Friday, February 27, 2015

Shakespeare Unlimited Podcast with Professor Ayanna Thompson

GW English Professor
Ayanna Thompson
Professor Ayanna Thompson has been featured on the Shakespeare Unlimited Podcast, available on the Folger Shakespeare Library's website.

"Our own voices with our own tongues": Shakespeare in Black and White is available for listening here.

The library's website describes the podcast:

'In one of two podcasts on Shakespeare and the African American experience, "Our Own Voices with Our Own Tongues" revisits the era when Jim Crow segregation was at its height, from a few years after the end of the Civil War to the 1940s and 1950s.

Rebecca Sheir, host of the Shakespeare Unlimited series, talks about black Americans and Shakespeare in that time with two scholars of the period, Marvin MacAllister and Ayanna Thompson.

The discussion ranges from landmark performances—Orson Welles's Depression-era all-black Macbeth and Paul Robeson's Othello— to powerful, though less familiar, stories from the Folger's hometown of Washington, DC. It also draws in later questions about African Americans and Shakespeare, including the role of race in casting choices to this day.'

Monday, February 16, 2015

Leigha McReynolds Wins Phillip J. Amsterdam Graduate Teaching Award

GW English PhD Candidate Leigha McReynolds
Recipient of the 2015 Phillip J. Amsterdam
Graduate Teaching Award
GW English PhD Candidate Leigha McReynolds has won this year's prestigious Phillip J. Amsterdam Graduate Teaching Award.  

The Amsterdam Teaching Award "was created to honor individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to GW teaching and to recognize the important contribution our graduate students make to the educational process.  President Stephen J. Trachtenberg and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald R. Lehman established the Philip J. Amsterdam Graduate Teaching Assistants Award for Outstanding Teaching in 2003."  Each year, the winner is selected by a committee and receives $500 for professional development.

Leigha officially receives her award from GW's Academy of Distinguished Teachers at a ceremony on April 8, 2015, the University Faculty Honors Celebration.  At that time, she will also be inducted as a full member of GW's Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

Leigha has taught a number of courses over the years, particularly in the Writing in the Disciplines (WID) program.  Her courses include "Analysis of Business Issues (Business Writing)" and "Introduction to British Literature 1800 to the present."  She has assisted in both "Children's Literature" and  "19th Century British Novel and Empire."  She has visited honors classes, as well, to spotlight her expertise in science fiction.   

We asked Leigha to give us some of her thoughts on successful teaching and she was happy to respond:

"Successful teaching requires providing students with the tools they need to master the material or disciplinary writing technique for themselves. I believe this is best achieved by empowering students to make good choices about their writing. Rather than telling students what they need to do, I prefer to emphasize the choices they have to make and, through feedback, guide them to make the best choices for the given assignment. Thus, in learning how to work effectively in the specific context of my class they are also developing an awareness that will transfer into other classrooms and beyond their undergraduate career."

Leigha's dissertation, “Mesmerism, Narrative, and Knowledge in The Other Victorian Novel,” argues that the appearance of heterodox scientific practices, specifically mesmerism, in Victorian genre fiction fostered a proliferation of fantastic narratives in Britain in the late nineteenth century. These narratives offered an alternative to the developing scientific establishment as well as the dominant literary establishment, creating a venue for types of knowledge and modes of representation which offered alternate epistemologies in the face of a reification of knowledge categories.

Congratulations Leigha!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Meet the Sundial Review, A Literary Magazine Started by GW Students

Last fall GW students Emily Holland (English major, ’16) and Morgan Baskin (International affairs, ’17) decided that they hadn’t found enough creative outlet in working for the Hatchet and decided to create a literary magazine. Influenced by their love of publications like The Paris Review but aware of their inaccessibility, their aim was to create a publication that was dignified and in keeping with their own aesthetic standards while remaining accessible and unbiased. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the publication is available online now and going to print in March.  I met them at Gelbucks (of course) to ask them about it.

What brought you from an interest in journalism to doing a lit mag?

Morgan: Something I think that’s cool that we’re trying to do with our magazine is that it’s split up so that it’s literature and journalism. You’ll notice we have a poetry section but we also have an art and photography section, along with a political section. We’re straddling the line between both. I don’t really think we’re losing anything.

What made you guys want to start doing a print version? That must have been especially challenging.

Emily: Well there’s always some question of “why are you going to print in the digital age?’. I think just the idea of having something physical is really important. Literature is based on physical books. I mean there’s that line between wanting it to be successful and also wanting what you want, which is why we have the online component.

Morgan: There are definitely a lot of financial restrictions starting off but the goal will always be to have it in print because, like Emily said, literature isn’t something that started online. It’s a physical thing. I think it makes it a lot more personal. Especially when it comes to art. It makes it a lot more personal and that’s really important to us.

What was the most challenging part of doing this?

Both: Raising money.

Morgan: Honestly, when we started our Kickstarter—Every day after we started the Kickstarter I would wake up nauseous because I was so worried people weren’t going to donate.

Emily: Over break we had like ten days left and we still had a thousand dollars to raise and that was panic mode.

Morgan: We just started thinking we’re going to have to apply for jobs, like, we’re just going to have to pay for this out of pocket.

Emily: Which we were totally willing to do.

Morgan: Yeah not printing it was not an option.

What was the process like in terms of finding writers?

Emily: I do a lot of curating in terms of how poetry goes and a lot of our poets are alumni. And then I reach out to people on Tumblr for photography and Morgan knows those people who contribute political essays.

Morgan: I think we both curate what we’re good at. I’m in an international affairs major, so I’m more familiar with politics, so I reach out to a lot of my friends interested in politics and a lot of my friends are interested in art. So I think we both play to our strengths.

You mentioned that you have particular goals in terms of aesthetic. Tell me some more about that.

Morgan: The goal is to make it hip and interesting and something people want to read, but also dignified. I think it’s easy to look at a lot of work coming from young people and thinking that it’s rough and needs work but that’s not necessarily the case. I think people are doing really interesting experimental things that still have a dignity to them that people should see. So that’s our aesthetic. Minimal. Clean

So how does this fit into your life plans?

Emily: For me, I did the journalism route for a while. It seemed the most compatible with an English degree, but my interests really lie in poetry and creative writing and publishing itself. So this for me gives me the opportunity to do all of that and grow something that doesn’t have any expectations built around it already.

Morgan: I have a bit left to go of college, obviously. But the thing that’s really cool about this is that Emily’s like my sister. So it’s not like a company in a sense that it’s a job. It’s something we do because we are obviously engaged with a lot of thing and spend a lot of time together. It’s something that I think regardless of how big it gets we’ll always spend time on. So for me at least, I mean, I want to be a journalist but this is something I think we’ll always work on.

So part of it is how accessible it is, but if it really takes off, what’re your plans for keeping it that way?

Morgan: I don’t think the way we approach it will ever change. We may start getting a hundred submissions a day instead of twenty but it’s going to still just be about what we like and what fits in with our content.

Emily: I don’t’ see the idea behind it changing because it’s something that’s really grounded and doesn’t have a place right now. It’s filling a spot in the literary world.

Morgan: Something I would like to do is get some staff writers to do longer journalistic pieces. But in terms of putting stuff up, if we like it, it’s going up. That’s the great thing about online content is that it’s unlimited and you can put up as much as you want.

The Sundial Review is available online at
on Twitter: @sundial_review

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

GW English Alums on the Move: Stephanie Gardner

Stephanie Gardner (BA '08)
STEPHANIE GARDNER: 'Soak up the world.  Really look, really listen.'

Since Stephanie Gardner graduated from our department, she's been a busy and prolific filmmaker based in New York City. (You can check out her website here.)   We talked to her about film, literature, and her GW English department experience.

You're doing all sorts of exciting things with film, and we'll get to that in a moment.  First, though:  Talk about your time in the GW English department.  Favorite professors?  Courses?  Particular memories?

I have nothing but fond memories of my time in the GW English Department as a Creative Writing minor.  Classes that stand out in my memory are Faye Moskowitz’s Fiction Writing course, which introduced me to the value of  writing workshops and gave me confidence and insight into who I am as a writer.  This was, perhaps, the early stage of discovering my “voice” as a writer, and Faye has been inspirational and encouraging to this always evolving journey.  Jane Shore’s poetry class helped foster my love for poetry, which every so often I’ll dabble in; and Tony Lopez’s Critical Methods course was instrumental to who I am today as a person and artist.  I wish I could have taken every class Professor Lopez had to offer.  He ignited a passion for discourse and discovery in me that I will never lose.  I sometimes go back and re-read some of the essays and theorists assigned in that class, and occasionally I still run crazy ideas by him.

Are there ways in which your literature courses here contributed to the sort of work you do in film?  And in poetry?

Absolutely!  My love and appreciation for literature, which largely came about during my time at GW, remains a huge influence on my work and outlook on life.  Pieces of literature I was introduced to at GW that continue to influence my work include Roland Barthes’ essay on the “Death of The Author,” Dostoyevsky’s “Notes From Underground” and James Joyce’s collection of short stories, “Dubliners.”  I’ve also always been a big fan of T.S. Eliot and his stream of consciousness language.

I must add that Holy Dugan’s Shakespeare course, which I took for a full year, had a huge impact on me and my understanding and appreciation for Shakespeare.  I worked on a collaboration with The New York Shakespeare Exchange’s “The Sonnet Project,” which commissioned filmmakers to recreate each of Shakespeare’s Sonnets into short films.  I directed Sonnet 151 and had a blast with it!  I believe my interest in connecting with this group and making the film is largely due to the work I did in Professor Dugan’s Class.

 Did your preparation in the department help in terms of your graduate work at the Tisch school?  In what way?

My classes at GW gave me a strong foundation in literature and history.  I was the youngest in my graduate  class of eight writers.  I came into the Graduate Dramatic Writing program with no prior experience in Screenwriting, one of the three focuses of the program, but made up for it by having a solid English and Literature background, and because of that, became the go-to-person for matters regarding literature and theater history.  So much so that I distributed my notes from GW undergrad classes to my classmates in grad school, and it became a glossary of sorts for our small class, which we would reference from time to time to help with our understanding of play and film analysis.

You've recently directed a couple of short films with romantic themes.  Could you tell us more about them?

The reason I keep coming back to romantically themed pieces, I believe, is because it is such a universal concept.  Love and sex.  This language is spoken and understood all across the world, no matter what your origin is.  And if we can speak a common language, we can tap into so much more in terms of understanding others; their culture, their beliefs.  My two most recent films, which are romantically bent, are:  And If I Stay, a fourteen minute short, which I describe as a “dark, romantic drama,” and, If I Had A Piano (I’d Play You The Blues), (currently in post production), and which I describe as “an explorative romance in five movements.”  This short art piece will end up being about five or six minutes long.  It’s crazy how much effort we put into such short pieces, but I see it as a reflection of love and romance; sometimes the best moments in life are fleeting.  

And If I Stay is a darker look into a romantic relationship.  A young woman traveling abroad meets a mysterious man.  What begins as a one night stand turns into a woman caught between the fantasy of this man and the reality of the relationship, which goes on for an ambiguous amount of time in the world of the film.  As she continues to uncover darker and darker secrets about him, she continues to stay.  Is it out of the thrill of it?  Curiosity?  Does she simply have nowhere else to go?  I like to create work that offers more questions about human behavior than answers, which can sometimes be frustrating for audiences, but it’s how I operate.  I believe if a film can stir up some questions and conflicting emotions, perhaps it will open a portal into the heart and mind of the viewer, open up questions they never knew they needed to ask themselves.  After all, filmmaking is about the journey, and it is one meant to be shared between auteur and audience.

The cross-over between reality and fantasy is a common theme in my work.  Every artist has an obsession and I guess you could say this one is mine.  It is a theme I constantly return to and If I Had A PIano is the most recent attempt to capture this.  One day, a thought popped into my head. “50% of life is lived for the fantasy,” and I sought to bring this idea to life in the form of an experimental short film.  That is, desire drives us:  all humans, on all levels of society have desires (some healthy, some not) and it is the fantasies that often keep us going through life, or bring a smile to our face when we escape into the fantasies in our mind.  And cinema, for some, is a form of escape, which I think can be a beautiful way to temporarily live out fantasies and see desires erupt on screen in a nondestructive way.  So my goal with If I Had A Piano is very different from And If I Stay.  Instead of being focused on story and characters, I decided to focus on mood and sensuality.  

 Do you have any advice for our majors in terms of grad school, jobs, the creative life?  

  1. Don’t burn your bridges.  This was advice given to my graduate school class early on and it has always stuck with me.  It’s a small world out there, and the film and theater communities are even smaller.  If you have to leave a project, part ways with dignity and humility.  Pick your battles wisely.  
  2. When you find a person or group that you have a positive collaboration with, stick with them.  It can be difficult to find the right chemistry between artists, but once you do, collaborations can be fun and effective.
  3. Be proactive but don’t try to do everything yourself.  Sometimes you have to wear many hats in order to get a project done.  Especially on an independent, low budget scale.  But remember what your hats are.  Nobody is going to believe in your work as much as yourself, so if you don’t give it your all, nobody will, but remember what your specific strengths are.  Continue to work on improving your skill set in any way possible and don’t be afraid to delegate tasks to others who are strong in other areas.  Filmmaking, especially, is a collaborative medium. It is said “it takes a village,” so don’t try to wear every hat at once because the work will ultimately suffer for it.  Of course, I say this and yet I am often writing, directing, and producing my own pieces, which is largely due to limited funds, but my directing suffers when I am wearing the producer hat.  If I have to do it, however, I try to remember which hat I have on and which hat I should have on so that these inner personalities don’t come into conflict.
  4. Absorb everything.  The more you experience, the more you have to draw from and the more interesting your work can become.  No matter what your profession, soak up the world.  Really look, really listen.  Don’t just go to a place so that you can say you’ve been there.  Take yourself out of the picture and walk around with your eyes opened and your ears alert.  Take snapshots in your mind and write down significant interactions or situations you observe, because you’ll always forget the details later.  Try foods you never thought you’d try.  If a door opens unexpectedly, walk through it and see what you encounter.  Every experience, good and bad, makes you a more well rounded person, and it’s the ones you least expect that will change your life.  This is cliche advice, but we have cliches for a reason.

What are some future projects you'd like to work on?

Currently, I’m directing a multi-media theater piece (what we’re calling an “educational interactive performance art exhibit”), The Day After MLK, which centers around the death of Malcolm X and the years to follow, culminating with the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.  The show, produced by Unexpected Artistry, is through the eyes of three security guards for Malcolm X and takes the audience through the individual journeys of these three men, as they cope with the death of their leader and friend in the ever shifting Civil Rights Movement.  This is an ongoing project, which is going up in April at the Shabazz Center in Harlem (the old Audubon Ballroom) at the site of Malcolm X’s assassination, and we hope to eventually take this show on the road and into classrooms across America.

I am also in the research stage of a series of short documentary projects.  I am very interested in the history of Cuba and its current relationship status with America.  I am trying to find an avenue to pursue some human interest stories that relate to current events in that region.

Ultimately, the goal is to make a feature film.  This takes time, funds, and experience, so I will be taking my time with this endeavor.  Each project is a stepping stone to the next; building portfolios and experience.  I have already begun drafting a script for a feature film that I hope will become my feature directing debut.  You guessed it, it’s a romance!  In the meantime, I am also developing a feature script for fun, as an exercise to strengthen my writing, Sunday Before Buddha, which is an action thriller set in South Korea, based on some experiences I had traveling there during my time living in South East Asia.

Thanks Stephanie!

GW Alums: We'd love to feature your story in this series. Contact our Alumni Liaison, Professor Margaret Soltan here

Sunday, February 8, 2015

English Honors Program Information Session

GW English Majors:

Oxford English Dictionary:
Exalted rank or position;
dignity, distinction
We are now accepting applications for the English Department Honors Program for 2015-16.  The program is designed to provide exceptional students with an opportunity to participate in a two-semester seminar culminating in an Honors thesis written in consultation with faculty advisors. English majors are eligible to apply in the spring of their junior year and must have a GPA of at least 3.0 overall and 3.25 in English Department courses. An application form is attached. Applications will also be available in the English Department Office and in an envelope on the door of Professor Patrick Cook’s office at Rome 752. The application deadline is March 15.

If you are interested in the program, please try to attend an information session on Thursday, February 12, from 1 pm to 2:30 pm in Rome Hall 663. Professor Patrick Cook will discuss the requirements and the application process. Students admitted to the program are also eligible to apply for the combined BA/MA Program, which allows majors to earn both a BA and MA degree in English within five years of study. At the information session, Professor Chris Sten will discuss the the requirements and application process for this combined degree program.

More information for both programs is available on the English Honors webpage here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

#GWDH15: the Disrupting DH Symposium at GW

Disrupting DH Roundtable. Photo credit: M.W. Bychowski.

The GW Digital Humanities Symposium: DISRUPTING DH took place in the Jack Morton Auditorium on Friday, January 30, 2015 9am – 4pm. The event was organized by Jonathan Hsy, Founding Co-Director of the GW Digital Humanities Institute (the other DHI Founding Co-Director Alexa Huang is currently away on a Fulbright in the UK) as well as by the DHI Graduate Assistants M.W. Bychowski and Shyama Rajendran.

DISRUPTING DH brought together academics, activists, and publishers to explore critical approaches to the Digital Humanities (DH). DH is an interdisciplinary area that uses digital media to examine the arts and humanities and also vice versa: using creative and humanist methods to teach and analyze digital media and its use.

The symposium was GW Digital Humanities Institute (GW DHI), in collaboration with the Department of English, Creative Writing, Department of History, Dean’s Scholars in Shakespeare Program, Disability Support Services, GW Libraries, GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute, and the DH Graduate Working Group. Special thanks should also be given to the many GW English graduate volunteers who helped work the front desk.

The heavy lifting of the symposium was done by the invited speakers, Angela Bennett Segler (creator of Material Piers), Eileen Joy (Director, punctum books), Dorothy Kim (medievalist, feminist, digital humanist), Roopika Risam (Co-founder, Postcolonial Digital Humanities), Jesse Stommel (Director, Hybrid Pedagogy), and Suey Park (Co-founder, Killjoy Prophets). It is a great pleasure to set up spaces then bring in brilliant thinkers to play and start revolutions.

Jesse Stommel presents on pedagogy. Photo credit: M.W. Bychowski.

Disrupting DH began at 9:00 with registration, coffee, and bagels. Jonathan Hsy took the stage at 9:40 for introductory remarks. Diane H. Cline (History, Director of Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration) and Jeffrey Cohen (Director, GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute) introduced the "ARCHIVE" panel featuring Angela Bennett Segler, “Medium Data–Machine Reading, Manual Correction and the End of the Archive” and Dorothy Kim, “Disrupting the Archive: The Ethics of Digital Archives.” [Read more about this session here, with twitter archive here.]

From 11:00-12:00, the "CLASSROOM" panel challenged traditional notions about pedagogy and technology. Holly Dugan (Acting Director, Dean’s Scholars in Shakespeare Program) and Kavita Daiya (Director, MA Program in English) introduced Jesse Stommel's presentation on MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) entitled “Stand and Unfold Yourself: MOOCs, Networked Learning, and the Digital Humanities” and Roopika Risam presented a talk “Towards a Postcolonial Digital Pedagogy.”

After a short break for lunch, the symposium returned for the third panel on the "IVORY TOWER." Dolsy Smith (GW Libraries, Librarian for the Humanities) and Jennifer Chang (Assistant Professor of Creative Writing, Founder and Co-Chair, Kundiman) introduced the final pair of panelists: Eileen Joy, who spoke about “The Importance of Illegitimacy” and Suey Park, whose talk was entitled “Theorizing Transformative Justice in a Digital Era.”

The day concluded with a roundtable that included all of the speakers, co-moderated by Jonathan Hsy (GW DH Institute) and Lori Brister (Founder, GW Graduate DH Working Group). Questions were fielded by the speakers, audience, and online participants. At last, everyone came together for a bounty of food at a reception catered by Whole Foods.

Disrupting DH audience members on computers. Photo credit: M.W. Bychowski.

The event was extensively documented and connected to a wide variety of digital media. On the day, audience members communicated each other and others through twitter (#gwdh15 and #DisDH). These tweets have since been collected and curated by a variety of conference participants: Disrupting the Digital Humanities: #GWDH15 by Alexis Lothian, #Disrupting DH @ George Washington U by M.W. Bychowski, and Disrupting the Archive by Angie Bennett Segler.

In addition to the tweeters, bloggers took on the task of relating their experiences of the event to a wider public. These bloggers include a number of PhD students in English at GW: Sam Yates wrote a piece on The Efficacy of Disrupting DH: Disability Access, Animacy, and Community. Alan Montroso wrote Digital Compassion: Reflections of Disrupting DH #GWDH15. M.W. Bychowski wrote #Disrupting Digital Humanities at the GWU.

We hope that the conversations that began at the symposium will continue online, in print, around the department, and beyond.

If you created a digital record or archive for DISRUPTING DH and would like it to be included in the list, please contact M.W. Bychowski (

GW DHI Co-Director Jonathan Hsy. Photo credit: M.W. Bychowski.

Shakespeare in the Mediterranean Information Session

Join us for an information session on this exciting GW English Summer Study Abroad course!  Read more about the course here.

Summer Study Abroad: Shakespeare in the Mediterranean, May 18-June 4.

Professors: Suzanne Miller, History; Katherine Keller, English

Application Deadline: March 2, 2015

Information Session: Tuesday, February 17, 5:30-6:30pm, Marvin Center 506