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

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gail Hawisher

As 2010 gives way to 2011, our numbers will be reduced by one. Professor Gail Hawisher, who has been on the faculty here since 1990, is retiring at the end of this semester. So in the new year, if you see her, you can call her Professor Emerita Gail Hawisher. On the one hand, congratulations are in order: I know Gail is looking forward to this next phase, and I bet she'll be enjoying herself quite a bit this coming semester! On the other hand, it does feel to me like a loss for the department, even though she will continue for the foreseeable future to help with the mentoring of our graduate students in Writing Studies. I guess what I'm saying is this, at the end of the day: send your congratulations to her and your condolences to me!

Gail has been a national leader in the field of Writing Studies--or rhetoric and composition as it is often called elsewhere--during a period in which that field has become increasingly important to English Departments all over the country. Our program is very highly regarded (and rightly so!), and this is due in no small part to Gail's efforts both within the institution and as a representative of it on the national scene.

Gail's work centers around computers and pedagogy, and her scholarly record is very impressive indeed: she has been involved in 10 different collaborative book projects and his author or co-author of more than 55 articles and book chapters. Additionally, her record of professional service is, frankly, awesome: for example, she has been involved in many, many program reviews, has given invited lectures and talks at universities all over the country, and has been co-editor of a major journal in the field as well as of a highly-regarded book series.

Her contributions within the institution are also important and wide-ranging. In addition to her work as Director of the Center for Writing Studies, she secured funding for and helped found the University of Illinois Writing Project, a federally funded professional development program for teachers at all levels and in all disciplines meant to encourage and support the teaching of writing. Her excellent teaching has been honored with college and campus-wide teaching awards, and at least fifteen of her former PhD students are currently employed in tenure track academic jobs.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Emerita Hawisher for all of her many, many contributions to department over the years, and of course to wish her all the best in the coming years, too.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Grant getters.

I am writing, dear reader, to share two quick stories about grant-funded research in English.

The first concerns Ramona Curry, who I've just learned has been awarded a pretty significant grant from the NEH that will go to support her over the next year as she labors to complete a book project entitled Trading in Cultural Spaces: How Chinese Film Came to America.

This is a very meticulously researched project that deals with cinematic cultural exchange in a manner that challenges some of the prevailing wisdom about US cinema's growing global reach and hegemony. It does so by examining (to quote from her proposal) "the trans-Pacific flow of Chinese movies into and within the U.S" via "intra-regional and community-based media circuits around the globe." "From the early 20th century," Curry argues, "such films have challenged stereotypes and forged avenues for cross-cultural exchange."

"By recovering multiple Chinese American and supporting voices, images and multicultural networks," Curry adds, Trading in Cultural Spaces "aims to refocus cinema history on its prior margins, [and] to enrich transnational and national film and social histories."

This will obviously be an important book in the field of cinema studies. The NEH funding that the project has received is given in acknowledgment of the importance of the work. Please join me in congratulating Ramona!


I also can't resist posting this link, to a brief account of some grant-funded research conducted recently by a team of researchers including our own Melissa Littefield. Here is the description of the project from the website I've linked to above:

"Between November 30th and December 3rd 2010, an inter-disciplinary and internationally-collaborative experimental team met at CFIN to complete an experimental study funded by the European Neuroscience and Society Network and with scanning facilities and overheads provided by the Center for Integrative Neuroscience (CFIN/MINDLab).

The purpose of the experiment was to consider whether or not there was a neurological correlation between 'deception' and 'socially-stressful truth-telling' (i.e. evaluative statements that may cause dissonance in relationships between two or more people). During deception, activity has been seen in several areas of the brain (the anterior cingulated cortex, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; and sometimes the insula). Truth-telling, however, has often been used as a baseline for these studies - an experimental condition for which there is little additional brain activation. The researchers hypothesized that brain areas often associated with inhibition, recall, decision making, and executive function may be similarly active during deception and and socially-stressful truth-telling. Their experimental design created a situation in which to test the outcomes of socially-stressful truth-telling.

The experiment was conducted by Melissa M. Littlefield (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Des Fitzgerald (London School of Economics and Political Science), and James Tonks (University of Exeter), with local collaborators Martin Dietz, Kasper Knudsen and Andreas Roepstorff. With scanning now complete, data analysis will begin in the new year, and results should be reported shortly thereafter."

Now, I believe I know what you are thinking, dear reader, even without scanning your brain. You're wondering why an English professor is doing this kind of experiment in the first place!

The answer is that Littlefield, who holds a joint appointment in English and in the department of Kinesiology and Community Health, writes on literature, science, and culture and in particular on the creation and circulation of the cultural fantasy that technoligically-enabled lie-detection might serve as an efficacious a forensic tool or as a way to plumb the depths of human character. This experiment, I imagine, will help frame her arguments by helping to establish a baseline concerning what actually is and is not possible in the realm of driven lie-detection via fMRI technology.

Pretty cool!


We are not, for the most part, a big grant-getting department. Most of the research we do is relatively inexpensive--we need a) our archives and b) time--and so we really do not need access to anything like the massive system of federal and foundation grants characteristic of the world of science research nowadays. But for this very reason--because grantsmanship is not really part of our academic culture--it is very impressive to me when our faculty do secure external funding for their work. So I want to take this opportunity to congratulate both Ramona and Melissa for their successful efforts in this regard.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Mock on, mock on...

Last Thursday evening the department held its annual mock-interview extravaganza, an evening event in which PhD students seeking jobs have the opportunity to role-play the job interview with at least two different interview teams made up of the department's faculty members. This year, the event was arranged by Tony Pollock, our superb Director of Graduate Studies, who divvied faculty into teams of two and scheduled mock interviews for our job seekers.

For those who do not know, faculty hiring in English departments typically involves a high-stakes 30-40 minute interview at our national conference in which search committees ask prospective hires about their research and teaching. This is a very nerve-wracking process (I speak from personal experience) because it feels so artificial: the ability to sound poised under great pressure while talking to strangers does not necessarily correlate to any of the things that successful faculty members do on a day-to-day basis, and it feels as though you can blow years of hard work by having a single inarticulate moment in an interview. Most of these interviews follow a somewhat predictable template that includes questions about the current research project and questions about different kinds of teaching. And since there is some formula to this, it helps a great deal to have the chance to rehearse. Otherwise, by the time you figure out how to interview properly you can have wasted some valuable opportunities.

I love this event--which I privately think of as mockapalooza--for a number of reasons. For one thing, it is kind of fun to do the role-playing. For another, it is interesting for me to see what PhD students in other areas of the department are doing. If the students that the team of Perry and Courtemanche mock-interviewed this year are any indication, we have some wonderful people seeking jobs. More generally, I think this is one of the events where our department is at its very best as a community. It is heartening to see so many faculty members (almost half of the department) coming into the English Building after dinner on a chilly winter evening to help graduate students prepare.

Thanks, Tony, for your organizational work. And thanks to all of the faculty members who participated this year. Best of luck to our job-seeking PhD students--may you all have the interview experiences you deserve this January in LA!

Monday, November 29, 2010

News stories

Just a quick post today, with some links to a couple of news stories of local interest.


The first has to do with a study of job satisfaction among pre-tenure faculty members that was recently released by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE), a 160-member consortium based at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. As has been described recently in both The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, the University of Illinois was identified as an institution that rates highly overall for its treatment of junior faculty members, and especially well for the way it enables junior faculty members to find a good, healthy balance between the demands of work and the maintenance of home life outside of the University. In this category, in fact, the University of Illinois was singled out as one of four institutional exemplars representing best practices among doctoral/research institutions.

This is not specific to the English department per se, but I would like to think that we do our part to contribute to campus's generally humane work environment. We hire fantastic people when we get to hire, and so there is nothing more important to the long-term well-being of our department than our ability to foster talent and to help people develop satisfying lives and careers here. What the COACHE study makes clear is that our local, departmental efforts in this regard are indeed well supported by a larger campus culture aimed at making it possible for faculty members to flourish.


My second news item has to do with Richard Powers, who was awarded one of this year's Liberal Arts and Sciences Alumni Awards at a lovely Alumni Association event a month or so ago. I'm linking here to the account of the event in the most recent LAS newsletter, and here to the biography of Powers associated with this story.

Nobody who lives and works around the English department needs to be reminded of how wonderful Powers is or how lucky we all are to have him as a colleague, but more far-flung readers of this blog will certainly enjoy the capsule biography of Powers and also of the three other impressive LAS alumni award winners. This is the third year running that there has been an English alum among the college's annual alumni awards, and each year I have been very honored and humbled to attend the Alumni Association event and to represent my department in the presence of such amazing and accomplished people.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

English Student Leadership Council

This past Tuesday, members of the English Student Leadership Council held a successful meet-and-greet event all afternoon in the atrium of the English building. To mark the event, they also had T-shirts made, such as the one pictured here on a rather dumpy middle-aged torso belonging (ahem) to the head of the English department:

Anyone who entered the building on Tuesday must have been aware of the event, because there were eye-catching posters everywhere, and this is only the latest indication of this year's ESLC's remarkable ambition and energy. We have some wonderful students in this group this year, and some wonderful leadership, too, from Adrienne Pickett and Lori Newcomb.

This group's main purpose is simply to enrich the experience of English majors, and part of what that means is trying to find ways to create departmental community for those who want it. We're a big department with many, many majors. And that means that it can be a challenge for our students who want to be part of a more tight-knit community to find each other. At the organizational meeting I attended earlier this Fall, members of this year's ESLC clearly expressed a desire to work towards community-building, and their labors are now bearing fruit. There is an ESLC Facebook page now to facilitate communication; the meet-and-greet event gave others in the department a chance to get involved; and members have organized and participated in a number of smaller-profile events designed to take advantage of the many cultural resources available on campus. Most recently, ESLC members organized a group outing to hear Dave Eggers speak in conjunction with the selection of his book Zeitoun for our "One Book, One Campus" program. And to speak with Eggers, too, as this picture demonstrates:

Here's why I love what the ESLC is doing: we provide our students with excellent classroom instruction, of course, but humanities scholarship is ultimately meant to be more than just something you master in a classroom. The kinds of thinking and learning we try to teach should ultimately be equipment for living, and anything that allows students to develop for themselves a fuller, more holistic relationship to their major or that makes it easier for them to take ownership of their own identities as intellectuals is, in my view, priceless.

Because English at Illinois is a large major in a large college on a large campus, it can all feel relatively impersonal at times. But by the same token, our size means that there are all kinds of smart people around to get to know and a huge wealth of relevant activities on campus to take advantage of. Part of the challenge of the university experience for our students has to do with finding personal interests, forging affiliations, and generally figuring out how the college experience matters for them in particular. Even though the members of ESLC might not see what they are doing in these terms--they might even dislike my avuncular tone here, for all I know--I'm grateful to them for creating a venue that will help many of our students to better negotiate this all-important challenge.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dream Factories of a Former Colony: American Fantasies, Philippine Cinema

I am very pleased to be able to announce here the publication of Jose B. Capino's new book Dream Factories of a Former Colony: American Fantasies, Philippine Cinema. I ran into J.B. earlier this afternoon, when he had just received his first copies from University of Minnesota Press. Though lists a publication date next week, the book has officially been printed. Congratulations, J.B.!

Here is the book description, pasted in from the press' website:

"Philippine cinema, the dream factory of the former U.S. colony, teems with American figures and plots. Local movies feature GIs seeking Filipina brides, cold war spies hunting down native warlords, and American-born Filipinos wandering in the parental homeland. The American landscape furnishes the settings for the triumphs and tragedies of Filipino nurses, GI babies, and migrant workers.

By tracking American fantasies in Philippine movies from the postindependence period to the present, José B. Capino offers an innovative account of cinema’s cultural work in decolonization and globalization. Capino examines how a third world nation’s daydreams both articulate empire and mobilize against it, provide imaginary maps and fables of identity for its migrant workers and diasporan subjects, pose challenges to the alibis of patriarchy and nationalism, and open paths for participating in the cultures of globality.

Through close readings of more than twenty Philippine movies, Capino demonstrates the postcolonial imagination’s vital role in generating pragmatic and utopian visions of living with empire. Illuminating an important but understudied cinema, he creates a model for understanding the image of the United States in the third world."

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mellon grant for text-mining

The following is a slightly truncated version of a press release that can be found in its entirety here. It features our own Ted Underwood (as well as John Unsworth, who is an affiliate of English even though his appointment is in the Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences).


GSLIS Dean John Unsworth, English Department faculty member Ted Underwood, and a team of fellow researchers have received a two-year grant to explore text-mining as a tool for understanding the humanities. Unsworth will serve as co-principal investigator along with Michael Welge, director of the Automated Learning Group at Illinois's National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and Stanford University Librarian Mike Keller will serve as principal investigator. Matthew Jockers, at Stanford University, will serve as Project Director.

Awarded in the amount of $761,000 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the grant will fund use cases by participants at four universities: Dan Cohen, from the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University; Ted Underwood, from the English Department at the University of Illinois; Tanya Clement, Associate Director of Digital Cultures and Creativity at the University of Maryland; and Franco Moretti, the Danily C. and Laura Louise Bell Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Stanford University.

Goals of the project include sharing research findings through peer-reviewed publications in print and online, as well as the further development of infrastructure for text-mining.

The main emphasis will be on developing, coordinating, and investigating research questions posed by the participating humanities scholars. Examples include exploring questions related to the evolution of literary style in the 19th-centuryAnglophone novel (Moretti), analyzing oral features of Gertrude Stein’s poetry, prose, and plays in both text and audio recordings (Clement), automated topical classification and visualization of historical documents concerning the events of 9/11 (Cohen), and understanding the impetus for changes in diction during the Romantic era (Underwood). “This is already an established research topic,” Underwood remarked, “because Romantic writers knew the language was changing, and spent a lot of time arguing about the social implications of word choice. But until recently we’ve had no way to pose the most obvious questions you’d want to ask about the topic: How did diction actually change? When? Which genres were affected first? It’s a problem that seems to cry out for analysis at a larger scale.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Every year, as Hallowe'en approaches, the English department staff holds a pumpkin decorating contest. In a blog post about this tradition last year, I dubbed it the Pumpkinification of English (in the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that this is an allusion to a satirical book called The Pumpkinification of Claudius probably written by the Roman playwright, politician, and philosopher Seneca, a writer I find endlessly fascinating. But I digress). Anyway, the time has come again once again for our annual re-pumkinification. The pumpkins are set out on display in the department's main office, and people who pass through are invited to vote for their favorite. This kicks off what is usually a pretty festive couple of days around here, since the children of department-members will traipse through the office in costume to trick-or-treat today and tomorrow as well.

Here are this year's contestants. I'll update in a few days when the smoke clears and the votes have been tallied.

Update, Friday late afternoon. Votes have been cast and tallied. Now, at last, the results can be revealed to a breathless public. This year's winner is...

[wait for it...]

[building suspense...]

...Deb Stauffer, for the black cat pumpkin in the center of the table! This is, as they say in the NBA, a 3-peat!

Monday, October 18, 2010

New Richard Powers story in the The New Yorker

The October 18th edition of The New Yorker features a lovely, thought-provoking short story by our own Richard Powers. The story is called "To the Measures Fall," and (as the mini-abstract at The New Yorker's website has it), it centers around "an American woman’s lifelong re-readings of an obscure English novel she discovered in the Costwolds while on a junior year abroad."

That really does not do the piece justice. It is also about the mysterious and idiosyncratic way some literature happens to grab us, about the way our investments in books can be isolating as well as sustaining, about the way our reading of a book can change over time, and about the interplay between our investments in narrative and the unfurling of our own experiences as narrative.

Also, as a Shakespearean, I am contractually obligated to point out that the title of the story--which is also the title of the obscure English novel that the American woman reads--comes from near the end of As You Like It, where the old Duke tells everyone to dance and partake of the "rustic revelry" associated with the play's happy ending:

Meantime, forget this new-fall'n dignity
And fall into our rustic revelry.
Play, music! And you, brides and bridegrooms all,
With measure heap'd in joy, to the measures fall.

I'll let you, dear reader, arrive at your own conclusions as to what this allusion signifies. But in any event you should definitely go read the story. If you have a subscription you can get it online here. Otherwise, look it up!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Gallimaufry (updated, September 30)

Four (no longer just three) short items today, dear reader, in lieu of a more sustained post.


First, Philip Graham writes to tell me that a Portuguese translation of his 2009 book The Moon, Come to Earth, is now slated to be published in the near future by Editorial Presenca, which I gather is the leading Portuguese publisher of international literature in translation. Hardcore Grahamites can also find a recent, laudatory recent review of The Moon, Come to Earth online here.


Second: I received an email press-release last week from the Tulsa City-County Library announcing that LeAnne Howe (whose current adventures as a Fulbright Scholar in Amman Jordan are chronicled here) has been named the 2011 winner of the their American Indian Author Award. You can find more information about this award--including a list of past honorees--here.


Bruce Michelson, who is a Professor in our department as well as being Director of the Campus Honors Program, is giving a talk today (September 30) at St. Louis University in commemoration of the Mark Twain centenary (which, Michelson reminds me, is something they take very seriously in the state of Missouri). There is a nice little write-up at the SLU English webpage here.


And last (alphabetically) but not least: Michael Rothberg, who is the author of an important recent book entitled Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization, was a keynote speaker this past weekend at a conference in England on the theme of ... multidirectional memory. I paste this in from the conference program (which, at least for now, you can find online here):

"The term ‘multidirectional memory’, taken from Michael Rothberg’s 2009 book Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization, suggests that memories are not linear or hierarchical, but are subject to processes of negotiation, cross-referencing, and borrowing.

This two-day, interdisciplinary conference aims to look at transfers between different kinds of traumatic memory, particularly those associated with, but not limited to, slavery, the Holocaust, and the colonial past."

This is a pretty unusual honor---to have an international conference inspired by your work!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Bollywood in the Age of New Media

I've just learned that the first advance copies of Anustup Basu's new book have arrived. The book--Bollywood in the Age of New Media: The Geo-televisual Aesthetic--is published by Edinburgh University Press. Though this is a book grounded in Basu's deep scholarly expertise in the area if Indian cinema, it is also a a book whose implications--concerning globalization and aesthetics--should be of broader interest too. For this reason, I am here pasting in the longer book description from the Edinburgh UP website instead of the short version you find on

"This study of popular Indian cinema in an age of globalisation, new media, and metropolitan Hindu fundamentalism focuses on the period from 1991 to 2004. Popular Hindi cinema took a certain spectacular turn from the early nineties as a signature 'Bollywood style' evolved in the wake of liberalization and the inauguration of a global media ecology in India. Films increasingly featured transformed bodies, fashions, life-styles, commodities, gadgets, and spaces, often in non-linear, 'window-shopping' ways, without any primary obligation to the narrative. Flows of desires, affects, and aspirations frequently crossed the bounds of stories and determined milieus. One example is the film Haqeeqat that featured poor working class protagonists, but romantic musical sequences transported them abruptly to Switzerland, with the actors now dressed in designer suits. Basu theorises this overall cinematic-cultural ecology here as an informational geo-televisual aesthetic.

This book connects this filmic geo-televisual style to an ongoing story of the uneven globalizing process in India. Basu argues that 'Bollywood' is not so much indicative of a uniquely Indian modernity coming into its own; rather it is symptomatic of a pure techno-financial modernization that comes without a political modernity. Bollywood in the Age of New Media therefore explains how the irreverent energies of the new can actually be tied to conservative Brahminical imaginations of class, caste, or gender hierarchies. Using a wide-ranging methodological approach that converses with theoretical domains of post-structuralism, post-colonialism, and film and media studies, this book presents a complex account of an India of the present caught between brave new silicon valleys and farmer suicides."

For more Basu-related news--this time of a variety that is very near to my own early-modernist heart--check out this recent story from the Times of India.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Some impressive faculty awards!

This past Wednesday I had the distinct pleasure of attending a reception and ceremony in honor of this year's recipients of the prestigious University Scholar award. I went in support of my wonderful colleague, Lauren Goodlad, who was one of the honorees. This award is Big Deal on campus, as faculty in all colleges and all departments are eligible, and I am really pleased that Lauren won the award this because I know there is nobody more deserving of this kind of recognition. Hooray!

It is also wonderful for English as a department to have a new University Scholar (our first since Catherine Prendergast won the award in 2008). Michael Hogan, the new president of the University of Illinois system was there at the awards ceremony, as were all the central leaders of our campus's academic mission and the dean of our college: so in addition to honoring a very deserving faculty member, an event like this is a really great opportunity to showcase the strength of English to influential campus leaders. It may sound funny to say this, but I'm really grateful to Lauren for providing this opportunity!

While I'm on the subject of impressive faculty awards, I have a couple more to announce here as well.

Renée Trilling was named Helen Corley Petit Scholar for 2010-11, an honor given annually to exceptionally successful newly-tenured faculty members in the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences based on their outstanding work as scholars and teachers.

And, last but by no means least, Ricky Rodríguez, was named one of this year's Conrad Humanities Scholars, joining last year's recipients Michael Rothberg and Trish Loughran as English Department faculty holding this title. The Conrad Humanities Scholar program is actually a relatively new honor, one made possible very recently by the extraordinary generosity of Arlys Streitmatter Conrad.

In addition to the honor and distinction that these awards convey, each carries with it some modest research funding. Compared to our colleagues in the sciences--whose labs can cost millions of dollars to run--our research needs are relatively modest as a rule. We sometimes need to be able to travel to a library or an archive, we purchase books and computers and the like, and we sometimes find ourselves in need of a research assistant to help with projects that require the assembly of a lot of disparate information. These things are comparatively inexpensive in the grand scheme of things, but being able to afford them can make a HUGE difference in the ability of humanities professors to be able to undertake and complete ambitious work. Awards like these--which in fact make it possible to meet the kinds of modest research expenses that humanities scholars encounter--can therefore have a major impact upon a given faculty member's research career.

These are the kinds of posts that make me very proud to be head of such a superb department. Congratulations to all of our recent award winners!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Welcome, alums!

Our annual newsletter was sent out last week, and as a result there seems to be a modest uptick in the daily number of visitors to this blog. I hope there a cause-and-effect relationship, in any event, since I'd like to think that I'm writing for (among others) our many, many alums out there who may be curious about what we're doing these days. The newsletter gives us a chance to highlight a few things, of course, but we are a big department and there is always a lot going on and there is just no way that the newsletter can even begin to do the place justice. So I use my own brief piece in the newsletter to invite readers to come here, to the blog, where I can at least give weekly updates about some of the many kinds of things that we do. If you have come here out of curiosity after reading about the blog in the newsletter, welcome! I'd love to hear from you, either in the comments section here or via email. Or even (gasp!) even snail mail (which is just soooo twentieth century): Curtis Perry, Department of English, University of Illinois, 608 S. Wright St., Urbana IL 61801.

There have been a couple of alums who have taken me up on my offer and made contact, though curiously enough each of them wanted to discuss a friend or former teacher rather than himself: I take this to be some kind of native Midwestern modesty--our alums are unwilling to toot their own horns, but are eager to praise their associates!

First Paul
Wagenbreth--an English alum who now works for the local newspaper--emailed me earlier this week to call my attention to the considerable achievements John Callahan, who is the Morgan S. Odell Professor of Humanities at Lewis & Clark College and who holds a PhD from our department. Callahan became a friend of the writer and critic Ralph Ellison (there is a lovely video of him discussing this friendship here) and is now Ellison's literary executor. In this capacity, Callahan (and another colleague) recently published Three Days Before the Shooting, a mammoth novel compiled out of drafts and papers that Ellison worked on for decades and left unfinished when he died in 1994.

Wagenbreth wrote to pay tribute to Callahan's scholarly achievements and to his contribution to American letters, but he also testifies to the impact that a teacher can make upon the life of a student. Wagenbreth writes of Callahan, his freshman writing instructor: "he made quite an impression on me--even steered me on to an English major and whatever success you could say I've enjoyed in life." This, he adds, is "proof if any were needed that an instructor really can make a difference in students' lives."

Then, while I was thinking about
Wagenbreth and Callahan, Bruce Erickson (who is our director of Programs in Professional Writing, and the guy who does the hard work of compiling our newsletter) told me that another alum had just come by wanting to tell him about the career of the poet and nature writer Reg Saner, now a professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, who is another distinguished English Department PhD.

I joined this department in 2006 after teaching for many years at another university, and as a relative newcomer (as I've said before in this space) I love to learn about the strength of the tradition we now represent and carry on. So I've been reading a great deal this week about both Callahan and Saner. And I also think it is wonderful that alums like Mr.
Wagenbreth want to acknowledge their teachers because, as he says, it serves as a reminder of the importance of the role played by good teachers in people's lives.

Partly because I find that a sense of our department's legacy makes its current work feel more meaningful to me, I would love to find ways to increase our engagement with our many, many alumni. But I'll need your help, dear reader, in figuring out what forms that engagement might take. If you are an alum and you have any ideas along these lines, I would really, really love to hear from you. Even by snail mail!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Introducing Kate Vieira

Today marks the end of the first week of classes. The weather still says summer, but the bustle of students and the quickened pace of everything and everyone here in the English Building most definitely says Fall. Even though I relish the extra time I have for reading, thinking, and writing over the summer, I have always found there is something energizing and exciting about the start of a new academic year. New students, a fresh syllabus, a chance to get that lesson plan just right this time, renewed acquaintance with those colleagues who may have been elsewhere over the summer, and gorgeous sunny weather with just the slightest hint of chill in the evenings; a jolt, a new challenge, a restart button for tired brains.

In keeping with the season's general spirit of academic renewal, I am very pleased to welcome and introduce the newest member of our tenure-stream faculty, Kate Vieira, who joins us as an Assistant Professor in Writing Studies. Her research deals with literacy and assimilation and, in particular, with the ways that different immigrant communities with shared languages assimilate to the United States while simultaneously competing with and assimilating to each other. Her work comes out of specific ethnographic work on the interactions between
Azorean and Brazilian immigrant communities in Massachusetts, and has broad implications for the way we understand the complex interactions between linguistic and cultural assimilation and the challenges of English language literacy within an increasingly diverse and globalized US.

Vieira is, as we say in my native Boston, wicked smaht (that's "very, very smart," for those not assimilated to the distinctive dialect I grew up in). She also comes to us with a very strong record of classroom instruction and writing program administration. In addition to a wealth of experience teaching writing in a university setting, she is a seasoned ESL instructor and has a really admirable record of educational outreach work in the US and overseas.

Faculty in my department take special pride in the care with which we hire, and we have in truth an amazing record of finding and fostering exceptional scholarly talent. Well, we've done it again. Welcome, Kate. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Instructional excellence, from Alderfer to Zink

The Center for Teaching Excellence has just released a draft of its newest "List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent," based on student evaluation data from classes taught in the Spring of 2010. This list--still known locally as the "incomplete list" despite the fact that CTE no longer calls it that--is considered a draft until it is published in the student newspaper in early September. But nothing in the data upon which it is based is going to change in the next week so I think we can consider it final enough for our purposes here.

As usual, English faculty of all kinds have made a very strong showing in a wide variety of classes. If you look at the faculty listed under the different rubrics for our classes (English, Business and Technical Writing, Creative Writing, and Rhetoric) you'll find a gaggle (or is it a pride?) of tenured and tenure track faculty members, visiting professors, graduate student TAs, instructors, and lecturers, all of whom have received strong student evaluations for classes ranging from general education writing classes and introductory literature classes to highly specialized graduate seminars. And everything in between.

Though I do always want to celebrate and thank faculty members who serve our students well (and this is in effect a list of faculty members that students report feeling especially well-served by), I also know that there are plenty of very good teachers every semester who do not make the list for all kinds of reasons. Good teaching is not a popularity contest, for one thing, and there are classes which, for whatever reasons, have higher and lower student evaluation numbers than others year in and year out regardless of who teaches them. So the list will always remain incomplete, no matter what CTE decides to call it. Still, I'm very glad so many of our teachers are doing right by their students, and I'm proud (as always) to be a member of a department populated by so many dedicated, excellent scholar-teachers.

So, without further ado, our list for Spring 2010:

Sarah Alderfer, Sarah Alexander, Claire Barber, Iryce Baron, Rob Barrett, Benjamin Bascom, Manisha Basu, Rebeccah Bechtold, Rebecca Bilbro, Heather Blain, Allan Borst, Stephanie Brabant, Aaron Burch, Michael Burns, J. B. Capino, Alexandra Cavallero, Debojoy Chanda, Ezra Claverie, Dan Colson, Megan Condis, Mary Rose Cottingham, Leslie Crowell, Sarah Dennis, Lindsey Drager, Caroline Duda, Karolina Engstrom, Patrick Fadely, Jill Fitzgerald, Chris Freeburg, Shawn Gilmore, Melissa Girard, Philip Graham, Catharine Gray, Sarah Gray, Baron Haber, Jill Hamilton, Jim Hansen, Gail Hapke, William Hechler, Ashley Hetrick, Liz Hoiem, Ann Hubert, Anna Ivy, Terra Walston Joseph, Gesa Kirsch, Kimberly Koch, Susan Koshy, Eileen Lagman, Melissa Larabee, Mary Lindsey, Samantha Looker, Tania Lown-Hecht, Sara Luttfring, Mike Madonick, Vicki Mahaffey, Heather McLeer, Bruce Michelson, Matthew Minicucci, Zia Miric, Justine Murison, Esther Nadolski, Michael Odom, Lisa Oliverio, Donghee Om, Paul Pedroza, Curtis Perry, Audrey Petty, Julie Price, Paul Prior, Thierry Ramais, Frank Ridgway, Micah Riecker, Austin Riede, Ricky Rodriguez, Michael Rothberg, John Rubins, Ted Sanders, Julia Saville, Christina Scheuer, E. Jordan Sellers, Alex Shakar, Anne Shea, Frank Sheets, Christopher Simeone, Katherine Skwarczek, Siobhan Somerville, Cristina Stanciu, Andrea Stevens, Bradley Stiles, Ted Underwood, Mary Unger, Michael Verderame, Jonathan Vincent, Jason Vredenburg, Kathryn Walkiewicz, Rebecca Weber, Kirstin Wilcox, Daniel Wong, Elaine Wood, Amanda Zink

Congratulations to one and all and thanks, too, on behalf of all of our students.

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