant for grammar gone awry.

“She was always attentive to language. As a child, I was fascinated by pronouns. I loved diagramming sentences and parts of speech,” Bryant said. “In school, I was not very argumentative with teachers, but I was argumentative with English teachers when I thought they were not diagramming right.”

Mangum joined the VCU Department of English in 1971, while he was still completing his Ph.D., which he earned from the University of South Carolina in 1975. During his half century at VCU, he has been named a VCU Board of Visitors Teaching Fellow and has received VCU’s Distinguished Teaching Award, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Award, the Elske v.P. Smith Distinguished Lecturer Award, the Southern Atlantic Modern Language Association Outstanding Teaching Award and the VCU Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program Faculty Mentor Award.

Bryant Mangum, Ph.D.

“It’s difficult to imagine VCU without Bryant Mangum,” said Catherine Ingrassia, Ph.D., interim dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences and former chair of the Department of English. “For 51 years, Dr. Mangum has been a compassionate teacher, a respected scholar and an exemplary university citizen. What I personally will miss most about Bryant — beside his quick wit, genial demeanor and generous nature — is the model he provided of being a thoroughly engaged and active colleague in all areas of faculty work throughout his entire career. His legacy is immeasurable. As the hundreds of students fortunate enough to have him as a professor throughout his many years attest, he left an indelible mark on their path of learning and on the university as a whole. VCU has been lucky to have an amazing faculty member like Dr. Mangum, and he will be sorely missed.”

Mangum’s entry into the university was serendipitous. He was in the office of the director of graduate studies at University of South Carolina when the director received a call about an open position at VCU teaching American literature. When he asked Mangum if he wanted to go to VCU and interview for the position, Mangum said yes.

“When you think about tiny things that happen by coincidence, they can change your life. What if I hadn’t been standing in the director’s office when the call came in about the job at VCU?” he said.

Discovering the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald

Mangum, an expert on F. Scott Fitzgerald, discovered the modernist short story writer and novelist when he was getting his bachelor’s degree in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“I fell in love with the Fitzgerald story, ‘Winter Dreams,‘ which was a rough draft of ‘The Great Gatsby.’ I was fascinated by Fitzgerald and also Ernest Hemingway,” he said, adding he was drawn to Fitzgerald because of the lyricism of his prose. “Those were my two main authors. I studied them together probably because they were opposites. There was pull for me always between those two writers. After I started my work at University of South Carolina, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to do my Ph.D. on Fitzgerald or Hemingway.”

Mangum has written numerous articles, stories, reviews and book chapters. He has also written books and edited a number of books, including “F. Scott Fitzgerald in Context,” “Best Early Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald” and “A Fortune Yet: Money in the Art of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Short Stories.”

An expert on The New Yorker, Mangum was also famous for his course on the magazine long known for its journalism, fiction, poetry, humor and cultural commentary.

Students speak out

Over the past 51 years, Mangum has shared his passions and knowledge with students such as VCU alum Aine Norris, who took his classes and now teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College.

“Dr. Mangum is generous in his time, teaching and feedback for students. He is dedicated not only to scholarship and teaching, but also to ensuring each student succeeds,” Norris said. “Truly, he is a person who always, without fail, reaches back to help the next person in line and the person after that and the person after that. I have never encountered another professor who could compete with Dr. Mangum’s humility, knowledge and kindness.”

Despite having close to celebrity status as a scholar in modernist circles, Mangum quietly publishes and conducts research, never boasting, and prefers to help students shine and enjoy the spotlight, Norris adds.

“He is always positive, always respectful and steadfast in his pursuit of scholarship. Dr. Mangum is the professor I emulate when I’m in my own classroom, interacting with my students and helping them learn and grow,” Norris said. “He is the scholar I keep in mind as I work on research and articles. He is the mentor model I will carry forward.”

A man facing the left with his hand up in front of him
"Dr. Mangum is generous in his time, teaching and feedback for students. He is dedicated not only to scholarship and teaching, but also to ensuring each student succeeds,” said VCU alum Aine Norris.

Comments from Mangum’s former students carry the same core sentiment, said VCU alum Angelica Bega.

“The thing everyone is going to say they love about Dr. Mangum is the same — that he absolutely remembered every student, where they sat in every class, all that jazz. To say that his recall on these issues and his evident care for his students was unmatched is an understatement at best. I once introduced him to a friend — who as it turned out had taken his class 30 years earlier — and watched him recall not only that student but other students in the class and full histories of many of them. And it is true that his care and concern for students is as palpable as it is remarkable,” Bega said. “Both his enthusiasm for the discipline and his care for students lie at the heart of what made him a great teacher, mentor and friend. I am so honored to have been his student.”

Students such as Jesse Gerlach Ulmer, Ph.D., a VCU graduate and assistant professor of English at VCU in Qatar, were influenced by Mangum and appreciated the respect he gave them as students.

“I want Professor Mangum to know that he not only influenced the education, growth and outlook of countless students, but particularly of students who have gone on to become professors like myself,” Ulmer said. “Thank you, Dr. Mangum, for tirelessly engaging with your students and truly respecting them not just as college students but as real people full of promise and possibility.”

One of the biggest lessons Wincott said she and her brothers learned from their father was that being kind to people is more important than everything else.

“He has empowered us with his encouragement and has always given us the confidence to believe that we can accomplish whatever we set our minds to,” Wincott said. “My dad always has something thoughtful to say about anything we discuss with him and takes a sincere interest in everything we do. You always feel cared about with my dad, and that’s why I think so many people adore him.”