Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog

Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Michael Rothberg and I took over as head of the department in August 2013. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of potential interest to our faculty, students, and alumni. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a bustling place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Welcome to the New Academic Year

It’s the beginning of the academic year here at the University of Illinois, a good time to welcome new members of the department and to recognize the achievements of our excellent corps of teachers!

I am pleased to report that we are joined by a number of new colleagues as well as a new class of graduate students and over 100 new majors.

Last night was the New Faculty Reception sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Dean and Acting Chancellor Barbara J. Wilson and her LAS team—which includes our colleague, Associate Dean Martin Camargo—introduced all the new tenure-stream faculty in the college, including Ramón Soto-Crespo and Tim Dean, who are joining the English Department from SUNY-Buffalo. Ramón was our choice for a position in Global Anglophone Literatures; he works on Caribbean and inter-American literatures. Tim was a colleague of many in the department in the late 1990s and early 2000s and is a noted queer and psychoanalytic theorist as well as a scholar of modern poetry; it’s good to have him back and to be joined by Ramón as well.

Tim Dean, Acting Chancellor Barb Wilson, Ramón Soto-Crespo

Two colleagues who have already been affiliated with English will now play a bigger role in the department. The poet Joy Harjo joins our Creative Writing program after moving over from American Indian Studies, and the critic and theorist Jodi Byrd has also moved more of her line from AIS to English.

In addition, we welcome two visiting faculty members. Lucinda Cole joins us from the University of Southern Maine as a Visiting Associate Professor, and Nafissa Thompson-Spires will hold a 25% appointment as Visiting Assistant Professor in English/Creative Writing with the remainder of her appointment in the Department of African American Studies.

The department is pleased to welcome (and in some cases welcomes back) eight new Instructors and Lecturers: Michael Don, Ryan Flanagan, Kyle Garton-Gundling, Ceridwen Hall, Roya Khatiblou, Aaron LaDuke, Alaina Pincus, and E. Jordan Sellers.

We also have a new Director of Graduate Studies, Eleanor Courtemanche, and a new Associate Director of Rhetoric, Kristi McDuffie. I am looking forward to working with Eleanor and Kristi and the rest of our team of departmental officers and administrators.

Our new colleagues join a committed group of teachers. We are a department that believes that teaching and research enhance each other and we are dedicated to excellence in both areas. One indication of that excellence is the yearly List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students. As always, I’m pleased to see that so many of our courses and instructors are recognized for their quality by our students.

Here is the list for Spring 2015 courses:

Iryce Baron, Manisha Basu, Paul Beilstein, Jodi Byrd, Maria Carvajal Regidor, Debojoy Chanda, Jill Clements, Mary Rose Cottingham, Carrie Dickison, John Dudek, Dennis Dullea, Ashley Emmert, Christopher Freeburg, Shawn Gilmore, Philip Graham, Nolan Grieve, Joseph Grohens, Andrew Hall, Jim Hansen, Janice Harrington, Christine Hedlin, Marilyn Holguin, Irvin Hunt, Michael Hurley, Candice Jenkins, Kyle Johnston, Maggie Kainulainen, Katherine Kendig, Allison Kranek, Linda Larson, Mary Lindsey, Trish Loughran, Joshua Lynch, Michael Madonick, Vicki Mahaffey, Helen Makhdoumian, Michelle Martinez, Tom McNamara, Zach McVicker, Jessica Mercado, Natalie Mesnard, Matthew Minicucci, Dave Morris, Andrew Moss, John Musser, Richard Nardi, Katherine Norcross, Valerie O’Brien, Michael Odom, Samantha Plasencia, Anthony Pollock, Joseph Post, Julie Price, Rebecah Pulsifer, Isabel Quintana-Wulf, Scott Ricketts, Anna Robb, Michael Rothberg, John Rubins, Steve Runkle, Lindsay Russell, Ted Sanders, Julia Saville, Michael Shetina, Kaia Simon, Carol Spindel, Christine Sneed, John Stone, Sarah Sutor, Alison Syring Bassford, Elizabeth Tavares, Eric Thomas, Debora Tienou, Renee Trilling, Wendy Truran, Ted Underwood, Gregory Webb, Rebecca Weber, Kirstin Wilcox, Kelly Williams, Zachary Williams, Jess Williard, Elaine Wood, Charlie Wright, David Wright

Monday, March 9, 2015

Excellent Teaching and the English Major: It's Not Just a List

I am certain that one of the reasons I became an English major--and, later, an English graduate student--is because I had such excellent teachers. To be sure, that fortunate experience goes back a long way--at least to junior high, where I first really learned to write by being asked to revise essays again and again by a demanding teacher to whom I remain indebted; and to high school, where I was introduced to the canon of European literature by another demanding public school instructor.

But it was definitely in college that I became an English major and a future English professor. The things that attracted me back then remain central to the way we do things today here at Illinois: small classes, lots of attention to student interests, encouragement of free-wheeling discussion, and an emphasis on the craft of writing and making an argument.

There are a lot of good reasons to major in English, but the two main ones for me continue to be these: you get to spend your time reading and discussing really great books with interesting peers; and you learn to think and express yourself by working closely with teachers who care about your mind and your intellectual development. Of course these experiences will help you later in life when it comes to building a successful and fulfilling career; but they are also experiences worth having in their own right.

Here in English, we know that great teaching cannot be reduced to a number between 1 and 5. Yet, we take student evaluations seriously because they do give us an indication of whether what we're doing in the classroom is coming across. I'm happy to report that, as per usual, faculty and graduate students in the English Department do very well when it comes to those evaluations.

Without further ado, then, I'm pleased to give you the List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students for Fall 2014 courses:

Iryce Baron, Rob Barrett, Manisha Basu, Paul Beilstein, Maria Carvajal, Silas Cassinelli, Debojoy Chanda, John Claborn, Megan Condis, Mary Rose Cottingham, Eleanor Courtemanche, Kristin Dean, Esther Dettmar, John Dudek, Dennis Dullea, Meghan Dykema, Stephanie Foote, Philip Graham,  Catherine Gray, Joe Grohens, Evin Groundwater, Andrew Hall, Ceridwin Hall, Jim Hansen, Gail Hapke, Mary Hays, Janice Harrington, Chris Hedlin, Marilyn Holguin, Evan Hrobak,  Michael Hurley, Brandon Jones, Jamie Jones, Maggie Kainulainen, Brigit Kelly, Allison Kranek, Melissa Larabee, Jean Lee,  Mary Lindsey, Trish Loughran, Michael Madonick, Vicki Mahaffey, Calgary Martin, Michelle Martinez, Caitlin McGuire, Tom McNamara, Zach McVicker, Natalie Mesnard, Matthew Minicucci, Feisal Mohamed, Dave Morris, Andrew Moss, John Musser, Hina Nazar, Richard Nardi, Scott Nelson, Katherine Norcross, Valerie O’Brien, Michael Odom, Robert Dale Parker, Tony Pollock, Julie Price, Rebecah Pulsifer, Isabel Quintana-Wulf, Thierry Ramais, Scott Ricketts, Greg Rodgers, John Rubins Steve Runkle, Lindsay Russell, Julia Saville, Alex Shakar, Kaia Simon, Andrea Stevens, Jon Stone, Eric Thomas,  Debora Tienou, Sara Weisweaver, Kelly Williams, Zach Williams, Jess Williard, Greg Wilson, Jessica Wong, Elaine Wood, and Charlie Wright.

You can find the full list for the university here

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Super Teachers, Super Scholars, and Superheroes

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to update this blog and in that time a lot of good news has accumulated.

It’s been the season of awards and fellowships and our colleagues and students have been winning a bunch. Just yesterday the campus teaching awards were announced. Andrea Stevens, an Associate Professor and specialist in early modern drama, and Ann Hubert, a graduate student who just finished a dissertation in medieval studies, both won Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Awards! Earlier, Andrea had won our college’s LAS Lynn Martin Award for Distinguished Women Teachers and Ann had won the LAS Humanities Council Teaching Excellence Award. There are also departmental teaching awards to announce: Ann Hubert (again!) and Jessica Mercado won the awards for Graduate Teaching Assistants, and Mary Hays and Scott Ricketts won in the category of Specialized Faculty.

Late last year we heard that a number of our alumni had won high-visibility national fellowships. Mark Neely, who received his BA with us, and Sara Gelston and Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, who received their MFAs with us, all won Creative Writing Fellowships in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. Meanwhile, two English PhDs, Humberto Garcia and Melissa Girard, won National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships.

Back on campus, current faculty and graduate students have been doing well in university competitions. In 2015-2016, Professors Renée Trilling and Ted Underwood will be appointed as Fellows of the Center for Advanced Study, the most prestigious research unit on campus. Professor Lindsay Rose Russell was awarded Humanities Released Time for next year, and graduate students Silas Cassinelli and John Musser have been selected as Fellows of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities.

Other good things are happening these days too. Our non-tenure track faculty—Specialized Faculty, in the university’s terms—have organized a wonderful series of research presentations called “Research Off the Tenure Track,” which features monthly talks about the creative, critical, and pedagogical activities of NTT faculty in English. Here's the schedule of events:

Perhaps the most surprising news of late has been the ascendency of a new superhero in the orbit of the English department. Rowan Trilling-Hansen, the 11-year old daughter of faculty members Jim Hansen and Renée Trilling, has made waves around the world with her letter calling for more (and better!) representation of girls and women in superhero comics. As you will see if you watch Rowan’s interview with the Today show, the critical skills you can learn from hanging out with English professors shouldn’t be underestimated. They can be world-changing!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Wallace Stevens Memorial Prize

With the everyday busyness of the semester, it has been a while since I had a chance to update this blog. I hope some of you have had a chance to "like" our departmental Facebook page, though, since we've been announcing all sorts of good things over there. If not, please join us here.

I did want to take a moment to announce an exciting new prize we will be offering to graduate and undergraduate students, starting this year. It's called the Wallace Stevens Memorial Prize and it will be awarded once a year for the best critical essay written on modern American or British poetry. Here's an announcement for the first award cycle, which will be focused on graduate students:

This award has been made possible by the generosity of a donor, Harris Hatcher. Harris Hatcher is not an alumnus of our department, but he is a lover of modern poetry--and particularly the writings of Wallace Stevens, one of the great American poets of the twentieth century. We are so lucky to have found Harris and to have had the opportunity to connect him to our faculty, which is rich in expertise on modern poetry.

Last winter, Harris came to campus, and I had the pleasure of having lunch with him and introducing him to my colleagues. Although Harris is not an academic, he has the thorough knowledge of any specialist in the criticism of Stevens and modern American poetry--and he already knew the work of such English department faculty as Tim Newcomb (author of a book on Stevens) and Cary Nelson (editor of a major anthology of American poetry)!

Here I am with Harris and Vicki Mahaffey, a leading modernist in our department…

Opportunities like this--to connect our work as scholars with an interested and knowledgeable public--do not happen every day. But they sure make our work worthwhile!

Thank you, Harris, for supporting us and our students!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Welcome (Back) . . . Teaching Excellence

I am pleased to welcome everyone back for the 2014-2015 academic year! I hope you have managed to have a relaxing summer and are feeling ready for the new semester.

I’m excited about the coming year not least because we’re welcoming several terrific new colleagues to the department. Candice Jenkins comes to us from Hunter College, where she was an Associate Professor of English. She works on contemporary African American literature and especially issues of sexuality and class. Irvin Hunt also joins us as a specialist in twentieth-century African American literature; Irvin just completed a PhD at Columbia University and has interests in comedy and satire. Candice and Irvin will both have joint appointments with the Department of African American Studies. We are equally happy to welcome Eric Pritchard, who comes to us from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was an Assistant Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies; he’ll be joining our Writing Studies faculty and continuing his work on black queer literacies and other topics. We also have two new Visiting Assistant Professors. John Gallagher just received a PhD from the University of Massachusetts and works in the areas of writing studies and digital media. Jamie Jones received a PhD from Harvard and joins us from the University of Michigan. She works on environmental humanities and late nineteenth-century American literature. In addition, Natalie Mesnard, a graduate of our MFA program, is taking on a position as Lecturer, and Carrie Dickison, a PhD candidate in our literature program, is taking on a position as Instructor.

There are new faces among departmental leaders as well. Tim Newcomb has taken over from Spencer Schaffner as Associate Head and Dale Bauer is our new Director of Undergraduate Studies, replacing Lori Newcomb. I’m very grateful to Spencer and Lori for doing so much to make my first year as Head as smooth as possible, and I’m looking forward to working with Tim and Dale. I’m also grateful to Andrea Stevens, who is serving as Graduate Placement Director while Justine Murison is on sabbatical, and to Kirstin Wilcox, who has been working with Dale to start a new internship program for our majors.

In other news, we have recently received the new List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by their Students for the spring semester. As ever, we are well represented on this list. All of us—tenure-track faculty, lecturers and instructors, graduate teaching assistants—are dedicated to our students and it shows (among other ways) in how extensive the list always is:

Laura Bandy, Iryce Baron, Rob Barrett, Jensen Beach, Michael Behrens, Martin Camargo, Sarah Cassinelli, Debojoy Chanda, Erin Chandler, John Claborn, Mary Rose Cottingham, Esther Dettmar, Carrie Dickison, John Dudek, Meghan Dykema, Patrick Fadely, Jill Fitzgerald, Jein Funk, Naida Garcia-Crespo, Shawn Gilmore, Catherine Gray, Nolan Grieve, Joe Grohens, Ceridwen Hall, Jim Hansen, Justin Hanson, William Hechler, Marilyn Holguin, Ann Hubert, DeAvery Irons, Miguel Jimenez, Daniel Kelly, Mary Lindsey, Melissa Littlefield, Trish Loughran, Sean MacIntyre, Michael Madonick, Vicki Mahaffey, Bob Markley, Patrick McGrath, Lee McGuire, Erin McQuiston, Erica Melko, Jessica Mercado, Natalie Mesnard, Matthew Minicucci, Feisal Mohamed, John Moore, Dave Morris, Andrew Moss, Justine Murison, John Musser, Richard Nardi, Hina Nazar, Katherine Norcross, Valerie O’Brien, Michael Odom, Audrey Petty, Catherine Prendergast, Julie Price, Scott Ricketts, Gregory Rodgers, Richard Rodriguez, Carla Rosell, John Rubins, Ariana Ruiz, Sandra Ruiz, Julia Saville, Spencer Schaffner, Jordan Sellers, Alex Shakar, Michael Shetina, Siobhan Somerville, Carol Spindel, Andrea Stevens, Elizabeth Tavares, Eric Thomas, Renee Trilling, Gregory Webb, Sara Weisweaver, Lucilena Williams, Zachary Williams, Jessica Wong, and Jessica Young.

That’s the news for now. Hope to see you back here soon on the English blog…

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Convocation 2014

Yesterday I had the very special privilege of presiding over the 2014 English and Creative Writing Convocation. Sitting together with a couple dozen of my colleagues I watched as over 100 English and Creative Writing majors received their diplomas and ten of our graduate students were “hooded” by their advisors to mark the receipt of their Ph.D.s. Afterwards, we emerged out into a beautiful sunny afternoon on the Illinois quad.

This is always a moving event, but it was especially so for me this year since it marked the end of my first academic year as department head (although, to be sure, many projects remain in medias res!). I am proud of our graduates, who have accomplished so much during their four years at Illinois, and I am proud of my colleagues who helped enable those accomplishments through their dedicated teaching and mentoring. Not only do I believe an English degree—and more broadly a liberal arts degree—prepares our students well for any number of future possibilities, I also believe an English degree affords them four years of close contact with faculty members who are dedicated to helping them become better writers, thinkers, and ultimately citizens.

Convocation is a collective effort and I am grateful to everyone who made it possible—not least our wonderful academic advisers Anna Ivy and Jovaughn Barnard. I’m also grateful to Interim Associate Dean Curtis Perry (whom some of you may recognize as having occupied this blog in the years before me!) for his remarks at the event.

And I’m especially thankful to our convocation speaker, the writer and journalist Carol Felsenthal. Carol graduated from our department in the early 1970s and has gone on to an illustrious career as a biographer and political commentator known for her portraits of such figures as Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama, and Katherine Graham of the Washington Post. Carol gave a wonderful speech recounting her path to becoming a writer. She told us about some of the roadblocks women faced at the time she was starting out and also about the persistence—or chutzpah, as she put it!—needed to break through into a writing career. It seemed like a good message for folks about to set out on their own path towards what we hope will be similarly successful careers.

                                                             Michael, Carol, Curtis

I’m guessing that this blog will be a little quieter over the next couple of months as we regroup and then gear up for another year. But before you head off for your summer vacations, let me mention a few other pieces of good news that I haven’t had a chance to post yet.

Ramona Curry, a scholar of film studies in the department, has received a position as Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies at Uppsala University in Sweden. Ramona will be taking up her post in spring 2015.

Charlie Wright, recently a winner of a campus-wide award for graduate student mentoring, has also won the CARA Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Medieval Academy.

Our writing studies graduate student Pamela Saunders was recognized for writing one of the best papers to be presented at the upcoming Rhetoric Society of America meeting. Katie Irwin, who is based in Communication, but works with colleagues in English and the Center for Writing Studies, was also chosen for this Gerard A. Hauser Award.

Congratulations to all of these colleagues and students, and best of luck to all the new graduates! We trust you will keep in touch with us as you go on your way…

Friday, May 9, 2014

Launching Re:Search!

This has been an exciting year for undergraduate research in our department. We have a wonderful, active group of students in the English Student Council—the ESC—who have been working closely with Professor Lori Newcomb, our Director of Undergraduate Studies, and Wendy Truran, a graduate student in our program. A few weeks ago, we hosted part of the Undergraduate Research Symposium: panels considered “Gendered Spaces in British Literature,” “Identity Issues,” “Research in the Writer’s Workshop,” and “Intersectional Identities in American Women Writers.”

Another roundtable at the symposium was dedicated to what I think was the “big event” of the spring semester: the founding of Re:Search: The Undergraduate Journal for Literary Criticism. Re:Search joins our literary journal Montage as a new voice for undergraduate research in the department.

On May 8, a few dozen of us gathered in the newly refurbished atrium of the English Building for the launch of Re:Search. At the launch party we got to hear from Editor-in-Chief Nick Millman and Vice President Michael Chan, and we met other members of the editorial board as well as the contributors. Among the contributors to the first issue is Mary Baker, who recently won honorable mention in the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities essay contest for her essay on Mad Men! Other essays consider such diverse topics as children and space in The Secret Garden (Kathryn DiGiulio), superheros in the film The Avengers and the graphic novel Kingdom Come (David Rodgers), the subversion of domesticity in Victorian and neo-Victorian novels (Leatrice Potter), Japanese war-period fiction (Genevieve Scheele), nostalgia and empire in Doctor Who (Yue Yuan), race and class relations in E.D.E.N. Southworth’s The Prince of Darkness (Caitlin MacDonald), and violence and masculinity in video games (Mark Pajor). I am particularly impressed by the range of texts and approaches that made it into this single issue—a true sign of the creativity of our students and the vibrancy of our courses.

What is unique about Re:Search is the mentoring system the students have set up. Every essay is peer-reviewed by the editorial board and each contributor then works closely with a faculty mentor in the lead-up to publication. I am certain this creates a very productive intellectual exchange and accounts for the high quality of the essays. 

Many people have made this exciting new publication possible—it’s impossible to name them all here, but be sure to check out the extensive acknowledgments in the journal, which is available both online and in old-fashioned (but very lovely) paper editions. I do want to say a particular thank you to the faculty mentors who worked with the authors and, especially, to the journal’s hardworking faculty advisor Lori Newcomb, whose vision and guidance helped make this first issue such a success (that's Lori in the image above with the journal's Executive Board)!

As I remarked at the journal launch the other evening, working on a journal in graduate school was one of the most intellectually challenging and satisfying things I’ve ever done—I’m thrilled that our students have this opportunity already as undergraduates. So much of what we do as humanities students and scholars involves the solitary work of reading and writing. Being part of the creation of a journal—and appearing in one!—allows you to conceive of what you’re doing as part of a larger conversation about culture, about knowledge, about the world. Joining that larger conversation means recognizing that you are part of a community of other researchers, of people trying to understand the world in new and better ways. And it’s a good feeling. That’s what we try to enable in the Department of English.