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, February 17, 2014

Richard Powers joins the Gallery of Excellence!

I am very pleased to report that the novelist Richard Powers has been selected to be part of the College of Liberal Arts and Science's online Gallery of Excellence, where he joins Nina Baym. The Gallery of Excellence is part of the centennial celebrations of the college and is meant to honor "brilliant teachers and researchers who spent their careers on campus [as well as] alumni who left to make their mark elsewhere."

Richard Powers is all that and more: an alumnus of our department, a beloved (former) colleague, a writer of engrossing and brilliant novels. Above all, he's a kind, ethical, and deeply humane person whom I feel fortunate to know and to have worked with for a number of years here at the University of Illinois. 

Congratulations, Rick, for another well deserved honor!

Here is the citation from the Gallery of Excellence:

There was a time, believe it or not, when Richard Powers was known more for his computer prowess than his writing. After graduating from the U of I, he was working as a computer programmer in Boston in the early 1980s when one day he walked into the Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and saw a 1914 photo of three farm boys headed to a dance. Something about it sparked an idea, and within 48 hours he quit his job to write his first novel.
The result was Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, published in 1985 to wide acclaim. Powers has been writing novels ever since, winning the National Book Award in 2006 for The Echo Maker, and named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award prior to his 2006 win.
After the success of his first book, Powers (BA ’78; MA ’80, English) moved to Holland to write without distraction, but he was drawn back to the Midwest, and in 1992 he returned to the U of I as a professor of English and writer-in-residence. During his time at Illinois he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received a MacArthur “genius” fellowship, among many other honors.
“His generosity to colleagues and students in English is truly legendary,” says Curtis Perry, professor and former head of the Department of English. Powers recently retired from his position, and in fall 2013 he joined the Stanford University Department of English as a professor of creative writing.
Technology is often at the core of his novels, but complex characters and ideas drive the plot.
“The need for knowledge is as passionate as any other human obsession,” he once told The Believer magazine.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Awards Round-Up

(Updated April 1, 2014)

Things have been busy around the English Department during the first weeks of the semester, and this is my first chance to return to the blog! We have three searches going on for positions in Writing Studies, African American Literature, and Global Anglophone Literatures that we hope will bring several wonderful new colleagues to campus next year. I wish I could tell you more, but really all I can say right now is that we’ve had a string of excellent job talks that have provoked stimulating discussions in the English Building. More news to come as the semester continues…

While we’re in the middle of those searches—and much else!—I did want to take a moment to share some good news about various honors that faculty and graduate students have won in recent weeks. (There's been a lot recently, so if I've inadvertently forgotten something, please let me know!)

*Christopher Freeburg won the Hennig Cohen Prize of The Melville Society. The prize is “an annual award for the best article, book chapter, or essay in a book about Herman Melville.” Chris received the award for his chapter "Embodying the 'Assaults of Time': 'The Encantadas,'" from his book Melville and the Idea of Blackness: Race and Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century America (Cambridge University Press, 2012). As the award committee wrote in their appraisal: “Freeburg’s insistence that Melville’s representations of race are both historically concrete and philosophically abstract (bearing on questions of ontology and epistemology) makes this book crucial for thinking about how Melville’s writings address the complex relation between literature and history.”

*Sandra Ruiz (English & Latina/Latino Studies) and J.B. Capino have been awarded Faculty Fellowships from the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH) for the 2014-2015 academic year.

*Ariana Ruiz and Ben Bascom, two of our excellent graduate students, have also been awarded fellowships from the IPRH—our campus humanities center—that will provide a stipend allowing them to focus on their research during the 2014-2015 academic year.

*Catherine Prendergast and David Wright have both been named Associates of the Center for Advanced Study, our most prestigious cross-campus research unit for the 2014-2015 year.

*Four faculty members received Humanities Released Time awards from the Campus Research Board for 2014-2015: Andrew Gaedtke, Hina Nazar, Lori Newcomb, and Richard T. Rodriguez.

*Jordan Sellers, another excellent graduate student, has won the 2013-2014 LAS Humanities Council Teaching Excellence Award.

*Dale Bauer has won the 2013-2014 Lynn M. Martin Award for Distinguished Women Teachers and the campus Undergraduate Teaching Award.

*Charlie Wright has the won the campus award for Graduate Student Mentoring.

Congratulations to all of these deserving honorees! I hope the number and range of awards will give you a sense of how seriously we in the English department take both research and teaching.

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