Wednesday, April 29, 2009

T Shirt Tuesday: Success!

[illustration: gang of festive t-shirt wearers in English Department main office. Note the angelic backlight that illuminates all who wear our official shirt.]

So Christina Katopodis took us literally: she sent a picture of her GW English T shirt on a houseplant -- a shrub named "Gertrude" (though wouldn't it make more sense to name a rosebush Gertrude?). You can view the pictures we have gathered so far here. Please send more, if you have them.

Thank you, everyone, who participated!

H. G. Carrillo, "Andalucía"

The latest issue of Conjunctions ("The Death Issue: Writers Meditate in Fiction, Essays, and Poetry on the Inevitable") features a short story entitled “Andalucía” by our own H. G. Carrillo.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

5 Year BA/MA Program in English

The Five Year BA/MA Program allows GW English majors to earn both a BA and an MA in English within 5 years of study. The dual degree allows exceptionally strong and motivated students to move into advanced work early, to earn an expedited graduate degree, and to continue literary research with particularly helpful mentors.

Eligibility and admission:
  • All students admitted to the English Honors Program are eligible to apply for the BA/MA as well.
  • Interested students complete a short (one-page) application and commit to the dual degree during spring of their junior year
  • Admission does not require GRE scores, but students should be aware that further graduate study or transfer to another programme would require GREs
  • The MA portion of the program consists of 10 graduate English courses and the comprehensive exam
  • 2 of the 10 graduate courses may be taken during senior year and will count for both the BA and the MA
  • • These 2 graduate courses may be used to fulfill distribution requirements for the English major
  • The remaining 8 courses may be taken during the summer after completing undergraduate degree and the fifth year in the dual degree program
For more information, please contact Professor Marshall Alcorn ( ).

Monday, April 27, 2009

T-Shirt Tuesday is TUESDAY

You know how on Saint Patrick's Day you may pinch anyone not wearing green? On T Shirt Tuesday you may pinch anyone not wearing a GW English Department Official T Shirt.

That would be tomorrow, if you are reading this today. Show some pride, demonstrate your sophistication, and make political science majors feel excluded by donning your official GW English T-Shirt.

Send us a picture of you, your friends, your pets, your houseplants wearing GW English sartorial splendor and we'll put them up on the blog (email pics to jjcohen[at]gwu[dot]com).

WEAR YOUR SHIRT TOMORROW. You will gain good karma, you will reduce carbon emissions, you will please your professors so much that they might excuse you from final examinations and even accept late papers.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The English Department Thanks ...

... its recent benevolent, awesome, outstanding, pure of heart, righteous, sophisticated, godlike donors. Among those who have contributed to our department's mission recently are:
  • Courtney Wang (2007)
  • Olga Tsyganova (2007)
  • Jenny Anne Burkholder (1993)
I find it especially heartening when our recent alumni donate -- especially because I suspect they are still paying off their student loans.

If you would like to make a donation of your own, you may use a credit card and contribute via this link. Please ensure that you designate your contribution for the ENGLISH DEPARTMENT. You may also mail your contribution.

THANK YOU, again. Your generosity ensures that great things happen in the English Department.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Edward P Jones Library Reception

In connection with the presence of novelist Edward P. Jones on campus this semester, English Department graduate students Constance Woodard and Elizabeth Pitman and Gelman librarian Jennifer Kinniff have mounted a new exhibit in Gelman Library. The exhibit is titled A Kind of Map of Life: The Fiction of Edward P. Jones and it explores the connections between Jones work and the history of African Americans in Washington, DC. Follow this link for further information.

Please come to a reception on Wednesday, April 29th to honor Edward P. Jones, to mark the exhibit, and to thank those who so skillfully mounted the exhibit: 5 PM in Café G on the ground floor of Gelman Library.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


You read about it at Ducks and What They Do. Now come attend the small, just for you last reading by Edward P. Jones.

Wednesday 4/22 in Phillips 411

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Personal Invitation from the Department Chair to Wednesday's Event

You may have heard that we have decided to celebrate the successful residency of Edward P. Jones in GW's English Department with neither a bang nor whisper, but with what might be called a whispered bang.

Admittedly that does not sound right.

So let's just say that we are holding an event that does not attempt to fill a three hundred seat auditorium. We have not invited the president. Indeed if Knapp shows up we will shoo him away. We've asked Edward P. Jones to read from his short stories. We've reserved an intimate venue: Phillips 411 (Academic Center). We hope that you will join us on Wednesday 4/22 at 5 PM. This is the last event of the residency ... and we want you to join us in savoring it.

See you soon.

Policy on Transfer of Credits for English Majors

The following policy about transfer of course credit for English majors goes into effect in the fall semester of 2009. The thinking behind the new rule is simple: taking an upper division English literature course at a local community college is likely not the same as taking an upper division English literature course at GW.

Please note that this new policy has no impact on the number of courses you can transfer for GW credit outside of requirements for the major, and does not impact study abroad.

Please let me know if you have any questions.


The English Department of the George Washington University believes that a well educated major is intimately familiar with the department's courses and its faculty. All upper-division English classes must therefore be taken at GW for credit in the major, with the exception of coursework taken at a consortium university or approved study abroad.

This rule applies to summer classes (except those taken abroad), and applies to transfer students only after they enroll at GW.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Your Homework Assignment for This Weekend

1. Go to this film, and thereby support GW English alumnus Jason Filardi.

2. Enjoy with some popcorn.

3. Tell your professor on Monday that the reason you didn't get all your reading done is that the department chair commanded you to see an enjoyable film with popcorn on the side, and can you please not only be excused for being unprepared but could you also have some extra credit for supporting GW English alumnus Jason Filardi?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Josie Price Wins Student Poetry Contest

The Department of English is pleased to announce that Josie Price has won the first annual Student Poetry Contest for her piece "Floor-Scrapers." Josie will be awarded a prize of $500. We also expect her to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and/or a Pulitzer some day.

The competition garnered forty-one excellent poems, and we thank everyone who submitted ... and we also encourage all those who composed a poem for the contest to keep writing.

Here, for your enjoyment, is Josie's prize winning poem.

You can’t see any of their eyes in this
oil painting—they weren’t brushed in—the three
floor scrapers keep those hidden, heads bowed, their

faces faded into shadows, features
little more than a few careful touches:
lighter browns and pastel almond neutrals

for their sweaty brows. The three men are what
honest, urban labor is—they are not
scrapers, but rowers: plowing water, caught

between shaved waves of piled sawdust, curled
collected scraps of wood flakes, freshly peeled
from the boards like lumber hangnails, furled

into thick, crumbling hills in the landscape
of flat plains, the landscape of wooden planks.
The men are like ships, great hovering shapes,

their shirtless backs wan sails pressed by the wind,
cupped and hunching bodies with arms and hands
outstretched before them, their tools like oars—and

rib bones show through the flesh of their backs like
a boat’s own fragile skeleton. Sunlight
from a Parisian window paints noon light

into the hot, humid room, poured but un-
filtered through spaces in the coiled design,
nineteenth-century brass. There is just one

window, flanked by aged walls the color of
grey-blue robin’s eggs—but darker, they have
dirty turquoise shadows to them—above

pools of the sky’s light blue-white reflection
and the dark wood’s uncovered pale nude skin.
A factory exhales outside. Then,

is that a cigarette in the first one’s
mouth? A wedding ring on the middle one’s
finger?—You can almost see the last one’s

eyes, with his face tilted up and over
from the dimness. The floor scrapers, covered
with sun, work in silence and forever.

GW, Starbucks, and so on

Did you read this in The Hatchet? Haven't I been saying something like this for a long time? Give Sol Café that fishbowl lounge thing and let's have some poetry readings there.

Michael Chabon Tapped to Revise Screenplay: Coincidence or Foreshadowing?

If you were paying close attention during Michael Chabon's public reading last month, you would have caught a reference to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel The Gods of Mars in the second story he read, “First First Father.” In the story, Chabon compared his experience to the unknowability of a nine color spectrum, which is experienced by the natives of Mars but cannot be visualized by humans. Chabon also commented on his experience with book-to-film adaptations.

If you remember this, then it may not surprise you to learn the following: Chabon is now working on a script for John Carter of Mars, a Disney-produced adaptation of Burroughs’ Martian series of novels.

A Chabon fansite has confirmed the news. Said Chabon, "I've been hired to do some revisions to an already strong script by Andrew Stanton and Mark Andrews. I wrote my original screenplay The Martian Agent back in 1995 because I wished I could do Burroughs's Barsoom. So this is pretty much a dream come true for me."

The film is being helmed by Andrew Stanton, the writer and director of PIXAR's Finding Nemo and WALL-E. I'm glad to see a classic of science fiction being developed by the able minds of Chabon and Stanton.

Side Note: During his GW interview, Chabon expressed trepidation towards adaptations of his own work, but was open to the idea of adapting others'. His first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, recently enjoyed a limited release in the United States but has not been favorably reviewed. Chabon did not adapt the screenplay himself. According to Metacritic, the films averaged a score of 38 / 100 (generally negative) from major media outlets. Rotten Tomatoes is less kind with an average of 10% fresh, and users of IMDb are more enthusiastic with a 5.1 / 10. Roger Ebert gave the film two out of four stars.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


All friends of the GW English Department (and if you are reading this, you are our friend) are invited to the


The event will be held not in a cavernous auditorium, but a comfortable room in the Academic Center

Wednesday April 22 at 5 PM Phillips 411

one week from today

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tammy Greenwood-Stewart at Bethesda Barnes & Noble

Come hear popular creative writing teacher, novelist, and all around excellent person Tammy Greenwood-Stewart read from her latest work as part of the Bethesda Literary Festival. Information here and here. The reading will take place this Sunday, April 19, at 3 PM.

The Bethesda Barnes & Noble is a short walk from the Bethesda Metro (red line).

Check out Tammy's photo blog as well, Ephemera Files. If you've noticed the beautiful black and white picture of a ruined car we have hanging in the English Department main office ... well, that is one of Tammy's many striking works.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Has Died

Queer theorist extraordinaire Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has died at the age of 59.

I've been teaching her work since I came to GW in 1994. Though most of my graduate school friends were turned on to her work by Between Men and Epistemology of the Closet, my favorite of her early volumes was the second that I read, the essay collection Tendencies. Reading through those genre-bending essays convinced me that there was almost nothing that Sedgwick could not make me see anew. And isn't that what queer theory is all about?

From "White Glasses," an essay in Tendencies, here are a few sentences in which Sedgwick speaks about cancer, femininity, the body, and the complexities of sexual identity:
One of the first things I felt when I was facing the diagnosis of breast cancer was, "Shit, now I guess I really must be a woman." A lot of what I was responding to was the way the formal and folk ideologies around breast cancer not only construct it as a secret whose sharing defines women as such. All of this as if the most obvious thing in the world were the defining centrality of her breasts to any woman's sense of her gender identity and integrity! This did not happen to be my situation: as a person nonprocreative by choice, and whose sense of femininity, whatever it may consist in, has never been routed through a pretty appearance in the imagined view of heterosexual men -- as a woman moreover whose breast eroticism wasn't strong -- I was someone to whom these mammary globes, though pleasing in myself and in others who sported them, were nonetheless relatively peripheral to the complex places where sexuality and gender identity really happen.


Hey You, Writer! (Michael Fauver Update)

Alumnus Michael Fauver writes:

Hey, You, Writer

I spent almost a year applying to MFA programs in fiction writing, and I learned some things that might help you. Like,

GW is awesome.

Take advantage of the amazing opportunities available here. You're lucky. Not many schools have undergraduate-only creative writing programs. Work hard. Develop relationships with writers. The people who helped me most when I applied for grad school were my GW mentors: Maxine Clair, Tayari Jones, Dan Gutstein, Faye Moskowitz, and Holly Dugan. (Thanks guys!)

Sadly, some professors will talk shit about workshops. Ignore them. You have no use for their closed-mindedness.


After graduation I went to the Yaddo artist colony to write. I'd just finished my CW thesis and still had leftover energy and enthusiasm. The work I produced was decent, but mostly I learned to write on my own. Then I took a break. I didn’t write for six months. I traveled, worked, and read.


When I started writing again, it felt like all my experience and education had finally settled inside me. I wrote and revised with a new sense of confidence and maturity.

Lots of people will tell you not to apply to MFA programs right after graduation. Listen to them.


Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students by Tom Kealey. Buy this book.

The Suburban Ecstasies, No one has more statistical and anecdotal knowledge of MFA programs than Seth Abramson. His blog is indispensable. He even maintains a database of notification dates that shows when a school has started accepting/rejecting its applicants. It's engrossing, it's masochistic, it's wonderful.

Request recommendation letters.

And do it early (like, September). Use online methods if available. For printed forms, fill out as much as you can before sending them to recommenders. Address and stamp the envelopes. These people are doing you (and a lot of others like you) a huge favor.

Polish, polish.

You'll need two finished stories (approximately 30 pages). Show your manuscripts to mentors and friends. Which ones grab them up front? Which ones keep their attention?

Get personal.

Write your personal statement. Don't say shit like "ever since I was a little boy." You're a writer. Write about writing. Do you have a project in mind? A novel or collection? Talk about that. Be formal and friendly. Set it aside for a week. Revise. Show it to the best editor friend you have.


Go for 10(!). Pick schools that can fund you (and not just the top ones). Stay organized. Learn to love Excel. Read instructions carefully (some, like NYU and Columbia, aren't easy). Have a checklist. Submit materials early.

It’s a crapshoot

Not everyone will like your writing. That's life. It sucks.

Visit the schools.

Talk to current students. You might change your mind. In February I was leaning toward Michigan, but nothing could beat the feeling I had when I stepped into the Dey House in Iowa City. You know how sometimes you walk into a place and it feels like home? Yeah, it was like that. Listen to your gut. Take your time. You have until April 15.

You're not going to study with Bill.

Well, you might. But probably not. Your top-choice school might have William Shakespeare on its faculty, but odds are he'll be on sabbatical the semester you're writing your thesis.

Say “thank you.”

To everyone, especially your mentors.

Keep writing.

After you've chosen a school, thousands of things will demand your attention. Write anyway. You're getting an MFA, so hopefully you'll be doing it from here on out. Find a balance between what’s important in your life and what’s stupid.

Michael Fauver graduated from The George Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing in 2007. He has been awarded residencies from Yaddo and The MacDowell Colony. In the fall he will attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he plans to finish his first novel, Why I Won’t Remember Who You Were.

Congratulations to Jason Filardi

The GW English Department congratulates alumnus Jason Filardi on the premiere of his new film 17 Again.

Jason is currently teaching a screenwriting course for 15 lucky GW undergraduates. He is also an incredibly nice guy who happens to be a natural in the classroom.

Good luck with the film, Jason!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Representing India

Speaking of Kavita Daiya, current undergraduates rejoice! After a long leave to research a book in India, Professor Daiya returns to teach this fall. Don't miss this course:

English 173
Representing History: Nation and Romance in Contemporary Indian Literature and Cinema

11:10 am - 12:25 pm TR; Phillips Hall 510

This course explores the 20th and 21st century representation of nation and nationalism, and its relation to love and family in Indian literature and film. Our texts span South Asia and the diaspora in the UK and North America, and put Indian writing in conversation with writings from Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Questions we will explore: How do writers and filmmakers imagine the idea of India? How do they tell the story about a nation's history? How are "Indian" identity and family represented, and what does this tell us about gender, sexuality and power in some South Asian contexts? Topics we will explore include gender, feminism and nationalism; patriotism and cosmopolitanism; ethnic identity and inter-ethnic romance; family, citizenship and belonging; minority, multiculturalism and migration. Writers we will read include Rabindranath Tagore, Salman Rushdie, Shashi Deshpande, Bharati Mukherjee, Jhumpa Lahiri, Bapsi Sidhwa, Shyam Selvadurai and Amitav Ghosh. Films we will view include mainstream Bollywood blockbusters like Yash Chopra’s “Veer Zaara” and Farah Khan’s “Main Hoon Na” as well as South Asian parallel cinema, like Shyam Benegal's "Mammo" and Deepa Mehta’s “Earth.”

Rachel Baird's Poem Published

Check out this alumna's cool blog, and follow the link to her poem in Alive.

Kavita Daiya, on India and Violence

From Verve:
26/11 : A Historical Perspective
Text by Kavita Daiya
Published: Volume 17, Issue 1, January, 2009

When the terrorists struck on 26 November 2008, no one could believe this could be happening to Mumbai, to the people it did, at the places it did. Terrorism in India had until now, largely resulted in poor and working class casualties; it happened in public spaces and institutions, like trains, markets, government hospitals, and even outside Parliament. But the 26/11 attacks simultaneously hit public (train station) and private (five star hotels), working-class (CST porters) and elite (executives and chairmen of multinational companies), Indians but also Americans, British, Israelis and Chinese. They held Mumbai in siege for three days. The deadliest attack on Mumbai since the 1993 bomb blasts. How do we make sense of what many, including the captured terrorist Ajmal Kasab, have called ‘India’s 9/11’? One of the terrorists in the Oberoi Hotel is reported to have told hostages that they saw their act as retaliation for the treatment meted out to Muslims in India since 1947.

And so the 1947 Partition lives on in Indian political life, more than 60 years after it was enacted by our British colonisers, Rushdie once described, as a parting gift. Long after it is over, Partition lives on in Godhra, in Samjhauta, in Malegaon, in 7/11 and now, 26/11. I am particularly interested in how Partition circulates in contemporary political discourse in India; for instance, in their inflammatory rhetoric against Indian Muslims, Hindu nationalists regularly cite the memory of Partition violence to incite ethnic conflict. Now, this same Partition and its aftermath are being used by terrorists to justify their massacre in Mumbai.

There are two pertinent dimensions to the lessons of Partition. Firstly, in and after 1947, no one in the newly formed governments or the British administration was willing to admit the true extent of violence that millions of people had suffered at the time. Official figures, even a decade after, claimed that 200,000 to 300,000 people were killed. Half a century later, we have come to acknowledge the magnitude of the holocaust of 1947: in actuality, approximately two million people died during Partition. Today, the Indian government claims that the 26/11 attacks left 173 dead. Yet, we already know that a much bigger tragedy has occurred than is being spoken: for example, on the fourth day of the attacks, while clearing the Taj, firemen reported removing 160 dead bodies from there alone. Surely, we must not wait for decades, like we did in the case of Partition, to acknowledge the true number of people who lost their lives in this carnage? Sms-es circulating in Mumbai assert that at least 1,000-1,500 people have died. By not officially acknowledging the deaths of all those who died, we erase their existence and strip them of their humanity. We fail to mourn them, and in that, we devalue their lives. We must recognise and honor all those who died in the 26/11 attacks, today.

Secondly, we can learn much from Partition survivors who paid the true price for India’s freedom. They did not step back from taking on the government they felt had failed to protect them. I have been struck by how many Partition survivors who lost homes, family and friends describe their alienation from the Indian state, which they feel did nothing to protect or help them. For instance, think of Amar Devi Gupta, a Kashmiri Hindu from the Poonch area, who describes her experience when she flees to a refugee camp in Srinagar when Pakistan attacked Kashmir in 1948. Her violent anger at the elite Indian politicians is palpable in her writing. When Jawaharlal Nehru visited her refugee camp, she angrily slapped him for the failure of the Indian nation-state to protect Kashmir, which led to thousands dying in the Pakistani attack. Later, although offered the headship of the Red Cross in Kashmir, a disillusioned Gupta who had lost many family members in the war left India with her brother permanently – first for Kenya, and later the UK in 1955.

The same furious anger at the nation’s failure burns within every Mumbaikar today. I hear it today in survivor Shruti Jalan-Narang, who lost her husband and parents-in-law in the 26/11 attacks, and who cried: “I don’t think I belong to this country anymore. The government has done nothing for us.” She also said, “I am ashamed to be called an Indian today.” Partition survivors’ anger never turned into a political movement in India, but let us today mobilize our anger about 26/11 to initiate change. An affluent South Mumbai resident urged her friend: “We, people like us who have the time and resources, need to step up now. The common man who travels through CST has to return to his job day after day to feed his family. So it is up to us—we have the leisure and the resources—to do something.” Right now, very little has changed in terms of state action towards increased public safety; some bloggers have noted that 26/11 may well have been just a “probing attack” for a bigger one to come. So how long will it take for us to make Mumbai safer? Will new, stronger Indian women emerge to lead the way?

In many ways, what happened in Mumbai on 26/11/2008 resembles what happened in New York on 9/11/2001. I was living in Washington DC when the September 11 attacks occurred. I vividly recollect the surreal electronic replay of horrifying scenes of fire and death at the WTC, the numbing sense of shock, and finally, the anger. In 2007, I moved to Mumbai to record on digital video the memories and experiences of senior Partition survivors in India. Living in Mumbai, so intimately familiar with places the terrorists would mercilessly render bloody, the attack of 26/11 felt to me like the violence of 9/11 I had witnessed. A new type of urban warfare, both attacks were multi-pronged fidayeen attacks on landmark buildings in city centers that were iconic institutions and architectural embodiments of each nation’s economic power as well as multicultural identity; both attacks aimed to cause maximum casualties in multiple spaces simultaneously, and to attack the nation’s elite. Moreover, the terrorists’ demand for US and UK citizens when they took hostages also yoked 26/11 to 9/11 and the devastating war waged on Iraq. The targeting of Israelis at Nariman House connected us to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Thus, a globalized war was inflicted onto Mumbai.

But unlike after 9/11, the mass protests that took place on 5 December 2008 at the Gateway of India signal a different movement. Between 100,000 and 200,000 united Mumbaikars, across class, age and community, spoke loud and clear: 26/11 has been made possible by the corruption and rot within India, by its criminalised political class and failed bureaucracy. Although many have cried “war”, many more have cried “peace” and proposed Gandhian civil disobedience as a collective response. Mumbai’s elite ironically acknowledged that it is because the terrorists have attacked their haunts, people like them, that they were shaken from apathy: the violence had become too intimate. Even as Mumbai saluted its heroes like Karkare, Kamte, Saluskar, and Unnikrishnan who sacrificed their lives, it’s ordinary and angry citizens also spoke through shouting signs: enough is enough. The politicians who procure defective bullet-proof jackets, who destroy the lives of honest police officers, who serve themselves instead of the people they represent, have to change or go.

How many Partitions?
India’s Partition survivors have shown a remarkable ability to remember and honour their past, and yet to avoid ethnic hatred in retaliation for their immeasurable losses. They have a complex understanding of the time, and many attribute their displacement and loss to the political games played by elite politicians, British, Pakistani and Indian. As one survivor told me, “When my brother recently visited our old house in Hyderabad, oh the warmth with which he was received by the locals, the Sindhi Muslims! But it’s the politics which come in the way.” This forbearance and wisdom are key. Today, many of the angry voices speaking on TV (“Shame, shame politicians”) and through protest banners (‘Against terrorism, we are all one’) also recognise that terror has no religion. Unlike the American jingoism that led to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, India’s difference, and the difference of 26/11, must be in our secular movement towards peace and security, towards the honesty of every political representative and the value of every human life.

Kavita Daiya teaches at George Washington University, and is the author of Violent Belongings: Partition, Gender and National Culture in Postcolonial India

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Final Edward P. Jones Event: April 22, and Just for YOU

The parade of Pulitzers passing through the Jack Morton Auditorium has been great: Edward P. Jones at his inaugural reading, Michael Chabon, Art Spiegelman. We love that 300 people could fill the seats of that vast space and attend these talks. That these were standing room only made us all the more pleased that we could bring these authors to so many people.

But we also love to do things for a smaller (and to us) more important community, the students and friends of the GW English Department. For this reason we have decided that the FINAL EDWARD P. JONES READING AT GW will be held not in some vast auditorium, but a more intimate venue ... and that the event will be for that smaller community we're talking about.

So come hear Edward P. Jones read from his short stories on Wednesday April 22 at 5 PM in Phillips 411. Don't tell your friends. It'll be just us and Edward.
Because, you know, we do all this for you.

Mark Samuels Lasner at the Corcoran

Oscar Gives Himself Away:
Reading Wilde’s Presentation Copies

Mark Samuels Lasner
Lecture & Reception
Friday, April 24th, 3 p,m.
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Armand Hammer Auditorium
500 17th Street N.W.
Washington, D.C.
Mark Samuels Lasner is a recognized authority on the literature and art of the Victorian period. A graduate of Connecticut College, he has served as an honorary curator at several institutions and is active in numerous bibliophile and scholarly organizations. His life’s work has, however, been the amassing of what Mr. Samuels Lasner calls “A Period Library,” one of the country’s foremost private collections of books, manuscripts, letters, and artworks by British cultural figures who flourished between 1850 and 1900. The materials in his collection—particularly those relating to Aubrey Beardsley, Max Beerbohm, Oscar Wilde, and other writers and artists of the 1890s—have provided the basis for numerous publications and exhibitions. Mr. Samuels Lasner is Senior Research Fellow at the University of Delaware Library, which now houses the larger portion of his collection.

Co-sponsored by the Corcoran College of Art + Design and the George Washington University’s English Department and its Wang Endowed Fund in English Literature & Literary Studies

Saturday, April 4, 2009

On Pulitzer Prizes and Comic Books

Mention the Pulitzer Prize, and you’ll conjure images of a weathered novelist, scowling over the rim of his snifter. If the Pulitzer laureates at GW are any indication, however, a comic book sketch is a more accurate image.

In the span of two weeks, the GW English Department has hosted Michael Chabon and Art Spiegelman, two literary icons better known for their associations with comic books and graphic novels than for artistic pretensions. Spiegelman won a Pulitzer Prize Special Award for Maus, a memoir presented as a graphic novel. Chabon won his for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, a novel set during the Golden Age of comic books. Both use comics to explore the struggles of Jewish characters.

Chabon is a true geek, judging by the references he dropped into his March 23rd interview with Professor Faye Moskowitz. His knowledge extends from the basics of geekdom––mylar sleeves and Dick Grayson––to the details of Captain America Issue 1, with cover art depicting the Captain slugging Hitler. He knows that Jacob Kurtzberg is the real name of Jack Kirby, creator of Captain America and other heroes. He remembers The Simpsons episode where Grandpa Simpson almost assassinates Hitler, and he likes the work of Ursula K. Le Guin. Anyone who uses weblog tags as a metaphor for stereotyping is okay by me. I don’t think he would mind being known as a geek, so long as that label was accompanied by “Jewish-American author,” “Pulitzer Prize-winner,” and others.

In the spirit of Maus and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I’d like to recommend a graphic novel that has made mainstream headlines recently, and has long been revered by fans of comics and science fiction. In early March, Warner Bros. released Watchmen, a Zack Snyder film based on the 1986-1987 graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The film might have gotten mediocre reviews, but I assure you that the novel is an exemplar of the form. Read Watchmen for its detailed illustrations, its cliche-defying plot, and its complex characters. At the very least, you should read it to find out why it was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 best novels of all time.

Watchmen, like any outstanding work, is better experienced than summarized. Suffice to say, it does not focus on violence, though it does feature murder; it does not focus on damsels in distress, though there is romance; there are no sidekicks, though there are subplots; there is no convenient battle of good vs. evil, though there is good and there is evil (maybe). Watchmen might not make you a devotee of graphic novels––its the first and only one I’ve ever read––but it can appeal to everyone if you approach it with an open mind.

I hope you will ignore its singular, restrictive label, or embrace its many disparate labels. I hope you’ll give Watchmen a chance. If you are brave enough to read about Jewish comic book authors, Yiddish settlements in Alaska, or view drawings of mice and cats representing Jews and Germans, you surely have the chutzpah to try conspiracy theories, cynical comedians, and a naked blue man.

P.S. My Michael Chabon photos are online.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Poet Lytton Smith TODAY @ 4 PM

Come hear Lytton Smith deliver a talk entitled "The Unending Medieval and the Edges of Poetry" and read from his work. Details here.

And, for your poetry reading pleasure, here is movement III of Smith's sequence "Monster Theory," from The All-Purpose Magical Tent. (I can't get the spacing to work out so I've ruined the careful typographical layout of the poem, unfortunately)

An imagination of cartographers
A fumbling of daughters An aloneness of [monsters]
A warmongering of sons
A body of woodsmen A liminality of [monsters]

A confusion of daughters An expectance of hermits
A body of townswomen
A luminosity of torchbearers An affection of hermits

A deconstruction of record-keepers
A secondsight of burghers
A hic est monstrum of [monsters] A faraway of [monsters]
A one town over of [monsters]

Jamaica Kinkead @ the Smithsonian, 4/11

Internationally acclaimed novelist Jamaica Kincaid will appear on Saturday, April 11, as the second speaker in this spring’s American Pictures Distinguished Lecture Series, a joint program of Washington College, the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The American Pictures series offers a highly original approach to art, pairing great works with leading figures of American culture. This spring's all-star line-up includes Kincaid, iconic filmmaker John Waters (who appeared March 21), presidential historian Harold Holzer (April 18) and /New Yorker/ cartoonist Roz Chast (April 26). Each speaker chooses a single powerful image and investigates its meanings, revealing how artworks reflect American identity and inspire creativity in many different fields. The series director is historian and essayist Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the college's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.

Born in Antigua, Kincaid has made a lasting mark on the literary history of both the Caribbean and her adopted country, the United States. She was a staff writer at /The New Yorker/ from 1976 until 1995, and in 2004 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her many works of fiction and nonfiction include /Annie John /(1985), /A Small Place /(1988), /The Autobiography of My Mother/ (1996), and, most recently, /Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalayas/ (2005). As her subject for the American Pictures talk, Kincaid has chosen "Kept In," Edward Lamson Henry's poignant 1889 painting of an African-American schoolgirl.

Her April 11 lecture, which is free and open to the public, will take place at 4:30 p.m. at the Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, 8th and F Sts., N.W., Washington, D.C., in the National Portrait Gallery's and Smithsonian American Art Museum's McEvoy Auditorium. Tickets are available in the G Street lobby of the Reynolds Center, beginning at 3:30 p.m. No reservations are necessary for the general public.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Art Spiegelman TONIGHT

Do not miss Art Spiegelman tonight at 7 PM in the Jack Morton Auditorium (SMPA).

Tonight's event concludes the series of writers making presentations at GW through the "Jewish Literature Live" program. The series was generously funded by David Bruce Smith.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

English Department Chair Resigns to Take Up Post at Knowlidge U

The Chair of the English Department resigned today to accept a job as provost of a newly formed online degree granting entity called Knowlidge U.

"I will miss my colleagues, but not the ones who take too much chocolate from our department candy bowl, or the ones who make me look bad because they are better teachers," Jeffrey J. Cohen said. "I will also miss some students. There are others I will not miss. You know who you are."

Cohen claims that his new title is "Assistant Provost for Flow" ("flow" is a term used in online university parlance to designate the relationship between students enrolled and cash bonuses generated for administrators). Knowlidge U grants degrees in almost six hundred subjects and, for the proper enrollment fee, gives credit for life experiences. Their website gives this example: "Say you once read Mark Twain's classic novel Tom Sawyer in sixth grade and produced a small diorama of the fence painting scene using Lego bricks. We will put Introduction to American Literature on your transcript for $36.99."

"Students don't want to sit in boring classrooms with a boring professor talking about boring books," Professor Cohen observed. "They want to skim Wikipedia and then submit papers from Starbucks using Twitter. Knowlidge U realizes that fact in a way that the George Washington University does not. Knowlidge U is the future of knowledge knowlidge."

Professor Cohen admits that he will also miss the parade of Pulitzers that have graced the English Department this semester: Edward P. Jones, Michael Chabon, and Art Spiegelman (tomorrow!). But, he says, his new job involves students who log onto Knowlidge U from the convenience of their parent's basement or from the penitentiary to which they have been consigned or from the Starbucks in Gelman Library -- while faculty in various offshore locations who have a passing command of English guide them through the intricacies of Ulysses, Moby Dick, and the oeuvre of Ann Rice. He will miss GW, but when that first paycheck arrives from all the life experience credit he is ready to grant, he will be missing it from his second home in Cancun.

When asked for a comment, President Steven Knapp confided, "I never liked the guy anyway. Good riddance."