Friday, July 3, 2015

In Memoriam: James A. Miller

Professor James A. Miller
in his English Department office
The English Department is mourning the loss of Professor Jim Miller, our colleague, teacher, mentor, and friend, who died on June 19, after a year-long battle with cancer.  Jim was a highly-respected scholar and beloved teacher in English, American Studies, and Africana Studies whose work focused on African American literary and cultural studies across the 20th and 21st centuries, often with a specific focus on the Washington, DC, area.

The Washington Post notes the passing of prominent Washington-area figures; that obituary can be accessed here.  The Post writes:

'Dr. Miller was born in Providence, R.I. He joined the GWU faculty in 1998 after having taught at the University of South Carolina and at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. At GWU he taught a course on “Black Culture in the Nation’s Capital.” He lectured often to D.C. public-school classes at the School Without Walls.
He was author of a 2009 book, “Remembering Scottsboro,” about the 1931 trial and conviction of nine black youths accused of raping two white women in Scottsboro, Ala. He had written chapters in books about Washington and had reviewed contemporary African American literature in The Washington Post."
Professor Miller's 2011 interview
with BookTV GWU
In 2011, Jim gave a BookTV GWU interview on Remembering Scottsboro.  You can view this interview here.

Jim received his A.B. in English from Brown in 1966 and his Ph.D. in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1976, with a dissertation on “The Struggle for Identity in the Major Works of Richard Wright.”  He taught popular courses at GW on Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison and others (and, as GW Today notes in a piece accessible here, while an undergraduate at Brown, Jim had met Ellison himself).  In 2009, Jim was a Fulbright Scholar in the Department of English/School of Literature and Language Studies at the University of The Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.  He received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award from GW in 2008 and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching District of Columbia Professor of the Year Award in 2002.  In 2012, he received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Buffalo’s Alumni Association Award.  At the time of his death, Jim was completing a new project on trans-Atlantic Black cultural production, studying musicians and writers with connections to South Africa, England, and the United States. 

We want to honor these many accomplishments, of course, but Jim's colleagues and friends have also been searching for the words to describe what a gentle, kind, thoughtful man he was.  We feel his loss profoundly:  everyone in the English Department ended up in Jim's office at some point, because everyone valued his advice, his wisdom, his quick wit.  Rest in Peace, Jim Miller.  We love you and we miss you.


Friday, May 29, 2015

Alexi LeFevre (BA '05) Publishes New Novel

Alexi LeFevre (GWU '05)
Alexi LeFevre is a 2005 alum of The George Washington University. Although he studied international affairs, he describes himself as someone who has had a lifelong passion for creative writing.  At GW, he pursued that passion in a formal setting for the first time.


In the spring of 2003, Alexi took the Honors Creative Writing course, which at that time was taught by acclaimed author Vikram Chandra (now a faculty member at UC - Berkeley).  Alexi reports that he learned the value of peer review in this class.  Additionally, "It was in this class where I first learned that characters matter, that their lives and voices, their passions and hatreds, must come through to the reader. It was in this class where I absorbed the importance of structure, of tone, of voice, and of point-of-view. While the seed of creative writing had always been there, the Honors Creative Writing course at GWU watered it amply."


Since then, Alexi has written numerous short stories and manuscripts, inspired by his travels around the world. The Pilgrims of Saint Sebastian is his first novel and can be found at his web page here.

Congratulations Alexi!  GW English is happy to present this excerpt from the new novel.

The Pilgrims of Saint Sebastian (An Excerpt)
By Alexi LeFevre

After the nightmare in the hospital, she stopped getting her monthly visits from Seu Chico. It took a few months before she realized this and when she did, she threw out her sanitary napkins. By the autumn of that troubled year, her movements around the compound resembled Nicky’s forlorn and dejected existence in Austin after his return. The same hunched shoulders, the same blank stares, going on for moments at a time until someone nearby said, hey, what was wrong, what was she thinking about? She stayed in her room for days at a time, watching herself in the shimmering surface of the bathroom mirror, encased in a gilded bronze frame that someone had stolen from a wealthy house many years ago and presented to her as a gift. Bichinho had given her some pills, here, love, she should take those, only two a day but certainly never less than eight hours apart, they’d help her relax, maybe let her see what she needed to see. The first day she took one, her hair was unkempt and she wore a pair of old green shorts and a blue t-shirt with the logo for Antarctica beer. It was from a Carnival festival in Mundão earlier that year, when she had gone with Flavia to the sambódromo, and within an hour the gray floor opened up and she stepped down into a blue and black world.
All nine hours of live performances, but the best must have been that of Chapeu de Mangueira, a fine tribute to the farmer! To the sertanejo player and the countryman! To the sertão, the hinterlands, the netherworld of Brazil’s crab-infested paradise! Rolled up denim and low-buttoned shirts, oh, said Flavia, what a show they put on, look at the caipiras, just like when she was a girl. They bathed in the comfort of a private VIP box, yes, Dona Alice, she could have it for just one year, a sign of thanks for her efforts, the councilmen owed her, many of them owed her, and one of the judges came by and delivered shirts from Chapeu de Mangueira, a school she had loved since childhood, he had glittering gold bracelets, a paunch and hair the color of silver, here, for Dona Alice, after all the money she’d given to the school they should all be kings! And then looming high above the whip-cracking of fireworks, the pounding surdo, discordant in the speakers, and they were looking across the sambódromo, Flavia said, oh look, and they all watched the golden straw baskets float through the air, filled to the brim with bleached crystalline eggs the size of watermelons, what a magnificent display and then Bichinho from behind, why this was like Festa Juninha in February! She turned, oi, Flavia, could she pass another beer? Their eyes lingered and the moist pockets of air shrunk down around their faces. They had not yet begun the romance that would lead to an unborn infant’s death but she had begun to appreciate Flavia’s presence in an intangible and frustrating way. It left her sleepless at night. She tossed her blanket off the bed, panting, and stayed up until dawn imagining the dogs wandering the alleys of Mundão and then sometime much later there was the inside of Flavia’s home, look here, Flavia said, she had discovered a bed of roses in the yard, and the bucket of slender and erect stalks was on the table, drawing their faces inward. Flavia drew one and dipped the puckered and crimson lips into a bowl of chocolate, here, she should try it, it would be like nothing she had eaten before, and they passed the evening with her feeding Alice small, pink rosebuds, letting a spot of chocolate occasionally lie there upon her bottom lip, and the samba schools went by and she said, the gringos were marching behind the floats, it must have been so easy for them with their money to come in and buy up what they wanted but Flavia, dressed as always in the loose fabric of an earthly and spiritual vagabond, said, love, life was the same everywhere in the world, the rich celebrated while the poor wept, but while the rich were content, the poor yearned for better things, and when they occasionally received them, the question was always there: Had they paid too great a price for them?
The first blurred and gray day of memories had already gone and she had not bathed. Bichinho, busy running the syndicate in her absence, peeked in once during the night. He let her sleep and put another pill next to the sink. It was around this time that he developed a dry, lingering cough. He fell sick himself but said nothing and pushed on, for he already knew then that the definition of their lives was under threat.
The morning came and she leaned on the sink and enjoyed the feeling of her warm palm against her stomach. She looked up at the mirror and there were glass crystals in her eyes and one fell to the sink. What a difficult and damned thing, she thought, to be a woman in a country and a profession so dominated by men. Men who pressed their weight upon the backs of women, who ran the country and dictated the rules, who determined their lives and made abortion illegal, who sent them to slave in the kitchens, who told them which relationships were proper and which were not. And even with a woman as president! Although, I can tell you, Jorge Amado also once said that the only better business, the only more profitable racket, is to be the president of the republic, so perhaps she should not have expected too much from the president, Brazil was the country of the future, and always would be, she told herself, aware of her sad reflection, and next to her hand the little blue button, okay, just another little one. A cup of water, a sip, a flick of her head, and then she slid away from the sink and lay on the bed with her head hanging down at the edge where her feet should be, the painting of two hills inverted on the wall, and the other paintings that she had already begun gathering, little children, babies, all manner of youth, dancing in entertaining poses, laughing and smiling, little girls in church dresses and boys chasing after ducks around the edges of ponds. A hand stabbed out and grabbed the nearest thing, which was the red linen dress that had the black eyes. She wrapped it around her shoulders and inhaled that warm, earthly, bodily, womanly scent.
She thought of babies throughout the day and night and the images eventually grew worn out and lost all meaning, like a word spoken over and over until it was nothing else but the audible product of a voice box and a mouth. She kept her eyes closed and swam through a thick, jelly-like fluid, hearing the doctor, no, ma’am, it was impossible, they had conducted a full hysterectomy, but she still called out, ai iê ieu Mamãe Oxum! Orai iê ieu Oxum! She besought the heart from which a river is born. She wished she knew more about the faith of the interior, which made mothers of virgins. Oh! Her voice rose such that Bichinho knocked once on the door but received no answer. Then she was a child and at the Feira de São Cristóvão to speak with a mãe-de-santo of umbanda for the first time, oh, she’d like this, Bonequinha, it was the other part of Brazil, the heart, Renan said to her, and in the fair, she remembered the sticky taste of acarajé, the salt of the shrimp, the stubborn glue of manioc paste, the flat greasy taste of dendê oil, he told her, she needed to put some hot sauce on it, like this, she should do it just like this. The beautiful and glamorous dances in the center square and the high stages, the men in their loose jeans and dress shirts unbuttoned to below their chest, resting beer cups atop their mustaches, and the women with tight jeans and fancy shoes and modern tops, all dancing forró to the music trumpeting from the large stereo-store speakers. Oh, she exclaimed, how beautiful, the glittering reds and blues of the shop front stalls decorated in tinsel, even the sweet smell of garbage waiting in stacks behind the restaurants and food stalls to be picked up that evening and carted away to make room for the next day’s events. Yes, she thought, and who was that? The priestess, Renan said, come on, she should go meet her.
An overpowering scent of body odor, a shadow like a push broom on her upper lip, hair flowing back in a twisted mess made worse by the addition of coconut oil that she could still smell to this day, the smell of fruit sitting out in the summer sun, the smell of complete abandon from the known world because of some knowledge gained from the spiritual one. She placed a dirty, rotten hand on her forehead, and she wanted to run but Renan there made her feel better and she did not want to embarrass herself. The woman closed her eyes and called out to the orixás and acted surprised when she looked down and said, oh, child, she would settle down in the south of the country, could she see it? She would marry a man in the navy, she would have three beautiful children who would speak both Spanish and Portuguese like poets, it would be wonderful, and now could she give five reals please for a poor woman? Leaving, what a crazy woman, she thought, crazy country beliefs, just like all of those from the interior, they only learned them because they were the beliefs of their fathers and their fathers’ fathers, Renan smiled, so, he said, she’d be marrying a navy man, she’d better get ready for him and Alice said, no, she did not believe it at all, no one could predict the future, to predict the future, one had to be able to see the past, but nobody ever bothered to remember the past, and then the sun shattered the glass of her room and in flew a butterfly. It alighted on the edge of her bed and flicked its antennae with a desolate gesture and she realized that she no longer doubted the beliefs of the people from the interior. The butterfly rested near her hand and when she lifted a finger to brush the velvet on its wings, it did not move. Even when Bichinho opened the door bringing in some breakfast, it stayed still and she said to him, she needed a cage. He looked at her, what was that, dear? What was she talking about? For the butterfly, she said, the edge of her finger still tracing the orange arc of its wing. The sunlight was transparent through its skin and she thought everything beyond the wing looked like something from an old movie. For the butterfly, she said again, she wanted to build a cage for the butterfly. Bichinho approached the bed and she rose up out of the dwindling, drug-induced swamp. She fixed her eyes on his and said, okay, so what was new with the gang? Bichinho, his mouth agape, set the plate of food down on the nightstand. He closed his mouth and smiled. He was glad she was back, dear, he said, because there was some business about a judge.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

On the Road: Professor Wallace in Scotland

Professor Tara Wallace was recently in attendance at the Boswell Book Festival at the Dumfries House, Ayrshire, Scotland.  Described by organizers as "The World's Only Festival of Biography & Memoir," the event was held May 8-10, 2015.


Before the official events, Professor Wallace spent some delightful time in the company of Margaret Boswell Elliot (a direct descendant of James Boswell and chief of the clan Elliot).  Elliot arranged for Professor Wallace to have access to Richard, Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry's collection of Sir Walter Scott materials, as well as a private tour of Abbotsford, Scott's home.  This was a wonderful opportunity, as Professor Wallace is well known for her scholarship on Scott.


In the first photo on the right, Professor Wallace is pictured looking at an interleaved edition of a novel with Scott's writing notes.  In the other, she is carefully handling the manuscript of his Lay of the Last Minstrel, inspired by and inscribed to Harriet, wife of the 4th Duke.  The manuscript of the Lay connects well to some of Professor Wallace's thoughts on Scott's relationship with ideas of 'county'; the interleaved editions she was able to access provide good insight into Scott's methods of revision.

Watch this blog over Summer 2015 for more information on where the GW English community is traveling and reasearching!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

PhD Candidate Tawnya Ravy Selected for NEH Summer Institute

GW English PhD candidate
Tawnya Ravy
GW English congratulates PhD candidate Tawnya Ravy, who has been selected to attend a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities.  Tawnya, who has also been teaching as a member of the faculty at Northern Virginia Community College as she finishes her degree, was chosen from a national applicant pool to attend one of only five Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities Summer Institutes and the only one designed specifically for community college faculty.  The NEH is a federal agency that, each summer, supports enrichment opportunities at colleges, universities, and cultural institutions, so that faculty can work collaboratively and study with experts in humanities disciplines. Digital methods, tools and practices for humanities teaching and scholarship have brought new relevance to humanities disciplines and this institute will develop a national community of practice among community college faculty in history, English and writing, classics, and other humanities disciplines.

                  Dr. Anne B. McGrail, English faculty member at Lane Community College, will direct the institute, which will take place at that institution in Eugene, Oregon July 13-17, 2015. Seven distinguished digital humanities scholars, including Matthew K. Gold, Jesse Stommel, Roopika Risam, Marta Effinger-Crichlow, Sandy Brown Jensen and Jake Agatucci will lead the 28 teachers selected to participate in the program.  Participants receive a stipend of $1225 to cover their travel, study, and living expenses. 

This institute for community college digital humanists joins a group of five other NEH Institutes for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities: “Advanced Challenges in Theory and Practice in 3D Modeling of Cultural Heritage Sites,” co-hosted by University of Massachusetts Amherst and UCLA; “Early Modern Digital Agendas: Advanced Topics,” hosted by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC;  “Institute on Digital Archaeology Method & Practice” at Michigan State University; “Scholarship in Sound and Image: A Workshop on Videographic Criticism” at Middlebury College in Vermont; and “Building an Accessible Future for the Humanities” to be held at Northeastern University, University of Texas, Austin, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Emory University.


For more information visit the institute website here or contact the Institute Director Anne B. McGrail at mcgraila@lanecc.edu