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, February 26, 2009

This and that: catching up

At the risk of sounding like one of the Brontes.... It has been several weeks, dear reader, since I last had a moment to update this blog. I have been doing a lot of traveling for my job this month and that has really eaten into any margin I might normally have to think about what to post here.

But some of that travel has been, er, blog-worthy (now that doesn't sound very Bronte-like), especially my trip in mid-February to the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Chicago. In format, the AWP Conference is was more or less like other large academic conferences I have attended as a faculty member over the years--continuous, simultaneous panels, a big and heterogeneous book fair, bustle in the hallways as people reconnect with colleagues they don't often see, etc.--but I have to say that the vibe (if I can be forgiven for sounding not like a Bronte but like a Beachboy for a moment) was entirely different. The sessions I went to were mostly people reading from their poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction to appreciative audiences instead people of presenting difficult critical arguments to skeptical or exhausted listeners. The UIUC creative writers did themselves and all of us proud in a number of sessions. Some highlights for me included a session in which three of our writers (Philip Graham, John Griswold, and Audrey Petty) each read lovely and thoughtful creative non-fiction pieces, all of which hinged on father/child relationships and so went unexpectedly well together, a fiction session featuring readings by Alex Shakar, John Rubins and LeAnne Howe, and a session for Illinois poets featuring Janice Harrington, Steve Davenport, Tyehimba Jess, and Mike Madonick in which Tyehimba provoked the crowd into unsolicited and spontaneous applause in mid-reading with a powerhouse poem on Detroit and Janice had the crowd rolling in the aisles with an introduction-cum-roast of Madonick that may have been the most perfectly pitched piece of writing I heard all weekend (sorry, Mike: couldn't resist). I was also able to attend a lovely event one evening hosted by The Ninth Letter and to get a sense of the extended academic family of our creative writing program at a reception where I dined and drank with current students, alums, and friends. Definitely worth the trip.


On another matter entirely, Smile Politely, the local online magazine that is quickly becoming a must-read for everyone in Champaign Urbana, has a nice profile this week of Michael Burns, a PhD student in our Writing Studies program, focusing on his volunteer work for The Bike Project as well as his academic interests. I love this in particular, from one of his fellow volunteers: "Michael is one of the main reasons I show up on Saturdays.... He's one of the nicest guys and best teachers of all-things-bike. Plus, he's ridiculously smart. It's not often that you get to chat with someone who will effortlessly switch from a conversation about Aristotle and Frederick Douglass to one about the mechanics of bending a steel frame back into alignment after getting run over by a car."

A tip, unrelated to English: if you live in Champaign Urbana or are considering coming and have not yet looked at Smile Politely, take a look. I think they do a really nice job keeping up with local food and music and so on. Frankly, dear reader, I'm too old and tired to get out much, but I do read their restaurant reviews and so now I have a backlog of local places I'm eager to explore.

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