Welcome to CLAS Connections, a minicast that spends a heartfelt five minutes with people from UConn’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In each case, their special connection has had a profound and lasting impact on their lives.
Today, we hear from alumnus Josh Couvares, a 2015 graduate and English major, and his mentor, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of English Gina Barreca. Josh describes how Gina helped him pave a path to becoming a singer-songwriter, while ensuring, as Gina puts it, he still “has dental.” Get ready to smile your face off. Here’s Josh and Gina.
Gina Barreca: Josh, when did we first meet?
Josh Couvares: The first class was modern British literature, I believe. When you walked in, you go, “Hey, I’m from Brooklyn. I don’t turn my back on crowds. I won’t write on any chalkboard, because I won’t turn my back on crowds.” And I was immediately like, yes, this is going to be a great class. And then the books that we were reading were just, immediately, way more intriguing than anything I’d really ever read. It opened up my mind a lot immediately to just what literature can be. And, how that applies to your own view of humanity.
Gina Barreca: I’ll give you the $20 that I owe you for giving such a good explanation of why I teach the way I do. And, and yes, I still insist they use paper books and that they have to write notes on their notebooks. But in class we talk about the text. And through the text then you will illuminate your own lives. And one of those books had a real effect on you.
Josh Couvares: Yes. “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” by Alan Sillitoe is still one of my favorite books. Basically the cornerstones of anything I’ve done creatively with music. My mom realized that I had enough credits to graduate a year early and she was like, “Great, I don’t have to pay for a year of college.’ And I was desperately trying to find a way to make that not happen. I reached out to you, I was like, “Hey, I don’t wanna graduate early.” And then we kind of discussed why I should not, in fact, graduate early.
Gina Barreca: I have , a number of students who… Clearly, there’s economic pressure. Lots of people’s families think, why? If you can leave, then leave. And I’m like, because there’s more that you wanna learn. I remember discussing the fact that if you stayed another year , you could graduate with an honors degree. And that this would be a terrific thing to do. And you again rose to that occasion, that final year, I feel, is when you really came into your own. You were working independently. And you found your own motivation, and your own ability to get things done on your own deadlines. You made every writing deadline, which is a hard thing to do.
Josh Couvares: Yeah. This is definitely the first time in my life where I was pushed that way, especially in a creative aspect from anybody around me. So I think that was huge.
Gina Barreca: You then went to work doing copy editing, sales.
Josh Couvares: Yeah, so I got an internship at Psychology Today, where the publisher there basically just said, Hey, I think you’d be good at sales. So, that’s kind of what I’ve been doing ever since to pay the bills. And then on top of that, doing all of the music and all of the creative work as well.
Gina Barreca: That’s great. And you understood too. I mean, both of us come out of, you know, working class backgrounds, so we always knew that we were gonna need to take care of ourselves. Yeah. You always knew you were gonna need a day job. And that part of being a creative person, as I tell every student, it’s like, follow your dreams, but make sure you have dental.
Josh Couvares: Which I do have. Yeah. So I mean, so it’s worked out. I just got my teeth cleaned for the first time in a long time, um, about a month ago.
Gina Barreca: Congratulations!
Josh Couvares: No cavities.
Gina Barreca: Well done! That’s a sign of good eating, good habits, and real adult life.
Josh Couvares: This is from a course I had with you. And this is my final exam.
Gina Barreca: Oh!
Josh Couvares: Here. Take a look at this.
Gina Barreca: Oh, wow. First of all… oh, it’s an A! Good. I was terrified.
Josh Couvares: Oh, just wait. You should read that note.
Gina Barreca: “Josh, this is a smart and good exam, and I don’t usually say that about essays which offer incorrect names for major characters.” You got the names wrong!
Josh Couvares: I had all the right names just in the wrong it’s — kinda like it was an Excel sheet. I moved everything, you know, one column to the right. There is a logic there at least.
Gina Barreca: Okay. That’s very funny. “…the names for the major characters or, for that matter, the authors. And yet, you’ve earned an A, not only because this is clever, which it is, but because it shows real mastery of the text, as well as the ability to think critically and originally about them. Good for you. Next time, get the names right, okay, Jim?” I’m funny!
Josh Couvares: Yeah.
Gina Barreca: That’s funny.
Josh Couvares: It was good.
Gina Barreca: That’s wonderful! That’s terrific.
Josh Couvares: You know, something you used to say a lot in class, like find the thing that makes you forget to eat.
Gina Barreca: That is right. And, as you know, eating… well, for both of us, eating is a very big thing. When my husband had cardiac arrest two years ago, Josh brought over a lasagna. And I still remember what you said in the email, which — again, the turn of phrase always means so much to me — you said, “I’m bringing over lasagna with four pork products in it. I don’t think it counts as heart healthy, but it will comfort you.”
Josh Couvares: Yeah.
Gina Barreca: That was such a great way to put it. And It was very nice to have a young person come back, and say, here’s a 45-pound lasagna.
Josh Couvares: It was heavy.
Gina Barreca: It was!
Josh Couvares: I’m sure it lasted you a long time.
Gina Barreca: It did. Although not as long as you might think.
Josh Couvares: That’s good!
Gina Barreca: It was that kind of act of generosity. And you didn’t just think about it, you did it. You showed up on my back porch with the lasagna and said, “Here.” And that is making something happen. Not just thinking about something happening. And that is… that’s creativity.
Josh Couvares: That’s probably the best thing I’ve learned from UConn and from you is that practice of being able to approach life with that sort of rigor. And it’s probably, one of the reasons why I’m still able to like, grow creatively and intellectually long after college.