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, June 30, 2010

Summertime blog-rolling

Even in normal times, universities slow down over the summer. This summer, renovations being done in the English building have persuaded faculty members to meet their summer school classes elsewhere and to work, if possible, anywhere BUT in their offices.

It is nice, therefore, to be reminded that academic matters are humming along as usual elsewhere on campus. For instance, our Rare Book & Manuscript Library (an invaluable local institution for literary scholars) is hosting a reception at 3:00 on Wednesday, July 7, to celebrate the launch of their new blog, Non Solus. More information is available there, so click through!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Happy Bloomsday

Today is June 16, Bloomsday: the date upon which all the action of James Joyce's Ulysses takes place, and thus the day fans of Joyce (not to mention fans of gorgonzola sandwiches) set aside to honor the author and the novel with readings, parties, and celebrations of all things Irish.

If you are reading this today from campus, you might consider stopping by our wonderful Rare Books and Manuscript Library at 3:30 to particpate in their Bloomsday celebration, and to admire a first edition of the novel itself as well as other Joyceana on display.

I first read the novel during my first summer in graduate school, when I was trying to sort out what I wanted to be and so trying to read all the BIG famous books. But my first encounter with Ulysses actually came via a housemate in college, who was taking a semester-long class in Joyce and who simply couldn't resist reading the funny bits aloud. The passage that first made me want to read the book for myself (pasted in from here) is the following piece of virtuoso elaboration of a moment in which Bloom puts a kettle on the boil. I offer it up here as tribute:

What in water did Bloom, waterlover, drawer of water, watercarrier returning to the range, admire?

Its universality: its democratic equality and constancy to its nature in seeking its own level: its vastness in the ocean of Mercator's projection: its umplumbed profundity in the Sundam trench of the Pacific exceeding 8,000 fathoms: the restlessness of its waves and surface particles visiting in turn all points of its seaboard: the independence of its units: the variability of states of sea: its hydrostatic quiescence in calm: its hydrokinetic turgidity in neap and spring tides: its subsidence after devastation: its sterility in the circumpolar icecaps, arctic and antarctic: its climatic and commercial significance: its preponderance of 3 to 1 over the dry land of the globe: its indisputable hegemony extending in square leagues over all the region below the subequatorial tropic of Capricorn: the multisecular stability of its primeval basin: its luteofulvous bed: Its capacity to dissolve and hold in solution all soluble substances including billions of tons of the most precious metals: its slow erosions of peninsulas and downwardtending promontories: its alluvial deposits: its weight and volume and density: its imperturbability in lagoons and highland tarns: its gradation of colours in the torrid and temperate and frigid zones: its vehicular ramifications in continental lakecontained streams and confluent oceanflowing rivers with their tributaries and transoceanic currents: gulfstream, north and south equatorial courses: its violence in seaquakes, waterspouts, artesian wells, eruptions, torrents, eddies, freshets, spates, groundswells, watersheds, waterpartings, geysers, cataracts, whirlpools, maelstroms, inundations, deluges, cloudbursts: its vast circumterrestrial ahorizontal curve: its secrecy in springs, and latent humidity, revealed by rhabdomantic or hygrometric instruments and exemplified by the hole in the wall at Ashtown gate, saturation of air, distillation of dew: the simplicity of its composition, two constituent parts of hydrogen with one constituent part of oxygen: its healing virtues: its buoyancy in the waters of the Dead Sea: its persevering penetrativeness in runnels, gullies, inadequate dams, leaks on shipboard: its properties for cleansing, quenching thirst and fire, nourishing vegetation: its infallibility as paradigm and paragon: its metamorphoses as vapour, mist, cloud, rain, sleet, snow, hail: its strength in rigid hydrants: its variety of forms in loughs and bays and gulfs and bights and guts and lagoons and atolls and archipelagos and sounds and fjords and minches and tidal estuaries and arms of sea: its solidity in glaciers, icebergs, icefloes: its docility in working hydraulic millwheels, turbines, dynamos, electric power stations, bleachworks, tanneries, scutchmills: its utility in canals, rivers, if navigable, floating and graving docks: its potentiality derivable from harnessed tides or watercourses falling from level to level: its submarine fauna and flora (anacoustic, photophobe) numerically, if not literally, the inhabitants of the globe: its ubiquity as constituting 90% of the human body: the noxiousness of its effluvia in lacustrine marshes, pestilential fens, faded flowerwater, stagnant pools in the waning moon.

To be honest, those of us who live in the Champaign Urbana area have probably had just about enough of water's 'persevering penetrativeness' over the last week or so. But the forecast calls for a bright sunny Bloomsday so you should be able to head over to the library this afternoon without your umbrella.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ninth Letter, v. 7, no. 1

Philip Graham, blogging about the fiction in the new issue of Ninth Letter (our award-winning literary journal, produced by our creative writers in collaboration with Art & Design), has this to say: "The latest issue of Ninth Letter is out (Spring/Summer 2010), and though I’m semi-famous in the magazine’s offices as the guy who always says, “This is our best issue ever,” I’m gonna have to say it again: this is our best issue, ever." So there you have it.
I've written in this space about the contents of previous issues--I always find much to enjoy and admire. And this is the best issue ever, like the man says. But I'd like to emphasize here, too, how valuable the process of producing each issue of 9L (as we hip insiders, with our 9L lapel buttons, like to call it) is for the students in Creative Writing and Design who work each year on the practical aspects of editing, designing, and publishing each volume and who therefore gain invaluable hands-on experience with with both artistic and logistical aspects of the process.

I could go on about this myself, but I'd rather quote what the Art Director for this issue--Jonathan Krohn--says in his brief introductory note prefacing the volume. Krohn is a visiting Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, and he writes well about the educational process that lies behind the production of a beautiful, compelling volume like 9L 7.1. He's writing about design students, but the same sort of thing could be said for the MFA students lucky enough to work with Jodee Stanley in the 9L office in the English Building.

Krohn writes:


"I was asked to join Ninth Letter when I was on my way to, but had not yet arrived at the University of Illinois campus. In my first year as a Visiting Design Professor, I have been afforded the opportunity to take in all that this school and program have to offer. After a short time here, I soon discovered that participating in Ninth Letter is a goal of any undergraduate design student—and why wouldn’t it be? It is a great opportunity to take real world content and put together a wonderfully smart/exciting/challenging publication over the course of the semester.

On the design side of things, this issue focuses on how we as viewers ‘read’ an image, both formally and conceptually. As a class our design direction was to capture one’s personal ‘read’ of the text—and then try to illustrate it such a way that produces further discussion. Each piece was then shot, designed, and produced by expressing the ‘read’ that the students felt best suited the content. As much as the text plays the leader, the image participates as mimicked and supportive visual device. To take from the essay The Photographic Message, 1977, Roland Barthes, “…the image no longer illustrates the words; it is now the words which, structurally, are parasitic of the image.” We as a class were trying to find the intersection between the written word and the visual descriptor in an effort to unveil those ‘parasitic’ moments.

Throughout the course of the semester, we also documented what it meant to be a ‘designer in the heartland.’ Taking cue from the Where We’re @ portion of the book—we as designers wanted to describe what it is like to be a daily design participant while a) still in school and b) in the ‘heartland’ of America. As a daily exercise throughout the course of the semester, each student was asked to participate in a group image collection where any and every image that answered the question was collected and electronically labeled with a short description. These images make up the book wrap (included with subscriber copies and copies purchased through—a visual diary of the design student in the ‘heartland.’

I am very proud of the outcome of this issue. Working with Jodee and her editorial staff has been both fantastically easy and rewarding. The students have been phenomenal and I thank them for all their hard work—and I hope that you ‘read’ this issue as much as you read this issue."


You can find a table of contents for the new issue here, and I really encourage you to browse around the 9L website while you're there. Lots of interesting podcasts and artist features in the various archives there, for instance. I also encourage you to subscribe, as I do: there is no more satisfying, playful, interesting venue for new creative writing in America.

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