Monday, September 29, 2008

Mark Your Calendar: Edward P. Jones Inaugural Reading January 29 2009

We know it's early to be advertising this, but why not place the date on your calendar now?

Edward P. Jones, the first Wang Visiting Professor in Contemporary English Literature, will give his inaugural reading on Thursday January 29 2009 in the Jack Morton Auditorium (School of Media and Public Affairs, 805 21st Street NW).

Mr. Jones won the Pulitzer prize for his stunning novel The Known World. He has also held a MacArthur Fellowship. He will be introduced by President Stephen Knapp -- who, besides running a major metropolitan university, is also a specialist in 18th- and 19th-century English literature and literary theory.

The event is free and open to anyone who like to attend. If you are an English major and DON'T attend, the department chair will seriously contemplate withholding your diploma come Commencement because, what are you, crazy? This is Edward P. Jones.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

¡Quejío!: Shout!' (Suhayl Saadi, October 13)

Suhayl Saadi describes his talk on Monday, October 13, 2008; 8:15 p.m. (Media and Public Affairs Building. Room B07, 801 21st NW at H St NW, Washington, D.C. ) thus:

¡Quejío!: Shout!'

A partial understanding of the interweaving ontologies of language, memory, time and place forms the basis of any creative literary endeavour. Mapping this process as a practitioner is a complex, perhaps impossible, task, but attempting to do so can lead one down intriguing and unpredictable byways as one begins to reveal to oneself the possible rubrics of truth. Even when composed in a 'single' language, texts are as unstable as radioisotopes, and if an attempt is made to destabilise them even further through the use of mischievous linguistic polyvalency, as writers and readers, both, we begin to engage in an etymological spider-dance, the wailing, street-corner rendition of history's mind, otherwise known, euphemistically, as everyday life.

Update on our Alumni Open House

Our sincere apologies for the fact that our tea and sherry swilling party was cut short by the evacuation of the Academic Center due to a suspicious package. Alumni will be heartened to know that six brave faculty members endured the long wait for re-entry to Rome Hall, then imbibed the remaining sherry ... and continued the festivities at a nearby House of Libations. Later that night the department chair returned to the English Department office to retrieve his laptop, and gorged on the leftover two pounds of cookies.

We do have some good news though for current students: look for an announcement here soon about a Famous Screenwriter offering a course on the topic this spring in the English Department.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Alumni Open House Today 3-5

Please stop by the English Department office (Rome Hall 760) for tea, cookies, and sherry.

If you are a current student, you are welcome to stop by for tea and cookies. We are legally obligated to slap your hand HARD if you reach for the sherry.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Touching the Past" November 7

Please join us for the inaugural event of the GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute (GW MEMSI), a symposium on Touching the Past. The symposium begins at 1:30 in the fourth floor conference room of Phillips Hall (Academic Center, 801 22nd St NW) and lasts until 5. We feature two panels:

Session One (moderated by Leah Chang, Romance Languages and Literature, GW)
  • Peggy McCracken (Professor of French and Women's Studies and Associate Dean, Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan) "Feeling the Past"
  • Eileen Joy (Director of Graduate Studies, Department of English Language and Literature, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville), "The Faded Silvery Imprints of the Bare Feet of Angels: Historical Poethics"
Session Two (moderated by Karl Steel, Department of English, CUNY Brooklyn)
  • Julian Yates (Associate Professor of English and Material Culture Studies, University of Delaware), "What was Pastoral (again)? More Versions"
  • Carolyn Dinshaw (Professor of English and Social & Cultural Analysis, New York University) "The Lay of the Land: Queer Love in A Canterbury Tale."
The event is free and welcomes anyone who would like to attend. More details forthcoming.

From the Foggy Bottom Current

(click on image to enlarge)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fall 2008 Creative Writing Schedule (UPDATED)

Click to Enlarge.
Thanks to David McAleavey and John O'Keefe for creating these great posters! Please note that the date and location for the first Suhayl Saadi reading has been changed.

Things to Look Forward to This Week

Hey everybody, before I fill everyone in on all the great events going on this week, I want to welcome Kirk Larsen to the GW English blog! As an avid reader of The Colonialist, I know Kirk has a lot to bring to the blog.

The biggest off-campus event this week is the National Book Festival, a huge showcase of some of the country's strongest literary talents. Come to attend readings and get your books signed by some of the most reknowned writers around. Salman Rushdie, Paul Theroux, Cokie Roberts, James McBride, Neil Gaiman, Phillipa Gregory, and many, many more will be in attendance. I am most looking forward to finally meeting R.L. Stine, the author of the Goosebumps series, which is largely responsible for filling my childhood with an irrational fear of ventriloquism. The festival is on the national mall, pretty much all day on Saturday, but the website has a more specific schedule of events.

If you're not really into the whole reading thing, the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival starts this Thursday, September 25th and extends till Saturday October 4th. I have heard particularly good things about the documentary, Vincent Who?, which examines the aftermath of the Vincent Chin murder and is the festival's closing film. Also, if anybody's a fan of blues music and trippy animation, it might be worth your time to see the animated film, Sita Sings the Blues, which plays on October 1st. Overall, this looks like it will be a great event, and I hope some of you will check it out.

Book Club with Suhayl Saadi

We will be offering a one credit, four evening course with our GW-British Council Writer in Residence Suhayl Saadi. You will have the chance to read three of his favorite novels and discuss them with him: Monsieur Shoushana's Lemon Trees by Patricia Duncker; How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman; and This Other Salt by Aamer Hussein.

The course meets every Tuesday evening in October from 7-8:30 PM in Rome 663 (Oct, 7, 14, 21, 28). To receive credit you will keep a reading journal, and submit to the department chair at the end of the course a meditation on your readings. If you would like to be admitted, please submit a one paragraph statement of interest and a completed add/drop form to the English Department Main Office, Rome 760, by Friday 9/26. The course's official title is "Studies in Contemporary Literature" and its CRN is 57525. The course is not as stuffy as this sounds: really, it is a free flowing book club that allows you to get to know a major British author well. We overuse this phrase on the blog, but I am going to say it again: this is a once in lifetime opportunity! Don't believe me? Look at the blog archive ffrom last spring and see the reactions to the version of the course given by Nadeem Aslam, our first GW-BC WiR. Plus, look at his chapeau: this guy is cool.

Hello, I'm New Here. Let Me Introduce Myself.

Hello, I'm Kirk Hausmann Larsen.
Even more, I'm the new student blogger.
You might be asking yourself:
  1. "New student blogger? I didn't know there was an old student blogger!"
  2. "What's all this, then?"
  3. "Even more? More than what?!"
  4. "Why did he include his middle name? The pomp!"
  5. "A numbered list? Does he think I have all the time in the world?"
  6. "Is he using the second person? What about: One may be asking him/herself?"
  7. "Is that him in the photo?"
I'll get to all those presently.
First, an introductory list:
  • I am a senior in the English & Creative Writing program
  • I am the eldest of three children (I have two younger brothers)
  • I am a writer/editor of The Colonialist, GWEnglish's favorite blog
  • I live in a Scholar's Village Townhouse (The Comedy House)
  • I am getting the feeling this list isn't doing much introducing
Now, you had some questions & I have some answers:
1. Yes, I am the new student blogger. I am the first student blogger, if you don't count Rajiv. It's an absurdity not to count Rajiv, so I'm the second student blogger. Then again, Rajiv's position as Undergraduate Communications Liaison – what a beautiful-looking word, liaison – puts him in a middle space: it's unclear where exactly he fits. I'll try again:
1. Yes, I am the new student blogger. There wasn't an old student blogger, there was merely an unused nook wherein a student blogger might find some space and comfort. Now, the nook is full. Rajiv Menon is another undergraduate who has already posted a bit – and will continue to do so – on this page right here. Rajiv also posts on the blog Hadji is Dead, which concerns itself with all aspects of South Asian Diaspora culture – very interesting stuff.
2. This is my introduction! Who let the police in?
3. Well, more than merely giving my name and leaving the post at that. I realize it was a bit early for something like "even more," but what if it were secreted away and kept safe for the perfect time and never made it into the post at all? That'd be decidedly less, no?
4. I didn't mean it pomp-fully, but there're two Kirk Larsens at The GWU. I'm not Kirk Wayne Larsen, the professor of East Asian Studies; I'm Kirk Hausmann Larsen, the student of English & Creative Writing. It was intended to make things less confusing, but it's become more confusing.
5. No, I don't think anyone has "all the time in the world." That phrase doesn't even make sense, "all the time in the world."
6. This is a blog, calm down. The second person makes sense: I'm trying to make things familiar between us because I'll be posting frequently and I don't want there to be any tension.
7. Yes, that's me in the photo. I'm playing with Peter, he's a maltese. The photo was taken last Spring Break.

The preliminaries over with, I'm at the point where I should tell you what my blog posts will be like...yes? Well, I don't know what my posts will be like yet. I haven't decided.
I'd be more than happy to answer questions asked via e-mail. My email address is kirk(at)gwmail(dot)gwu(dot)edu (I didn't make it a link for fear of roving spambots).
If y'all don't have any questions, that's fine, too. We shall make do, regardless!

Hello, I'm Kirk.
I'm glad to be here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

English Department Media Domination Featured in GW Hatchet

[action photo of blogging in motion by Nick Gingold]

Follow this link to read a very good piece on why the English Department maintains a blog and Facebook page (short answer: we do it for you, the person reading this post, in the hope of community).

Thank you, Calder Stembel, for writing a feature so sympathetic to our endeavors ... and thanks Nick Gingold for snapping a photograph that reduces my nerdiness quotient from 100% down into the eighties somewhere. Not an easy task.

[PS We love this editorial as well!]

Sunday, September 21, 2008

From Edward P. Jones, "The Known World"

Now that we have officially announced that Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Edward P. Jones will be our first Wang Visiting Professor in Contemporary English Literature, I want to share with you one of my favorite passages from one of my favorite books. The Known World follows the complicated history that unfolds around a Virginia plantation, owned by a former slave who has purchased slaves of his own to work his new lands. Under terrible circumstances this man's father, freed many years ago by his son, is transported far from his home and sold back into slavery. He dies, and loosed from the prison of his body seeks the woman who awaits his return:
When Augustus Townsend died in Georgia near the Florida line, he rose up above the barn where he had died, up above the trees and the crumbling smokehouse and the little family house nearby, and he walked away quick-like, toward Virginia. He discovered that when people were above it all they walked faster, as much as a hundred times faster than when they were confined to earth. And so he came to Virginia in little or no time. He came to the house he had built for his family, for Mildred his wife and Henry his son, and he opened and went through the door. He thought she might be at the kitchen table, unable to sleep and drinking something to ease her mind. But he did not find his wife there. Augustus went upstairs and found Mildred sleeping in their bed. He looked at her for a long time, certainly as long as it would have taken him, walking up above it all, to walk to Canada and beyond. Then he went to the bed, leaned over and kissed her left breast.

The kiss went through the breast, through skin and bone, and came to the cage that protected the heart. Now the kiss, like so many kisses, had all manner of keys, but it, like so many kisses, was forgetful, and it could not find the right key to the cage. So in the end, frustrated and desperate, the kiss squeezed right through the bars and kissed Mildred's heart. She woke immediately and knew that her husband was gone forever.
That passage is so vivid, so unexpected, so right in its description of grief and loss and love that it makes my eyes tear to read it. We are very fortunate to have a writer as gifted as Edward P. Jones joining the English Department in the spring. I hope that you are anticipating his residency as much as I am.

We will offer many opportunities for our students to work with Jones, and many as well for our alumni to meet him. Keep reading this blog for updates.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Gift of "Tennessee" to the English Department

An alumnus of the GW English department, David Bruce Smith, recently donated to the faculty a copy of Tennessee, a deluxe edition of three plays by Tennessee Williams with six beautiful illustrations by Clarice Smith.

The presentation is stunning. A large and elegant box wrapped in soft black leather and imprinted with gold lettering opens to reveal three magnificent volumes: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie and These Are the Stairs You Got to Watch (previously unpublished, and staged by Michael Kahn of the Shakespeare Theatre in 2004 at the Kennedy Center). These deluxe editions of the plays are folio size, and have handsewn bindings and leather covers of a quality more frequently seen at the Folger Shakespeare Library than in Foggy Bottom. A little research shows that only 1500 copies were ever made -- and they sold for $3600 per copy. Tennessee was produced by hand in Florence. The volumes are printed in black with true rubrics (red titles and headings). The preface is by Michael Kahn and the introduction by David Bruce Smith ... who opens the volume with a creatively imagined interview with Tennessee Williams himself. This introduction in many ways anticipates the work David Smith undertook recently in his historical fiction about Abraham Lincoln, featured previously on this blog.

The English Department is grateful for this generous gift. We invite readers of our blog to come to the main office (Rome Hall 760, 801 22nd St NW) and peruse the book. The department chair is finally at the point where he is not keeping it locked in his office and is no longer making those who wish to touch its fine black leather and luxurious pages wash their hands in water and then wipe them down with Purell.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Photographic Proof

Sandra Bernhard really did visit the English Department on Thursday, and we have the photographic evidence: behold some pontificating in Rome Hall 771 NOT being conducted by an English department professor. Bernhard made a guest appearance in Faye Moskowitz's creative writing class, then lingered in our seminar room to mingle with students, faculty, and (as it turns out) a motley group of interested people who heard she was in the building and seemed drawn to her as if she exudes some invisible magnetic force.

The department chair, meanwhile, is still trying to convince the English Department Office Manager, secretary, and work-study students that it is OK for Sandra to possess a sassy mouth and insouciance, but that's her thing -- she gets paid for it. The English Department chair, on the other hand, demands a certain amount of gravitas and decorum in the office. That's why he placed an empty cardboard tube next to the candy dish, christened it the "Beating Stick," and instructed the secretary to use it without warning upon anyone who removes more than two Hershey's kisses per day.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

We Try So Hard to be Hip

We have our blog. We have our Facebook page. We offer the most cutting edge courses in the university, if not the galaxy. So why is it that when we finally have a cute graphic to assist with our strategic plan for utter media domination, the University phases out our hippo?

Should we have chosen a First Folio as our graphic? A Wordsworthian daffodil or cloud? Would that be more enduring?

Let's see if GW comes up with a new animal to take the place of our semi-aquatic sub-Saharan former mascot. Let's see if, like the hippo, this mascot turns out to be the university president's shamanistic animal spirit guide. Our suggestion? The raven. What could be more literary? We even provide this official photo of the five hundred pound raven statue already perched on campus (in front of the Old Main Building ... which ought to be rechristened the Edgar Allen Poe building and given entirely either to the ornithology department or, if we don't have one at GW, to the English Department). All that need be done to this picture is to have the former president Photoshopped out, and the new one -- a literary scholar! -- inserted. Instant new mascot, and new image to give it some fame. And don't, like Poe's raven, tell us nevermore.

Margaret Soltan on David Foster Wallace

[beautiful picture of Margaret Soltan by Nick Gingold, Senior Staff Photographer for the GW Hatchet]
From today's Hatchet, an interview with Professor Margaret Soltan:

First of all, I wanted to talk to you about American writer David Foster Wallace, what he meant and what his suicide means for the literary world.

My sense of it is that, and I think this is shared by most serious readers, that the literary world has suffered a very big loss - not only because he died but because of the way in which he died. His father was interviewed by The New York Times, and Wallace suffered from depression for 20 years and had been medicated but it was difficult to handle and eventually he was just not able to keep himself going. And especially when an artist kills him or herself - it's like, what is wrong with the artistic sensibility that so many artists - what is it about the artistic mind that makes it sometimes undo itself?

I saw your blog post about the prevalence of this among writers - that these people essentially use themselves up and become their own subject matter.

Well, that's a contested argument. Some people argue that, other people would argue that that is going overboard. The argument is that there's something about modern literature - contemporary literature - that it all becomes very autobiographical, and it becomes about your own suffering. And the argument is that there's something sort of dangerous about doing what Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton or, for that matter, what David Foster Wallace did.

There's something about the process of transforming your own pain into literature and maybe not quite transforming it enough, in the case of someone like Plath or David Foster Wallace, where it's still on the surface and very painful. So the argument would be that the peculiar danger of a certain kind of late-20th-century fiction writing is that the immediate sufferings of a particular self are too explicit, and you make yourself too vulnerable.

Professor Soltan is a popular professor of English, the author of the renowned blog University Diaries, and a co-author of the important new book Teaching Beauty. You can read the interview in its entirety here.

Suhayl Saadi to be Second British Council Writer in Residence

Renowned Scots-Asian writer Suhayl Saadi will be the second GW-British Council Writer in Residence. Born in Beverly, East Yorkshire, and raised in Glasgow, Saadi is best known as the author of the novel Psychoraag:
Taking place during the six hours of a radio broadcast, PSYCHORAAG tells the mythic, yet utterly modern tale of Zaf, a raga-rock DJ who finds the ghosts of his – and his family’s – past catching up with him during his last night on air. Mesmerised by the rain outside and the freedom that comes with the end of an era, Zaf has decided that, for this final night, he will take no requests. Tonight, he will play the songs his parents listened to in Pakistan; the pop records which became the soundtrack to his love affairs; the backing music to all his hopes and fears. As the boundaries between Zaf’s memories and his spoken broadcast begin to dissolve, a compelling story emerges.
Saadi has also published a novel called The Burning Mirror:
The Burning Mirror is a mixture of the seamy and the spiritual, the subtle, the baroque and the brutal. The canvas is broad: everything from Glaswegian Asian gangsta stories to themes drawn from various Trans-Mediterranean cultures, from the philosophising of a spirit trapped in a bottle to the everyday tribulations of a Catholic Evangelist, from a searing portrayal of brick-making villages in Pakistan to a Pointillist love story set amidst the late Twentieth Century Balkan Wars.
Saadi is also a poet, a short story writer, and -- from everything we've heard -- an incredibly charasmatic and all around good person. Look for news about his residency here soon: Saadi arrives on campus early in October.

Funding for Student Travel

I received the following letter from an undergraduate English major, and share it with you because I do not have the funds in my budget to assist. I place the request on this blog in the hope that one of our readers might be interested in supporting these students. Please contact me directly (jjcohen[at] if you'd like to hear what the budget is, and how you can help.


Dear Professor Cohen,

I am writing on behalf of the members of English 179, a class on Queer and Transnational Film Studies that will travel to the Czech Republic in November for the Prague International LGBTQ Film Festival.

The course and its contingent trip are exciting opportunities for a group of motivated GW students to explore a range of issues involving sexuality and film. In addition to attendance at the film festival, our activities in Prague will include participation in a joint class with similarly-focused Czech students, a cross-cultural exchange that we anticipate to be invaluable to our collective growth and to our individual ability to contribute worthwhile academic thinking on queer and transnational issues as mediated through film. Ideally, each student's journey will inform a publishable paper on some aspect of our studies to be presented at a one-day conference the class will give at the end of the semester.

Unfortunately, due to the high cost of international travel, several students would be unable to fully participate in the course without some degree of financial aid. So I write to you with the hope that the English Department might be able to invest in this energized and talented group of students and its pursuit of a higher understanding in an important field.

I have attached a tentative budget for the trip. Whatever aid or leads on possible scholarship opportunities the English Department could provide would be thoroughly appreciated.


Reed Cooley

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


At last, the official press release.


D.C. Resident Edward P. Jones to Teach and Deliver Public Readings in Spring 2009

WASHINGTON - The George Washington University has named Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Washington, D.C., resident Edward P. Jones as the first Wang Visiting Professor in Contemporary English Literature in GW's Department of English. Jones, who will be in residence at GW during the 2009 spring semester, will teach an advanced creative writing course, lead a literary reading group for undergraduates, and give public readings.

"We are deeply honored to have an author of Edward P. Jones' caliber share his expertise, art, and experience with our undergraduates and the GW community as a whole," said Jeffrey J. Cohen, chair of the English department. "Not only is Jones a world-renowned writer, but he also is a part of our own city of Washington, D.C. He is the most celebrated novelist we have had in residence at GW. Studying with him will provide our students an invaluable experience - one that we hope they'll remember long after they graduate from GW."

Jones added, "I have always enjoyed teaching and am eager to be in the classroom at GW. I am looking forward to getting to know the English department and the students at GW."

Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2004 for his novel, The Known World. Set in rural Virginia before the Civil War, the story centers around a plantation where a freed slave has purchased slaves of his own. The Known World is a meditation upon racism, humanity, memory, and the power of art. Jones also is the author of two collections of short stories set in Washington, D.C.: Lost in the City (winner of the 2004 PEN/Hemingway Award) and Aunt Hagar's Children (2006). Jones also has won numerous other literary prizes as well as a MacArthur Fellowship.

Jones' visiting professorship was created through a gift by Albert Wang and his family. The gift is one of the largest philanthropic commitments to GW's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences' Department of English. The family gift includes the Wang Visiting Professorship in Contemporary English Literature that will fund Jones' professorship and the Wang Endowed Fund in English Literature and Literary Studies that will support an annual series of lectures by prominent authors and scholars of English literature and literary studies.

The English department is an active research community of scholars and creative writers who prize excellence in teaching, publication, and service. The department has about 400 undergraduate majors and an award-winning faculty of more than 30 professors. It is nationally recognized for its strengths in both literature and creative writing. Long known for its expertise in African American literature, the department also is renowned for its research and publication in Early Modern and Medieval Studies; ethnic literature, including Asian-American and Jewish texts; 19th-century literature; and creative works. Mr. Jones will join a creative writing faculty that includes Jane Shore, Faye Moskowitz, H. G. Carrillo, and David McAleavey.

Located in the heart of the nation's capital, The George Washington University was created by an Act of Congress in 1821. Today, GW is the largest institution of higher education in Washington, D.C. The university offers comprehensive programs of undergraduate and graduate liberal arts study as well as degree programs in medicine, public health, law, engineering, education, business, and international affairs. Each year, GW enrolls a diverse population of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 130 countries.

For more information about GW's English Department, visit
For more information about GW's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences,

Sandra Bernhard visits GW English Department

Sandra Bernhard, star of stage, screen and television, is now appearing in her acclaimed "Without You, I'm Nothing" at Theatre J.

She will be visiting Faye Moskowitz's class at 1:30 on Thursday, September 18. At 2:00 she'll do a Meet and Greet for faculty and students in Rome Hall 771 (English Department seminar room).

Garrison Keillor Reads Jane Shore's Poem "Shopping Urban"

Yesterday's The Writer's Almanac on NPR featured a reading of one of Jane Shore's poems, "Shopping Urban." Professor Shore teaches poetry writing here in the English Department. Her widely acclaimed book A Yes-or-No Answer was published last spring.

"Shopping Urban" is from that volume. Many readers of this blog heard Jane read the poem at Politics and Prose last April, when she talked about the shopping incident in Georgetown behind the piece. Garrison Keillor read the words rather differently, with a sarcasm that I'm not sure Jane can actually carry off herself: you can listen to Keillor reading the poem here.

Jane also wrote me yesterday that the very same daughter who is featured in "Shopping Urban" was peppersprayed yesterday at a Karl Rove protest. They grow up so fast, these kids...

For your reading pleasure, here is Jane Shore's wonderful poem "Shopping Urban":

Flip-flopped, noosed in puka beads, my daughter
breezes through the store from headband to toe ring,
shooing me away from the bongs,
lace thongs, and studded dog collars.
And I don't want to see her in that black muscle tee
with SLUT stamped in gold glitter
shrink-wrapped over her breasts,
or those brown and chartreuse retro-plaid
hip-huggers ripped at the crotch.

There's not a shopper here a day over twenty
except me and another mother
parked in chairs at the dressing room entrance
beyond which we are forbidden to go.
We're human clothes racks.
Our daughters have trained us
to tamp down the least flicker of enthusiasm
for the nice dress with room to grow into,
an item they regard with sullen, nauseated,
eyeball-rolling disdain.

Waiting in the line for a dressing room,
my daughter checks her cleavage.
Her bellybutton's a Cyclops eye
peeking at other girls' armloads of clothes.
What if she's missed something—
that faux leopard hoodie? those coffee-wash flares?
Sinking under her stash of blouses,
she's a Shiva of tangled sleeves.

And where did she dig up that new tie-dyed
tank top I threw away in '69
and the purple wash 'n' wear psychedelic dress
I washed and wore
and lost on my Grand Tour of Europe
and my retired hippie Peace necklace
now recycled, revived, re-hip?

I thought they were gone—
like the tutus and tiaras and wands
when she morphed from ballerina
to fairy princess to mermaid to tomboy,
refusing to wear dresses ever again.
Gone, those pastel party dresses,
the sleeves, puffed water wings buoying her up
as she swam into waters over her head.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An Actual Conversation with a Very Famous Author

ME: So, Mr. Very Famous Author, I hope that you are as excited to come to GW as we are to have you in residence this coming spring.


ME: It's a big deal for us, and we'd like to celebrate it.


ME: I've been charged with obtaining a quote from you for our press release. What would you like to say?

FAMOUS AUTHOR: Well, it has been a while since I've had the pleasure of being in a classroom. I last taught at Princeton oh, five or six years ago. I'm looking forward to working with the GW undergraduates.

ME: That's it?

FAMOUS AUTHOR: That's not enough?

ME: I was hoping for something like "I am so eager to become a member of the GW English Department, recognized around the cosmos for its excellence in everything it does. I am especially looking forward to working with the chair, Jeffrey J. Cohen, because I know him to be the best department chair around. He is a brilliant man and the real reason I signed up to teach at GW."

FAMOUS AUTHOR: That goes without saying.

ME: No it doesn't! I can't put it in the press release if you don't say it.


Well, he didn't ever say the words I tried to put into his mouth, but I know he was thinking them. Here, for the record, is what he did say:
I am looking forward to joining such a lively English Department. I'm also eager to be in an undergraduate classroom, affecting writers at a pivotal time in their lives.
Look for our official announcement here and around the university very soon.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

September 26: Alumni Open House

The detonation of explosives at Square 54 aside, a typical Friday afternoon in the English Department is as quiet as a stone.* The only sounds to be heard are those made by a few professors who are taking advantage of the lull at the end of the week to accomplish some grading, or by some graduate students who are not allowed to begin their weekends on Thursday Wednesday as undergraduates do.

On Friday September 26, however, we hope to break that end of the week hush and welcome visiting alumni back to the English Department. As part of Alumni Weekend, we will be holding an open house from 3-5 in the Main Office, Rome Hall 760. We'll be offering some delicious Italian cookies and -- because we are pretentious -- tea and sherry. We look forward to seeing former GW English majors there. Please register here in advance so that we don't eat all the biscotti before you show up.

*"As quiet as a stone" is Keats, who is typically known for better metaphors. We could have said "quiet as a heart that beats no more" (Longfellow) or "quiet as a sepulchre" (Dickens), but those are just creepy. If you want something more artful, we suggest "quiet, as of dreaming Trees" (Gerald Massey). We didn't use that comparison, though, because we thought having the sherry was pretentious enough as is.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The English Department Thanks Sarah Griswold

I'd like to express my gratitude to a former student whom I remember fondly: Sarah Griswold, who recently donated $250 to the department. This is quite a sum for a 2006 graduate to give us ... and we are honored by her generous support. Thank you, Sarah! I'm happy that my Chaucer class did not leave you traumatized for life.

We plan on using the money along with some other recent contributions to help us start a new organization for undergraduate English majors. This "majors' club" will provide a much needed way to invite our students more fully into the intellectual and social life of the department. We can't undertake such endeavors without the support of alumni like Sarah Griswold.

5 year BA/MA program in English?

The English Department is thinking of introducing a program through which a select number of English majors could earn a BA at the end of the senior year, then stay at GW for an additional year of study and to gain an MA. This program would enable students to earn an MA a year faster than most masters degree programs allow. It would mean that during the senior year students would have the chance to take three graduate seminars. These advanced classes would count towards the BA and MA at the same time, so it wouldn't be "extra" coursework. The program might also involve a special summer program, possibly three or six weeks long.

I'm posting this to ask you if you would let me know if this opportunity sounds appealing. We don't want to put the effort into creating the program if no student demand exists for it. It would likely be a competitive program that students would apply into in the junior year, so that they would know well before they begin senior coursework that they will be earning a graduate degree on an accelerated schedule.

Please direct any feedback you have directly to me:, or post in the comments below. We are as interested in hearing from alumni as current students on this topic!

Thanks for your time.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Nadeem Aslam's Newest Novel

GW's inaugural British Council Writer in Residence Nadeem Aslam's newest novel, The Wasted Vigil has just been released. Mr. Aslam read from the novel at the numerous events that the English department hosted to celebrate his residency, and I, like many of those I talked to, was greatly impressed by his reading of the first chapter. The novel follows the lives of six individuals, brought together in a house in rural Afghanistan. The novel confronts the legacy of the Taliban and the complicated landscape of the post-9/11 world. The Times published a particularly glowing review of the novel:
Nadeem Aslam is a master of words and arresting images. The house has books nailed to every ceiling to save them from the Taleban (“a spike driven through the pages of history, a spike through the pages of love, a spike through the sacred”). In the garden is a disused perfume factory, and in its basement a toppled Buddha lies embedded in the wall. Alexander the Great rode here, on a unicorn, through the orchards of antiquity. This has been a place of beauty since the dawn of time. The sheer, astonishing loveliness of this novel's language fills the reader with hope that the transformative power of beauty can, somehow, still save the day.
I for one, can't wait to read the novel.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Good Old Days at GW

Professor Gayle Wald is once again teaching her very successful English 40W, Literature of the Americas. She was recently thumbing through old GW Bulletins and reports on her archival work:

In preparation for ENGL 40, our Literature of the Americas class, I decided to look at GWU Bulletins once a decade, beginning in 1918-1919 and through to 1998-99. What I found was sometimes predictable, but also sometimes surprising and even revelatory. Some highlights:

• Instruction in American literature in GWU English goes back at least to 1918.

• In 1928-29, the English department featured courses in “American Drama,” “American Literature,” and “Studies in American Literature.” This at a time when “Public Speaking” (elementary and advanced), “Journalism,” and “Book Editing” were part of an English Department curriculum.

• In 1938-39, introductory literature classes were divided thus: “English Literature,” “American Literature” and “European Literature.” (The last would probably be the provenance of Romance and Germanic Languages today!) These years also saw the development of an “American Civilization” major, to complement the “English literature” major. Notice that word “civilization.” Hmm. Also that year, “Studies in American Literature,” a 2-semester sequence, was described in the following terms: “Major factors in the national cultural tradition as shown by outstanding writers.” “National cultural tradition” is an interesting phrase, especially since contemporary scholars and theorists have de-linked nation and culture, tending not to see the two as equivalent.

• By 1948-49, there were two fields of study within the English major: English literature and American Thought and Civilization. A course in “Recent American Literature” was described as covering “motion pictures”! So what some of us call “cultural studies” really isn’t so new after all.

• In 1958-59, a student could pursue one of 3 different master’s degrees: American Literary and Cultural History [American Studies today], English and American Literature, and English Literature. By now there is a full menu of course offerings in American Literature

• In 1968-69, those much-mythologized years of the counterculture, the B.A. in American Thought and Civilization was still positing Europe as the only site of influence for American Literature. The department is now offering courses in “American Colonial Literature” and “American Transcendentalism.”

• In 1978-79, the course “Major American Writers”—taught by Bob Ganz—was described as concentrating on “Three American ‘Naturists’: William James, Theodore Dreiser, and William Carlos Williams.” Judith Plotz was offering a “Special Topics” course in “Jewish-American writing.”

• By 1988-89, we can see the consolidation of something like a contemporary canon, as well as its disarray, since the "outstanding writers" of past years needed no explanation. Everyone knew who they were. Now course descriptions are filled with names of authors. Women include Edith Wharton and Willa Cather. The only black author mentioned by name is Lorraine Hansberry. On the other hand, a course in African American literature is now being offered.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Junot Diaz reads at Politics and Prose this week

The most recent Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, Junot Diaz, is reading from his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao this Wednesday (September 10th) at Politics and Prose at 7 PM (though it's advisable to be early). This is a great opportunity to meet one of the most celebrated young authors in the country and I hope to see other English undergraduates there!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Fall 2008 Creative Writing Readings

Here is the tentative schedule:

FALL 2008 readings (not including Jenny2 or student open readings):

Thurs., Sept. 18 DC Poetry celebration, Gelman Special Collections, 6:30-9:00, Gelman 206 [Not an English Dept. event, but still a poetry reading, of sorts – with lots of musical accompaniment]

Thurs., Sept. 25 Mary Morrissy (2008-09 JMM Writer), 8:15 PM, MPA 309

Thurs., Oct. 2 Suhayl Saadi (British Council Writer in Residence), 8:15 PM, MPA 309

Mon., Oct. 13 Suhayl Saadi [talk], 8:15 PM, MPA B07

Wed., Oct. 22 “Literature in a Global Age” English Dept. panel with Suhayl Saadi, followed by Alumni Assoc. reception, Alumni House, 6:30-8:00

Thurs., Oct. 23 The “FWords Project” – Afro-British and Afro-Caribbean writers from Yorkshire, 8:00 PM, Marvin Center Amphitheater

Thurs., Nov. 13 Helena Maria Viramontes, 8:15 PM, Funger 108

Fri., Nov. 14 International writers from the University of Iowa International Writing Program, 8:00 PM, Marvin Center Amphitheater

Thurs., Nov. 20 Honor Moore, 8:00 PM, Marvin Center Amphitheatrer

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Hello everybody, my name is Rajiv Menon and I am the English department's new communications liaison. I am a junior, majoring in English and International Affairs. In addition to working with the English department, I also intern at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program and tutor at GW's writing center. Also, in addition to writing for this blog, I also contribute to the blog Hadji is Dead, which covers various aspects of South Asian American politics and culture. Throughout the semester, I'll be posting about various aspects of English undergraduate life on this blog and I hope to hear from GW's English undergraduates about your experiences and interests.

Since it is the first week of school and summer is still fresh in our memories, I felt it would be appropriate to share the books I enjoyed this summer. Based on my summer reading, there are a bunch of books I'd like to whole-heartedly recommend:
1. Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan
2. Blindness by Jose Saramago
3. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
4. Never Let me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
5. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
6. The House of Blue Mangoes by David Davidar
7. The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
8. Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting by Vijay Prashad

I look forward to working with the department and keep checking the blog for updates!

Literature Research Guides from Gelman

Cathy Eisenhower, the Gelman Library subject specialist for English, has created two excelelnt research guides that will be of great use to many who read this blog:
Thank you, Cathy!

Do Not Miss This Once in a Lifetime Course: Transnational Film Studies and LGBTQ Cultures


English 179.60
Transnational Film Studies and LGBTQ Cultures
Wednesdays 2-4 PM

George Washington University
Department of English and Office for Study Abroad

This course is offered through the short-term study abroad program at GW, and includes a week at the Prague International LGBTQ Film Festival, leaving Washington, DC, November 5, 2008 and returning November 13, 2008.

The interdisciplinary field that has come to be called “queer” studies over the past two decades has always concerned itself with questions of representation: how are, for instance, lesbians and gay men, or transgendered people, represented in film, in novels, in other forms of media? As the field has developed, these questions of representation have increasingly been linked to other, complex questions, involving political economy, globalization, and transnationalism: in what ways have lgbt people been incorporated into contemporary nation-states? What identities and desires threaten “the nation” as it is currently (and variously) materialized in our world? How have identities such as “gay” and “lesbian” circulated globally? How have those recognizable minority identities come into contact and conflict with other ways of identifying around non-normative desires? Have those identities at times functioned imperialistically, especially as “gay tourism” has become a recognizable part of global capitalism? Conversely, what kinds of unexpected alliances have been shaped across borders as queer movements have globalized? How have these movements theorized race, gender, class, and ability; what connections have been made with other movements organized around identity?

This course will thus consider how questions of queer representation, particularly in film, converge with questions of queer globalization(s). It will provide students with a complex vocabulary for theorizing a range of issues, by moving them over the course of the semester through four units: an introduction to the analysis of film; a survey of contemporary queer film studies; an introduction to contemporary work at the intersection of queer studies and transnational studies (with some specific emphasis on lgbtq cultures and eastern Europe); and the Prague International LGBTQ Film Festival (on-site in Prague, intended to bring all these issues together).

Students at Charles University in Prague will be taking a course similar to the Washington, DC, course, under the direction of Professor Katerina Kolarova of the Department of Gender Studies. In addition to the festival itself, the week in Prague will involve meetings between the two courses, putting U.S. and Czech students in conversation with each other.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

New Major Requirements

We have made some important changes to the requirements for the major in English. They apply to you, however, only if you declared your major on July 1 2008 or later. You cannot, unfortunately, petition to have them apply to you. That means that if you are a current English major and are reading this, they likely do not apply to you.

But they are perfectly good requirements, and you'll be able to tell young English majors "I remember when ..."

How Do I Become a Hollywood Screenwriter?

From Alumni Relations:

GW Alumni Association’s “How Do I Become A…” lecture series welcomes distinguished alumnus Jason Filardi, CCAS BA ’93, to discuss his career experiences as a Hollywood screenwriter.

How Do I Become A Hollywood Screenwriter?
Jason Filardi, CCAS BA ’93, independent screenwriter
Friday, September 26, 1 p.m. – 2 p.m.
Marvin Center, Room 403

What does it take to make it as a writer in Tinseltown? Join Filardi as he shares his experiences writing and script doctoring for Hollywood’s biggest studios. His credits include the 2003 comedy, Bringing Down the House, starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah, Drum, as well as, the soon-to-be-released comedy Seventeen Again, with Matthew Perry, Zac Efron, and Leslie Mann. Filardi graduated in 2003 from Columbian College with a BA in English.

This event is free and open to students, alumni, and the GW community and registration is preferred. To register, visit and click on “Calendar of Events.” For more information about the “How Do I Become A…?” lecture series, contact Andy Hill at (202) 994-5878 or

To All Current English Majors: Welcome Back!

On this, the first day of classes, my colleagues in the English Department and I would like to welcome you back to GW and wish you a good semester.

Please subscribe to or bookmark this blog to keep up to date on events and important information about the major. You may also wish to become a fan of the department's Facebook page.

Finally, let me stress that my door is always open to you. The bowl sitting in the main office (almost) always has candy in it. Please feel free to stop by or to email. This is your department, and I am always interested in hearing what we can do to make it a better place.

Jeffrey Cohen