Thursday, May 22, 2008

Professor Gil Harris Wins NEH Fellowship

Jonathan Gil Harris, a popular professor of the early modern period, has been awarded a one year NEH fellowship to work at the Folger Shakespeare Library. From the Folger website, a description of his project:

Professor Jonathan Gil Harris, Professor of English, George Washington University
“Shakespeare and Literary Theory”

“Shakespeare and Literary Theory” will consider the four-centuries-long relation between Shakespeare and theories of literary production and critical analysis. I plan to draw on two archives that uniquely exist alongside one another at the Folger: early modern materials by, on, and about Shakespeare; and theories of literature and criticism from 1800 to the present. “Shakespeare and Literary Theory” will not seek to apply theory to Shakespeare. Rather, it will tease out the ways in which modern theory has always been “Shakespearean” and Shakespeare’s writing had always been “theoretical.” The symbiotic relation between Shakespeare and theory is readily apparent in a wide spectrum of modern critical methods. But it is apparent also in early modern texts that comment on Shakespeare to advance “theoretical” understandings of genre (Meres), literary taste (the Parnassus plays), national poetry (Jonson), prosopopeia (Milton), dramatic character (Margaret Cavendish), and material properties (Rymer). By narrating this symbiotic history, “Shakespeare and Literary Theory” will argue for a comprehensive demystification of “theory.” The term derives from the Greek theorein, which signifies “looking at,” “contemplation,” “speculation,” “viewing.” All these definitions characterize the ways in which we apprehend Shakespeare. When we engage Shakespeare, therefore, we enter into theory. Theory need no longer be seen as some exotic and vaguely totalitarian land that treats its rare visitors with disdain. Rather, it is a land we already inhabit, not least when we think about and view Shakespeare.

We wish Professor Harris the best during his year of leave. Our students will miss him in the classroom, but the book he is writing will be an exceptional one.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A special thank you to our recent benefactors

During the month of April three gifts arrived from donors kind enough to sponsor our departmental mission. Donations came from:
  • Mr and Mrs Philippe C. Desloovere (parents of a current student)
  • Dr. Malcolm Edward O'Hagan (class of 1966)
  • Mr. John George Sussek III (class of 1979)
The generosity of our alumni, parents of students, and friends improves every aspect of our departmental life. These three gifts totaled almost $1000. This money helped us to fund the farewell celebration we had for our recent graduates, and will also allow a faculty member to study German this summer at the Goethe Institute so that she can begin her project of translating a trove of Holocaust-related letters as part of her third book project.

Thank you! Your thoughtfulness makes an immediate and lasting difference in the lives of our students and faculty.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Best Wishes to the Class of 2008

On Saturday I had the honor of wishing nearly a hundred English majors CONGRATULATIONS with a handshake and a Columbian College medal (after studying at GW for four years, our students really do deserve a medal).

I was delighted to meet so many parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, significant others, friends and hangers-on at our departmental reception. I declared during my short valedictory speech that "Commencement" means, literally, "a beginning" -- and I sincerely hope that our graduates will stay in touch and remain connected to our department.

On behalf of the entire faculty of the English Department, we wish you all the best, class of 2008, and we miss you already.

Friday, May 16, 2008

English Honors and Prize Winners

The faculty of the English department wish to congratulate the following seniors, who have completed the degree in our major with honors:
  • Taylor Brown
  • Bethany Flom
  • Lisa Francavilla
  • Alexander Frank
  • Roxanna Maisel
  • Catlan McCurdy
  • Christopher Pugh
  • Sarah Whittemore
  • Elizabeth Wozobski
Thanks to the generous endowments in the names of former students and faculty, the English Department is also able to recognize the outstanding achievements and promise of several remarkable students each year. We take pride in announcing these prizes and their recipients in 2007-08:

The Astere E. Claeyssens Prize for the best original work in playwriting
Timothy Guillot

The DeWitt Clinton Croissant Prize for the best essay on drama or the theatre
Sophia Carter

The E. K. Cutter Prize for excellence in the study of English
Molly Curtis

The Alice Douglas Goddard Prize for the student earning the highest cumulative average in American literature courses
Sarah Whittemore

The Hasan Hussain Prize for the best theses in the English and Creative Writing Major
Stephanie Monte
Jessica Wilde

The Vivian Nellis Memorial Prize for special promise in Creative Writing
Abby Hexter

The Sylvia S. Speck Prize in English Literature for exemplary academic achievement in English literature
Kathryn Golcheski

Academy of American Poets Prize
Amy Katzel


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Party with Your Profs


Please join us for a reception honoring our graduating English majors and their families on
Saturday, May 17 from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in Phillips 411


Congratulations Class of 2008

As this semester's Communications Liaison and an outgoing senior myself, I want to thank all my GW professors for their support, guidance and instruction over the past four years. As I depart with a degree in English & Creative Writing as well as a minor in Art History, equipped with a liberal arts education that will guarantee me no job, I feel confident about the future. We're leaving college as articulate, thoughtful, well-read individuals, and we have our English classes to thank for that. Though my post-graduation plans consist of a summer in China teaching English and then a giant question mark, I am certain my new English BA is my greatest asset for attaining my next goal, whatever it may be.

Here is a sample of what other fellow seniors are doing next year:

I'm going to have a junior position at a PR firm in DC... I got a job in Orlando, Florida as a pagination editor for a newspaper editing company called Reed Brennan Media Associates. I am in charge of roughly 40 newspapers' games and features pages... I will be working for Deloitte Consulting as a Human Capital Analyst in DC... I am going to University of Toronto to do my Masters in English as well as do a collaborative program in Book History and Culture... I will be moving to Madrid for the school year, and I'll be teaching English in the Spanish school system. I've been accepted as a North American Language and Culture Assistant to Spain through the Spanish government's Department of Education... I will be living in Alexandria, VA, and hopefully working in DC pursuing a career in publishing, public relations, or HR... I will be going to graduate school to attempt to complete a PhD. From there, I hope to become a professor in English... After graduation, I'm very excited to be relocating to New York City. I'm hoping to get a job as an editorial assistant, so I get my foot in the door of the publishing world... I will be living in DC for at least a year. I am trying to find a job - haven't found one yet - but I am looking to work with youth in some capacity... I am going to be starting graduate school this summer. I'll be getting my Master's in Elementary Education, and then will hopefully go on to teach in the DC area... I will be jobless, but not friendless, in New York City... I have been working for Amazement Square, a nonprofit children's museum in Lynchburg, VA (my hometown). My job title is Development Assistant, which means grant writer extraordinaire. I write the bulk of the museum's funding requests both to foundations and individuals... Next year I will be attending The Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky... Next year I will be attending Manhattan School of Music to begin a graduate (Masters in Music) program in Classical Voice... I will be moving to New York City and hope to soon be working at a public relations firm... For the next year, or however long, I'll be working on recording and self-releasing an album of (mostly) my own original songs, with the current tentative title of "The Whispering Golden Light at the Intersection of 27th and Calvert in Greg's Mind"... I completed an internship with a public relations firm in February, then I started full time with Deloitte Consulting as a Federal Analyst--we apply consulting practices to the federal government... I got a job as a copy editor for the National Council of La Raza, which is essentially the NAACP for Latinos. Pretty fun job, moderately rewarding. I'll either be at Georgetown or NYU graduate school in the fall... I just accepted a legal assistant position with Robert E. Ward and Associates in Bethesda, MD. I will be working there for the next year and plan to apply to and enroll in law school (probably back at the University of Alabama) in the next couple of years... I'll be doing Teach for America next year. I'll be teaching middle school or high school English in Chicago... I plan to return home to New Jersey. I hope to obtain an editorial assistant position at a New York City publishing house in the fall... After graduation I will be going to OCS (Officer Candidate School) to attempt to become an Officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. After that I will see where the wind takes me. I plan on pursuing some form of graduate education afterwards... Teach For America, English teacher, middle school, Prince George's County, two year service... I will be attending University of Manchester in the United Kingdom to earn my masters in medieval and early modern English. It's a one year program and I hope to start working on my doctorate after... I am going to NYU's School of Continuing and Professional Studies to get an M.S. in Publishing next year.

Kate Golcheski offers this anecdote as encouragement: I went to interview for this job the day that I left GW in December. The first thing my interviewer said was, "We were interested in speaking with you because you were an English major and you have creative writing experience."

Lastly, Jessica Zimmerman, a senior who has been in a couple of my creative writing classes wrote this poem, which I wanted to share because I think it perfectly captures many of our current attitudes.

Like Every English Major, I'm Moving to New York

to write, to read, to edit, to split
ramen noodle rent with undergrad
boyfriend gone law school, his
starting salary a carrot dangling.

I'll go on job interviews in the
suit still on my credit card bill.
I'll get the job and fetch coffee
and copies for suits paid in full,

come home to one room, sleep
restless as the lamp's still burning
over Matt's desk. He pours over
cases, life choices, but we still

can't get enough of each other,
get a puppy, test it out, go on
walks in Central Park, Union
Square, because that's what you

do when you're twenty four in
New York and still falling in love.
Go to parties in SoHo with a
designer friend, go to soirées

in cocktail dresses with a banker
friend, stop getting coffee and start
dictating orders: grande skim latte,
extra shot, extra hot because I can

Twenty years from now, maybe,
over kobe beef and cabernet, I'll
miss how romantic hunger was,
how we filled up on each other.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tara Wallace attends The School for Scandal

Well, not just attends ... she also explicates and converses. Event information below.

What's On at the Folger

Keeping Up Appearances
Folger Theatre: The School for Scandal

In Richard Brinsley Sheridan's comic masterwork, things are not what they seem. As director Richard Clifford notes, "People seem greater than they are as the veneer of respectability covers the hidden depth of scandal." The School for Scandal explores the hidden lives of flawed yet sympathetic characters—whose sophisticated, treacherous world is not unlike our own.

Want to learn more? Join us for a light fare reception and pre-show discussion at 6:30pm on Wednesday, May 21 with professor Tara Wallace.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Featured Alumnus: Brian Becker

Brian Becker, one of my favorite former students, writes:
I came to Chicago directly after graduation to get an MA in Humanities from the University of Chicago, which wrapped up in 2006, and have since been working in a number of capacities for The Princeton Review--most recently as a trainer of incoming teachers for the ACT. What I've always wanted to do, really since high school, is be an English professor, and as it was a step in that direction that brought me to Chicago, it will be another, more decisive one that will take me out of Chicago--to New Brunswick, NJ where I'll be starting my Ph.D. at Rutgers in the Fall.

While English Ph.D. has always been my number one goal, I don't at all regret having taken these few years off, for the very hackneyed reason that I wanted to see what else the world had to offer. The corporate world is something else indeed, and while I'm grateful for the opportunity to have experienced it, I'm glad finally to be getting back to full time research and teaching. I've tried to take a sort of variegated approach to my interests in the field as well--while my main focus is early 20th-century American (let's call it American Literature after 1865 so I can flatter myself and be consistent with those weird characterizations in U.S. News and World Reports), I've also become very interested in African American literature, cinema, comparative modernisms, and music. The best way I can describe these interests is this: peripheral, but not unrelated. For example, I don't think it's all unreasonable to say that Jean Toomer, Albert Ayler, Buster Keaton, and John Dos Passos all have something important in common. So far I've been calling this "folk-modernism," and I wrote sketches of what exactly that means at GW and the University of Chicago, and because I still find the concept invigorating and enabling for the critic who can find links and connections and links where they weren't before, I'd like to continue it, at least in spirit, in the years to come.

GW was a very nurturing environment for these interests. Robert Combs advised my thesis, and I am certain that without his breadth of knowledge and kind support (from which I still draw a good deal of inspiration), the project would never have gotten off the ground. In addition to this, I found GW a great place for methodological training, which, needless to say, is every bit as important as specific content training--I still often refer back to Margaret Soltan's Critical Methods seminar, and even though Jeffrey Cohen's interests and mine could not be more different, I took two classes with him and have since used his approach as my gold standard for sound research methods. Couple these professors with a semester in Paris, and some great experiences with the Honors Program (particularly with Professors William Winstead and Peter Rollberg), and you've got a solid foundation for any competitive graduate program.
Good luck at Rutgers, Brian. We look forward to hearing more from you.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Student Farewells to Maxine Clair

Our beloved colleague Maxine Clair is retiring. I'd like to share with you some comments from the student evaluations from her very last class.

Professor Clair will be missed dearly. Each class with her is like a small step forward in my life as a student, and also a contribution to whatever I might achieve after. She teaches that we are capable of everything and anything ... She is amazing ... Maxine Clair is the best professor I have ever had at GWU. I consider her a mentor and a friend as well as one of the most intelligent people I have ever met ... She's wonderful and helps students get to the heart of their stories ... Maxine Clair is a fantastic professor. This course has been my favorite in four years in the English Department ... Clair is the best professor at GW. She has changed my writing and my life! ... The English Department is about to lose one of the most amazing professors of the lot. She is a wonderful woman and professor ... Give her some kind of award. She deserves it ... I love Maxine. I'm glad we got to be her last class at GW and I'm sad other students at GW don't get to experience her teaching ... She has changed my life and been another teacher who makes me want to teach ... Clair is AWESOME!

All I can say is: I have to agree.

About Our JMM Writer in Residence

From the electronic mailbag:

Dear Dr. McAleavey—

I was one of the lucky students that got to participate in the JMM poetry workshop with Dr. Van Cleave (Ryan). I am writing you today to give you my feedback on the course and Ryan as a workshop leader. First, these workshops are incredibly important to the DC community. I think in this area especially we have to strive really hard to make sure that our creativity stays unique and fresh (unlike our politics where we tend to conform to one side or another). So, I found the JMM workshop to be so refreshing and vital to my life in creativity. Second, Ryan was a large part of creating this experience for me and the other workshop participants. He encouraged unique voice and poetic honesty, while maintaining a grounding in form and structure; as well as, offering relevant and varied authors/poets to guide our experience. Also, he made sure to make himself available for questions, more detailed revisions, and longer discussions on establishing creative lives for ourselves.

The workshop ended this week and I am sad and happy. Sad, because unlike a few different creative-style workshops I’ve attended, this one was really informative and alive and I’m sorry that the dynamics experienced in the group are now in the past; but happy, because it really changed my life, both professionally and creatively. Before the workshop started I’d think that maybe I was a poet and the thought itself made me feel like a liar. But after this workshop, I know I’m a poet (among a few other things). So, thank you for your time and any role you played in selecting Ryan and/or making sure that JMM stays in place for the DC community. I really enjoyed this experience and am so glad it was available for me.

--- Amy Hereford
MSW, MPH Staff Writer/Snr. Research Associate Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems George Washington University Medical Center

Friday, May 2, 2008

Did you know that it takes a mere $2.5 million to endow a chair?

An "endowed chair" is a professorship awarded as an ultimate honor to a scholar and teacher. We don't have any in the English department, but hope to possess one some day. Endowing a chair is as easy as writing a check for two and a half million dollars. In case you have that kind of money burning a hole in your pocket, I offer the description of an endowed chair we'd really like to see here:

Endowed Chair in Jewish American Literature. The English Department of the George Washington University has long had deep strengths in the study of ethnic and minority literatures. Our faculty are internationally well regarded for their teaching and scholarship in African American, Asian American, Caribbean, Irish, South Asian, and other literary traditions. Given these strengths in literature outside the traditional American canon, and given the strong demand for such a subject among our undergraduates, we desire to expand and to better integrate our teaching of Jewish literature in English. We have many students who wish to take courses on topics related to the Jewish experience as expressed through literature, but no faculty member devoted solely to the area. We hope, through the generosity of a committed donor, to be able to hire a tenured or tenure track faculty member who will be able to bring the study of Jewish literature (and especially Jewish American literature) permanently into our classroom.

We are committed to teaching Jewish literature in English both as a long tradition and as a contemporary artistic phenomenon. We recognize the renewal of interest among the current generation of students in Jewish identity and Jewish cultural practice -- including klezmer music, cultural rituals of Jewish American life such as the bar/bat mitzvah; ongoing scholarly work on the Holocaust and its legacies, as the generation that directly lived through the Shoah dwindles; burgeoning interest in inter-ethnic relations in the "post-Civil Rights" era. Young Jewish writers like Matthew Klam, Jonathan Lethem, Maya Goldberg, Michael Chabon, and Jonathan Saffran Foer have been at the forefront of exploring the shape and place of Jewish identities in the globalized world of the 21st century. Students at GW deserve to have the opportunity to experience the richness of this vital field.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Cultural Diversity in the British Middle Ages

Nice cover, eh? I like the little man peering out of the tower best.

And if a volume possesses a cover, it must be real. There's a smallish problem: the author line is supposed to read "Edited By Jeffrey Jerome Cohen." I'm told the error will be swiftly fixed.

The book is on schedule for August publication. Here's the official description:
Through close readings of both familiar and obscure medieval texts, the contributors to this volume attempt to read England as a singularly powerful entity within a vast geopolitical network. This capacious world can be glimpsed in the cultural flows connecting the Normans of Sicily with the rulers of England, or Chaucer with legends arriving from Bohemia. It can also be seen in surprising places in literature, as when green children are discovered in twelfth-century Yorkshire or when Welsh animals begin to speak of the long history of their land’s colonization. The contributors to this volume seek moments of cultural admixture and heterogeneity within texts that have often been assumed to belong to a single, national canon, discovering moments when familiar and bounded space erupt into unexpected diversity and infinite realms.

And here is Laurie Finke's generous endorsement:
This intriguing collection of essays sets out to trouble the myth of the English nation, calling into question the wholeness, autonomy, insularity, and inevitability of the political entity we now call the British Isles. Cohen’s “infinite realms project” recasts the island (the symbol of totality and autonomy) as an archipelago (a symbol of fragmentation and interdependence) whose current political configuration can in no way simply be read back into the past. The essays, on texts both familiar and arcane, not only invite us to rethink the textual canons of Great Britain’s four main ethnic groups, but more radically to interrogate the fictiveness of political identity itself. This is not just another collection touting “cultural diversity” among hypostasized identities; these essays invite us to reimagine political collectivities, rethinking the ways in which they encounter one another, clash, assimilate, and reform around new identities.

Laurie A. Finke
Kenyon College; co-author of King Arthur and the Myth of History
Start saving your pennies now: the book is going to cost $74.95. Fashioning a cover in such an attractive shade of green requires much expensive pigment.