Features Writer: Savannah Phillips
For 60 years, Dr. Sylvia Little-Sweat has taught English to countless students, breaking the record for how long any professor has taught at Wingate University. Most students, even if they have never met her, know of her. Little-Sweat has become a legend around campus, occasionally slipping outside of classroom norms.
Twice, Little-Sweat recounted with brown eyes shining and a devilish smile, she got classes canceled for a whole week for all students with one stipulation: they had to attend her symposium in place of classes each day. The first time she pulled this off, it was called the “Fine Arts of Being Southern,” and later, it was “Women: Our Own Voices.” Students enjoyed the experience (and the break from classes)!
In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Little-Sweat is the “Writer in Residence” at Wingate, having published: The Chalk Dust Chronicles, The Dream Sustained and Montage, among other books. For many years before that, she was the editor of Counterpoint, the Wingate art and literature magazine.
Looking back at all of Little-Sweat’s contributions to the campus community, the university plans to present her with a Diamond Jubilee celebration, complete with reception.
While details are still being finalized, Little-Sweat said that she is looking forward to every aspect and to finally getting the ‘scoop’ on what work she’s done and the impact that it has made.
Admittedly, most people would be nervous about such a review of their life’s work, but Little-Sweat has abandoned any notion of nervousness about the event to the far corner of her office. “Things you don’t plan yourself have a way of having a life of their own,” she said, “but I’m up to that.”
After having been at Wingate since the summer of 1963, Little-Sweat always imagined that she would be “slipping away quietly into the night,” with nothing so “public” planned to celebrate her. “I’m excited about having lived long enough to spend 60 years at a wonderful school in the same office,” she said humbly, “and teaching the same classes that I love teaching.”
Eighty-one years old and still full of passion for what she does, Little-Sweat hopes to try her hand at fiction writing soon. Having grown up in the country, she is contemplating the southern genre, but expects it will be more “poetic” than most novels, due to her love of poetry. She is so drawn to literature that she even has her own built-in stacks area in her office filled with books, a single chair, and a light to read by.
Little-Sweat teaches in morals, in life lessons that she wishes her students could learn from her, not having to learn the hard way themselves. Some give her fist bumps upon leaving the class, while others slip away, having heard nothing that she said. But she does what she can to make a difference in the lives of each and every one of her students. She sees through to the hidden writers before they do.
Even after all of this, Little-Sweat said, “I never have believed in outliving your usefulness, or staying too long.”
This upcoming April, as she sees all those who have filled the seats in the theatre, and she hears all the out-pourings of love written just for her, she will see that she is far from having outlived her usefulness. These students will remember her for years to come, for she will be teaching them still, long after she is gone.
The ceremony and reception is scheduled for April 18 in the McGee Theatre. The event is open to the public. Students in attendance will receive lyceum credit.