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

Monday, January 31, 2011

Radio Free AWP

The AWP meeting is the big, annual conference of creative writing programs. It features readings, paper sessions, hobnobbing, a large and various book exhibit, interviewing for jobs, etc. This is a big and growing deal: there are now something on the order of 500 college- and university-based creative writing programs in the country, and a correspondingly large number of faculty members and students.

For a literary scholar like myself, this is off the beaten path. I go every year to the big Modern Language Association conference--a gathering of 8,000-10,000 literary scholars in English and other languages--but I would not have known about AWP had I not become head of a department with an associated MFA program. The MLA conference gets a certain amount of press coverage each year, and I've been joking that this year there seems to be an unspoken journalistic agreement that all MLA-related stories must feature at least two faculty members from our department. This year, though, as the AWP continues to grow in importance, John Griswold--aka, Oronte Churm--is bringing the media spotlight to AWP.

He's calling it "Radio Free AWP" on his Inside Higher Ed blog, and I'll let him explain:

"Please tune in here, this Wednesday through Saturday, to click-and-listen to two-dozen free podcasts by big-time poets, writers, and editors.[...] Radio Free AWP will coincide with the annual conference of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, which supports more than '34,000 writers at over 500 member colleges & universities and 100 writers' conferences & centers.' This year the conference is in Washington, DC, home of Inside Higher Ed, and with IHE’s help I’m using this opportunity to connect writers and readers, wherever they are.

It’s true pirate radio, internet-style, with some of my literary friends and friends-of-friends generously donating their words and time for your listening pleasure. The readings and discussions range widely, from a short story recorded professionally in the studio of some guy named Ira who evidently has an interest in American lives, to a self-produced audio essay recorded on location in Africa, to what sounds like a writer who's broken into your kitchen late at night to drink your bourbon and pet your dog, and when you discover him there he tells you a crazy-funny tale about the Russian mob stealing a river."

So there you have it. Not only a way to keep up with the AWP as it happens, but a way to do so without actually sharing your bourbon. Tune in!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Robert Markley, the new W. D. & Sara E. Trowbridge Professor

I'm very happy to be able to announce here that my colleague Bob Markley is—as of this past January 1--the newly appointed W. D. & Sara E. Trowbridge Professor.

This kind of named and endowed Professorship is one of the highest honors a scholar can receive, and to be appointed to a position like this at a top research university like the University of Illinois amounts to an acknowledgment that the recipient is a scholar of extraordinary talent and achievement, a recognized national and international leader in his or her field of study. Such awards also typically come with a research budget that—while perhaps modest in comparison with the kinds of research funds sometimes available to leading scientists on campus—is a tremendous boon to an ambitious research scholar in the humanities, facilitating travel, the purchase of books and equipment, and perhaps even the services of a research assistant.

So much for the general. Now on to the particular: Bob Markley.

Note: this is the part where my rhetorical objective is basically to make the person I'm writing about blush!

Professor Markley joined the faculty here, at the rank of Professor, in 2003. He was, at that time, already a well-known senior scholar in the field of 18th century British literature and culture, with two important single-author books to his credit (not to mention twelve edited and co-edited books and journal special issues, and too many articles and book-chapters for me to have the patience even to count). He brought with him, as this record suggests, an extraordinary depth and breadth of knowledge concerning 18th century literature and culture, and he had already published quite a bit in the newer sub-discipline of literature and science, too, building off of expertise developed while writing his 1993 book Fallen Languages: Crises of Representation in Newtonian England, 1660-1740 (Cornell UP).

Skipping forward to the present: Markley is now a recognized leader in the field of science and literature, and he publishes, mentors graduate students, and wins competitive grants in an amazingly wide range of traditional and emergent fields within English studies. In addition to expertise on a very broad range of seventeenth- as well as eighteenth-century writers, for instance, and he has staked out territory in several burgeoning areas of critical inquiry including science studies, cultural climate history, new media studies, and digital humanities. This versatility makes him extremely valuable to the department and to faculties of other adjacent fields, as he is able to teach and mentor in such a wide range of interdisciplinary areas.

Markley’s 2005 book—Dying Planet: Mars in Science and the Imagination (Duke UP)—marked an impressive foray entirely outside the area of 18th century studies. It treats the idea of Mars as a focal point for utopian imaginings and for the projection of ecological fears, examining texts and contexts ranging from seventeenth-century astronomical thought though modern science fiction novels and NASA mission planning. This well-received book further established Markley as a leading figure in the field of science and literature. And meanwhile, the publication of his book The Far East and the English Imagination, 1600 to 1730 (Cambridge UP, 2006) further extended Professor Markley's reputation as a leading scholar in early modern studies. Contesting the dominant paradigm of Eurocentric research in English departments, Markley's book places Asia—especially China and Japan—at the crux of an early modern global system, showing how European-based writers confronted the economic, cultural, and technological dominance of the East.


But wait, there's more!

Professor Markley has also been editor of the journal The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation since 1982 (when I was still in high school, for crying out loud!), and between that and his editorial work on numerous essay collections and journal volumes he has helped publish the research of hundreds of other scholars along the way. He is also a very gifted and charismatic teacher in all of his many fields, a fixture for instance on the so-called Incomplete List that our Center for Teaching Excellence publishes each semester to recognize instructors who have been rated excellent by their students. Professor Markley regularly mentors a huge number of graduate students in our PhD program, and as department head I can say that he carries out his share of departmental service work with great professionalism and skill.

Obviously, I could go on and on here. So here's the short form: this is a colleague whose record of achievement is eminently worthy of the recognition it has now received. So congratulations, Bob, on this richly-deserved honor!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New 9L has arrived

The Fall/Winter issue of Ninth Letter arrived in my mailbox earlier this week, replete as always with eye-catching layouts and intriguing poems and prose-pieces. I've always been interested in contemporary poetry, and so it is no surprise that I especially liked reading this issue's poetry, which is sometimes direct, sometimes resonantly oblique, and sometimes even funny. There is a complete listing of the contents of the new issue here, at the 9L website. It is also worth checking out the blog that the intrepid Ninth Letterers maintain. And if you have not yet subscribed you can do so here.

In the meantime, let me leave you with this photo of the new cover and layout. Since an insert covers up a portion of the cover, let me say this: issue 7.2 comes with a bellybutton, but without lint.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Changing is not vanishing

I am delighted to ring in the new year by announcing the publication of Robert Dale Parker's important new book Changing is Not Vanishing: A Collection of American Indian Poetry to 1930 by the University of Pennsylvania Press. I have not had a chance to read it yet, but I've been waiting for this book to come out ever since I heard it was in the works. It strikes me as a really major, field-changing piece of scholarship. Here is the book description, pasted in from the U Penn Press website:

"Until now, the study of American Indian literature has tended to concentrate on contemporary writing. Although the field has grown rapidly, early works—especially poetry—remain mostly unknown and inaccessible. Changing Is Not Vanishing reinvents the early history of American Indian literature and the history of American poetry by presenting a vast but forgotten archive of American Indian poems. Through extensive archival research in small-circulation newspapers and magazines, manuscripts, pamphlets, forgotten rare books, and scrapbooks, Robert Dale Parker has uncovered the work of more than 140 early Indian poets who wrote before 1930.

Changing Is Not Vanishing includes poems by 82 writers and provides a full bibliography of all the poets Parker has identified—most of them unknown even to specialists in Indian literature. In a wide range of approaches and styles, the poems in this collection address such topics as colonialism and the federal government, land, politics, nature, love, war, Christianity, and racism. With a richly informative introduction and extensive annotation, Changing Is Not Vanishing opens the door to a treasure trove of fascinating, powerful poems that will be required reading for all scholars and readers of American poetry and American Indian literature."

This is BIG, people. It is not everyday that a scholar gets to publish a book that is absolutely guaranteed to reshape its field.

This book extends the recovery project inaugurated by Parker's 2008 book, The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky: The Writings of Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, which made available for the first time the complete oeuvre of the earliest known American Indian literary writer.

Since I expect this book to make major waves in the field of American Indian literary studies, I'd also like to take its publication as an occasion to brag for a moment about our depth in this scholarly field. With Parker, Jodi Byrd, LeAnne Howe, and Robert Warrior (who is also director of Illinois's excellent American Indian Studies Program), we absolutely have one of the very best faculties in this area in the country. So: if you are thinking about where to do graduate work in American Indian literary studies, or if you are a faculty member at some other institution and you find yourself advising somebody with an interest in this field, we should definitely be on the short list of places to apply.

Happy 2011, y'all. And congratulations, Bob, on the culmination of so much hard work.

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