Even if you have never had a class with Professor of English and Cinema Studies Aviva Briefel, chances are you have seen her and her children lined up at Thorne’s Wednesday night sundae bar. Briefel specializes in Victorian literature and horror film. She is married to David Hecht, also a Bowdoin professor, who teaches in the history department.

Briefel, the daughter of a French father and Moroccan mother, was born in Paris. Her paternal grandmother fled to New York due to instability in France during World War II, so Briefel’s father was born in the United States. He eventually returned to Paris, however, where he met Briefel’s mother. 

When Briefel was four years old and spoke no English, the family moved to New York City. 
“I was put in an American preschool,” Briefel explained, “and for the first month I had headaches and painted all the time. After that month of painting and headaches, I was speaking English fluently.”

The French language is important to Briefel—her children attend a French school in Freeport, and she enjoys watching French films. 

“I like them because they feel very nostalgic to me,” she explained.

 Growing up, Briefel spoke French with her parents but English with almost everyone else.
In addition to her academic pursuits, Briefel likes viewing films outside the horror genre and reading contemporary fiction. Along with French films, she enjoys thrillers and comedies, but avoids rom-coms. 

“Last weekend, I went to see ‘Gone Girl,’ and I feel it’s definitely a film that should be seen in the theater,” said Briefel. “That is one of my favorite things to do—sitting in the dark and watching films.”

Briefel described the joy of sharing films with her son now that he is old enough to go to the theater. 

“The first time we watched ‘The Wizard of Oz’ together was one of the most amazing things,” she said.

At Brown University, where she got her undergraduate degree, Briefel discovered her love of horror film during an outdoor screening of “The Shining.” “It was on the campus green and put on by the film society. Before that I was really scared of [horror],” she admitted.

While in college, Briefel worked as a toy salesperson at FAO Schwarz. “It was fun but also really stressful during the holiday season,” she said. “I also did a lot of temping, answering phones and typing at different places; I liked that idea of exploring different environments. One of the weirdest things I did was in grad school, where I worked at a temping agency that was a dating service. It was pre-internet dating, and I was answering phones trying to get people to use the system. It was funny, and a new concept to date in that way, where people would record videos of themselves for others to view.” 

While Briefel eventually went on to become a professor, she is confident that her top alternate career choice would have been stage acting. “I never did tons of theater, but I always had the dream to be acting on stage. Sometimes this dream is literal, and it often becomes an anxiety dream where I forget my line,” she laughingly. “I think teaching has a lot of performance to it; you are on stage in a weird way. I like that idea of being in front of a live audience.”

 When asked what else students might not know about her, Briefel said, “The cheesy answer is that I love teaching, I thrive on that. But what else they might not know is that I don’t know how to ride a bike. I felt like after a time it was too late to learn. I have a friend that tried to learn as an adult and broke her leg immediately.”

Although cycling is not one of Briefel’s pastimes, she enjoys watching “Parks and Rec” and “Arrested Development,” as well as listening to her favorite Scottish indie band, Belle and Sebastian. Her favorite family activity is spending time around Bowdoin. “It’s a really great place to raise kids. They are so used to being on a college campus, and they think about it as a place where people work and people play. And of course we love the cafeteria—if there’s any ritual we have, it’s getting ice cream there.”