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, February 21, 2012

Book prizes!

It is my great pleasure to announce here that J. B. Capino's book Dream Factories of a Former Colony: American Fantasies, Philippine Cinema has been named the best book published in 2010 by the Association of Asian American Studies. He will be honored for the achievement at the annual AAAS conference, in Washington DC, in April.

Actually, J.B. told me this a few weeks ago, but I wasn't sure it was public knowledge yet since the awards will be given out later. A little internet snooping revealed that the award winners had been posted on the AAAS website. Now I want to shout it from the rooftops. This kind of honor means a lot to scholars because it represents the judgment of precisely those specialist readers who are able to judge a book's impact and quality most accurately. And speaking personally, I couldn't be happier for J.B because in addition to being an accomplished and brilliant scholar he is as wonderful a colleague as anyone could wish for.


I was also delighted to discover, just this morning, that Alex Shakar's novel Luminarium has been named as a finalist for a 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the best fiction category. I love this novel, and have been posting about the accolades it has won for months now, but this nomination is a big deal, and winning the award would be even sweeter. Mostly, though, I'm happy about this because the nomination will help ensure that the book finds an even broader audience. Since I think it is an immensely rewarding novel to read, this is, for me, a very Good Thing.


Writing a blog like this is easy when English faculty keep doing so many amazing things. Congrats to both J.B. and Alex!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

On This Side of the Sea

Philip Graham wrote the other day to tell me that his 2009 book The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon had just been reissued, in a Portuguese translation, as Do Lado de Cá do Mar (which, he tells me, translates back to English as On This Side of the Sea).

The fact that I am relying upon his translation tells you that I will probably be sticking to the English language edition. But you, my charming and multilingual reader, can find the Portuguese edition--via the website of its new publisher, Editorial Presença--here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

InterMedia in South Asia: The Fourth Screen

Just a quick post to announce the publication of a new book involving our own Anustup Basu as co-editor. The book is called InterMedia in South Asia: The Fourth Screen, and it has just been published by Routledge.

Since the Routledge website has no cover art for me to paste in, I've decorated this post instead with a photo of Anustup from his page on our website!

Here, though, is the publisher's book description:

"The emergence of new media today in South Asia has signalled an event, the meaning of which remains obscure but whose reality is rapidly evolving along gradients of intensity and experience. Contemporary media in and from South Asia have come to sense a new arrangement of value, sensation, and force - new forms of becoming that might be usefully termed as 'media ecologies'. This evolution from nation-based forms of communication (Doordarshan, All India Radio, the "national" feudal romance) to simultaneous global ones conform and mutate the structures of feeling of local, national, diasporic and transnational belonging. This collection of original essays is concerned with understanding how people are making meaning from the new media and how subaltern tinkering (pirating, peer to peer file sharing, hacking, noise jamming, indymedia, etc.) does things to and in the new media. This exciting works helps us to make sense of the creation of new publics, new affects and new experiences of pleasure and value in convergences of intermedia in a fast developing South Asia context."

Monday, February 13, 2012

An alum's recollections

I have been the happy recipient this past few months of several lovely and moving letters from alums reflecting upon how their time at Illinois shaped their subsequent lives for the better. Some of these have concerned faculty members I know or have known, and some (like the one below) come from well before my time. But I find all of them enormously moving, both because they remind me of how fortunate I am to represent a program that has done so much good for so long and also because they offer the most vivid possible proof of the importance that teachers can have in people's lives.

As teachers, we know that we are trying to do more each semester than just convey facts and information--we are all, I think, trying to do our best to show students what it means to be an engaged intellectual, to give them the tools to understand the world in a richer way, and to foster the kind of critical curiosity that is (I believe) a necessary part of life well-lived. When I hear from alums who want to praise the faculty who helped with these things, part of me responds because I too had teachers who were instrumental in fostering these things and part of me responds because I hope to have had such a positive influence on some students too, when all is said and done. This is powerful stuff.

I thought I might share some of these with you from time to time, always with the permission of whomever has sent them in to me. So here goes...


Mr. Perry:

I am responding to your invitation to "hear more about (my) experiences in the department."

First, I am now, incredibly, 79 years of age, and fully engaged in a second life. After 30 years with the University of Southern California, from which I retired early at age 59 in 1992, I stumbled into this miracle, which now has had me help 40 good souls by recording and then writing their autobiography for their children, grandchildren, colleagues, and friends. It is a joyful activity, one client passing me on to another for the past 20 years. I hope it never ends.

If my good fortune did not begin with Esther Jorgensen, my freshman English teacher at Farragut High School in Chicago, then it must have begun with J.N. Hook or Leah Trelease at the U of I. All three of these great teachers provided the inspiration that motivates me to this day.

Mr. Hook somehow became my adviser when I arrived in Champaign-Urbana, as we called it then, as a callow upper sophomore in the fall of 1951. He was a man of infinite kindness and, I believe, was the head of the National Council of Teachers of English. We met with some frequency in his Lincoln Hall office to discuss literature, teaching, and life in general. He smoked his pipe and I listened to his soft comment. He critiqued my "teaching" in his class on methods and practices and was the first to comment on my facility for thinking on my feet. Until he took note of that, I had no awareness of it, but it has since stood me in good stead through two long careers. J.N. Hook was a great, kind, gentle man. I have never forgotten him.

Leah Trelease. I took two semesters of her class on the American short story. She had been dean of women, I understand, and had decided to return to the classroom. Glasses perched on the top of her head, she queried us all relentlessly, urging us to dig and find meaning in what the author was trying to say. One memorable Monday morning, she called on six successive students, and none had read the story. I recall vividly the tears that swelled up in her eyes as she told us to "Get out!" and come back when we were prepared. She cared.

She also invited another student, Don Seigel, and me to her home one summer day. She was the wife of Sidney B. Trelease, university realtor, and she lived very well. In her garden she served two Chicago street boys lobster canapes and white wine. Neither of us had heard the word canape before. Nor do I believe I had ever had any wine before that was not Manischewitz. That afternoon she talked to us as if we were her colleagues, as if literature were all of life. How clearly I remember that day after 60 years! I have tried to honor Mrs. Trelease's memory with a modest gift each year since I left the campus in 1955.

Several years ago I returned to Illinois and my wife and I drove to the campus. I was pleased to discover that a dorm had been named in memory or honor of Leah Trelease. That afternoon I asked half a dozen students who were entering or leaving the dorm if they knew whom it had been named for. None of them had any idea who she was.

Thanks for asking.

Gordon Cohn


If you are an alum and you are reading this, I'd love to hear from you too!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

LAS teaching awards

For the past month, dear reader, I have been scurrying from task to task just trying to keep up. I have, therefore, been a bit remiss about weekly updates here, and in fact I have a backlog of stories that I plan to post before too long. Several alums have taken the time to share their experiences of the department with me, and I plan to include a few of those, since such stories are the most vivid possible testimony to the good that teachers do for their students.

In the meantime, we continue to be a very strong and dedicated teaching department. And with that in mind I am pleased to announce here that two members of our department have been awarded teaching awards given out by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in this year's competition.

Jim Hansen has been selected by LAS Awards Committee as a recipient of the 2011-12 LAS Humanities Council Teaching Award. Professor Hansen is in London this semester and so will not be able to attend the reception honoring awardees in April, but I have suggested to him that I might accept the award in his place and do my best Sally Field impression ("they like me, they really like me!"). In all seriousness, I am very pleased--both for Jim, who I know to be a charismatic and popular teacher in our department, and for the department as a whole: in my view, we deserves all the good publicity about teaching we can get.

And--more good news--Kathryn Walkiewicz, an outstanding PhD student in our department, has also been selected as an LAS Humanities Council Teaching Award. The fact that our graduate students continue to be recognized for their outstanding teaching work is a particular point of pride for all of us, I think.


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