Monday, January 31, 2011

On the Road: Prof. Robert McRuer in Vienna

This just in from Prof. Robert McRuer, who just returned from the University of Vienna, where he presented his lecture “Defections: Globalizing Queerness and Disability” as part of a daylong event titled “Barriere-frei?! Perspektiven der Disability und Gender/Queer Studies auf die Hochschullandschaft” [Barrier-free?! Perspectives on Disability and Gender/Queer Studies in Higher Education].  

Prof. Robert McRuer being interviewed on Freak Radio in Vienna
"Two other lecturers were featured at this event: Anne Waldschmidt, of the University of Cologne, who is the first (and still the only) professor appointed to teach disability studies in Germany; and Heike Raab, of the University of Innsbruck, one of the only professors of disability studies in Austria.  The event was sponsored by the Gender Studies Program and the Center for Teaching and Learning, and was attended by faculty and students in those programs, as well as by a wide range of community members and disability activists from Vienna. 
The conversation over the course of the day touched upon representations of sexuality and disability in contemporary film, neoliberal containments and redeployments of contemporary movements for disability and queer liberation, the crises facing higher education in Europe and globally and its impact both on the development of disability studies transnationally and on the material conditions of disabled students and faculty, and visions for the future of this interdisciplinary field. 
The possibilities and dangers of translation were also very much under discussion, as “disability studies” itself tends to travel as an English phrase through the German-speaking world, marking the transnational import of this emergent field but also reproducing the dominance of English-language work in it (although this event was largely in German, with real-time translation whispered into my ear!). 
The next day, I was interviewed by Freak Radio, a collaborative mixed-ability radio collective that has been operating in Vienna for more than a decade.  Freak Radio asked me to introduce disability studies and crip theory for listeners, and to expand on some of the themes that had been discussed the previous day."
You can follow Freak Radio on Twitter. Look for Prof. McRuer's interview to be posted soon!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Adam Kirsch Talk Cancelled for Thursday Night

CANCELLATION

The talk by poet and critic Adam Kirsch has been cancelled for this evening because of the weather. The talk was to have been in the Marvin Center Auditorium at 7 pm. We hope to reschedule him later in the semester; look to this blog for more information.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Meet Paula Mejia, Class of 2013, our New Student Blogger


I'm happy to introduce our new Student Blogger, Paula Mejia, Class of 2013. A prospective double English/CW major, Paula will soon be blogging regularly. Here's what she writes about herself:
I hail from Houston, Texas. Since childhood, I’ve had the opportunity to spend many lazy summer afternoons reading, writing, and breathing in my surroundings. My adolescence was shaped by Jeffrey Eugenides, Chuck Palahniuk, Jonathan Safran Foer and David Sedaris, some of whom are still among my favorite authors. Currently, I’ve been delving more into Thomas Pynchon and Beat generation literature, reading works by Jack Kerouac, Allan Ginsberg, Ken Kesey and William S. Burroughs.
Not surprisingly, here I am a college sophomore, with an intended double major in English and Creative Writing, with a minor in Journalism and Mass Communication (I know--I either love writing or I’m a little masochistic!). In my free time, I enjoy camping with friends, going to concerts, and venturing around DC.I'm increasingly interested in the music business, music journalism, and/or music industry studies further down the line, once I’m out of college. I’ve been pretty involved in the Texas music scene, particularly in Houston and Austin, since high school, following local musicians, critically acclaimed bands, and establishing connections--and now I’m doing the same here in DC. I’ve been heavily involved in WRGW, GW’s on-campus radio station, since the defining first day of the first semester of freshman year. As a clueless intern, I was alarmed to discover that the DJ I was interning for wouldn’t be able to do the first show of the semester, and it was all on me to put on an articulate, well-thought out, musically competent show. I was sure that everyone listening could hear how loudly my heart pounded in my ears. But something clicked that day--the DJing, the commentary, the broadcast--it just came naturally to me, and I realized that this is something I want to at least explore doing.
You can catch my radio show, Sit Back and Dream, every Friday from 2 to 4, where I’ll be talking about cultural and local shows, have commentary with my co-host, Drew Bandos (also an English major) and playing a wide variety of genres, including shoegaze, lofi, trip-hop, indie rock, and more. That’s it for now- stay tuned for more updates!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Two English Professors nominated for Professor of the Year

Prof. Lisa Page
GW English creative writing faculty members Lisa Page and Faye Moskowitz were both nominated for the 2010 Professor of the Year, a distinction awarded by the University's 450 student athletes. 

Prof. Moskowitz and Prof. Page are among the 25 nominees, while Prof. Page is one of 6 finalists! (Does this sound like March Madness?)

According to Karen Ercole, executive director of academic assistance for GW Athletics, eligible student athletes vote on professors who have demonstrated a commitment to their success in the classroom. Profs. Page and Moskowitz will be honored at a special halftime program during the GW men's basketball game against the University of Richmond on Wednesday, Feb. 9 at 7. During the program, the winner of the 2010 Professor of the Year award will be announced. 

We hope to see Prof. Page at mid-court at the Smith Center on the 9th!

Monday, January 24, 2011

On the Road: Prof. Kavita Daiya in Mumbai


This is the inaugural post of On the Road, an occasional blog series about GW English Professors and their scholarly travel. In an age of Skype and video conferencing, travel to conferences or to other institutions remains an important way for scholars to share their work and learn about what their colleagues elsewhere are doing and thinking.

This academic year alone, GW faculty have traveled to England, Portugal, Canada, Czechoslovakia, and Spain to share their research. And also to less exotic but equally wonderful places like Los Angeles, New York, and Ann Arbor.


Here's Prof. Kavita Daiy's account of presenting her research in India recently:
I gave an invited lecture at the University of Mumbai on Dec 20, 2010 titled "The 1947 Partition, Gender and the Postcolonial Public Sphere in South Asian Literature."  I was invited by the interdisciplinary Group for Research on the Indian Diaspora (GRID) and the English department of the University of Mumbai
It was quite an honor: I was welcomed with flowers, and there were more than fifty attendees (including faculty from English, Philosophy, French, Sociology). A great Q&A as well as a lavish reception followed!
 Would that those attending the annual MLA Conference got flowers!

Friday, January 21, 2011

What Does Asian American Literature Have to Tell Us about 'Tiger Moms'?: Part III

"What Does Asian American literature have to say about the issues raised by the recent discussion of Amy Chua’s book?” -- This blog post is the third in a series by Prof. Patricia Chu. Read the first post here.

Part Three:  Who’s afraid of the Wall Street Journal?  or, “I am the very Model of a Mommy Major General”

                  In my literature classes, I always ask students to consider the source of their quotations. [I haven’t yet discussed Chua with my classes.]   In this case, we have a firestorm of discussion about a book published by Penguin and excerpted in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal.  The Journal, required reading for CEOs and investment bankers, is being reinvented by Rupert Murdoch  to attract a more popular following.  Hence the new 4-color mastheads and the weekend features  like“Caring for Python,” “How Uncertainty Cripples,” and “Carla Gugina on Turning ‘Every Day’ into Something Special.”   Why has Chua, in this venue, gotten so much attention?  Was it to sell papers that the Journal apparently edited Chua’s piece just so, and added the endearing title, “Why Chinese Mothers are Better,” guaranteed to insult the majority of its readers?

                  Chua’s article supports all the worst stereotypes of Chinese as self-serving, elitist, unfairly competitive, narrow, workaholic Model Minorities, the minority you Love to Hate. 

                  (Note:  The Model Minority myth arose in the 1960s, when the mainstream press portrayed Asians as  exemplary citizens, well-behaved,not politically radical, without social problems or needs for redress, and successful.  Like teacher’s pets, they were positioned to make other racial minorities look bad.  Of course, this was not entirely true.  Though some Asian Americans attained middle class status, many suffered from poverty, un- or underemployment, crime, depression, and other certifiable social problems.  Many Asian Americans were unwilling or unable to claim political agency due to the anti-Asian climate of the 1950s and 1960s.  Many Japanese Americans had been intimidated by the internment of the Japanese Amerians, while Chinese Americans were wary of being deported as Communist sympathizers.  Chinese had lost the right to become naturalized American citizens in 1882 and only regained it in 1943; Japanese regained the right later, in 1965.  And many Asian Americans, contrary to the stereotypes of quietism and passivity,  were politically active and sympathethic to other groups.)

                  In Chua’s case, the  provocative confidence in her article signals that she is not only of Chinese background, but comes from a family with a tradition of success and achievement.  Her tone is not the tone of the daughter of refugee farm workers.  Yet she will be taken as a representative of all Asian American mothers.  To the extent that Asians are seen simply as relentless and arrogant competitors in the absence of such history, we are liable to be seen as The Enemy.  Whatever nuance and self-reflection Chua has brought to her book is minimized in the inflammatory excerpt that many people are using  to pass judgment on the complete book.  People are talking, blogging, and buying books.  And we other Chinese Americans are left to consider the damages.

                  The other, related problem, is the question of Showboating.  Who gets to brag about their achievements with impunity in this public culture and to whom? 

                  1.    As a parent in Northwest Washington DC, I’ve observed a curious dynamic:  parents of children in public school love to assert the excellence of their schools.   Parents of children in private schools listen with interest, and talk about their children’s more expensive schools only if asked.  Why?  It’s courtesy.  Private school parents don’t want to emphasize their dissenting (minority) educational choice and their children’s privilege.

                  2.  Theorists of women’s writing argue that men are socialized to trumpet their successes; that’s what’s expected.  Traditionally, women were “not supposed to”  brag, publish books, or publish books about themselves.  For instance, the early memoirs of Mary Rowlandson (a Puritan) and Harriet Jacobs (an escaped slave) were published with introductions insisting that the writers were, despite the fact of publication, modest and decent women.

                  3.   It’s said that Americans, in general, like to talk about themselves and that Chinese, in general, do not.  Asians are also taught to refuse compliments to show humility.   (In Milton Murayama’s novel, a little Japanese American boy relates that when guests compliment your cooking, you’re supposed to say, “What we served you was really garbage” just to be polite. )  Immigrants learn early not to flaunt their children’s successes.  And ethnic women writers know they’ll be critiqued as representatives of their community, expected not to reveal insider information.   No wonder Maxine Hong Kingston began her own shattering memoir, The Woman Warrior, with the words,  “You must not tell anyone.”

                  In short, the social norms for Chinese American women writers are the opposite of social norms for law professors and memoir writers.

                   Amy Chua certainly doesn’t have to tell other Chinese Americans about the Secret Methods of Chinese Motherhood; with much individual variation, we’ ve more or less been through all that.  And, while we appreciate our mothers, we don’t want to be them.   Does she want to gloat with us about “our” success?  Fine.  Put it in an Asian American magazine (if you can find one).  Write to our ethnic listservs.  We understand that it’s nice to let the steam out when you’ve been working so hard.  Glad to hear about Carnegie Hall.  But the WSJ?  Please.

                     Asian American history, as ably interpreted by Sucheng Chan and others, has shown that discrimination and violence against perceived outsiders—including all Asian American ethnic groups—rises in times of economic crisis and difficulty.   At a time of high unemployment, incivility, and random shootings, this article brands all Asian Americans with the model minority stereotype and adds fuel to the flame of ethnic envy.   Why else would people send death threats to someone for an article about parenting techniques?  I’m not saying it’s fair to expect Chinese American women not to toot their horns, but that there is an existing public discourse that needs to be acknowledged when we write.   It’s particularly odd that Chua should have made or permitted such an error of tone, given that—according to Wikipedia--her first book, “ World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (2003), explores the ethnic conflict caused in many societies by the disproportionate economic and political influence of [visible,] market dominant minorities and the resulting resentment in the less affluent majority.” 

                  In short, I’m of two minds.  On the one hand, the more minority authors write and publish, the better we can be understood in our full, flawed, and deeply human complexity by readers within and beyond our communities.  Especially if readers are willing to read all those other books about “Chinese” motherhood.   On the other hand, when it comes to the loaded topic of child-rearing, I’d like to cite that well-known authority on humility and public relations, Benjamin Franklin.

                  Franklin observed that the Quakers of his time were often embarrassed because, having proclaimed their commitment to pacificism, they found it difficult to support necessary motions for the defense of their community.  By contrast, the more prudent Dunker sect had concluded early on that they were still in the process of becoming Enlightened.  Since they felt they had not yet arrived at “perfection of spiritual or theological knowledge,”  they refrained from publishing a fixed statement of their beliefs.

                  Hm…while I admire the Dunkers’ wisdom and humility, from the point of view of posterity their philosophy may be wanting.  Perhaps one more story is needed, just to show that even Englishmen can  be “Chinese mothers.”

                  John Stuart Mill, a prodigy who began to study Greek when he was 3 years old, spent all his waking time studying English, Greek, Latin, history, politics, and economics  with this father, who employed sarcasm as a teaching method.   Looking back on his education in his Autobiography, Mill  wished his father had also taken the time to teach him how to tie his shoelaces.   He, too, was deprived of playdates, and his only sleepovers seem to have been with the family of his dad’s colleague Jeremy Bentham (who advocated utilitarianism and invented the panopticon).   By the time he was 16, Mill was publishing articles on public policy in major journals in his native England.  By the time he was 20, he had had a nervous breakdown.  If memory serves, he wrote in his Autobiography that he asked himself the question, if all the social changes that he and his father were working for came to be, would it make him happy?  The answer was no.  But all was not lost.  According to biographer Phyllis Rose, Mill recovered when he met and befriended his future wife, Harriet Taylor, whom he married 21 years later.  Warmed by the glow of this unorthodox friendship, Mill went on to lead a long and productive life in which he championed woman’s suffrage and wrote On Liberty.                 

Jan. 21, 2011

What Does Asian American Literature Have to Tell Us about 'Tiger Moms'?: Part II


"What Does Asian American literature have to say about the issues raised by the recent discussion of Amy Chua’s book?” -- This blog post is the second in a series by Prof. Patricia Chu. Read the first post here.

Part Two:  Generational Confusion—Tiger Sisterhood
by Patricia Chu

So mothers and daughters in Asian American lit are odd couples:  the mothers have learned to “eat bitter,” endure, and place their powers at the service of the collective survival of the family—or at least, their children—in order to survive in harsh conditions in the Old World or America; the children, as critic Sau-ling Cynthia Wong has remarked, want to taste the sweet things in their American life.  But the best of these stories also give voice to the perspectives of the immigrants.  Asian woman aren’t just born intolerant perfectionists.  They have had to be extra cunning and extra adaptable to survive, to protect their families, and to develop a legacy of confidence, cunning, and cash to pass onto their children.  Their authority derives from their true grit.  

I can show you too, that the superiority complex that Chua assumes is familiar, and often satirized, in Chinese American literature; and that Gish Jen has described the educated Chinese immigrant’s pride in his education as a “steel rib” needed to compensate for the sudden shock of cultural marginalization as a minority in America.  Biographers Winberg and May-lee Chai, among others, demonstrate how the powerful instincts needed to survive wartime Chinese politics may lead to paranoia and isolation in the U.S.  In Jen’s  “Who’s Irish?”  she captures this dynamic brilliantly by creating the character of a Chinese immigrant mother whose hypercritical attitudes render her unwelcome in her married daughter’s household.    If this sounds like a description of other ethnic groups, it should: as Chua notes, Chinese Motherhood is not unique to Chinese mothers.

 To move for a moment into a real-life example, my aunt recently told me the story of how my cousin learned English and became a physics professor in America.  During the Cultural Revolution, my cousin,then a teenager, was denied education and sent  to be “reeducated” by working the fields in an isolated village, because of her bad family background.  (My uncle had studied in America.)  He gave her his old chemistry and physics textbooks to study at night, by candlelight.  The village leaders planned a meeting to denounce her for her selfish elitism, but she insisted that educated specialists would one day be needed to modernize the countryside, to bring plumbing and electricity to the village.  The meeting was cancelled.  When the colleges reopened after a decade of anti-intellectual and anti-foreign turmoil, my cousin was one of the few young people able to pass the entrance exams because of her night study.  

A few years later, when Deng Xiaopeng authorized study abroad in America, she was selected because she was one of the few who knew English.  She had learned her English from those few science textbooks and an English grammar book.   Although she planned to return to China when she received her Ph.D. in Physics, she was horrified by the government’s attacks on their own protesters in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations of 1989, and therefore stayed in the U.S. 

Without accusing my cousin of Extreme Parenting, I can claim that such a brilliant and resourceful survivor would have a visceral reason to demand a higher standard from her children than someone like myself, an ABC (American Born Chinese) Ivy-educated professor who is able to assume my children will go to college if their performance is  above average; and her children would have good reason to rely on her judgment about their education.  Second-gen Chinese respect this kind of legacy and appreciate the positive results, but having experienced the costs as well, they typically do not want to reproduce their parents’ narrow ideas; the arrogance is optional, too.   And let me add, again, that achievement in the face of difficulty, and the passing on of psychological imperatives from parents to children, is not limited to Chinese or to Asian Americans.  Amy Chua, however, strikes fear into second generation Chinese hearts by giving the white American public the impression that we’re all like her—a second generation American with the iron will and blinders we saw in our parents.    

Which brings us to the Model Minority Problem.

NEXT POST -- PART 3:  Who’s afraid of the Wall Street Journal?  or, “I am the very Model of a Mommy Major General”


What Does Asian American Literature Have to Tell Us about 'Tiger Moms'?: Part I

If you were sentient last week, you might have noticed the major media storm generated by the release of Yale Law Professor Amy Chua's book Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It has been excerpted, dissected, talked about, blogged about, and contested, and has pushed Asian American families (or at least one construct of them) into the national consciousness in a new way.

The next three GWEnglish blog posts are by Prof. Patricia Chu, a specialist in Asian American literature. I asked Patty to write about Amy Chua and so-called 'Tiger Moms' for the blog because her training gives her a particularly rich window into the cultural and historical context of Chua's button-pushing book.
-Gayle Wald
 
One:  Second Generation Stories
by Patricia Chu
                  Asian American literature is a terrific archive of the writers’ experiences (in the case of oral history, memoir, autoethnography, and other forms of life writing) and their perceptions (in the case of fictional genres).  Whereas fictional writing doesn’t claim a biographical truth, it’s meant to show the writer’s insights into the interior life of Asian American characters.  Writing fiction permits writers to tell stories that are strong and bitter, without compromising confidences, so often fiction can be franker about suffering and scandal than life writing.  For instance, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, the scholar and poet,  once admitted to me that she compromised  incisiveness for privacy in writing her memoir, Among the White Moon Faces.  “If I had written about my marriage,” she reflected, “ I’m sure it would have been a better book, but I wouldn’t be married today.”

                  Because Asian American literature is primarily written by American-born writers in English, it is most representative of what I call the second-generation perspective.  The immigrant perspective (which I call first-generation) is represented from different angles, however:  immigrants themselves write about their lives; second-generation sons and daughters write about them; and third-generation Americans write about their grandparents and parents.

                  Much of Asian American literature consists of second-generation portraits of their struggles to assimilate in the U.S. by reconciling their parents’ demands with the realities of the situation they are born into.  Hence, the difficulties of assimilating in an environment that purports to be democratic and inclusive, but which excludes Asians politically, legally, and culturally on many levels—these difficulties are often represented fictionally as conflicts between the first and second generation.  To put it another way, the mothers (more than the fathers) are charged with maintaining the traditional ways in the new country and with supporting the fathers and children in their work and school—often while they themselves must work a full day to gain wages.  When things are difficult, the narrators (or their readers) often blame the mothers.  But if the children succeed and assimilate, the children may question or abandon the traditional ethos Chua describes, in which “the children owe everything to the parents,” because, by and large, that’s not how Americans think.  Americans view the children’s obligation to their parents through the prism of individualism and independence.  What’s an Asian mother to do?

                  In Asian American fiction, offspring usually admit that  they owe their success to their parents’ support.  However, in the classic texts I discussed in my book, Assimilating Asians—texts by Amy Tan, Maxine Hong Kingston, Milton Murayama, and John Okada—the mothers are blind to the need to adapt their expectations to their families’ American conditions.  In The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston writes about her inability to talk about sex, her fears of their slum neighbors, or her fears that as a highly intelligent,  imaginative Chinese American girl she was not understood and  valued by her parents.  In All I Asking For Is My Body, Milton Muryama depicts a family in which the parents’ obsession with paying off literal debts incurred by their parents blinds them to the need to question the exploitative labor conditions of the plantation for which they work.

                   In the “comic” texts—the ones with happy endings—there is reconciliation at the end, as children gain sufficient distance and autonomy to appreciate their parents’ sacrifices.  Maxine Hong Kingston writes that fundamentally, she knows her parents love her, but she had to leave home to understand them better.   In a tragic text, such as Faye Myenne Ng’s novel  Bone, the unbearable weight of parental expectations and their disappointments—due in part to their marginal status as illegal immigrants-- drives the middle daughter to suicide.  In his memoir Catfish and Mandala, Andrew Pham observes that his refugee mother has become more isolated, rather than happier, as her sons have grown up and become financially independent.

                   And in her novel  Desirable Daughters, Bharati Mukherjee presents a family modelled externally on her own:  the narrator is one of three daughters who were very successful in school in India, who married well, and who settled in America.  One of them was even offered a featured role in a Satyajit Ray film, though of course she had to turn it down rather than stigmatize her high-caste parents by becoming a film goddess.  Just when the reader is about to throw up—her hands, of course-- in the face of the narrator’s self-absorbed bragging, Mukherjee disrobes the skeletons in the closet.  Actually, all the daughters in the family are a bit depressed with the reality of their American lives, in which housewives are isolated and undervalued.    The three grown daughters, separated by oceans from their parents, don’t really see their parents or each other all that much.  And the perfect older sister?  She had to be sent away to give birth to an illegitimate child who was disavowed and raised in an orphanage.  Too bad her parents didn’t give her a choice about the film role; maybe she would still be in India, and on good terms with them, if they had.  Instead of a celebration of traditional Extreme Parenting (to use my friend Norman Bock’s phrase) and Asian perfectionism, the book is a critique of it.  In many books, it seems  that Asian Extreme Parenting is supremely successful, because the children work hard in order to get out of their parents’ house as soon as possible. 

NEXT POST: Part Two: Generational Confusion--Tiger Sisterhood

Read Part II
Read Part III

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Alumnae Newsmakers

GW English's fabulous alumni continue to win award and make headlines. The latest: GW PhD Dolen Perkins-Valdez is this recipient of a First Novelist Award given by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. The award, which was presented at the Association's recent San Diego meeting, honors Perkins-Valdez for Wench (HarperCollins, 2010).

According to the ALA, Wench "captures the complexities of the relationships between enslaved women and their masters in her debut novel.... Perkins-Valdez has written an engaging and thought-provoking novel which examines another aspect of complicated relationships resulting from slavery."  

Wench is now out in paperback. Congratulations,  Dolen!

And in other news, Anya Firestone (BA 2010) was recently profiled in an issue of the online Paris guide Bonjour Paris, where she was touted as an example of an artiste who has immersed herself in all things parisien. Check out the site to read about Anya's fabulous macaron statues--she is pictured with one here at the Jardin de Luxembourg--which pay artistic tribute to the French cookies.

Future GW writers, take note: The author of the piece found Firestone when she read an award-winning poem of hers published in the GW Review.

Monday, January 17, 2011

English Departments and Civil Rights Struggle

Today's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday is an occasion for national service, especially here in DC, where GW undergrads will be giving their time to various organizations and efforts. But the holiday is also an occasion for reflection.

Today's students might not think much about it, but African American literary studies as an academic discipline was institutionalized through the Black Freedom Struggles of the 1960s and 1970s. Of course, scholars had been studying African American literature before King's assassination in April 1968, but his tragic death made Black literary studies, and Black studies generally, a matter of even greater urgency. Young college activists protested and occupied campus administration buildings to demand that curricula change and that Black students and faculty members find fuller representation on campus. They conducted research for courses and conducted their own teach-ins to educate each other. African American writers, including many associated with the Black Arts Movement, played important roles in these struggles.

GW's English Department has a very strong program in African American literary and cultural studies. And last year, the College announced that Africana Studies, long a minor, would be a major under the direction of English Prof. Jennifer James. None of these options would have been possible without the struggles for which we remember Martin Luther King Jr. today.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Prof. Tilar Mazzeo in the New York Times

Congratulations to Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington Tilar Mazzeo for a full-page review of her recent book, The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume, in Sunday's New York Times Book Review. (If you go to the Times site, you can also be directed to a Google Books excerpt of the book.) According to reviewer Jessica Kerwin Jenkins, Mazzeo teases out the relationship between the perfume and its designer, Coco Chanel, "with delicacy."

As she did in the fall, this semester GW, Prof. Mazzeo is teaching two classes in creative non-fiction, one to undergraduates and another to members of the wider DC community. The community class is a special part of the Jenny Moore residency, and affords fellows an opportunity to work with aspiring writers of various ages and backgrounds.

Currently, the English Department is conducting a search for the 2011-12 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington; this time, the search is for a writer of fiction.

Previous JMM Writers in Washington include Amiri Baraka, Vikram Chandra, Susan Shreve, Tony Hoagland, Joyce Hackett, and Ed Skoog.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Two Faculty Books and a BBC Documentary

January brings a new year, a new semester, and new faculty accomplishments. This time I have the pleasure of highlighting two books and a BBC documentary.

(Re)Making Love: A Sex After Sixty Story is a new memoir by GWU Creative Writing faculty member Mary Tabor, author of the prize-winning short story collection The Woman Who Never Cooked. A warmly received story of "one woman’s journey that proves it’s never too late to find love—or oneself," Tabor's book began as a blog.

According to GW English alumna Sarah Krouse, who took
Intermediate Fiction I and II with Mary and reports that she was her "favorite GW professor," (Re)Making Love "begins with [Tabor's] marriage falling apart just before her first book was published, and follows her as she crashes and then rebuilds her life. Mary's honesty and grace in addressing subjects as profound as grief and forgiveness and as accessible as online dating makes her book different from any memoir I've experienced."

Apparently, Real Simple--the magazine with a circulation of 8.5 million (I know, I've bought it, although it always makes me feel more, not less, disorganized)--agrees. You can read an illustrated, 3-page profile of Prof. Tabor in the issue on newsstands now; look for it soon online at the Real Simple website.

Associate Prof. Evelyn Jaffe Schreiber's newest book is Race, Trauma and Home in the Novels of Toni Morrison (LSU Press). Discussing all nine of Morrison's novels, the book analyzes "how
personal and communal trauma is stored in the bodily circuits of individuals" and "how parents pass on trauma to their children in unconscious ways, leading to generational inheritance of trauma."

An interdisciplinary study, which draws on psychoanalytic, neurobiological, trauma, attachment, and racial theories, Race, Trauma and Home "investigates paths to individual and cultural healing through reparative images of home, recreated through memory." Prof. Schreiber, a noted Morrison scholar, serves as secretary of the Toni Morrison Society.


And I'm happy to announce that a new documentary, The Godmother of Rock & Roll: Sister Rosetta Tharpe will premiere on BBC4 in Great Britain on Friday (January 14). Directed and produced by Mick Csaky, who recently discussed Rosetta Tharpe on the BBC's Today radio show, the film traces gospel phenomenon Rosetta Tharpe's unconventional and boundary-crossing career.

The film is based on my own Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and includes me as a talking head. (Until I saw the director's cut, I didn't realize I blinked so often. Do TV and film personalities have extraordinary control over their eyelids?)

Here's hoping The Godmother of Rock will come to PBS soon, and that Queen Latifah--Dana, call me!--will be starring in the Kerry Washington-produced (you, too, Kerry!) film biopic soon.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Huckleberry Finn Brouhaha

It's not often that a work of American literature makes the "Trending Topics" newsfeed at Twitter, but as of this writing, "Huckleberry Finn" is one of the most tweeted phrases online.

You can read what some members of the GW English Department, myself included, had to say about the recent news that a forthcoming edition of Mark Twain's novel expurgates all 219 instances of the "n"-word in favor of "slave." (Why are GW professors so cited in the DC based DailyCaller blog post? Apparently because we are the only ones who answer our emails during winter break!)

The expurgated "Huckleberry Finn" is a phenomenally bad idea and an easy target. Still, as Prof. Kim Moreland points out in the DailyCaller blog post, there is clearly a need for a conversation about how secondary school educators might approach a text such as Twain's.

This sounds like a great topic for a service-learning course for some enterprising GWU English students. Read and research 19th-century literature, including "Huckleberry Finn" and works by African American contemporaries of Twain's, and come up with pedadogical method(s) for teaching about race, racism, and language?

Three Writers to Join Creative Writing Faculty this Semester

The English Department is very happy to welcome three new writers to the ranks of our Creative Writing faculty. All will be joining us this semester to teach our popular ENGL 1210 (formerly ENGL 81), Introduction to Creative Writing.


LOUIS BAYARD is a graduate of Princeton and Northwestern universities. His novels include The Pale Blue Eye and Mr. Timothy, both from HarperCollins, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Salon and other journals.


JENNIFER CLOSE received her MFA from the New School after undergraduate studies at Boston College. She has worked at Vogue, The New Yorker and Portfolio magazines. Her first novel, Girls in White Dresses, will be published in the summer of 2011 by Knopf.


TANIA JAMES grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. She received her B.A. from Harvard University and her MFA from Columbia. He work has appeared in The New York Times and One Story. Her first novel, Atlas of Unknowns, was published by Knopf in 2009.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Our New Widget, aka First Post of 2011!

I rang in the new year in rural West Virginia, far from cell phone towers or, for that matter, a satellite connection to transmit images of the ball dropping in Times Square. Although I felt a bit disconnected from my annual TV ritual, the night sky was dark enough for star-watching, a rarity in Washington DC.

And although this winter break barely feels like one, I'm looking forward to the spring semester. (The phrase alone--"spring semester"--has a good vibe.) I'll be teaching ENGL 1320.80W (get used to those new four-digit course numbers!), Literature of the Americas, a course that critically examines the "American" in "American Literature." For students who are still looking for a good course, we have several excellent offerings that have spaces left, including Global Literature and Cinema (with Prof. Daiya) and Topics in U.S. Latino/a Literature and Culture (with Prof. Lopez). Both of these courses are taught by highly praised professors.

And we have events aplenty this semester, as always. Indeed, LOOK TO YOUR RIGHT. Do you see it? It's the newest GW English blog widget--a Google calendar with Department-related events, so you can always be on top of what's happening. The big events for the spring are:
  • AWP Conference (Associated Writing Programs) in Washington, February 2-5. GW English is an institutional sponsor, and several faculty members--including Thomas Mallon, Gregory Pardlo, and Edward P. Jones--will be participating. Lucky GW English-Creative Writing majors will receive tickets.
  • GW MEMSI hosts its "Animal, Vegetable Mineral" conference March 10-12.
  • Acclaimed novelist E.L. Doctorow, one of our greatest writers, reads at GW on April 7.
I hope to see you at one or more of these events, most of which are free and open to everyone.