Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Catching Up With Alumnus Michael Y. Bennett

English majors are everywhere. They work in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. They work in business, law, public relations, government, development, criminal justice, healthcare, IT, and education. Occasionally they even become English professors.

Alum Michael Bennett is one of those GW English majors who decided he hadn't had enough after earning his BA in 2002. "I loved college so much," he wrote in a recent email, "that I never wanted to leave." Directly after GW, he began an MA/PhD program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, receiving his PhD in English in 2009. (For those of you who know about what academic administrators refer to as time-to-degree," a gap of 7 years between the BA and a PhD in humanities is rather respectable.)

After grad school, Dr. Bennett taught at the University of Hartford and in March, he was hired as Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he'll primarily teach modern drama. He is editing a collection of essays on Oscar Wilde's play Salome and recently published an essay on Tony Kushner's play Homebody/Kabul in the journal Rhizomes. According to Michael, three of his published articles resulted directly from work undertaken in undergraduate classes at GW. For example, a piece on Jorge Luis Borges's “The Library of Babel,” was written, revised, completed, and submitted during his senior year under the supervision of Prof. Robert McRuer.

Michael has advice for English majors considering the PhD. "Times are tough: there is no denying it," he writes. "If you are thinking about going into academia, know the odds" of landing a tenure-track position in your field. "The same advice goes to those who do not pursue academia, but leave GW with an English major: your degree has provided you with, not (necessarily) a vocation, but an excellent education." (We say: Amen to that.)

Michael tells this lovely story about a memorable class during tough times:
My first class after 9/11 was Prof. Cohen’s “Chaucer.” He started class, as he commonly does, with a handout. This particular handout was the Old English poem, “The Wanderer.” The poem is about an exiled warrior who remembers his past glories and meditates on his current sorrows. A day after 9/11, everyone felt like wanderers (and many students shed tears while reading this). However, by Prof. Cohen sharing this with us, we were a community of wanderers: enabling us to emotionally and critically investigate why we and so many people who are deprived in this world feel like wanderers, without a tribe or a place where we can love, be loved, strive, and succeed.

And he describes how, during his junior year studying abroad in Seville, Spain, he made the decision to pursue a PhD:

At the time, I wanted to be an elementary school principal. One night, sitting outside at a Flamenco bar with about seven fellow Americans in my study abroad program, someone brought up (very randomly) how much he hated Beowulf. I asked why, since I loved it in a class taught by Prof. Combs my freshman year. He said he hated that his professor made the entire story about the symbolism of the phallus. I proceeded to tell him, and the seven or so other American juniors, everything that Prof. Combs' taught us about Beowulf. When I finished, this same guy said to me (and the sentiment was echoed by everyone else who was there), "I wish my English professor taught it to me like you just taught it to me. I would have liked Beowulf." So from that point on, largely thanks to those couple of classes taught by Prof. Combs my freshman year, I decided to become an English professor.
We wish Prof. Michael Bennett all the best as he embarks on this next phase of his academic career.

Thanks to Michael for sharing, and look for more GW English alumni news in the debut issue of our fall newsletter, which should be arriving in inboxes in September.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Looking for Fall 2010? Look No Further.

Today I'm reposting information about Prof. Jeffrey Cohen's ENGL 42W: Myths of Britain course for fall 2010. There are still spots left in this class, which meets twice weekly, once for a lecture and once for a break-out session. The class fulfills the English Department prerequisite, and it also satisfies Humanities and WID general curriculum requirements.

Here's what Prof. Cohen has to say about the course:

"Myths of Britain" is meant to be a more exciting and engaging version of the venerable "Introduction to English Literature" class that every university has long had on its books. The course gives English majors a useful background to the field and will challenge you (I hope) to think deeply about how we analyze any text from any period, as well as what tends to vanish when we talk about literary history. We read books slowly and carefully; the class gives you time to linger over rather than skim what's on the syllabus. Everything we read is also quite engaging, from Shakespeare's Tempest to Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf.

I am pasting the course description below. The class has room in it for the fall semester, and I would love to see some more of our English majors in it! The class meets on Mondays at 11.10 for lecture and then breaks into smaller sections Wednesdays:

Please let me know if you have any questions.


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 monarch; 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 the early island within a transnational frame. We explore literature as a way to imagine collective and individual identities, and -- as art -- a vehicle for escaping their constraints. Among our recurring keywords: heroism, monstrosity, community, travel, enjoyment, beauty, creation, art, authorship, sexuality, death.

The mission of this course is threefold:

(1) to give you the chance to hone your writing through the careful analysis of literature within its historical context

(2) to introduce you to contemporary scholarly methods of studying early England within a transnational frame

(3) to explore the relation between narrating the past and bringing about a desired future, paying close attention to who is excluded from this emergent community

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Report Is IN: GW English in 2009-10

I know readers of this blog were eagerly awaiting highlights from the department annual report for 2009-10.

Drum roll, please.

Summary statement: English is a healthy and productive unit that contributes to CCAS and University objectives in teaching, research, and service. Our faculty are highly productive, publishing scholarly and creative writing. As evidenced by course evaluations, students studying English are generally highly satisfied with the quality of the instruction they get, in courses that range from small seminars to lectures, from introductory surveys to highly focused upper-level courses. We are also an energetic department. This year we organized or sponsored an enormous number of events using funds from endowments, donor gifts, and University or department sources. Don't ask me the difference between a colloquium and a symposium; the point is, we had both, as well as panels, talks, and readings!

As at Lake Wobegone, in the English department we are all above average. [File under "English, department of; Lake Wobegone effect"] No, really!

The nitty-gritty: We have 174 majors and 67 minors. Last year we offered almost 3 dozen WID courses (writing-intensive courses to satisfy College requirements) and 10 Deans Seminars (small, focused courses for first-year students only) on topics from Cuba to courtly love, diaries to sonnets to short prose forms. We taught a total of 2,785 students. Three of our majors won major undergraduate research awards from the University (Gamow or Rice awards). Twenty undergraduate students did internships for English credit; 12 wrote English Honors theses; 12 wrote Creative Writing theses.

Here are some of the undergraduate admissions to graduate programs:

* Rajiv Menon was awarded full funding to NYU’s top-ranked Ph.D. program in English
* GW Law School (Amanda Heerwig); NYU law school (Darci Frinquelli)
* Anya Firestone won a 6-week residency in Paris from the Parson’s School of Design; she was also accepted into the M.A. (in contemporary arts) program at Sotheby’s Institute for Art
* Meg Wexler and Cecilia Blute were accepted for the prestigious Teach for America program
* Cecilia Blute was accepted into the M.Ed. program at Johns Hopkins; Katie Riley was accepted into the M.Ed. program at Vanderbilt
* Emma Martin was accepted into the M.A. program in the humanities at the University of Chicago
* Emily Anderson was accepted into the M.A. program in Liberal Studies at the New School, New York
* Sasha Moss was accepted into the M.A. program in English at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland; she also won a full fellowship to attend
* Jessica Yager was accepted into the M.A. program in GW's Graduate School of Education and Human Development
* Alexis Cates will attend medical school
Kathryn Cusma was accepted into Portland State University’s M.A./M.S. in English and book publishing at Portland State University (Kathryn Cusma)
* Elizabeth Lothian was accepted into the MFA (creative writing) program at Rutger's-Newark
* Amy Glynn was accepted into Brandies University’s M.P.P. program

Here are some of the department's unique offerings:

• In fall 2009, Prof. Robert McRuer taught “Transnational Film Studies and LGBTQ Cultures,” which includes a study-abroad component in which students travel to Prague for the International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival; there, they also work closely with their Czech counterparts.

• In fall 2009, English graduate students and undergraduates had the opportunity to study with Prof. José Muñoz, our Wang Visiting Professor in Contemporary Literature. Prof. Muñoz taught ENGL 172, “Performing Race, Sex and Gender,” and ENGL 701, “Public Feelings.”

• In spring 2010, Prof. Faye Moskowitz taught “Jewish Literature Live,” a unique course funded by GWU Alumnus and Trustee (now former Trustee) David Bruce Smith. In this class, 20 students read works by contemporary Jewish writers of note and then have the opportunity to meet with these writers, who visit class and give a public reading of their work. Student appreciation of Prof. Moskowitz’s efforts is very high.

• In spring 2010, several of our English majors availed themselves of the opportunity to take a “History of the Book” seminar at the Folger Shakespeare Library, the preeminent repository of early texts in the United States. Students enrolled in the “Folger Seminar,” as we call it, have access to the Folger holdings normally granted only to high-level researchers with Ph.D.’s.

• In conjunction with the February 2010 residency of Howard Jacobson, an English novelist/journalist who was this year’s British Council Writer-in-Residence, students could enroll for a 1-credit reading course with Jacobson. Students in Jacobson’s class met four times with this internationally renowned writer, reading and discussing his favorite 19th-century British novels.

• In 2009-10, poet Ed Skoog, this year’s Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Washington, taught two creative writing courses for members of the greater Washington DC public. These “community courses” are offered annually, and are enabled by our Jenny McKean Moore Endowment.

• The Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute, which is largely housed in English, hosted a half-day symposium on “Race” which drew on the expertise of scholars in history, American studies, English, and African American studies. This symposium was open to and widely attended by students in ENGL 40W [now ENGL 42W], “Myths of Britain,” taught by Jeffrey Cohen.

We foster a robust research culture--much of it supported by generous gifts to the department--and have several dynamic connections to local institutions:

Through the Wang Endowment in Contemporary Literature: Prof. José Muñoz, Chair and Professor of Performance Studies at NYU, was our second Wang Visiting Professor in Contemporary Literature; he was on campus as a visiting professor teaching two courses in fall 2009. As part of his visiting appointment, Prof. Muñoz brought two visitors to campus, both renowned in their fields: Lisa Dugan, a Professor at New York University, and Nao Bustamente, an internationally known performance artist. The department also celebrated the publication of Prof. Muñoz’s 2009 book Cruising Utopia, with a seminar in his honor.

Prof. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson delivered the inaugural GW English Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies. Her talk was titled, “The Gas Chamber and the Metro: Space, Mobility and Disability.”

Through Jewish Literature Live (a course supported by alumnus David Bruce Smith): The English department hosted major readings by the following writers of note: Ariel Sabar, Dara Horn, Gabriel Brownstein, Rebecca Goldberg, Howard Jacobson, Myla Goldberg

Through the Jenny McKean Moore Endowment: The Moore fund underwrites a variety of very lively and well-attended creative writing programming. In addition to supporting the visits of some of the Jewish Literature Live authors, the Moore fund hosted the following authors of note in major readings: Ed Skoog, Marya Montero, Gregory Pardlo, Lloyd Schwartz.

Other programming associated with the Moore fund included: a Creative Writing potluck (in September), a student reading at Lenthall House (in November), a book party for Tom Mallon (in November), a campus visit by Nao Bustamente (in December; also funded by the Wang Visiting Professorship). The “Jenny 2” readings series sponsors local writers, including GW part-time and full-time faculty.

19th Century Studies Seminar: While interdisciplinary, the 19th-Century Studies Seminar is run by two English faculty, Tara Wallace and Maria Frawley. The Seminar met 6 times this year (3/semester). Highlights included a discussion led by Professor Richard Price (historian from U.Md.); a Kipling panel organized by Prof. Judith Plotz featuring Prof. U.C. Knopflmacher from Princeton; a discussion led by Richard Sha from American University followed by a presentation of his own work; an end of year "finale" in honor of Judtih Plotz with an illustrated guest lecture by Professor Barbara Gates (Univ. of Delaware) and held at the Corcoran.

GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute: GW MEMSI held a total of 12 events this year, including an ongoing research-in-progress seminar; three symposia attended by 50-60 people each, on topics at the cutting edge of early modern/medieval research; and three Gateway Lectures ("Ecocriticism" "The Postcolonial Past" "Urban Space"), each of which introduced a general audience to an important emergent topic and gave more advanced scholars a chance to see what trends are becoming important in the field (attendance at each ranged from 60-80). MEMSI’s spring "Race?" symposium brought together scholars in history, English, African American studies, and American studies. [Look for more GW MEMSI accomplishments and news here.]

Americanist Interest Group. The AIG brings together faculty and students working on American literature and culture. This year the AIG held two meetings (with capacity crowds) at which Ph.D. students presented their work. Next year AIG will host outside speakers, as well as more opportunities for discussion and collaboration between and among faculty and graduate students. Members of this group hope that the AIG can eventually apply for funding as a University Seminar or Institute.

Folger Shakespeare Library. GWU students may take a course at the Folger through our links with the education department. We also maintain close ties to Shakespeare Quarterly, the preeminent publication in the field of Shakespeare studies, which is housed at the Folger. Currently, Gil Harris is an associate editor of that journal.

British Council. This year marked the third year of a three-year collaboration with the British Council to bring U.K. writers of note to GWU. This year we hosted novelist and journalist Howard Jacobson, an established British writer, for a one-month residency in February. Howard taught a 1-credit class, visited classes, and did several public lectures/presentations. Although the MOU governing this relationship has expired, we hope to do more work with the British Council in the future.

Our graduate students were active in publishing and presenting their work, and several have earned prestigious fellowships:

• Ph.D. student Tarek Al-Hayder published his debut novel Helat Al-Abeed (in English: Slave District) in 2009.
• Ph.D. student Julia McCrossin published a chapter in The Fat Studies Reader (NYU Press), an important anthology documenting an emerging field; she also co-chaired the Fat Studies area of the Popular Conference Association, putting together 11 conference panels, and presented at the DC Queer Studies Symposium
• Ph.D. student Lowell Duckert had two essays accepted for publication in edited collections; he also published his work in the graduate-student-run journal Prefix and gave a paper at the Shakespeare Association of American Conference.
• Ph.D. student Maureen Kentoff presented at 2 conferences and has a book chapter forthcoming on the writing of Barbara Kingsolver
• Ph.D. student Natalie Carter delivered 3 papers this year, including one at the National Association for Ethnic Studies.
• Ph.D. student Lori Brister published an article in Valley Voices on playwright Tennessee Williams
• Ph.D. student Dora Danylevich presented her research at two conferences, and is publishing parts of a translation of Beowolf.
• In addition to delivering 2 conference papers, Ph.D. student Erin Sheley has an essay forthcoming in the Michigan State Law Review.
• Ph.D. student Tessa Kostelc delivered a paper at the PCA/ACA conference
• 6 English graduate students had conference papers accepted at the annual meeting of the Children’s Literature Association, June 10-12 in Ann Arbor: Rachel Vorona, Erin Sheley, Erin Vander Wall, Amber Cobb Vasquez, Rosemary Tonoff, Mark DeCicco, and Meghan Mercier.
• Ph.D. student Tawnya Ravy had a paper accepted at the 4th Global Conference on Multiculturalism, Conflict, and Belonging at Oriel College, Oxford
• Ph.D. student Anton Trinidad presented 2 conference papers, and is revising 2 essays for publication.
• Ph.D. student Marilena Zackheos presented her work at the GWU “Trauma” conference in March 2010.

In addition,

• Ph.D. student Nedda Mehdizadeh won a fellowship to join the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) summer seminar, "Re-mapping the Renaissance: Exchange Between Early Modern Islam and Europe," at the University of Maryland, College Park
• Three graduate students--Jennifer Cho, Marilena Zackheos, and Theodora Danylevich launched the inaugural issue of the online, open-access journal Prefix []
• Ph.D. student Dora Danylevich received funding (approximately $2,200) to attend Cornell University's highly competitive School of Theory and Criticism in summer 2010
• Ph.D. students Natalie Carter and Anton Trinidad were co-organizer of this spring’s “Trauma: Intersections among Narrative, Neuroscience, and Psychoanalysis” interdisciplinary conference at GWU; Ph.D. student Marilena Zackheos was a member of the conference’s Program Committee.

We said farewell (but not goodbye) to Judith Plotz this year, and made official three great new hires:

While Prof. Judith Plotz announced her retirement in 2009-10, we hired three faculty. Tilar J. Mazzeo will be our Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Washington for AY 2010-11; Edward P. Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writer, will join us in spring 2011; Thomas Mallon will now be a Professor of English, and will head our creative writing program.

Our faculty is busy, as ever:

• Jonathan Hsy won an NEH Summer Stipend and a short-term fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library
• James A. Miler did a successful book tour for his most recent work, Moments of Scottsboro: The Scottsboro Case and American Culture
• Robert McRuer did 11 invited talks, keynotes, or workshops around the country and internationally, from UCLA to Wilfred Laurier University in Canada to Humboldt University in Berlin
• Antonio Lopez, Jennifer James, and H.G. Carrillo were co-organizers of Cuba in the World: Literature, Politics, Performance, A Public Reading and Symposium, October 8-9, 2009 at GWU
• Marshall Alcorn co-organized (with three others) a well attended international conference on psychoanalysis and trauma in March 2010 at GWU
• Jane Shore won 2009 Poets’ Prize for her book A Yes-or-No Answer. The Poets’ Prize is awarded annually to the best book of verse by an American. Judges are other poets. Also, Jane’s New and Selected Poems is under contract with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
• Prof. Patty Chu presented “Narratives of Return: An Asian American Photographic Odyssey” at the National Gallery of Art
• Prof. Judith Plotz won a George Washington Award, one of the highest honors the University confers
• Prof. Jonathan Gil Harris gave a total of 7 invited talks: at Columbia University, NYU, the Newberry Library in Chicago, and U. Penn, among others
• Gina Welch’s nonfiction book In the Land of Believers was widely covered in the media, including on the TV show Morning Joe and in O Magazine, where it was selected as book of the month
• Ramola D’s collection of short stories, Temporary Lives (book), won the AWP Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction
• Maria Frawley was an invited speaker on “Becoming Jane Eyre” for the English Speaking Union May 2010 meeting
• Jeffrey Cohen shepherded GW MEMSI (the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute) through another successful year of programming; we expect that the Institute will continue to attract outside funding
• Tara Wallace delivered a paper at the Fanny Burney Conference and was commisseioned to write an essay for Edinburgh University Press’s Companion to Walter Scott
• Ormond Seavey and Patricia Chu were funded through the College for proposals submitted to the UFF/Dilthey competitions
• Faye Moskowitz taught another successful iteration of her unique course Jewish Literature Live, curating a line-up of 7 invited authors

And here are some highlights of the books, refereed journal articles, poems, short stories, essays in books and anthologies, book reviews, and other works published by faculty in 2009-10.

Books in 2009-2010

Ramola D, Temporary Lives (book)

Jonathan Gil Harris, Shakespeare and Literary Theory (book)

Thomas Mallon, Yours Ever: People and Their Letters (book), plus numerous articles, reviews, and essays in magazines and other publications

Ann Romines, ed., At Willa Cather’s Table: The Cather Foundation Cookbook (edited book) as well as Sapphira and the Slave Girl, scholarly edition including historical essay and explanatory notes by Ann Romines.

Tara Wallace, Imperial Characters: Home and Periphery in Eighteenth-Century Literature (book)

Gina Welch, In the Land of Believers (book)

Essays, Articles, Book Chapters, and Creative Works in 2009-10

Patricia Chu, a chapter from her book Assimilating Asians (2000) was republished in Critical Insights: The Joy Luck Club

Jeffrey Cohen, “Stories of Stone” postmedieval: A Journal of Medieval Cultural Studies (article)

------. “Pilgrimages, Travel Writing, and the Medieval Exotic,” The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Literature in English (book essay)

Patrick Cook, “Medieval Hamlet in Performance,” Shakespeare and the Middle Ages (book chapter)

------. “Serious Comedy: The Second Book of Aristotle’s Poetics and The Name of the Rose,” Postscript to the Middle Ages (book chapter)

Holly Dugan, “Coriolanus and the ‘rank-scented’ meinie’ Smelling Rank in Early Modern England,” Masculinity and the Metropolis of Vice, 1550-1650 (essay)

------. “Osmologies of Luxury and Labor: Entertaining Perfumers in Early Modern England,” Working Subjects in Early Modern England (essay)

Maria Frawley, essay on Emma and Shame, forthcoming from Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature (article)

------. Forward, new edition of Reading the Bronte Body by Beth Togerson (short essay)

Jonathan Gil Harris, “Mechanical Turks, Mammet Tricks, and Messianic Time,” Postmedieval (article)

------. “Shakespeare after 5/11,” Shakespeare Yearbook (article)

------. “Shakespeare and Race,” The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare (chapter)

Jonathan Hsy, “Be more strange and bold: Kissing Lepers and Same-Sex Female Desire in The Book of Margery Kempe,” Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal (article)

------. “Translation, Suspended: Literary Code-Switching and Poetry of Sea Travel,” The Medieval Translator, Vol. 12 (essay)

Kathleen Lawrence, “Louis Lambert, Mon Frere: Balzacian Intertextuality and Jamesian Autobiography in The Ambassadors” (article)

David McAleavey, 7 poems published in The Broadkill Review; a poem in Portable Boog Reader 4, and a poem reprinted in Full Moon Over K Street (poetry anthology)

Robert McRuer, “Neoliberal Risks: Million Dollar Baby, Murderball, and Anti-National Sexual Positions, in The Problem Body: Projecting Disability on Film (essay), as well as the afterword to the edited volume Critical Intersex.

James Miller, “Greater Shaw,” Washington at Home: An Illustrated History of Neighborhoods in the Nation’s Capital (essay) and 2 book reviews for The Washington Post

Ann Romines, issue editor, Willa Cather Newsletter and Review, Vol. 53 (Fall 2009)

Gayle Wald, “Passing Strange and post-civil rights blackness,” Humanities Research (article)

------. “Rosetta Tharpe and Feminist Unforgetting,” Journal of Women’s History (short article)

------. With Daphne Brooks. “Women Do Dylan: The Aesthetics and Politics of Dylan Covers,” Highway 61 Revisited: Bob Dylan’s Road From Minnesota to the World (essay)

And this is just a partial list. Congratulations on a very strong 2009-10, and here's to an even better 2010-11.