Monday, November 24, 2008

Transatlantic Dialogue: Robert McRuer's Class Goes to Prague

From today's Hatchet, a piece on Prof. Robert McRuer's innovative new class by Gabriella Schwarz:

Most field trips for GW classes require a Metro farecard, but passports were necessary for 13 students in an English course this fall.

The class, "Transnational Film Studies and LGBTQ Cultures," taught by professor Robert McRuer, went to the Czech Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Prague, Czech Republic for a global approach to learning through lectures and discussions with Czech students. McRuer said bringing his GW class to the Eastern European country for eight days was the best way for his students and Czech students to increase understanding about human sexuality.

"I hope they had a once in a lifetime experience," McRuer said. "I hope they come away from the course with a really sophisticated vocabulary about film and representation of sexuality in film, and a deeper understanding of transnational issues."

Czech and American students were paired up each day during the trip to lead conversations on all of the films at the festival. The students based their three- to four-hour discussions on the festival theme of "survivors," and tried to move progressive ideals forward.

"We started talking about the movie - talked about the director's reasons for doing the film and how they affected our lives and our perspectives of them," Hillary Richards, a senior, said.

Richards, who comes from a conservative area in California, said she had no experience with these topics before taking the course.

This course "helped me figure out how to approach the topic with people I know from home, and to see people for people instead of the lines we draw or putting people in boxes," Richards said.

Senior Chloe Mayer, who said she has always been interested in human sexuality, said she became more aware of labels people put on each other during the trip.

"For me, it's all gray, but it's interesting how people talk about sexuality in general," Mayer said. "The word 'queer' isn't translated in Czech because it's so new. It comes un-translated in English. Discussions about these issues are modified by American discourse."

McRuer was scheduled to give a speech at the festival even before the study abroad office made the trip financially possible for the students - who largely paid for it themselves. He said the discussions in Prague incorporated a lot of the readings from the course, and that the students connected both academically and socially in the environment.

GW students attended presentations given by McRuer and his Czech counterpart, professor Katerina Kolarova, during the week.

McRuer gave a presentation on sexuality and disability in culture, which dissected how disability is represented in film. Much of his recent work has centered on this idea.

Although this class has not been taught at GW before, McRuer has tentative plans for next year as well.

"It has been very good for both universities," he said. "We want to keep the transatlantic dialogue open."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Professor Schreiber and Nicole Welsh Attend Conference on Toni Morrison

Professor Evelyn Schreiber and Undergraduate Nicole Welsh attended the Fifth Biennial Conference of the Toni Morrison Society this past summer. The event, which was hosted from July 24th-27th, took place in Charleston, South Carolina, which is an important site of the American slave trade. At this conference, Nicole presented a paper entitled “Can the Center Hold: A Modernist Look at Milkman and Hagar in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon”. Nicole is the first undergraduate to ever present at this conference, an incredible accomplishment! Nicole was able to travel with the support of the Writing Center and the Dean’s Office. After she graduates, Nicole will be working with Teach For America, teaching secondary English in Prince George’s County.

Professor Schreiber, who is the secretary of the Toni Morrison Society, presented a paper entitled “Jazz’s Riff and Refrain: Re-creating Self and Community in Diasporic Spaces”. She was also in charge of the conference’s Authors Awards Luncheon, at which prizes were awarded to the top edited and individually written books on Morrison, 2006-2008. In 2003, Professor Schreiber won this award for her book Subversive Voices: Eroticizing the Other in William Faulkner and Toni Morrison. Professor Schreiber’s next book, Bodies of Trauma: Race, Home, and Healing in Toni Morrison’s Novels, is under reader review at LSU Press. For any interested students, Professor Schreiber is teaching English 171W.11, “Toni Morrison and William Faulkner” next semester.

The Toni Morrison Society Conference also installed the first bench of the “Bench by the Road” project, which was established in response to Morrison’s comment regarding the absence of a suitable place to discuss slaves and their history. Morrison stated, “There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath or wall, or park or skyscraper lobby…There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road.” In response to this comment, the Toni Morrison Society is establishing a series of benches at important sites of African American History. This first bench, to be maintained by the US Park Service on Sullivan’s Island, commemorates the point of entry for 40% of all slaves entering the United States. Professor Morrison was quite moved by this ceremony, which she attended along with other events at the conference. Professor Schreiber and Nicole also attended to a particularly moving speech by Professor Joseph Opala of James Madison University, who discussed the importance of Bunce Island, an island off the coast of Sierra Leone that was the site of a large fortress that housed slaves before their transport to other parts of the world. Conference attendants were also able to hear Toni Morrison read from her newest novel, A Mercy.

The New York Times covered the event and Nicole’s paper is even mentioned in the article! This sounds like it was an amazing conference and congratulations to Professor Schreiber and Nicole on this great accomplishment!

Stressed? Join the club

It's that time of year, we know. We see it in your faces: worn out, sleep deprived, pale. We see how red your eyes are from peering at the computer screen, and that your fingers are turning into little nubs because you've been pounding at the keyboard. Your blood has more caffeine coursing through it than leucocytes.

We know you have five papers due in five different classes. We feel your pain, we really do.

But think about us. We have to read those things. Think it's hard to compose twelve brilliant pages on The Tempest? Try reading 360 pages of student writing on the play. So yes, please do stop by your English professor's office with a tiny violin. And then get back to work, that paper isn't going to write itself.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Folger Undergraduate Seminar Featured in Research Magazine: Now With Streaming Video!

Check this out. Don't miss the streaming video, with its Renaissance-y soundtrack. It's quite excellent.

An excerpt from the article:

During weekly, three-hour classes, students study with a Folger scholar to learn how early books were made, the role they played in shaping culture, and how the medium of print and its reproduction shape a text’s meaning. Part of the course focuses on properly handling the fragile books; unlike other undergraduate book history classes that must use photos or digital reproductions, this course allows GW students to get up-close and personal with texts. They can touch the holes left by bookworms, finger the leaves of faded paper, and study the fonts and illustrations that make the books unique. The seminar, say students and professors alike, is an unparalleled opportunity for scholarship and discovery.

“It’s really one of a kind. There is no other university in the United States or anywhere in the world that can offer this because no other university has that connection to the Folger,” says professor Jeffrey Cohen, chairman of GW’s English department and the seminar’s University coordinator. “We want the students to be challenged, we want them to grow, and we want them to appreciate that they have something very few people have the chance to experience.”

Outside of the organized class, the students have readership rights at the Folger for the full academic year. With their own library cards, they can access the vast collection of more than 256,000 books, 60,000 manuscripts, and 250,000 playbills at the building on Capitol Hill. For some, such as Rohrbach and seniors Chris Pugh and Phil Getz, the privilege allowed them to pursue original research, which they presented to Folger staff and GW’s Board of Trustees last spring.

GW and the Folger have had a long, thriving relationship. The University was a charter member in the library’s advanced study center, the Folger Institute, when it started in 1970, and GW today is one of more than 40 colleges and universities in the world involved in the consortium. For the past decade, the University also has helped finance the Folger publication and scholarly journal Shakespeare Quarterly. Many of the University’s professors have tapped into the library’s wealth of materials while creating connections: Gail Kern Paster, an English professor at GW for nearly 30 years, became the Folger Shakespeare Library’s director in 2002.



Monday, November 17, 2008

Alumnus Kathleen Rooney Releases Another Publication!

Kathleen Rooney, a GW alumnus, has just released a new book of poetry!
Here is some information about her newest publication:
"Oneiromance (an epithalamion) gives the marriage poem a case of vertigo, displacing while embracing the panoply of possibility when two people attempt to forge a life together. Kathleen Rooney creates a dream-state with fluid borders and a surreal set of laws that allow her to question inherited wisdom and perception, all the while converging on the altar from numerous (occasionally, numinous) angles. The romance persists between the narrator and the beloved—and crucially, between the author and language's opportunities to address the nuances and edges of commitment deemed inexplicable. These poems contain deep doubt and true sentiment, providing that pleasure-giving union of provocation and renewal." --Patty Seyburn, 2007 Gatewood Prize Judge

"Oneiromance puts the overt back in verse. Extravagant in sweep and pathos, the beauty of these poems soars like a wedding cake for astronauts. Kathleen Rooney is a poet too rich to read at one sitting, but I think any reader will enjoy extending the honeymoon they take with this book. I wish I could sufficiently praise its merits in kind, be a match for its flights and profundities."
--Bill Knott
Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and the author of Reading With Oprah (University of Arkansas Press, 2005), Something Really Wonderful (with Elisa Gabbert, dancing girl press, 2007) That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (also with Gabbert, Otoliths, 2008), Oneiromance (an epithalamion) (Switchback Books, 2008), and Live Nude Girl (Arkansas, 2009).

Congratulations Kathleen!

Two Interesting and Timely Spring 2009 Courses Seek Students

Both these classes are taught by Professor Jennifer James.

185. 10 TR 12.45-2
Slavery, Memory and History in Black Women's Writing
This course explores how black women's literature of the 20th and 21st century recalls and revises the memory and history of slavery in the Carribean and the U.S. The readings will range from fiction and memoir to history and cultural studies, including Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol; Stephanie M. Camp, Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance; Toni Morrison, A Mercy and/or Beloved; Gayl Jones, Corrigedora; Sherley Anne Williams, Dessa Rose; Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route.We will give particular attention to the role literature plays in a nation's "collective" memory of traumatic history.We will also study the relationship between slave women's culture, such as quilting and song, to literary production.

EN184.10 TR 4.45-6
The Literature of Black America II
This course will examine some of the most influential writers, movements and trends in 20th century African American literature from the period popularly known as "Harlem Renaissance" to the Black Arts Movement of the 1960's/70's. Some writers will include Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Nella Larsen, James Baldwin, Lorainne Hansberry, Alice Walker and Amiri Baraka.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Undergrads: Some Courses to Consider for SPRING

I know that all of you have already registered for your spring courses ... but if you are not quite happy with (say) that boring class in international relations that you signed up for because you thought it would enable you to relate internationally, here are some great ENGLISH DEPARTMENT courses seeking students:

171W.10 Willa Cather (Ann Romines) A terrific course on an important American novelist taught by the foremost Cather scholar in the United States. Monday Wednesday 12.45-2

172.10 Central European Modernism (Robert Ganz) Having taught at GW since the 1960s, Ganz is a legend. This is a new course for him, and is internationally focused. MW 2.20-3.35

172.MV 20th Century British Poetry (Jennifer Green-Lewis) Prof. Green-Lewis just published an important book on literature and beauty. This is a terrific course that will especially appeal to any aspiring poet. TR 1-2.15

184.10 Literature of Black America II TR 4.45-6 and 185.10 Topics-Afr Amer Lit Studies TR 12.45-2 (Jennifer James). Not only is Professor James an excellent teacher, these two courses in African American literature arrive at the perfect time: our department's focus is heavily in this important area, with the arrival of Edward P. Jones and the attendant hoopla.

187W.10 Asian American Literature (Patty Chu) MW 12.45-2. Most of you know Professor Chu as our sympathetic and outstanding Director of Undergraduate Advising. This course in her field of expertise will show you what a great teacher she is as well.

Every one of these courses is open to anyone who would like to enroll, regardless of major.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Suhayl Saadi course reflection (Sadaf Padder)

Reflection on Suhayl Saadi Course

Contemporary Literature

Sadaf Padder

As soon I received news of another author being brought to campus as a GW-British Council Writer in Residence, I jumped at the opportunity to be a participant of the course. I had heard of the Nadeem Aslam course last year too late to sign up for it and would constantly hear praise from his students about his knowledge and the course itself. I refused to let another great opportunity pass me by.

I had never read any of Suhayl Saadi's work so I did a bit of background research on the accomplished author before applying for the course. I found him to be intriguing because of his South Asian, Muslim, and British backgrounds – all identities that I also associate myself with. As a self-described bookworm, I become very disheartened by the lack of time I have to read a new novel and further reasoned that this course would allow me to do just that.

I kept notebook and pencil handy while I read the course texts, jotting down notes and questions as they came to me. This proved to be helpful when we met each week because I'd often have several questions or comments written down, which I never would have been able to completely recall otherwise.

I soon learned I was to be one of five students in the class. At first, I was surprised by the small number of students in the class but soon became grateful for it. The texts we read proved to be complex and prompted much discussion. The small size allowed each of us to offer our opinions and perspectives at length as well as have more critical dialogue than would have been possible in a larger class. All of my fellow classmates seemed well-read and articulate and were able to offer interesting perspectives and analyses during discussion.

Our first text was, "How Late It Was, How Late," by James Kelman. It was a complex, dense text especially given we only had a week to tackle it. The language was written in a rough Scottish dialect, which took a while to decipher. The plot had its peaks but I felt the conclusion was a bit abrupt. I appreciated the disability perspective that this novel focused on since I have a strong interest in disability literature after taking "Disability Studies and Culture" with Robert McRuer last semester. Although I did not enjoy this novel as much as I assumed I would (it had a really sweet cover), it was definitely unlike anything else I had ever read before which I very much appreciated.

I found the next text, "This Other Salt," by Aamer Hussein, to be much more enjoyable. Again, it was unlike anything I had ever read before and very different from what I had expected. It was a collection of short stories wrought with passion, sexuality, and exoticism. The settings of the stories ranged from Italy to Pakistan to England, among others. There was a recurring theme of passionate love affairs and infidelity. Since I knew Aamer Hussein was a Pakistani Muslim, I had stereotypically assumed his stories would reflect these identities. While the stories did accomplish this, they did so in a very eclectic, edgy way.

The third and final text was also a collection of short stories called, "Monsieur Shoushana's Lemon Trees," by Patricia Duncker. Again, sexuality arose as a predominant theme, which held my interest throughout. I have always been keen of LGBT literature and Duncker's short stories offered unique examples of it. Unlike the other texts, this book also introduced a supernatural element. This was probably my favorite book of the course, very closely followed by Aamer Hussein's.

Suhayl always came prepared with fresh perspectives and a critical eye, with lots of notes to supplement his points or highlight specific phrases he found poignant or beautifully descriptive. He provided a laidback environment where we were never embarrassed to offer our criticisms or comments. I also really appreciated Suhayl's sense of style. I like to consider myself a hat connoisseur and would definitely consider Suhayl one as well. He was able to rock a fedora AND a beret - definitely an uncommon gift.

Suhayl's knowledge of global literature opened my eyes to realms of literature I have yet to explore. This course helped to introduce me to some of these realms and was definitely an experience I was grateful to have had an opportunity to be a part of. It was incredible to get the perspective of such an experienced author in a classroom setting and I would wholeheartedly encourage students to take advantage of similar future opportunities.

Suhayl Saadi Course Reflection

Rajiv Menon writes of the course he took with British Council Writer in Residence Suhayl Saadi:

My experience with the first British Council in Residence reading course was overwhelmingly positive, and when I learned of the second opportunity to participate in the class, I had no doubt in my mind that I wanted to take part in it again. The course with Nadeem Aslam exposed me to a wealth of literature I might never again have the opportunity to read, and Suhayl Saadi’s class did the same. The atmosphere of the class with Suhayl’s class was extremely informal and the books we read were clearly very important to Suhayl, and thus the discussion was always very lively and enthusiastic. I cannot recommend this course to students enough as it truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The first day of class, like my first day in Nadeem Aslam’s course, was very informal, and allowed us to interact with Suhayl on a very personal level. While the first British Council class was small, with about ten students, this class was extremely small, and only had five students. As a result, the class felt more like a friendly discussion rather than a strict, formal class. Suhayl discussed each of the books with us on this first day, and since two of the books had not been published in the United States, he provided us with some context about the authors. The discussion then became extremely informal, and we all were given an opportunity to talk about our academic interests, our favorite books, and ourselves. Everyone was clearly very comfortable with the setting and we could clearly tell that we had a lot to look forward to with this class.
During the second class, we read How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman, a Scottish author that I might not have read if it was not for this class. The novel is largely written in Scottish dialect, and deals with a protagonist who has suddenly gone blind. It was extremely interesting to hear the different interpretations of the book and the diversity of perspectives that came through in the class. Suhayl discussed his own background in Scotland and explained some of the slang and cultural concepts that we might not be familiar with. He also explained that when the novel won the Booker Prize, it was extremely controversial as many British critics strongly disliked the book and felt that it was not deserving of the prize. When I read the novel, I strongly associated much of the power dynamics in the Scottish setting with the dynamics I’ve encountered in Postcolonial literature classes, and I felt that the use of dialect was a particularly strong statement against perceived linguistic imperialism. Another student in the class, whose research interests include disability studies, made several excellent points about the way that characters respond to the protagonist’s blindness and the way that he is expected to perform his disability. The reactions to the novel were mixed in the class, but the discussion was extremely productive and I felt that I left that class having learned much more about Scotland and contemporary British society.

The second text we read was This Other Salt, a collection of short stories by Aamer Hussein. The stories varied greatly in content, but many of them dealt with issues involving South Asian characters, which was of great interest to me since my personal research interests are South Asian and South Asian Diasporic literature. This book was not published in the United States, and I likely would not have read it if it was not for this class. While I enjoyed most of the stories, I was able to most thoroughly comment on a story that took place in South India, where my family is from. In addition, the story took place near a town where I have been many times, and dealt with a community I belong to. Even more bizarrely, one of the main characters shared my surname. I had a lot to criticize in this story, as I felt the author greatly exoticized and misrepresented the area and the people it discussed. Suhayl was extremely open to this criticism, and at no point during this discussion was I discouraged from expressing the issues that I had with this book. I really appreciated the dynamic of the class, as I could comfortably express that I did not care for one of the stories and actively discuss my reasoning with people who did.

The final text we read in the class was Patricia Duncker’s Monsieur Shoushana’s Lemon Trees, another collection of short stories. I enjoyed discussing this collection, as the stories were all extremely short, but there was still quite a bit for all of us to say about each story. Most of the stories were set in the South of France, and Suhayl extensively discussed the British expatriate culture that has formed in this region. The stories also fostered quite a bit of discussion on sexuality, as themes concerning sexual orientation frequently appeared through the collection. In addition, Duncker is a feminist theorist, and we discussed the ways in which her academic background was present in the text and the ways in which her characters reflected this theoretical background.

The second British Council Writer in Residence reading course was a great success, and I cannot recommend these courses to my fellow English majors enough. The opportunity to discuss literature with a successful author is truly rare, and is one that is worth taking. I greatly look forward to Edward P. Jones’s reading course next semester, as I hope that much of the same dynamic will carry through to that course as well. I am extremely thankful to GW’s English department for creating this opportunity, and I hope that other students will take advantage of this course in the future.

English 179 goes to Prague

English 179.60 took the department’s global focus quite literally this month. Professor Robert McRuer and thirteen students—including English majors Reed Cooley, Erica Manoatl, Colby Katz-Lapides, Jon Mahoney, and Jessica Rawlins—traveled to Prague on November 5 to spend a week at Mezipatra: the 9th Annual International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. The class, “Transnational Film Studies and LGBTQ Cultures,” has been meeting weekly this semester at GW for screenings and discussion. The course is intended to introduce students to queer film studies, expand their vocabularies for approaching filmic representations—and cultural representations more broadly—in transnational contexts, and develop awareness of the social construction of sexual identity and community in specific locations. By the time they left for Prague, students had seen multiple films and read widely in queer and transnational theory (with some of the readings and screenings focusing specifically on gender, sexuality, and political economy in eastern Europe). Meanwhile, over in Prague, Professor Katerina Kolarova of the Gender Studies department at Charles University has been teaching a similar course with eleven students. During the week of the festival, the two classes combined and Czech and U.S. students attended seven films together and met daily to discuss them. The discussion of each film was led by a team of students drawn from each of the two classes. Students saw films in German, French, English, and Hebrew. Indeed, the politics of translation was a major discussion point, especially when confusion over the availability of English and Czech subtitles meant that students watched one 75-minute film—Rosa von Praunheim’s Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation, in der er lebt—in German (class discussion the next day included a more pronounced emphasis on the visual aspects of the film and a critique of the expectations and entitlements that English speakers tend to carry with them). Other films addressed issues of sexuality and aging, HIV/AIDS, sex work, embodiment, transgender identity, family relations, and the urban/rural divide. Czech faculty and students were very gracious hosts, providing focused tours of the city and sharing numerous meals with the GW group. The film festival closed with a dance attended by all the students and the professors (and the students were more than a little amused to see Professors McRuer and Kolarova dancing together). The course was made possible through arrangement with the Office for Study Abroad, which sponsors several “short-term study abroad” courses every year. English 179.60 was one of the first courses in the humanities the office has sponsored.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The South Asian Literary and Theatre Arts Festival


The South Asian Literary and Theatre Arts Festival is this Saturday (November 15th), from 10 AM to 5 PM. This is one of my favorite events in Washington and I know it will be of interest to many English majors. In addition, Professor Supriya Goswami from GW's English Department will be moderating one of the festival's panels.

Here is the official description of the event from the SALTAF planning committee:
SALTAF returns anew, marking the fifth year that the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program joins forces with the Washington, DC chapter of the Network of South Asian Professionals (NetSAP-DC) to bring you another memorable event.

The SALTAF Committee is thrilled to announce four confirmed literary stars:

Tahmima Anam, whose incredible debut, A Golden Age, about one woman's remarkable experiences in the 1971 Bangladesh War, won the 2008 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Overall Best First Book;

V.V. Ganeshananthan, another fiction newbie with a critically acclaimed debut, Love Marriage, about a globe-scattered Sri Lankan family;

Naeem Murr, whose latest novel, The Perfect Man, a coming-of-age story about an Indian-born, London-raised young man, was last year's Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Europe and South Asia for Best Book, as well as a 2006 Booker long-lister; and

Manil Suri, whose highly anticipated follow-up, The Age of Shiva, to his critically acclaimed award-winning debut, The Death of Vishnu, appeared earlier this year to much praise;

For the film devotees, Richie Mehta, arrives with his award-winning feature, AMAL, which began as a short film based on a story written by his brother, Shaun Mehta. With a luminous cast that includes Naseeruddin Shah, Rupinder Nagra, and Seema Biswas, AMAL tells the poignant story of an auto-rickshaw driver who meets an eccentric billionaire searching for one last morsel of humanity in the streets of crowded, anonymous Delhi. Their fateful meeting will change both lives forever.

And after numerous previous attempts, we are finally getting the inimitable Sooni Taraporevala to the Smithsonian to screen her debut feature film, Little Zizou. Already world-renowned for her scripts for Mira Nair's The Namesake, Mississippi Masala, and more, Taraporevala's directorial debut features two Bombay families who both love and hate each other in this rambunctious family drama.

This will bea great event and I urge all of you to come check it out. More information is available at www.saltaf.org.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Still room in the Filardi and Jones courses ... plus the hint of a Big Announcement

If you have not yet applied for the screenwriting course with megasuccessful writer/producer Jason Filardi or the fiction course with Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Edward P. Jones, it is not too late -- but please apply immediately! The form for these sections of 182 can be found here.

We need your completed application as soon as possible because we'll be making a decision very soon. If you don't take the Edward P. Jones course and are eligible to do so ... well, what are you thinking? The man has a Pulitzer prize. The Known World is one of the best novels this department chair has ever read. He is a kind, generous, and dedicated teacher. You will never have a chance like this again. Also, you will learn in the next few weeks why your being in the class will make most of your GW classmates extremely jealous: let me just say that a Campus Wide Read on a scale never attempted at this university and many attendant festivities are soon to be announced...

Spring courses on Screenwriting and Fiction

If you are a current undergraduate and have not yet submitted your application for our special "Screenwriting" (Jason Filardi) or "Fiction" (Edward P. Jones) courses (English 182 for spring 2009), please do so immediately. We hope to announce decisions by the end of the week.

Due to a glitch, several people were allowed to register for both these courses already. If you were one of them, please drop the course right away. They are open only via departmentally vetted, competitive enrollment.

Jim Miller Awarded Fulbright to Teach in South Africa

Jim Miller, the chair of American Studies and a very popular professor of English (he is widely regarded as the sanest member of the department, but that might not be saying all that much) will spend the spring semester at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where he will lecture on and research black Atlantic literature. Professor Miller is one of five GW faculty who were awarded a Fulbright fellowship this year. This prestigious program allows US faculty to teach abroad, and brings foreign faculty to the United States. Congratulations, Jim, on this impressive honor.

Meanwhile back at GW, our own students have been benefiting immensely from the presence of Vanashree Banerjee of Banaras Hindu University (India), who is teaching with us through the Fulbright program.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Rome Review in the Hatchet

[excellent photo by Josh Wolf]
English major and department office favorite person Tarek Al-Hariri is featured in The Hatchet. The article is about the Rome Review, a new literary journal of great promise.

And if you are a current English major and wonder how you too might become a "department office favorite person" like Tarek, let it be known that bribery works quite swiftly to earn you that status. Tarek gave us a box of cookies from Firehook bakery today. Wouldn't you like to follow in his foot steps? Doesn't that sound like a good idea? We like the "Presidential Sweet" and "Espresso Chew." Just saying.

Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, "Death and the Subaltern"


This Thursday at 6 PM in Rome 771. All are welcome.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Alumnus Update: Madhur Bansal


2005 graduate Madhur Bansal provides the GW English blog with this biography:

After graduating from GW in 2005, I served in the Americorps VISTA program for one year as a Development Assistant with a non-profit organization, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). SAALT’s mission is to increase civic participation among South Asian Americans and advocate on the national level on issues that impact the South Asian American community, such as comprehensive immigration reform. My work at SAALT exposed me to public policy and inspired me to learn more about its development and impact on people’s lives.

I have served as Staff Assistant for Congressman Elijah Cummings for the past 18 months. I provide constituent services in Congressman Cummings’ Baltimore City district office in the areas of employment, healthcare and transportation. The skills I developed as an English major are vital to providing excellent constituent service. I have to be able to communicate effectively when I speak with constituents or represent Congressman Cummings at community meetings. I also organize district events such as an annual job fair and a health fair to provide direct assistance to constituents. I use the skills I cultivated at GW every single day when I analyze constituent requests, communicate with federal agencies, and plan events.

English proved to be a versatile degree because it helped me to cultivate analytical, critical thinking, and writing skills. My GW training helped me develop the ability to express my thoughts in a concise, persuasive, and thoughtful manner. Majoring in English also taught me to be patient and focused whether it was learning to revise a paper several times, attempting to wrap my head around the theories of Derrida or trying to understand Chaucer’s Middle English. I had to learn not to simply give up when I did not understand something right away.

I had a wonderful experience with the English Department. I learned about the works of several authors from varying time periods. I especially enjoyed reading thought-provoking novels rather than the dry textbooks of other disciplines. Though I have to admit that when I first signed up for Medieval Literature, I was expecting it to be boring, but Professor Cohen made it one of the most interesting and engaging classes that I took at GW. Professor Cohen has a way of highlighting themes and breaking down texts in such a way that they are relevant and pull you into their narrative. I also enjoyed the courses I took with Professor Daiya on Post Colonial Literature as well as African American Literature with Professor Miller.

I am planning on attending graduate school in the next few years and possibly focusing on the area of public policy. I never would have pictured myself doing what I am doing now but I am enjoying it. Everyday is a challenge and I never know what people are going to ask us to assist them with, but I know that I can draw upon the skills I developed at GW to help tackle the task at hand.

Congratulations to Madhur on all her success after graduating!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Musty books? We're all over that: Folger Seminar featured in GW Research Magazine

From the latest edition of Research & Discovery:

In an extraordinary seminar that started last fall, The George Washington University and the Folger Shakespeare Library, one of the world’s premier independent research institutions, are offering a book history course exclusively for GW undergraduates. The semester-long class is an unprecedented opportunity for senior humanities majors interested in early modern or medieval studies to work with the library’s centuries-old texts—a right normally reserved only for graduate or post-doctoral researchers.

During weekly, three-hour classes, students study with a Folger scholar to learn how early books were made, the role they played in shaping culture, and how the medium of print and its reproduction shape a text’s meaning. Part of the course focuses on properly handling the fragile books; unlike other undergraduate book history classes that must use photos or digital reproductions, this course allows GW students to get up-close and personal with texts. They can touch the holes left by bookworms, finger the leaves of faded paper, and study the fonts and illustrations that make the books unique. The seminar, say students and professors alike, is an unparalleled opportunity for scholarship and discovery.

“It’s really one of a kind. There is no other university in the United States or anywhere in the world that can offer this because no other university has that connection to the Folger,” says professor Jeffrey Cohen, chairman of GW’s English department and the seminar’s University coordinator. “We want the students to be challenged, we want them to grow, and we want them to appreciate that they have something very few people have the chance to experience.”

Outside of the organized class, the students have readership rights at the Folger for the full academic year. With their own library cards, they can access the vast collection of more than 256,000 books, 60,000 manuscripts, and 250,000 playbills at the building on Capitol Hill. For some, such as Rohrbach and seniors Chris Pugh and Phil Getz, the privilege allowed them to pursue original research, which they presented to Folger staff and GW’s Board of Trustees last spring.

GW and the Folger have had a long, thriving relationship. The University was a charter member in the library’s advanced study center, the Folger Institute, when it started in 1970, and GW today is one of more than 40 colleges and universities in the world involved in the consortium. For the past decade, the University also has helped finance the Folger publication and scholarly journal Shakespeare Quarterly. Many of the University’s professors have tapped into the library’s wealth of materials while creating connections: Gail Kern Paster, an English professor at GW for nearly 30 years, became the Folger Shakespeare Library’s director in 2002.

To help celebrate the Folger’s 75th anniversary in fall 2007, Dr. Paster says library staff wanted to focus on more educational outreach. The Folger had programs for elementary, middle, and high school students, teachers, and graduate researchers—but nothing for undergraduate college students.

“We could see what was obviously missing,” she says. Dr. Paster turned to the university and the students she knew best. She coordinated the seminar with then-Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Dean William Frawley and today continues to work with Dean PegLink Barratt. GW and the Folger have agreed to continue funding the seminar through 2013. Dr. Paster, who taught Shakespeare and the history of drama at GW, says the course’s emphasis on original texts has made it particularly meaningful to students of an online era.

“I think it’s a greater challenge in the humanities to introduce students to the excitement of archival research,” Dr. Paster says. But the seminar “has fostered love of the book as a historical object. That’s part and parcel of our mission as a library, especially in the technology age.”

Read the article in its entirety here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Two courses to keep in mind for Spring 2009

Please keep in mind the two competitive-admission courses we are offering for the spring:

1. Screenwriting with Jason Filardi (Filardi is a GW English alumnus, and the writer of several scripts for comedies that have grossed in the millions)

2. Fiction Writing with Edward P. Jones (Jones won the Pulitzer in 2004 for The Known World, and is our Wang Visiting Professor in the spring).

Applications for both these courses are available in the English Department main office, and require submission of a writing sample. We'd like to have all applications in hand by Friday November 7.

For current majors: pre-1800 courses for spring 2009

We've had many questions about whether Patrick Cook's "Shakespeare on Film" (English 129) and Jonathan Hsy's "Histories of the English Language" (179.11) count as pre-1800 courses for the major. The answer in both cases is YES, and both are terrific courses. Professor Cook's class has long been offered and is a perennial student favorite. Professor Hsy's is a brand new and absolutely excellent new class: highly recommended.

Other options for the pre-1800 in the spring are Hsy's Chaucer (112), Shakespeare (the two 128s), and Ormond Seavey's Literature and Authority (132), the only American literature class that counts for pre-1800 credit.

"Touching the Past" Symposium Friday

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

English 40W Spring 2009: Myths of Britain

English 40W: Myths of Britain
Spring Semester 2009
Jeffrey J. Cohen

Much great English literature turns out not to be so English after all: the action of the epic Beowulf unfolds in Scandinavia; King Arthur was a Welsh king before he was an English one; Shakespeare's Tempest takes place on an island in the Mediterranean, but the play is also about the colonization of the New World.

"Myths of Britain" looks at early English literature within a transnational frame. Students will enjoy literary works like Seamus Heaney's version of Beowulf; Simon Armitage's new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Marie de France's poetic stories of lycanthropy and tragic love; multiple versions of the King Arthur myths; and two Shakespeare plays, King Lear and The Tempest.

Class meets in a lecture format every Monday (11:10-12:25), and in smaller sections each Wednesday.

This is a challenging course that satisfies the WID requirement.

“Myths of Britain” is open to all students regardless of major, provided they are willing to work hard at their writing, to hone their close reading skills, and to learn how wide the world really was in the medieval and early modern periods.
[South-oriented map of the world drawn by the Moroccan cartographer al-Idrisi for King Roger of Sicily, 1154: from here]

Monday, November 3, 2008

Alumnus Update: Jason Fillardi


Jason Fillardi, who will be teaching a course on screenwriting next semester, provides the GW English blog with this brief biography:
"Jason Filardi grew up in Mystic, Connecticut and now resides in Los Angeles, California. But before moving to LA, he spent four of the best years of his life studying English at the George Washington University. After graduating in 1993, he packed up his car and headed west to pursue his dream of becoming a screenwriter.

Jason made his debut in Hollywood with the box office hit BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE which starred Steve Martin and Queen Latifah. That film went on to become one of the highest grossing comedies of 2003.

Since then Jason has become one of the industries go to screenwriters. He has done rewrites and polishes on a variety of high profile projects including THE PACIFIER starring Vin Diesel, EIGHT BELOW starring Paul Walker, the Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence, and John Travolta ensemble comedy WILD HOGS and most recently the Disney hit BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAUA.

Additionally, Jason flexed his dramatic chops writing and exec. producing the South African set drama “DRUM.” The true story starring Taye Diggs follows a South African journalist whose work sparks the 1950’s anti-apartheid movement.

Jason currently is writing the remake of the classic Cary Grant comedy TOPPER which has Steve Martin attached to star. He’s also penning a comedy for Lionsgate Films, a comedy for Disney and his original comedy, 17 AGAIN, opens nationwide on April 17, 2009. Zac Efron of Disney’s HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and HAIRSPRAY fame stars in the film.

Now Jason is getting the opportunity to realize another dream…teaching. He will be coming back to his beloved University for the spring 2009 semester to share his knowledge and experience of screenwriting with interested GW students."

Clearly, GW students have a lot to look forward to next semester!

Congratulations to Joe Fisher ...

... who was nominated for the parent choice award at this year's GW Service Excellence Celebration. Joe was described in the nomination letter as an "invaluable resource" for his capacity as a Learning Specialist in GW's Office of Disability Support Services. Congratulations, Joe!

Nalini Natarajan: "Atlantic Gandhi, Caribbean Gandhian"


Coming this Thursday to Rome 771. All are welcome!