Baylor’s Prestigious Round Table Literary Group
When asked about the early years of Baylor’s Round Table literary group, retired instructor Bill Cushman ’59, who served as the Round Table adviser for 31 years, says Herbert Barks wanted a gathering in which the students could talk on equal footing with adults about important subjects. “He wanted students to understand the power and importance of good conversation and realized that perceptive boys would appreciate being asked to do something that they weren’t going to get a grade for. Barks said then that the organization would rise and fall on the willingness of the student to prepare in advance and come in with something to say.”
Today, English instructor Heather Ott serves as the Round Table adviser to the 16 student members. “Applicants are selected based on their teachers’ assessment of their passion for literature as manifested in how well they read,” says Ott. “How effective the student is at discussing — and listening — is huge. Round Table is not for the student who absorbs but doesn’t add something. Students must commit to being prepared to engage in the selection and study of texts that the group chooses,” she adds.
“Part of the prestige of Round Table comes from how the great teachers and headmaster have always been so committed to it,” Ott continues. “I was speaking recently with William Montgomery ’92, who now teaches English at Girls Preparatory School, and he talked about how important being a part of Round Table was for him. He remembered feeling so grown up sitting down with faculty and other folks and being listened to and treated as a peer.”
Dozens of former Round Table members echoed Montgomery’s sentiments when they responded to a letter Cushman sent on November 17, 1992, the club’s 50th anniversary. “Those discussions around the table constitute the beginnings of my real education,” wrote the late J. Wesley Watkins ’53. Fifteen years later Round Table’s vice president, Radhika Patel ’08, shared Watkins’s recognition of the club’s value during a discussion commemorating the group’s 65th year. “Round Table gave me a more profound appreciation for literature. You read and talk about books in English, but it’s a directed conversation. In Round Table you get to direct what you’ll talk about, and you find yourself saying, ‘I never thought about it that way.’ And you start seeing things differently in the books you read in school or out of school.”