Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant 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, January 29, 2009

LAS Awards

Candidates put forward by the English Department have done extremely well this year in the competition for the teaching and student-services awards offered each Spring by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS).

I've just received word that Bob Steltman has been awarded an LAS Academic Advising Award, that Gillen Wood is a recipient of the LAS Humanities Council Teaching Excellence Award, that John Griswold is a recipient of the LAS Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching for Instructional Staff, and that Samantha Looker, a graduate student in the department, is a recipient of the LAS Humanities Council Teaching Excellence Award.

Congratulations to all on these very well-deserved awards!

(And big thanks, too, to all the students who took the time to nominate their terrific teachers, and to the faculty and staff members who've helped put the nominations together on behalf of the department).

I'm always delighted to see our excellent teachers receive the recognition they deserve--we are a department of fantastically conscientious, brilliant and successful teachers. And I'm really, really, really, really (that's four 'really's, for those keeping score at home) happy to see Bob Steltman get this recognition. For two reasons: both because Bob and
Claire Billing together staff what I am quite certain is the single most responsive student advising office anywhere on earth and also because, as department head, I've gradually come to see how many different aspects of departmental administration rely heavily on Bob's advice and input. He helps the associate head make the schedule, he advises on our newsletter, his mastery of enrollment patterns is absolutely necessary to all aspects of our annual staffing efforts, he helps to administer our departmental graduation ceremony, his knowledge informs all faculty discussion concerning undergraduate curriculum, and his general store of institutional memory is invaluable in countless other informal ways on a day-to-day basis.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thanks, thanks, thanks!

Spring has sprung. Well, not really—it is still pretty wintry here—but Spring semester classes started today and so there has been a certain amount of bustle and business here in the English Building after a period of dormancy. Things did get quiet in the late morning, as everyone not actively busy with their classes tuned into the inauguration, but now the Xerox machine is whirring again with last-minute syllabi and the office has been full of cheerful talk.

Amy Rumsey and I are now in the process of sending out thank-you notes to all the alumni and friends of the English Department who made donations to the department in the last quarter of 2008. If you are one of our wonderful donors and you're reading this now, let me again express my thanks for your generosity. I've said this before here and will almost certainly say it again: I'm very moved to be reminded that I'm part of something that has meant a great deal to so many people for such a long time. I wish I had the opportunity to thank each of you face to face (though, since our thank you letters are going out to addresses from one end of the country to the other, that prospect seems a bit daunting, too!).

If there are any alumni out there who read this blog, I'd love to hear from you. And if there are alumni who read this and would enjoy having more robust opportunities to reconnect with the department, I'd really love to hear from you about that in particular. That last sentence is a bit of a teaser, I suppose, since I do not have anything fully worked-out in mind. But I'd like to start some kind of alumni network or association over the next few years and my own feeling is that this should entail being as responsive as possible to the interests and ideas of those alums who might be most interested in reconnecting. Let me know!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

More LeAnne Howe

Nice story in the News Gazette this morning about LeAnne Howe and her upcoming Krannert show (on which, see my previous post). Both performances are sold out, but some seats might become available and there is a link to an online waiting list here.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

LeAnne Howe: Choctalking on Other Realities

LeAnne Howe’s one-woman, multi-media theatrical production, Choctalking on Other Realities, premiers at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Jan 23-24, 2009, in Studio Theater.

You can find out more by going to the Krannert website, where you can also order tickets. Here is a chunk excerpted from their publicity page: "In its premiere at Krannert Center, Choctalking, a one-woman theatrical production, evokes the richness and fluidity of Howe’s prose and her particular sense of place, which, according to the literary critic Craig S. Womack, himself Oklahoma Creek-Cherokee, resides in “intersecting and competing jurisdictions, the tensions going in and out of borders, in short, disputes over who constitutes the indigenes of a given geography. Indeed, geography is at the heart of both Howe’s exploration of landscapes and the journey that she and her characters traverse in Choctalking. Howe roams from the 1970s to the early 1990s, from Oklahoma City to Jerusalem and Jordan and back again, breaking through spatial and temporal constraints to connect multiple cultures and countries. The dense textures of history, fiction, and analogous cultural references will conjure a modern odyssey in which new implications of the American Indian experience will be uncovered outside the US borders."

See also the YouTube clip pertaining to the show here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ninth Letter

I just received, and so spent part of the afternoon reading, the latest issue of Ninth Letter, the gorgeous, hefty, and always-interesting literary magazine that our creative writing program produces in collaboration with faculty and students from The School of Art and Design. Actually, to call Ninth Letter a literary magazine is to do it an injustice: each volume contains highly accomplished stories and poems and creative non-fiction pieces, true, but they are presented as part of an elaborate visual scheme too, illustrated with arresting, enigmatic images and set on pages that also feature striking visual frames that can operate like non-verbal side stories. A given issue of Ninth Letter is, self-consciously, a magazine to read and an object to encounter all at once. And that's part of the point, since (as their website says) each issue "seeks to merge literature with various fields of creative and intellectual life, such as visual arts, journalistic arts, science, history, and cultural studies. We seek these intersections not only in the creative content we accept, but also in the overall design and form of the magazine itself. In this sense, we view the magazine as an organic work of art: the overall interaction among the components is as important as the discrete objects within the content."

This latest issue (5.2: Fall+Winter 2008-9) has a thematic focus on music and on the synaesthetic interaction of music with literary and visual arts. One of the things I like about the collaborative, creative spirit behind Ninth Letter is that each issue takes its own shape so there is a minimum of formal restriction and plenty of room for creative improvisation. A reader finds little, unexpectedly interesting things in every part of the volume. In this issue, I really enjoyed the contributors' notes for example—when was the last time you heard anyone say that? The section contains not only information about what the various writers featured have published and where they work and live, but also how they answered a question about what music they like to listen to while they write. Kind of fun to put this information together with the pieces one has read (was "Chinese Apples" really written to the dulcet sounds of Scritti Politti?) and also just to think about the range of answers people give to this question and so about the endless variety of rituals involved in people's writing processes.

I also like the regular feature "where we're at" which features short pieces on "the wonders, oddities, and complexities of the heartland." Those of you who live in Champaign Urbana might find yourself looking a bit differently at Meadowbrook Park after reading John Griswold's piece in this section.

If you'd like to subscribe to Ninth Letter, you can do so here. If you'd like to do more to support Ninth Letter, you can do that, too, here.

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