Tuesday, October 18, 2016

GW English News: Student Outreach, Minor for Business Majors, Engaged Humanities

Prof. Holly Dugan. Naishi Jhaveri | Hatchet Staff Photographer
You may enjoy reading three recent pieces from The GW Hatchet on recent undertakings by the GWU English Department.

First, a fine piece on our outreach to students and alumni. As the article notes, we are trying our best to connect with current majors, prospective majors, and all those who might be interested in a literature course -- as well as bringing our alumni back to visit with our current students. Drop us a line if you have additional ideas!

Next, a nice overview of our new minor in English for business majors. Department Chair Marshall Alcorn says it best: "“For as long as I have been at GW I have been told by business school faculty that business students need to know how to write, how to communicate and how to think ‘outside the box. The English department teaches these skills very effectively.”

Last, a beautiful editorial on the value of the humanities to the GW undergraduate experience mentions that:
Humanities courses encourage students to think differently and ponder real-world questions, and that's just as valuable as gaining skills for employment. Sometimes, a well-rounded education means needing to feel a little uncomfortable. If we never get out of our comfort zones and expose ourselves to new ideas, we won’t grow as students and individuals. 
The English department recently created a new minor for business school students. It’s an innovative venture to give students in a technical degree program a way to learn how to communicate, write and think creatively. Other departments at GW should take notice of the English department and the business school’s joint project, and students should seize opportunities to take classes outside of their comfort zones – especially in the humanities. 
The English department has also increased outreach to attract students to their classes. Humanities programs tend to be smaller, and amid budget cuts, it seems these programs and departments are some of the first to lose faculty and resources. The English department’s step is proactive, and it’s exciting to see that other schools, like the business school, are helping emphasize the importance of humanities.

Many thanks to The Hatchet for taking notice of the English Department's vitality ... and our dedication to GW students!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

GW English Alums on the Move: Paula Mejia

Paula Mejia (BA, Creative Writing/English '13,
MA, English '14)

Paula Mejia started as an International Affairs major at GW, and then encountered our Creative Writing faculty -- which changed everything.  Margaret Soltan talks to her about it.

Since you graduated from GW with an English and Creative Writing double major you've made a name for yourself as a commentator on pop/avant-garde music in places like Rolling Stone. You've also just published a book about Psychocandy, the debut album by the Scottish rock band The Jesus and Mary Chain.  You'll be in Washington, D.C. on October 23rd to talk about the book.  

So... that's a lot of impressive stuff.  Where to start? Let's start with your GW experience. Which of our professors/courses here influenced you on your path? Did your time at GW involve your being introduced to writers (creative; non-creative; musical; non-musical) who helped clarify the direction you wanted to take?

So many GW English courses and professors influenced my current trajectory, directly and indirectly. But the formative ones that stand out to me are Intro Screenwriting with Noah Stern, Intro Fiction Writing with Michelle Brafman, Intermediate Fiction Writing with Hache Carrillo, Advanced Fiction Writing with Thomas Mallon, Critical Methods and Transnational Queer Studies with Robert McRuer, and Popular Music Culture with Gayle Wald. They each compelled me to focus on different (but equally critical) parts of storytelling, which is something that’s central to journalism and nonfiction writing. Also, Faye Moskowitz was a fantastic undergraduate thesis advisor.

My time at GW definitely involved being introduced to writers, as well. I was fortunate enough to present a paper at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, Washington, in 2014. That was a crucial experience -- not just because it helped me get more comfortable presenting at conferences, but also in that it gave me the chance to meet academics, critics and writers doing extraordinary work. Two local things really clarified the direction I wanted to take, though. One was meeting nonfiction writers, photographers and journalists in the D.C. music scene, at venues like the 9:30 Club and Black Cat. It floored me to see tremendous minds experiencing music not just as artists and writers, but fans, too. The other was being amidst incredible peers and fellow students at GW, who, upon seeing gaps in culture, filled them in themselves by creating venue spaces, making music, zines, and booking performances.

2.  Given your primary focus on music, did you consider studying that at GW? What in the offerings of our English department attracted you?

I briefly considered studying music. My musical abilities are limited to terrible bass guitar covers, though, so that would have just been painful for everyone involved. In all seriousness, I realized that while learning theory and the more technical aspects of music could be helpful for context, I was more interested in digging into the emotional and universal qualities of music instead. I was especially intrigued by talking to people about why they made it and learning about what moved them. Fortunately, I was able to do that all the time at GW’s radio station, WRGW District Radio, where I had an on-air show for four years. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now without that experience, so major shoutout to college radio.

I initially came to GW as an International Affairs major, and transferred into the Columbian College right after taking Intro Fiction Writing with Michelle Brafman. I missed writing creatively, and writing about nonfiction in a way that wasn’t based in incredibly dense political literature. So I was definitely attracted to the various prompts and unexpected challenges that creative writing classes offered. I also wanted to read books on the syllabi that I maybe hadn’t heard about before. And some of those turned out to be massively influential! I still read Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts/Day of the Locust and Muriel Spark, and those were two authors that Thomas Mallon introduced me to in his class. Hache Carrillo also gave me one of the best pieces of advice that I value to this day, which is to “read two to three books a week.” The best writers are voracious readers. It’s a fact.  

3.  Your book was chosen, among hundreds of manuscripts, for inclusion in the way-hip, well-known 33 1/3 series.  How did that come about?  

From the 33 1/3 series,
Paula Mejia's Pyschocandy
That manuscript had its roots at GW. Right around the time I was thinking about what I wanted to write for my graduate English thesis, the series announced its open call for proposals. So I thought, okay, I’m interested in this band, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and how it was that they emerged, against every possible odd, during a particularly fraught period of history. What if I found a way to combine my interests in popular music theory and punk rock as political revolt, and then tailor it to be a manuscript?

What I ended up submitting to the 33 ⅓ series was a rough cut of my graduate thesis, which was largely about the band and the album Psychocandy. It wouldn’t have been possible without Thomas Mallon, who was a reader and great editor for both my undergraduate and graduate theses, and Gayle Wald. In addition to leading a terrific class about pop music and its impact on culture at large, Gayle was a fantastic mentor and thesis advisor for this, as well.

I truly didn’t expect the manuscript to get chosen. If anything, I thought it would be a good exercise and a way to make the most out of my JSTOR account. And then it got picked up! So here I am now.  

4. What are some of your latest projects? What does your immediate writing future look like?

Since I’m a full-time freelancer and since everything I do is project-based, it’s hard to say for sure what that looks like until those projects materialize. But right now, localized pop music coverage in New York (where I live now) is my bread and butter. So I pretty consistently write listings for The New York Times and The New Yorker, and interview movers and shakers around the city for Village Voice. Recently I profiled the avant-garde Norwegian artist Jenny Hval for Elle, as well as the paradigm-shifting punk band Downtown Boys for The Fader’s latest print “America” issue. Those were great fun to work on. I have a longform feature about the weird, wondrous world of underwater sound that’s due out soon, too, and a couple of other pieces that I’m excited about.

After the book launch, my goal is to expand my reach outside of music and write more about different facets of culture, though. I’m currently working on a food story, so I’m excited about that. I’d like to write more about film again, too, so I have some of those projects in the pipeline as well. I’m also hoping to start working on a proposal for a second book, and I’m very slowly writing a web series with my roommate.

5.  Do you have any advice for our majors in terms of the direction you've been able to take?

Definitely. My biggest piece of advice is this: What makes you a writer is having the discipline to do it over and over and over again, so find a rhythm that works for you and put something onto the page every day. No exceptions.  

The resources that GW English department offers, like readings, are tremendous things to take advantage of. Get out there and expose yourself to as much as you can culturally. That’s how I ended up doing what I do now. Originally, I really wanted to write fiction. But I unexpectedly found myself in a place to do journalism, so I went with it and just kept saying yes to those opportunities as they happened.

Also, while writing often demands solitude, talk to your peers, too. Sharing ideas and having a wealth of perspectives is key. Chances are they’re interested in similar things, or can recommend you a life-changing book or article or piece of music you didn’t know about before. Maybe later on down the line you can even collaborate on making something together.

Submit ideas to conferences, journals and magazines, and apply to jobs you’re interested in, even if you think it’s a long shot (true story: I applied to NPR internships every single year in college, didn’t get any of them, and now I sometimes write for NPR). And learn to dust yourself off and try again when you get a story turned down. It will happen a bunch. It still happens to me all the time.

Lastly, keep in mind that these required English courses aren’t just classes you show up to, do the work for and leave. They can be such an amazing way to contextualize your experiences, cultivate your interests and carve out a path that’s uniquely yours. I wrote a book who knows what amazing thing you can do, too.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Patrick Rosal to Read Poetry at The Jenny McKean Moore Reading Series

The Jenny McKean Moore Reading Series Presents: 

The Poetry Patrick Rosal

Thursday, October 20th

 7:30 PM 

Gelman Library Room 702

Join the GW English department for our latest edition of the Jenny McKean Moore Reading Series featuring Patrick Rosal, the author of 4 full-length poetry collections  :

Brooklyn Antediluvian (2016)
Boneshepherds (2011)
My American Kundiman (2006)
Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive (2003)

His work has won an impressive array of awards, including the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award, Global Filipino Literary Award and the Asian American Writers Workshop Members' Choice Award, the annual Allen Ginsberg Awards, the James Hearst Poetry Prize, the Arts and Letters Prize, Best of the Net, among others. Publishers Weekly called his latest work, Brooklyn Antediluvian, "...an earth shattering performance."
Patrick Rosal was awarded a 2009 Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines, and is the co-founder/editor of Some Call It Ballin’, a literary sports magazine. He currently is on the faculty of Rutgers University-Camden's MFA program. 

His poems and essays have been published widely in journals and anthologies including The New York TimesTin HouseDrunken BoatPoetryNew England ReviewAmerican Poetry ReviewHarvard ReviewGrantlandBrevityBreakbeat Poets, and The Best American Poetry.

Praise for Brooklyn Antediluvian:

The poet’s wide-aloud love song to New York’s most boisterous borough is a deftly-crafted tour-de-force, a sleek melding of lyric and unflinching light. These poems are restless and unnerving, stanzas that do difficult, necessary work.”  
— Patricia Smith, author of Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah and four-time National Slam Champion 
"Rosal's vividly syncretic, even sexy works find the present haunted by the recent past, the personal within the political."

Publisher's Weekly 

"Rosal is a second-generation Filipino whose heritage is a rich part of his work, but he is also an all-American urban kid...[with] the boastful beat of hipp-hop...playing in the back of his head...In Rosal's world, beauty and pleasure are contagious. So is the charm of his poetry."
—Time Out New York 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Professor Ayanna Thompson in the New York Times

GW English Professor
Ayanna Thompson
The New York Times recently reported on Play On! a project sponsored by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival asking 36 playwrights from diverse backgrounds to translate the language of William Shakespeare into contemporary modern English.  Our own Professor Ayanna Thompson was one of the dramaturges for the project, working with playwright Mfoniso Udofia on a contemporary Othello.  You can read the full New York Times piece here.

One of the challenges with Othello was the word "Moor."  Check out the entire piece, but here is an excerpt about the language of "Moor" in Othello, featuring Professor Thompson:

“‘Moor’ is a big, big word,” said Ms. Udofia, part of whose nine-play cycle about a Nigerian-American family will be produced next spring at New York Theater Workshop. “I’m the product of a hyper-racialized time. I don’t know any big, big words that do what ‘Moor’ does.” (She may need to use several different words, depending on context, she said later.)

Ms. Thompson, a professor at George Washington University who has written extensively on race and Renaissance drama, noted that in the early modern period, “Moor” was an elastic term.

“It could mean someone who looked white but was Muslim, or someone who looked black but was Christian, or anything in between,” she said.

Even with some less familiar, less obviously charged plays, the translation process uncovered some unexploded mines. Ms. McLaughlin recalled a workshop reading of her translation of “Pericles” in Ashland last year by actors appearing in OSF’s production, which used the original Shakespeare.

Source: Jennifer Schuessler, "Translating Shakespeare? 36 Playwrights Taketh the Big Risk," New York Times, Sept. 30, 2016

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

On the Road: GW English Professors in Macau

GW English Professors Daniel DeWispelare and David McAleavey (back row)
and Jennifer Chang and Patty Chu (front row) flanked by
University of Macau graduate students

Four GW English Department faculty recently met with colleagues from the University of Macau’s English Department’s literature section to share expertise and experience, in the hope that further areas of collaboration might emerge.

This fall, Professor David McAleavey is teaching full time as a GW Global Humanities exchange professor at the U of Macau; in the spring, Professor Patty Chu will fill the same role. For a 3-day symposium in Macau last week, Professors Jennifer Chang and Daniel DeWispelare met with both Professors McAleavey and Chu.

As part of the experience, several University of Macau graduate students gave the Americans a brief tour around old Macau, including a chance to admire the façade of the church of St. Paul, a relic from the time when Macau (also spelled Macao) was a Portuguese colony.

This faculty exchange, organized by Dean Ben Vinson of CCAS and his counterpart at the U of Macau’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, brought a Portuguese instructor, Ana Luisa Leal, to GW for the 2015-2016 academic year.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

GW English Alums on the Move: Gabe Muller

Gabe Muller (GW English Minor, '13)
with Diane von Furstenberg
Gabe Muller, English Minor, Diane von Furstenberg Intimate

Okay, maybe not intimate; but Gabe's job at Atlantic Media certainly opens doors.  He talks about it with Margaret Soltan.

So, how did you go from being a humble English minor at GW to a guy who hangs out with famous fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg? 

wish I could say I regularly hang out with her, but the truth is a bit more low-key. I interviewed DVF for an immigration-themed multimedia campaign I oversaw at work. After graduating from GW in 2013, I began a fellowship with Atlantic Media — they publish The Atlantic, Quartz, and others. My job there involves conceiving and executing big editorial projects for clients. This particular campaign was done for the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a wonderful foundation that's made a lot of positive change in the world — including being a vocal proponent of immigration. Part of our campaign involved conducting interviews with famous immigrants, and, luckily for me, DVF was eager to participate! Needless to say, she was fabulous, super professional, and magnetic. Maybe one day we'll actually hang out — but I'm not holding my breath.

In what ways did your GW education prepare you for this sort of multimedia work?

I'm a proud and involved alum of The GW Hatchet. While other students had their fraternities and sports teams, I had the newspaper. I served as the web and multimedia editor at The Hatchet for a while, and that's where I really picked up my video storytelling skills. We were a hard-working team and we thrived on the tight deadlines and creative debates associated with this sort of work. Aside from The Hatchet, I also developed storytelling skills by taking lots of English classes and doing a whole lot of reading. What makes a good narrative? What does the viewer need to see to feel emotion or empathy? How does one interview flow into the other? These are questions I started asking back at GW and am still working through today.

Do you see yourself as primarily an editor, or a writer, or something else?

It's a tough question, but I'm tempted to say "something else." My day job is less about writing individual articles or editing specific videos and more about planning and executing big creative projects. But because I still love writing and editing, I try to do some work on the side. This includes freelancing articles whenever I have the time and inspiration, and, more recently, coaching other writers through their own projects. There's nothing more gratifying than helping somebody else find their writerly voice through a one-on-one professional relationship. It's intimate, trusting, and intellectually rigorous.

You've been talking about writing for The Hatchet when you were a student here.  Do you think that's good training for an English major?  Do you have any advice in general for our majors?

I raved about The Hatchet in a previous question, and I will rave about it here as well. It is a tremendous training ground. No other group on campus will discipline and hone your untethered creative energy quite like The Hatchet. Plus, it's given me a lifetime of wonderful friends. As for general advice for the English majors: Think broadly! I combined my English education with a history major and philosophy minor, and was floored by the intellectual connections I was able to uncover among the disciplines. Take courses in critical theory, in art history, in Victorian literature, in Tudor politics and watch how all the pieces come together.

Do you have any other trendy high-profile cultural outings in the works?

Yes, I'll be strutting the catwalk at New York Fashion Week in a few days. Just kidding. I'll likely be sitting on my deck, welcoming the fall with a cool beer and a couple of friends after work. That's about as high-profile as I get.

[ALUMS! Please contact Professor Margaret Soltan with your own high-profile story.  We'd love to include you as part of this blog series.]