Saturday, September 20, 2014

Simon Gikandi in Residence with GW English as Wang Distinguished Professor

Professor Simon Gikandi

Simon Gikandi's 2011
Slavery and the Culture of Taste
From October 26-31, GW's English Department is pleased to host Professor Simon Gikandi as this year's Wang Distinguished Professor-in-Residence.  Simon Gikandi is Robert Schirmer Professor of English at Princeton University and editor of PMLA, the official journal of the Modern Languages Association (MLA).

He is the author of many books and articles including Writing in Limbo: Modernism and Caribbean Literature and Maps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism. His latest book, Slavery and the Culture of Taste (Princeton University Press, Spring 2011) was co-winner of the James Russell Lowell Prize for an outstanding scholarly work by a member of the MLA and the Melville Herskovits Award awarded by the African Studies Association for the most important scholarly work in African studies. The book won the 14th Annual Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize for Interdisciplinary Scholarship sponsored by Melbern Glasscock Center for Humanities Research, Texas A&M University, and was a Choice Outstanding Academic Book for 2012.

Professor Gikandi is editor
This visiting residency was created through a gift by Albert Wang and his family that has, since 2009, supported professors such as Edward P. Jones (now a member of the GW English Department), José Esteban Muñoz, J. Jack Halberstam, and Michael Bérubé.  The gift from the Wang family is one of the largest philanthropic commitments to GW's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences' Department of English.

Gikandi Residency Schedule of Events (events are free and open to the public)

Monday, October 27, 3:30-6 PM, Rome Hall 771:

Seminar for Students and Faculty with Simon Gikandi.  Readings for this event are available, although seating is limited.  Please RSVP to Robert McRuer at to be placed on the list for this seminar.

Tuesday, October 28, 5:30 PM, Marvin Center 402-404:

GW Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies: "Archives without Subjects."

Caught in the middle of the so-called crisis in the humanities, literary scholarship has sought to justify its projects by making an archival turn. This turn to the archive has been conceived as a way of reclaiming cultural authority by energizing the politics of reading at what appears to be its diminishing point. The lecture takes off from a famous statement by Jacques Derrida in Archive Fever: “Can one imagine an archive without foundation, without substrate, without substance, without subjectile?” But it asks a different set of questions: What happens when reading comes face to face with an archive without subjects—the void in which the enslaved, the subalterns, the untouchable, and the voiceless dwell? How do we go about reading texts that notate linguistic prohibition and cultural interdiction? What happens when we work in textual sites defined by silence?

Thursday, October 30, 2:15-3:15 PM, Rome Hall 771:

Seminar for Undergraduate Students with Simon Gikandi. All undergraduate students are welcome at this event, although seating is limited.  Please RSVP to Robert McRuer at to be placed on the list for this seminar.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Professor Tony López Presents for Latino Heritage September 18

Tomorrow evening, in honor of Latino Heritage Celebration, a Latina based sorority on campus is hosting an event called Virgin Maria vs. Maria Maria.  The event is at 6:30pm in the MSSC (2127 G Street NW). 

The purpose of the event is to put forward a discussion about the highly contrasting and problematic ways that Latinas are portrayed in the media.  GW English Professor Tony López and American Studies Professor Elaine Peña will present.  Join us!


Monday, September 15, 2014

GW English Alums on the Move: Dan Rudmann

GW English Grad Dan Rudmann:  "My not-so-secret goal is to assist in aligning the Mahābhārata with more university literature departments, in the same way that we work on Beowulf or Grettir's Saga."

Dan Rudmann (BA '05)
Photo Credit: Tamara Becerra Valdez
We caught up with Dan between his graduate study in Sanskrit and his work on his vinyl start-up, Punctum Records:

1.  When did you graduate from GW?  Were you an English major only, or did you have a combined major?

I earned my BA from GW in 2005 with a double major in English and Religion. After a year away to teach English at a boarding school, I returned to GW for a master's degree in Religion with a focus on the literary traditions of Hinduism and Islam.

2.  Were there teachers in the department who had a particular impact on you?  If so, who?  Why?

Truthfully, all of the teachers at GW English are exemplars for me in their approach to scholarship and pedagogy, and in the way that they develop a strong community at the department. Ormond Seavey taught me that an academic is distinguished not only by their work, but also by their capacity for kindness. Ann Romines showed me that focused study is not restricting. Robert McRuer is responsible for my love of critical theory. Working on my PhD, I'm astounded when I encounter people who dislike theory — those folks were certainly not introduced to it by Professor McRuer. 

It is probably Jeffrey Jerome Cohen's fault that I have the desire to be an academic. He completely realigned my conception of a scholar by embodying the profession as primarily creative and explorative, and remains a great friend and mentor to this day. I should also add that I have had the opportunity since my graduation to get to know, and be inspired by, members of the department from whom I did not take courses or who have more recently joined the department: Holly Dugan, Daniel DeWispelare, Jonathan Hsy, among others. The same goes for the department's incredibly brilliant graduate students. This is all to say that the impact of and connection to GW English can thankfully extend far beyond graduation.

3.  Why did you decide to be an English major?  How has the intellectual background you got from that major affected your life?

I came to GW to study International Affairs, but switched majors midway through Jeffrey Cohen's Medieval Literature course in the fall of my sophomore year. The decision was also influenced by a freshmen year pre-requisite literature course, taught by a graduate student. The type of perspective that these courses engendered, or perhaps more accurately the tools they provided that allowed me to develop my own outlook, imposed my agency within my education for the first time. Becoming an English major was as much an opportunity to learn about myself as the texts.

My PhD work is based upon my education at GW, so the English department is indelible. More broadly, however, upon learning how to conduct close readings or interrogate language, it becomes second nature to apply that mindset to everyday situations. I am not sure that I can hold a conversation or walk down the street without utilizing my English major. 

4.  Tell us about your graduate school, and about the focus of your studies.  How did you get there from a background in English?

I am currently working to complete my PhD in Sanskrit epic literature at The University of Texas at Austin. I apply the theoretical framework and processes of analysis that we learn in the English department to this form of literature. My dissertation focuses on translation theory and genre with regard to the Mahābhārata, an epic poem written around the start of the common era. This course of study is directly inspired by and builds from the work of my mentor Alf Hiltebeitel at GW's Religion department.

I am part of The Department of Asian Studies at UT, where I gained proficiency in Sanskrit and am able to navigate through different disciplines with a geographic anchor. The core of my work is the study of literature, and I particularly enjoy literature that has religious significance, so this path allows me to make my work relevant and (hopefully) interesting to a variety of scholars and students. My not-so-secret goal is to assist in aligning the Mahābhārata with more university literature departments, in the same way that we work on Beowulf or Grettir's Saga. 

5.  I know you also have a strong interest in music, and that you've been involved in that field as well.  Tell us a little about that.

Austin has a tremendous and unique community around music, and I have been a part of it in different ways: playing in bands, helping to organize shows, all sorts of support roles. In the last few years, my academic work extended to editing and publishing through the open-access press punctum books. I started to think about the ways in which my growing understanding of book publishing might extend to the publication of music. Just last year, I started Punctum Records, which focuses on creating vinyl records and also connects musicians, experimental artists, and theorists in Austin and other parts of the world. 

Now, I am in the process of opening a space in East Austin for Punctum Records and punctum books, as well as a number of other Austin-based organizations. We will be a site for creative and scholarly production, hold music events, readings and lectures, as well as sell books and records in the hopes of better supporting the members of organization. We are running a crowd funding campaign to assist with the building renovation, so everyone can take part. [GW English: You can check out the crowd funding campaign here.]

6.  Once you've finished your graduate studies, would you like to teach?  What do you see yourself doing in a few years?
I entered graduate school with the sole intention of becoming a university professor and it remains a goal that I work to fulfill. Working with students in a classroom sustained me through most of graduate school — I would love to continue to teach. But the academic landscape has changed dramatically over the past few years. Recent PhDs are having an exceedingly difficult time finding sustainable employment at an institution. So I don't know that I am in a position to speculate, unfortunately. I do see my best opportunity in developing a career for myself through maintaining diverse interests. Rather than climb along a more directed path, we might be in a time where we can build something wholly new out of many different fragments. I am optimistic about this new structure. 

7.  Do you have any thoughts or advice about majoring in English for current GW students who read this blog?

The most important thing that a major can do in the English department is participate. This is a place that fosters collaboration and a welcoming attitude toward different outlooks. Take advantage of those guest lectures, diverse course offerings, and events that bring everyone together. The more that you add your own voice to the conversation, allow your experiences to inform your approach and work, the better for everyone. 

Thanks so much, Dan!  GW Alums: share your stories and success with us -- contact Professor Margaret Soltan, Alumni Liaison for GW English, here.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Gelman Library Harry Potter Workshop

Instruction and Reference Librarian Tolonda Henderson has sent us the following entry about her upcoming workshop on Harry Potter, this Tuesday at 4 PM in Gelman:

One of the most basic ways we organize books is by fiction and non-fiction. My detective novels and sci-fi fantasy books live across my apartment from my textbooks from college and graduate school. The few pieces of fiction I have mixed in with the academic books are what most people would call Literature (with a capital L), and beloved books from childhood are kept in an entirely different room. The clarity of these distinctions, however, is slowly being turned on its head for me as I find myself wading deeper and deeper into the world of Harry Potter Studies.

I’ll take a moment to let that sink in.

Yes, I said Harry Potter Studies. On my desk here at work sit seven books for which the New York Times Book Review created a children’s best seller list. I keep the series within arm’s reach so I can refer to them as I research, for example, what the magical properties of photographs and portraits can tell us about our screen-oriented contemporary visual culture. This past February I gave a paper on the library at Hogwarts at a conference with a Harry Potter Studies Section. Next month, I will be giving a paper at the Harry Potter Conference at Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia It is entirely likely that my first scholarly publication will be about the world inhabited by The Boy Who Lived.

Would you like to add some Hogwarts to your academic experience? Consider coming my “Researching Potter” workshop in Gelman Library 219 on Tuesday, September 16th at 4pm. In the meantime, here are some tips.

  • Use multiple keywords when searching the catalog. If you just search for Harry Potter, you will get screen after screen of the Consortium’s holdings of the actual books and movies. Searching for “harry potter AND international relations” or “harry potter AND psychology” will return a much more focused list of results.
  • When searching a specialized database such as MLA International Bibliography, DO NOT limit your results to full text. Doing so would prevent you from learning about chapters in edited volumes. There are many such edited volumes on Harry Potter, but there are also individual chapters in volumes on other topics.
  • Pay attention to the date of publication. Scholars started writing about Harry Potter before the series was complete; depending on your topic, this can make a big difference. Articles or book chapters about Hogwarts as a school will be very different if they were written before the introduction of Dolores Umbridge in Order of the Phoenix than if they were written afterwards.

Please feel free to contact me directly. I am considering branching out in Popular Culture Studies to projects on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Hunger Games, or the Divergent series. I would be happy to talk to you about any of my projects or, more importantly, about yours.

Tolonda Henderson
Instruction and Reference Librarian
Gelman Library

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Amy Bloom Reads Thursday, September 18

Writer Amy Bloom is know for the complexity of her work.  Her characters are complicated and full of surprises.  Bloom got an early start in her craft. As a child growing up in New York, she remembers composing poems that she described in an interview with the fiction and poetry website Phoughshares as "Derivative, I fear—influenced by Dr. Seuss.”  Her enthusiasm continued into adolescence, but Bloom eventually found herself deviating from fiction. She studied Clinical Social Work at Smith College, and eventually starting a private therapy practice.  But in the early days of her psychology career, Bloom was again driven to write.

In 1993 she published Come to Me, her first short story collection, which was met with strong critical reviews, and went on to be nominated for the National Book Award. Three additional short story collections and three novels followed the success of her first publication. Her latest release,  the novel, Lucky Us, was described by The New York Times as “sparsely beautiful.”

Bloom’s work is often noted for being intensely personal, rooted in an exploration of the hearts and minds of her characters. But she insists that her fiction isn’t a product of psychoanalytic training, but rather the opposite. "I think I became a therapist because I love people's stories,” she said, “the things that happen, or might have happened, or could have happened, the stories they—meaning we—construct and invent.”

Whatever its source, Bloom’s approach to prose has attracted a great deal of attention, with her work appearing in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. She is also a recipient of the National Magazine Award.  Bloom currently lives in Connecticut with her partner, editor Joy Johannessen, and is serving as Wesleyan College’s latest Writer In Residence.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

What Can I Do with an English Major? A Lot!

On Saturday, September 27, GW English is convening an afternoon symposium with six of our illustrious alums to talk about the many career paths available to students majoring in English.  Join us for a conversation and reception as we hear from a speechwriter, a journalist, a dancer and choreographer, a filmmaker, an educator, and a book editor -- all recent graduates of GW's English Department.

The conversation begins in Rome Hall 204 and will be followed by a reception in our own conference room, Rome Hall 771.  If you're currently an English major thinking about what's next, or if you're thinking about becoming an English major, this event is for you!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

D Gilson Publishes "Out of Sequence: The Sonnets Remixed"

For the last year, PhD student D. Gilson has been soliciting poems, essays, and artwork for a special collection from the academic journal Upstart: A Journal of English Renaissance Studies. In fact, this collection, titled Out of Sequence: The Sonnets Remixed, brings together 154 writers and artists responding to Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Gilson explains, “After reading the Sonnets in Robert McRuer and Holly Dugan’s queer theory seminar, I started thinking about how these famous verses might influence us today, or how we might, as both writer/artists and scholars, respond to them in the twenty-first century.” The result is a multi-media feast for those interested in Renaissance poetry and contemporary literature alike.

The GW English Department is represented well in the collection. In addition to an afterword by Professor Ayanna Thompson, Out of Sequence includes Professors Jonathan Hsy and David McAleavey, and PhD students Maia Gil'Adi, Sam Yates, Patrick Henry, and Dora Danylevich. In her afterword, Professor Thompson points to the entries in Out of Sequence as a “performance piece that work to create a queer community with Shakespeare at its center, but their Shakespeare remains fully dead and voiceless. Nonetheless, the poems’ performances of queer desire imagine and create a Shakespeare as he might have been had he lived today. Remixing, then, releases the past (even the desire to experience the past, or “to speak with the dead”) in order to experience the present more fully, vibrantly, and complexly.”

Speaking about the motivation behind such a project, Gilson contends, “I am most interested in tearing down that binary between the creative and the critical, not negating one over the other. A creative writer can think critically, and the academic can be creative.” This is evident in entries where scholars write poems, or poets critique Shakespeare’s work in their own lives. Or where Shakespeare is imagined using Twitter, having threesomes, and listening to Paul Simon. Available in print later this fall from Parlor Press, you can check out the online edition of Out of Sequence: The Sonnets Remixed here at Upstart .

Friday, September 5, 2014

Professor Tara Wallace: This Weekend at the Jane Austen Society of North America

The Jane Austen Society of North America announces:

Registration for our September 7 program ends Tuesday, September 2 [now extended to

September 6]. Cost $20. 
Click here to pay with Paypal or download a reservation form.

Professor Tara Wallace

Austen's Sea-Change: Re-Writing Sense and Sensibility
with Tara Wallace, GWU

Sunday, September 7 at 2:00 pm
Classroom at Total Wine
McLean Shopping Center
1451 Chain Bridge Road
McLean, VA 22101

Tea and light refreshments will be served.

 The list of works that re-write or extend Austen's work is long and varied, from the 19th-century novels of Thomas Lister to the current products of the Austen Project, from fantasies about the Darcys’ marriage to Austen in the world of vampires and zombies. In this talk, Dr. Wallace examines two examples of texts that re-work Sense and Sensibility:  Joanna Trollope's contribution to the Austen Project and Ben H. Winters's mash-up with sea-monsters. How do these authors re-present Austen's writing, and to what extent do these re-workings become novels in their own right?