Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The 6 Questions Every English Major Gets Asked at Thanksgiving

Going home for Thanksgiving is always great, but somewhere in between passing the cranberry sauce and dessert, things can get a bit... difficult. Here are five questions English majors are tired of being asked.

1. Wow it must be nice to have such an easy course load. Oh yeah, preparing a presentation on Pericles, writing a paper on women’s reading habits during the British Romantic Period, reading about 40 pages on disability theory, writing a fifteen page short story and a twenty-page film is just a piece of cake.

2. So do you just read Shakespeare all day? Sometimes, yes. But we also read Chaucer, Austen, Faulkner, Morrison, Freud, and many more.

3. I wish I had time to read like you. Oh yes, reading twenty pages of Foucault is exactly what I do to wind down after a long, stressful day.

4. It must be great not having to study for finals. It is, except that I still need to write about 80 pages in final papers.

5. Aren’t you worried about being unemployed after college? Yes. But aren't we all?

6. So… law school? For some of us, yes. But many of us have career plans that have nothing to do with law. And like the rest of the student body, many of us are still figuring it out.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"Tell the internal and external naysayers to get lost": an English Department Grad Goes to Film School

GW English/Creative Writing Alum
Mary Sette
Mary Sette has taken her English/Creative Writing (with honors) GW degree and moved to film school at the University of Southern California.  Professor Margaret Soltan recently talked to Mary about GW, USC, and her work in film.

1. Let's start with the immediate present.  Having recently graduated as an English/Creative Writing major at GW (with honors), you're now enrolled in the University of Southern California's Writing for Screen and Television MFA program.  Has it been a culture shock, moving from the east to the west coast?

Not too much! I had been thinking about moving to Los Angeles after college for the last two years, so I had a long time to process the decision. In July, I drove cross-country from New Jersey to Los Angeles and it was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. But I won’t lie, moving to the west coast was the most terrifying thing I've ever done.  Even having the security of graduate school, it’s nerve wracking to move across the country and start a new kind of life. It makes you feel like you’re an adult; but in reality, you don’t own dental floss and you haven’t done your laundry in weeks. Since coming here, I’ve been surprised and relieved by how much I like it. Los Angeles is a vibrant city full of opportunity for artistic people. Graduate school at USC has been full of artistic challenges and rewards and what’s helped me get through some homesickness is feeling like I’m growing as a writer and artist. I also live by the beach and eat a lot of tacos…so that helps!

2. In what ways did your education at GW prepare you for USC?

My time at GW absolutely prepared me for my time in graduate school. The critical analysis in GW’s literature classes comes in handy every day in classes, whether we are workshopping screenplays or pulling apart the structure of scripts and films. In my senior year, I took Jennifer Green-Lewis’s 19th Century English Literature course. In that class alone, you dive deep into how creative work strives to create emotional and unforgettable imagery. This is the foundation of screenwriting; you’re trying to capture an image and make it live in your imagination.

3.  I looked at your Linked In page, and it's clear you've known you want to write for the screen and make your own films for a long time.  How did you come to know that's what you wanted to do?  Were any professors/courses at GW useful in helping you think about that?

My time at GW was four years of a lot of self-realization. I came to GW as a political science major. I thought I wanted to work for non-profits or intern on the Hill. All the while, I think I knew that wasn't going to make me happy. I had my hand in the creative writing and fine arts program at GW, and I knew I liked writing dialogue, but I never thought that was an employable skill. During my sophomore year of college, I took Noah Stern’s Screenwriting class. It was mostly by chance. None of the other creative writing classes fit my schedule. I took the class and, honestly, I just got hooked on screenwriting. Professor Stern was the first person who put the idea in my head that screenwriting could be a profession and not just a hobby. I remember he said to me, “Have you thought about film school after college?” And I just stared blankly into the dark void I considered my future when I was a sophomore in college. Pretty quickly after that, I started getting serious about screenwriting. I took Noah’s Advanced Screenwriting Class and an Independent study with him. I took all of Pati Griffith’s playwriting classes, and eventually did my senior thesis (the screenplay for Vagina Mumbles!) with her. And I also loved learning about video production and editing techniques with Siobhan Rigg. Her class was the reason I could shoot Vagina Mumbles in the first place. I still think about some of the video art and short films we watched in that class.

4.  I love the title of your film, Vagina Mumbles - I take it that the title means to echo in a kind of satirical way Vagina Monologues.  Tell me more about that.

Thank you! I really love the title and it still makes me laugh when I tell strangers and professors about it to this day. It's about a recent college graduate trying to be a slam poet while currently living in her younger sister’s dorm room. It deals with depression, suicide, love, death, and hopefully some enjoyable penis jokes. I wrote that project as my senior thesis in screenwriting with Pati Griffith. I wrote it with the intent of being able to shoot it on campus. It was a big collaborative process. My friends helped produce and act in it. For me the title is a play on Vagina Monologues but more than that it’s a humorous way to point out the protagonist’s depression. This kind of girl’s vagina wouldn't monologue, it would mumble. And of course, she has to learn to let it roar! (My mom loves that joke.) 

5.  Do you have any advice for current GW English and/or Creative Writing types who might be thinking of doing something like what you're doing?

Go after artistic internships! Even the most remotely artistic. Whether you’re the copyeditor at a think tank, or an intern at a literary agency, it all helps. Next, reach out to people at GW and in the DC community. There are tons of people interested in film and the entertainment industry in DC. The Women in Film and Video, DC chapter, is great and holds a ScriptDC conference every year usually not too far from campus. I also strongly encourage people to write on their own and go after projects during their free time. I know the work load in college can get hard and it’s difficult to look too far in the future when you have finals and papers a week away, but it pays off. I shot Vagina Mumbles completely during my free time in my last semester at GW and I think it was the most rewarding thing I did in college. Make things for yourself and tell the internal and external naysayers to get lost.

6. Do you have a next film project in mind?  Have you found fellow students to collaborate with at USC?

Yes! In terms of writing, I’ve just finished writing a short film, a drama feature script, and a television spec script for The Unbreakable Kimmy Schimdt.  For my next film project, I’ve started preparing to shoot a web series based on one of the videos I did for Siobhan Rigg’s video class. It’s called tentatively “Mary is…Destiny’s Child!” It’s a comedy and it follows a young weird girl who holds a talk show under her bed. This is a project I’m doing on my own for fun and some creative release outside of school.  In terms of collaborating with USC classmates, I’ve met a ton in the writing, directing and producing tracks. There are a lot of people I’ve talked about collaborating with and hopefully over the summer those plans will be seen!

Monday, November 23, 2015

SPRING 2016 COURSES: Professor Jennifer James's Introduction to Black American Literature

EN 1611.10:  Introduction to Black American Literature II, 20th-21st Century
Professor Jennifer James
T, TH: 12:45-2 PM

“Literature is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks at reality, then you can change it.” –James Baldwin

This course introduces students to some of the most influential African American writers and literary movements of the 20 and 21st centuries. We will begin with the writers of the “Renaissance,” exploring how the Great Migration north in the 1920’s and 30’s shaped modern black art and culture. From there, we will examine a range of topics, paying particular attention the ways African American literature registers social movements: Civil Rights, Black Power, Feminism, Anti-War, and Black Lives Matter. The responses vary greatly; indeed, black writers continue to engage in serious, even contentious debates over the aesthetic and political goals of black art. Is literature truly “indispensable to the world,” as Baldwin suggests?  Does it hold the power to “change reality”?  Even by “a millimeter”? 

Writers will include Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Malcom X, Martin Luther King, James Baldwin, Lorainne Hansberry, Amiri Baraka, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Claudia Rankine and others. Genres include fiction, poetry and film.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Professor Chang Reading at the Library of Congress

Professor Jennifer Chang is on the roster for the Library of Congress reading series at the beginning of December!  Join the conversation about poetry and teenagers.  Details below.

Wednesday, December 2, 6:30 PM
Poets Jennifer Chang and Mark McMorris read selections of Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation along with co-editor Lynn Melnick and Viking Children’s Books Senior Editor, Sharyn November. A moderated discussion on poetry and teens to follow. This event is free and open to the public.  
Location: Mumford Room, sixth floor, James Madison Building
Professor Jennifer Chang

Thursday, November 12, 2015

6 Professors Share Their Grammatical Pet Peeves

Ever since my time on my high school newspaper, improper grammar has really irked me. For example, I'm a huge fan of the Oxford Comma. Also, I used to watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians and cringe anytime the characters said, “my sister and I” when the correct phrasing would have been, “my sister and me.” Buzzfeed has even done a post on presents for the grammar nerd in your life, and when I saw it, it made me wonder about the grammatical pet peeves of the people around me. As a Creative Writing and English major, I definitely have many classmates who have their own pet peeves, but I thought it would be even more interesting to find out what my professors thought. So I asked a few professors in the English department about the grammar mistakes that irk them the most. Here’s what they said:

the value of the Oxford Comma, courtesy of Pinterest
1. Professor Katherine Keller: I don't have any absolute favoritesthough I don't like it when folks qualify absolutes, such as "unique," which means singular and can't be "very" or "really."  My new favorite pet peeve though is not so much a peeve but an amusement: Autocorrect, a blessing to those of us who love malapropisms and other word play.  In one student essay I read recently, autocorrect changed a "bides" in a quotation to "bidet."  So, always correct your autocorrect or your work may end up in the toilet.  Sorry, very bad pun.  

2. Professor Lisa Page: Biggest grammatical peeve in creative writing is tense. So many of my students jump back and forth, writing in past and present tense at the same time. "The rain fell gently. It sounds nice." Ugh!

3. Professor Faye Moskowitz: My pet grammatical peeves are the confusion about "It's" and "Its." The difference between "elude" and "allude" drives me nuts, too. But it is the misplaced modifier that is the bane of my writing existence, because it is sometimes not easy for the writer to spot.

4. Professor Evelyn Schrieber: My pet peeve is the misuse of its and it's. Students cannot seem to understand its is possessive without the apostrophe (like his, hers, and theirsthose they get). I tell my students not to use contractions in formal writing and that way they will not misuse it's, but they still use it anyway! My second pet peeve is using the word "this" without a noun after it.

5. Professor Marshall Alcorn: I have two pet peeves.
1.  Misuse of semi-colon and colon. 
2.  People who enforce  Latinate and confabulated 18th century grammar "rules" in English, as in insisting that a double negative really means a positive.  "I ain't got no money," does not in any stretch of anyone's imagination mean I have money.  The double negative was effectively used in many English dialects since the time of Chaucer, and continues effectively among many dialects today.

6. Professor Jonathan Hsy: I don’t exactly have a grammatical issue here per se, but one of my major pet peeves as someone who teaches medieval literature is people using the term “Dark Ages” to refer to the entire Middle Ages (the period known as the “Dark Ages” technically refers to a more narrow historical period just after the fall of the Roman Empire). 
A few other things: The terms “middle aged” and “medieval” are not interchangeable. The "Middle Ages” is a multifaceted historical era; “Medieval Times” is a theme restaurant/spectacular dining experience. 

I'd love to know—do you have any grammatical mistakes that bother you? Let us know in the comments below!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Margaret Soltan: An Interview, and a Lecture Series

Margaret Soltan was interviewed recently by Radio Poland, which asked her about her memories of Wojciech Fangor, Poland's most important modern painter.  You can access that interview via this link.

Professor Soltan spoke with the New York Times confirming Fangor's death; the obituary from October 25 can be accessed here.

Soltan will also be giving a three-part lecture series on poetry at the Georgetown Public Library.  The dates are April 2, 9, and 16, 2016 (all Saturdays).

Friday, November 6, 2015

Jenny McKean Moore Reading Series Featuring Kyle Dargan

                    Jenny McKean Moore Reading Series Featuring Kyle Dargan

Join us on Thursday, November 19th at 7:30PM in the Marvin center as the Jenny Mckean Moore Reading Series features Kyle Dargan, who will read from his new collection of poetry, Honest Engine.
Kyle Dargan is the Director of Creative Writing and an Associate Professor at American University. He is the author of three other collections of poetry: The Listening, Logorrhea Dementia, and Bouquet of Hungers. His poems and non-fiction have appeared in publications such as Callaloo, Denver Quarterly, Jubilat, The Newark Star-Ledger, Ploughshares,, and Shenandoah. While a Yusef Komunyakaa fellow at Indiana University, he served as poetry editor for Indiana Review. He is the founding editor of Post No Ills magazine and was most recently the managing editor of Callaloo.

Reviews of Honest Engine

"This Honest Engine is unafraid. It asks questions that men rarely ask: Is there a cure for patriarchy? 'Must I also think like a fist?' Will grief and loss swamp us? Sometimes, true, with the poet we wrestle despair, 'tumbling from an apex of grace.' But memory can restore, can 'make enough flames bloom.' Indeed, Kyle Dargan’s stunning, hurting poems bring us finally to a wary hopefulness that we might begin, at last, to reach across our divisions, racial and otherwise."
—Sarah Browning, executive director of Split This Rock and author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden
"Honest Engine reveals Kyle Dargan to be a poet fully in command. He marshals the resources of sound and line and syntax into lucid and quietly insistent poems that soldier through loss and wonder to a kind of peace. And yet Dargan’s command, urgent as it is, comes with a beautiful humility. I am awed by this book’s wisdom and calm clarity and moved by its faith. I will read it again and again."
—Keith D. Leonard, author of Fettered Genius: The African American Bardic Poet from Slavery to Civil Rights

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Novelist Tom Mallon Celebrates with Radio Host, Garrison Keillor

Professor Thomas Mallon was recently featured on "The Writer's Almanac:"
Today is the birthday of the man who said, “I am the worst prognosticator imaginable, and it’s a good thing I write about the past instead of the future.” That’s novelist and essayist Thomas Mallon (books by this author), born in Glen Cove, New York (1951). He’s written nine novels, all involving historical events, including Dewey Defeats Truman (1996) and Fellow Travelers (2007), about a gay romance during the McCarthy era; he’s also written several books of nonfiction, including Mrs. Paine’s Garage (2002), about the woman who housed Lee Harvey Oswald in the weeks leading up to his assassination of President Kennedy. In addition, he has contributed essays and columns to magazines like GQ, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and Harper’s.

His most recent novel just came out this fall. It’s called Finale, and is set in 1986, in the Reagan White House. The New York Times calls it his “most audacious and important work yet.” Mallon, who describes his political bent as “libertarian Republican,” said: “I wanted to present Reagan as a consequential figure who had accomplished some things that were admirable. But I certainly don’t present him as a heroic figure. I think that anybody who picks this book up because they think that this is going to be a heroic and fully admiring view of Reagan is going to be disappointed and annoyed. But I would say my job as a novelist is first to tell a good story if I can and to try to entertain and to try to see things from as many angles as possible.”

In his essay “The Historical Novelist’s Burden of Truth” (1998), he speculated about the popularity of historical fiction: “The cyber and fiber-optic revolutions have made every person and place on the present-day globe absurdly and instantly accessible to every other person and place. We are, more than we yet realize, becoming sick of one another. The past is the only place to which we can get away, and if I had one prediction for the millennium it would be that all of us, including novelists, shall be spending a lot of time — more than ever before — looking backward.”

Mallon is at work on two more historical novels: one about Fort Sumter, and the other about the presidency of George W. Bush.