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, November 27, 2012


I hope and trust, dear reader, that you had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday.

Today's post is about an event that took place earlier in November: the investiture ceremony for the College of Liberal Arts and Science's  two new W.D. and Sara E. Trowbridge Professors, Robert Markley of English and Peter Fritzsche of History.  If you are an exceptionally diligent reader of this blog, you will remember that I first posted about the Professorship some time ago, when the appointment was initially made.  The investiture comes after the fact, a nice ceremonial event in which the honor is celebrated and the honorees are given medallions (like the one pictured to the left) indicative of their titles.  Professors don't get to wear medallions all that often, so that alone makes an investiture seem like a pretty special event!

To the right is a picture of the two honorees, sporting their medallions, along with Dean Ruth Watkins of LAS, Ilesanmi Adesida, the Provost of our campus, yours truly, and Diane Koenker, the chair of the History Department.

The event was held at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center on November 5th--I am posting about it now just because it took a while for pictures to be send to my office!  Here are a couple more of Bob, both during his remarks and after the ceremony. 

I'm told that we don't know too much about the Trowbridge family whose gift made this Professorship possible, but they (like all who choose to support the mission of public higher education and humanities research) have my gratitude.

Congratulations, too, to Bob (and Peter) on this well-earned distinction!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Kevin T. Early Memorial Scholarship winner

I am delighted to announce here that Jessica Sung is the winner of this Fall's Kevin T. Early Memorial Scholarship.  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.

This award is is given each year to recognize and a talented Freshman poet, with the stated purpose of helping to encourage talented young writers to continue pursuing their craft. Ms. Sung is an English major, and (though not enrolled in our Creative Writing track) is hoping to take a poetry-writing workshop in the near future.  This year, as always, we received a lot of stellar application packets; Ms. Sung's poems stood out for their careful prosody and their inventiveness and wit.

I've now had the chance to meet briefly with Ms. Sung, who is a second generation UIUC student but the first member of her family to seek a liberal arts degree.  I asked her how she became interested in poetry and writing.  She told me that she came by it as a result of a life-long habit of reading for pleasure, and that she first became interested in the formal aspects of poetry in middle school while reading young adult verse novels.  I confess to being fascinated by the fact that such things exist!  When I asked Ms. Sung if she especially liked any contemporary poets, she immediately mentioned Margaret Atwood (who is most famous for novels like The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake, but who has also published several volumes of poetry). 

Just in case he reads this, I'd also like the thank William Early again here for the enormous generosity of spirit that lies behind this particular award.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Comings and goings:the ecology of a department

A few weeks ago, I posted here about Lindsay Rose Russell and Derrick Spires, the two fantastic new Assistant Professors who joined our department this Fall.  Consider this a followup post.  I thought it might also interest some readers of this blog to be given a glimpse behind the curtain, as it were, at a more comprehensive picture of the personnel changes that take place in a department like ours each year.  Including Graduate Student TAs, there are between 180-200 different people working in English in a given year, and so there is always bound to be a certain amount of turnover. 

We had a pretty good year in placement terms last year, which means that many of our PhD students left to take up jobs elsewhere.  This is all to the good, even if their friends and colleagues here will miss them.  We also had one big faculty retirement last year: Richard Powers, acclaimed novelist and all-around wonderful colleague, decided to retire from his university position.  He has been pretty adamant about not wanting a lot of fanfare, and I hope he'll forgive me for saying this here, but there is nobody more universally beloved and admired in our department than he is and it is a big loss to all of us to have him step away.  Maureen Airsman, who many recent graduates of our department will know as the manager of our undergraduate advising office, retired too. And we had one faculty member on the tenure track (Kate Vieira) leave us to take a position elsewhere despite our best efforts to dissuade her. So that's the bad news. Two of our former Senior Lecturers left to take up tenure track positions at other universities.  Mark Dahlquist is now Assistant Professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi and John Griswold left to take up position as Assistant Professor and at McNeese State, where he is also editing the McNeese Review.  Mark is a scholar in my own area of expertise, and I consider John a personal friend, so it is bittersweet for me to see them go, but I'm excited for both of them and for the avenues of professional advancement that these moves make possible for each of them.

On the plus side, there is a whole new cohort of graduate students in our PhD and MFA programs, we were able to hire Angela Smith to work in our undergraduate advising office, and we were very fortunate to be able to hire Kay Emmert, Miguel Jiminez, Cheryl Price, and Gregory Wilson as new non-tenure track faculty members this Fall.  John Labella joined our department this Fall with the provisional title Visiting Instructor, though his title will change to Visiting Assistant Professor in the Spring.  Labella, who just completed his PhD at Princeton, is a scholar of modern and contemporary US poetry, which he reads in transnational contexts, and he will teach classes for us in poetry, poetics, and literary theory. We also added Professor Wail Hassan to our department, though he was already a faculty member in our campus's Program in Comparative and World Literature.  Hassan, who is an expert in (among other things) Arabic-American and Arabic-British literature has worked with students in English before, and we are happy to have been able to move 25% of his appointment across the quad to English.  

I've come to think of all this in almost ecological terms--as a necessary process of gradual change that can be a healthy one over the long haul--even though it also means seeing some friends and colleagues leave each year. If Heraclitus were a university administrator, he might have observed that nobody can step into the same department twice!

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