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Around the Columns

Skate and smashability

Devoney Looser

English Professor Devoney Looser, aka “Stone Cold Jane Austen,” practices roller derby drills. The award-winning professor competes with the CoMo Derby Dames. Photo by Rachel Coward

You won’t find names like “Amber Waves of Pain” and “Dixie McKill” in 18th-century British literature. But that doesn’t stop Devoney Looser, professor of English and Jane Austen scholar, from lacing up her skates and clashing in Columbia’s roller derby league. Female trailblazers are key figures in Looser’s academic and social life. She has written two books on significant but largely forgotten British women writers and is finishing her third, which examines Jane and Anna Maria Porter, sisters who helped shape the historical fiction genre.

In April 2010, Looser won an Excellence in Education Award for her extracurricular work with students. Her roller derby career began when her doctoral candidate Angela Rehbein and former special collections librarian Katie Carr mentioned retro night at Columbia’s Empire Roller Rink. Soon, members of the CoMo Derby Dames invited them to beginners’ practices.

Reflecting her scholarly interest, Looser chose “Stone Cold Jane Austen” as her derby name, in homage to professional wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and the author of Pride and Prejudice. After her May 2010 debut at the Fresh Meet Bout in Jefferson City, Mo., she was named rookie blocker MVP, and Rehbein was chosen rookie jammer MVP.

Looser, a 43-year-old mother of two, thinks she and Rehbein might be one of the only — if not the only — adviser and doctoral candidate duo playing competitive roller derby. Continuing the tradition, Juliette Paul, another of Looser’s doctoral students, has been attending practices. “If you would have told me I would be playing roller derby a year ago, I would have laughed,” says Looser, who came to MU in 2002 with husband George Justice, now vice provost for advanced studies and dean of the Graduate School.

But she loves everything about derby — including the scrapes, bruises and rink rash. Looser, recipient of the 2009 Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Activity in the Performing Arts and Humanities, thinks Jane Austen would approve of the CoMo Derby Dames. “She might not understand the appeal of the tattoos, but given what she seems to have thought of gender roles in her own day, she would appreciate the spirit of strong women working together, pushing their limits physically.”