The Legend of Princeton Professor Jeff Nunokawa

An English prof gains a cult following on campus through “Jeffbook,” his 3,221-entry (and counting) experiment in literary criticism, conducted exclusively on Facebook. His StairMaster mastery and Red Bull-slamming ability may also have helped.

Jeff Nunokawa


Some academics wring their hands over whether they should submit their pensées exclusively to sterling, closed, peer-reviewed journals, or whether they should submit to less stodgy open-access journals. And then there’s Princeton’s Jeff Nunokawa, who opted for a very different publishing venue: Facebook.

Jeff Nunokawa is “master” of Princeton’s Rockefeller College. (Some universities call their dorms “colleges”; a “master” is a sort of professorial social chair.) And according to Princeton Alumni Weekly, Nunokawa is among Princeton’s most legendary figures.

Rumors about Nunokawa abound. Some people claim that he reads a book a day, others that he never sleeps. He can quote pages of poetry from memory. “He does an hour on the StairMaster every day at a level that’s just ridiculous,” says Bozyigit [a student.]

That same student asks, in another place in the article, “How many professors can you talk to about girls?” “You’d think the man was fictional,” says another. Nunokawa’s incredible energy and openness may have something to do with his diet–according to a tidbit on Wikipedia: “Some students attribute this behavior to his rumored breakfasts: two Red Bulls and three apples.”

Of Jeff Nunokawa, it is difficult to say what is true and what is false, and perhaps tall tales such as these are best not questioned. But what’s undeniable is this: the greatest source of Nunokawa’s fame is his ongoing experiment in social media-enabled literary criticism. As a professor of English and “respected scholar of 19th-century English literature with a special fondness for George Eliot,” he might have his pick of venues. (Indeed, he’s written a couple of books, according to Amazon and his Princeton site. “Tame Passions of Wilde: Styles of Manageable of Desire excavates the aspiration to imagine a form of desire as intense as those that compel us, but as light as the daydream or thought experiment safely under our control,” reads a portion of his third-person online Princeton bio, which goes on: “He has also written a bunch of articles about this and that aspect of nineteenth century literature. You can ask him about them, if you are interested.”)

The venue Nunokawa has truly made his own, however, is Facebook.

Back in 2005, Nunokawa often posted a number of lecture update on Blackboard, a network some schools use to post class materials. Only, he posted a lot of them. One student remarked they were less like lecture addenda and more like a stream of consciousness. Soon after, another remarked, “Professor, you should be on Facebook.” Nunokawa had never heard of it.


Six years later, Nunokawa has just posted his 3,221st entry, a handful of words riffing on a quote by Leonard Weiser-Varon; he’ll post one or two or three of these every day, and not exclusively on matters literary: he’ll post on movies or soccer, for instance (he’s said to have a “mad crush” on Ferando Torres, the Spanish footballer). The students love “Jeffbook,” and Nunokawa’s bosses don’t disapprove: “It almost has the quality of a daily meditation, as some people do yoga,” Claudia Johnson, chairwoman of the English department, told PAW.

Nunokawa told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the notes began as a Pale Fire-inspired experiment in faux lit-crit narcissism; in later years, he became very serious about the craft of the posts, and even has in mind stringing them together in book form at some future date. For a selection of some of Nunokawa’s greatest Facebook hits, click here.

Of course, the main benefit to the publishing venue is, fittingly, a social one–which fits his job. “You hunt where the ducks are,” Nunokawa told the Chronicle. “Facebook is where my students are.” The feature on Nunokawa was the cover of the most recent Princeton Alumni Weekly. It featured a straight-ahead close-up of Nunokawa’s face, across which was written: “YOU CAN’T WRITE 3,200 ESSAYS ON FACEBOOK WITHOUT MAKING A FEW FRIENDS.”

We’ve sent an email to the man behind this friend-making machine; we’ll let you know if we hear from him (and we’re guessing we will).

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal