At the end of his “Goodbye, Columbus” lecture that day, Bassett was approached by a student, Angela Cannon ’99. Cannon told Bassett that she had been hired to work in the Farnham Writers’ Center at Colby after graduation. For Cannon, this was a singular triumph. For Bassett, it was one of many in which he’s quietly played a part.

Cannon came to Colby from Eastport in Downeast Maine. Valedictorian at Shead High School, she traded a community where she knew everyone for a place where she didn’t know a soul. After 12 years of straight A’s, Cannon found herself failing one course her first semester, getting a C in another. She was considering leaving Colby when she talked to Professor Bassett.

“Somehow he made me feel it was OK,” Cannon said recently. “He said, ‘You have a tutor and you’re going to bring those grades back up.’ . . . To have this man who was such a legend on campus take a real interest in my well-being and want me to stay at the school really encouraged me and made me feel good about myself.”

But Bassett’s legendary status extends to more than just his counseling of students. A scholar in his own right, Bassett comes from the “New Criticism” school of close reading of texts. He has taught hundreds of students to go beyond their reaction—to look for evidence in literature.

Bassett is renowned for his work on John O’Hara, among others, and is known and respected in American studies circles nationally. In 1994 he received the first annual Mary C. Turpie Prize in American Studies from the national American Studies Association. The selection committee cited him for taking over Colby’s modest program and, over the years, building it into “the largest and most successful undergraduate [American studies] major at any liberal arts college in the country.” He directed Colby’s American Studies Program for almost 25 years, chaired the English Department and has advised generations of colleagues.

“He really is considered the wise sage,” said Cedric Bryant, associate professor of English.

But both Bryant and Margaret McFadden, assistant professor of American studies, emphasize that Bassett not only continues to dispense wisdom, he absorbs it as well.

“He’s sixty-seven years old,” McFadden said recently. “He’s entitled to be set in his ways and he just isn’t.”

For that reason, Bryant and Bassett recently teamed up for lectures on a collection of stories by Alice Walker. Bryant noted that the stories are not easy to read or to teach, that they contain new ideas and perspectives that some people Bassett’s age would reject out of hand.

“Charlie is precisely the opposite of that,” Bryant said. “He has never stopped expanding and revising his courses. He’s always broadening his own syllabus.”

And not for his own benefit.