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

Friday, December 16, 2011

Linky goodness

I'm writing today to share three links to interesting websites featuring English Department faculty members. The sites couldn't be more different, I think you'll agree. But variety is the spice of life, and in a terrific, comprehensive English department like ours there are always all kinds of things going on!

First up is an interview with Audrey Petty about her family's history and her own engagement with the project of the Southern Foodways Alliance. I personally find the cultural history of foodways utterly fascinating and it is a dream of mine someday to participate in the academic side of the Sourthern Foodways Alliance's work. So I guess what I'm saying is that I'd recommend reading this interview and then looking up all of Audrey's other published foodways-related pieces and reading them too! You can find the interview here.

Proceeding in alphabetical order, the next link is to an online article published at by Michael Rothberg. The piece offers an analysis of recent neo-Nazi extremism in Germany, placing it within the context of that country's competing discourses around immigration and the value of multiculturalism. The article, well worth reading, can be found here.

And last but not least, Alex Shakar. You didn't really think there would be a blog post here without him, did you? The widely read online literary journal The Millions is running a series called "The Year in Reading," in which various luminaries of the literary world are invited to share what they read and loved in 2011. Alex's is here.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Writing Program Certificate of Excellence (and more Alex Shakar)

I'm very pleased to be able to announce here that our undergraduate rhetoric program has this year been awarded a certificate of excellence by The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC).

Here is the text of the press release issued by CCCC:

"The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), an association within the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), has awarded a 2011-2012 CCCC Writing Program Certificate of Excellence to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Undergraduate Rhetoric Program.

Established in 2004, this award honors up to 20 writing programs a year. To be eligible for this award, programs must be able to demonstrate that the program imaginatively addresses the needs and opportunities of its students, instructors, institution, and locale; the program offers exemplary ongoing professional development for faculty of all ranks, including adjunct/contingent faculty; the program treats contingent faculty respectfully, humanely, and professionally; the program uses current best practices in the field; the program administrator (chair, director, coordinator, etc.) has academic credentials in writing; the program uses effective, ongoing assessment; the program uses effective placement procedures; class size is appropriate; and that the program models diversity and/or serves diverse communities.

The Selection Committee for the 2011-2012 Writing Program Certificate of Excellence noted that the University of Illinois has an innovative e-text reader with on-going professional development and also has a program that is well-integrated institutionally.

CCCC supports and promotes the teaching and study of college composition and communication by sponsoring meetings and publishing scholarly materials for the exchange of knowledge about composition, composition pedagogy, and rhetoric; supporting a wide range of research on composition, communication, and rhetoric; working to enhance the conditions for learning and teaching college composition and to promote professional development; and acting as an advocate for language and literacy education nationally and internationally.

At the 2012 CCCC Annual Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Undergraduate Rhetoric Program will be publicly announced as a recipient of the CCCC Writing Program Certificate of Excellence on March 23, 2012."

Congratulations are in order for Catherine Prendergast, who directs the program, and for Richard Nardi and other members of the program's staff.


In other news...and stop me if you've heard this one before...

Alex Shakar's novel Luminarium has just been listed by The Washington Post as one of the notable works of fiction for 2011.

The blurb accompanying the listing describes the book as being "something like an adult version of “Sophie’s World” for readers clicking between “Mortal Kombat” and Immanuel Kant, Shakar’s metaphysical novel explores different facets of belief and the manipulation of consciousness."

Hrm. Not sure I'd have put it like that. But I certainly concur with the evaluation that Luminarium is one of the year's best novels!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mock interviews

This past Thursday, we held our annual evening of mock interviews for new and recent PhDs who are on the academic job market. Mock-a-palooza, shall we call it?

For those not in the know, the vast majority of English departments looking to hire new faculty members do so via a process that involves, as a penultimate stage, a 30-45 minute interview with a faculty search committee in December or early January. These interviews are--and I speak from experience here--somewhat terrifying. So much rides on them, and success or failure in them has only a tangential relationship to one's real ability to thrive as a faculty member. It is one thing to teach well and quite another to be able to speak glibly about teaching when asked unexpected questions by potential future colleagues; it is one thing to be a brilliant research scholar and another to be able to chat about your scholarship in a clear, thoughtful way in some hotel room somewhere while amped up on adrenaline.

Because the job interview is not really like what most of us do most of the time, even very well-trained scholar-teachers need to prepare themselves in advance. And since there are some predictable aspects of the interview process, we--like many departments--try to help our students prepare by staging role-played mock interviews. It is a very useful kind of practice.

I mention this here, though, because I always think of the evening of the mock interviews as an example of our department at its very best. Faculty participate out of a real commitment to the well-being of our graduate students, and I have never failed to be impressed by the colleagues I am paired up with or by the graduate students (in all sub-fields) whose work I learn about in this odd, stylized interaction. Almost half of our faculty participate in any given year, and that means reading candidate materials, coming up with interview-style questions, and then participating in several different mock interviews over the span of several hours late on a Thursday evening. Teams of two are located throughout the English building and job seekers go from room to appointed room. Each of them has a couple of mock interviews so that they can compare feedback, and because so many department members are in and around the building the whole thing winds up having a semi-festive feel to it.

As we head into the interviewing season, I want to wish all of this year's job-seeing grad students the best of luck. You are among the smartest and best-prepared scholars and teachers on the job market and any department that hires one of ours will be extremely well-served. I hope you take that knowledge, and the confidence it should impart, with you into your real interviews.

Also, I'd like to thank our Director of Graduate Studies, Tony Pollock, and our Placement Officer, Vicki Mahaffey, for all the work they do arranging this event and generally helping our job-seeking graduate students prepare themselves. Above all, and on behalf of the graduate students and the department, I'd like to thank all of the many, many faculty members who volunteered to participate in these interviews at what is of course a very busy time of year. I'm pleased and proud to have such terrific colleagues.

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