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

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Aesthetics of Nostalgia

Just a few moments ago, Renée Trilling came into my office proudly displaying a copy of her brand new book The Aesthetics of Nostalgia: Historical Representation in Old English Verse (University of Toronto Press).

Here is the book description provided by the press: "Heroic poetry was central to the construction of Anglo-Saxon values, beliefs, and community identity and its subject matter is often analyzed as a window into Anglo-Saxon life. However, these poems are works of art as well as vehicles for ideology. Aesthetics of Nostalgia reads Anglo-Saxon historical verse in terms of how its aesthetic form interacted with the culture and politics of the period.

Examining the distinctive poetic techniques found in vernacular historic poetry, Rene Trilling argues that the literary construction of heroic poetry promoted specific kinds of historical understanding in early medieval England, distinct from linear and teleological perceptions of the past. The Aesthetics of Nostalgia surveys Anglo-Saxon literary culture from the age of Bede to the decades following the Norman Conquest in order to explore its cultural impact through both its content and its form."

This has been a very big week for Professor Trilling, who also just finished hosting an exciting 2-day conference here on campus called "Theorizing Anglo-Saxon Studies" that was, by all accounts, a great success too. It takes a lot of work and skill to organize and run a conference like this, and of course scholarly books like The Aesthetics of Nostalgia are also the product of innumerable hours of solitary study. It is wonderful (and very impressive, I might add) to see all of this labor come to fruition all at once. Congratulations, Renée!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Welcome, newsletter readers!

Late last week we mailed out this year's annual departmental newsletter--a 12 page, magazine-format newsletter containing alumni news items as well as stories and profiles highlighting some of the developments here over the past year. Thanks are due to Jim Frost and Bruce Erickson (past and present directors of Programs in Professional Writing), and to Bob Steltman and Claire Billing (from our advising office) for helping put this thing together, and also to the very talented undergraduate students who helped write and edit its various features: Justine Chan, Jeff Girten, Shannon Jilek, Timothy Lo, Mary Russell, and Ken Webb.

In the piece I wrote, I invited readers curious about what we do here to visit this blog. So, if you are an alum of our department visiting this page for the first time after seeing the link in the newsletter: welcome! And of course feel free to send me an email message if you have anything you want to say about either the newsletter or the webpage. I always love being reminded of the larger community that is connected to the department as part of its history and legacy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Janice Harrington wins Jaffe Foundation Award

Janice Harrington, a terrific poet and children's writer who teaches in our creative writing program, has just been named one of six recipients of the 2009 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers Awards. These awards (and here I'm quoting from the Foundation's own web page) go to "women writers of exceptional talent" with an emphasis "on those in the early stages of their writing careers." Jaffe, herself a bestselling author, established her foundation in 1995, and since then it has given out more than $1 million to support the careers of emergent women writers.

I couldn't be happier about this, frankly, because I too feel that Janice Harrington is an exceptional talent. But don't take my word for it. Go see for yourself: you can find one of my favorite poems from her book Even The Hollow My Body Made Is Gone here, at her own author website. Browse around there and you'll also find out about her children's books, which are pretty remarkable too. I say this as a kind of personal testimonial based in part on the reactions of my own kids: I have read The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County to my daughter many, many times, and watched both of my kids become totally enthralled when Janice read it aloud herself at an after-school reading-night event at their school.

This is a well-deserved award and one that I'm really delighted to be able to celebrate here. Congratulations, Janice!

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