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, November 28, 2011

Amy Rumsey

Now that we're all back in Urbana-Champaign after a nice and much-needed Thanksgiving break, I thought I should update this blog.

The most recent piece of good news around here is that Amy Rumsey--who helps keep the main English Department office humming and who helps me with all manner of administrative tasks on a daily basis--has been awarded an LAS Staff award in recognition of her good work. These staff awards are highly competitive (there are more than 200 staff members in LAS, after all), and so winning one is a real honor.

I couldn't be more pleased since (in keeping with the seasonal theme) Amy's help is one of the things I regularly give thanks for. Since word went out a few days ago about this award, there has been a steady stream of faculty and grad students congratulating Amy. I've enjoyed hearing that, both because I share the sentiment and because the friendly exchanges I've heard exemplify the the generally upbeat and cheerful tone in our main office that Amy herself has done so much to cultivate.

So let me chime in here, too: thanks, Amy, for everything you do to help me and on behalf of everyone else in the department. And congratulations!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Kevin T. Early Memorial Scholarship winners

One of my favorite parts of the seasonal business conducted in English is the process of awarding the annual Kevin T. Early Memorial Scholarship. This award is given each year to recognize and a talented Freshman poet, with the added purpose of helping to encourage talented young writers to continue pursuing their craft. What a wonderful thing that is. The award, established by William and Donna Early, honors the memory of their son, Kevin T. Early, who was himself a talented, dedicated, and award-winning young poet.

To apply, students submit a packet of their poems, which are then judged by faculty experts who do not see any identifying information and have only the quality of the poems themselves to go on. This year, as always, we received a lot of stellar application packets. In fact, our faculty judge wrote to me asking if we couldn't offer this scholarship to two winners this year since there seemed to be two exceptionally strong applicants who each deserved the award. As it happens, for this year, we were able to do just that.

I've now had the chance to meet with each of the scholarship winners, and I'm even more pleased with the decision our judge arrived at. They are both confident, interesting writers, they are both smart and engaging, and each of them has a clear-headed sense of what the craft of writing can be for.

I am very pleased, therefore, to congratulate Alli Gattari and Matt Stillwaugh as this year's winners of the Kevin T. Early Memorial Scholarship.

In case he reads this, I'd also like the thank William Early again for the enormous generosity of spirit that lies behind this particular award. And my deepest thanks, on behalf of our students, to all the other donors who made contributions to this fund this year in tribute to Donna Early as well as in memory of her son.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Best books of 2011!

As we inch our way towards December, we enter the season for 'best book of the year' lists. The leaves have changed color, so it must be time for the lists.

These types of lists are typically for fiction and trade non-fiction, so they don't tend to recognize university press books of the kind I and many of my colleagues publish. But I'm going to be following these more closely this year than I sometimes do, because I think Alex Shakar's novel Luminarium is contender to wind up on any and all lists of the best novels of the year.

And sure enough, here's one: Publishers Weekly has just issued its lists of best books of 2011, and Luminarium is one of the novels honored!


And speaking of Publishers Weekly, they also recently ran this strong, starred review of Janice Harrington's The Hands of Strangers: Poems from the Nursing Home, describing the poems as
"pellucid, scary, morally resonant."

Monday, November 7, 2011

LAS awards!

I could have posted this, I suppose, at almost any time during the preceding semester. But better late than never! Two faculty members in English have been awarded very prestigious and competitive awards by the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences this year.

First up, J. B. Capino was named a Helen Corley Petit Scholar for 2011-12. This is an honor given annually to exceptionally successful newly-tenured faculty members in the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences in recognition of superior achievement in research, teaching, and service.

And Siobhan Somerville was named one of this year's Conrad Humanities Scholars. The Conrad Humanities Scholar program is still a relatively new honor, one made possible by the extraordinary generosity of Arlys Streitmatter Conrad. It provides recognition and research support for outstanding humanities scholars in the college if Liberal Arts and Sciences over a five year period.

These are richly deserved awards for two brilliant, dedicated, and hard-working faculty members. I am very proud to have them as colleagues. Congratulations!

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