Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Accessing Alliances: Disability Studies Across the Curriculum

The English Department was one of the primary sponsors for “Accessing Alliances: Disability Studies across the Curriculum,” held in the Marvin Center February 22-23, 2007. The event opened with a selection of disability film shorts from around the world hosted by prominent disability studies scholars and filmmakers David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson of Emory University was the keynote speaker; her presentation, from her forthcoming book Staring: How We Look (Oxford University Press, 2007), was called “Ways of Staring.”

Disability studies traces the ways in which ideas of normality and disability have emerged historically and examines critically the ways in which disabled people have been represented culturally and how those largely-negative representations have contributed to material practices of exclusion and isolation. The evening of film shorts that opened “Accessing Alliances,” in contrast, positioned disabled filmmakers, writers, and actors as agents shaping new and varied cultural representations of disability. Professor Garland-Thomson’s talk, likewise, considered how those she called “starees” (disabled people who find themselves subject to the gaze of others) actively manage and subvert the starer-staree relationship.

The field has increasingly influenced scholarship in the humanities and social sciences, and the conference attempted to reflect this impact, with panels on disability studies and history, disability studies and education, and other fields. The afternoon sessions focused more on disability studies’ connection to other interdisciplinary fields: global studies, ethnic studies, and Deaf studies. GW professors Jennifer James, Robert McRuer, Dan Moshenberg, Todd Ramlow, and Abby Wilkerson all participated in these later sessions. Robert McRuer of the English Department and Christy Willis of Disability Support Services organized the event, which was attended by more than 200 students, faculty, and professionals from both GW and other universities around the country.

The complete schedule can be accessed here.

(This account of the conference was composed by Robert McRuer, associate professor of English and author of Crip Theory)

Monday, February 26, 2007

UK Author Courttia Newland to Read at GW

Acclaimed British writer Courttia Newland will read from his work on Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 8:00 p.m. in Funger Hall, Room 220 (2201 G St. NW). The reading is free and open to the public.

Here is a brief biography of Newland from the British Council website:

Courttia Newland was born in 1973 in West London to parents of Caribbean heritage. From a young age, Newland was fascinated with hip-hop and began his own record label. A love of music was followed by a passion for literature - at 21 Courttia began writing and in 1998 published his first novel The Scholar. Courttia was immediately hailed as a master at highlighting the complex intercity life of multicultural London. "I write about people that have been left out of mainstream fiction. When I was first published I felt that these people had no voice, so I wanted to try and capture that,” stated Newland in a recent interview. British newspaper The Observer called his first novel "an absorbing debut from a writer who clearly has something to say." Further critically-acclaimed novels followed, including The Society Within (1999), a collection of short stories about young black Londoners, and Snakeskin (2002), a thriller about murder, politics and justice.

Courttia's career has also encompassed performance readings, short-story and playwriting. His plays include The Far Side and Mother’s Day, which premiered at the Lyric Studio Hammersmith in 2002. Newland is the editor of the anthology IC3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain (2000) and has featured short stories in many other anthologies including The Time Out Book of London Short Stories and England Calling. Although known for writing about urban life, Newland's bibliography also includes adaptations of Greek tragedies for the stage and scripts for the small screen.

Next year, the English Department at GW starts a British Council UK Writer in Residence program of its own. Watch this space for details.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Featured Alumna: Casey Wasserman

Alumna Casey Wasserman writes:
I suppose my "career" is the pursuit of a quirky, unconventional intellectual obsession. I'm technically working on my PhD in English at Duke, focusing on 20th c. African American literature and popular culture. Truth be told, those who know me best would argue I'm trying to get a degree in James Brown and Funk Studies -- largely self-designed as you can imagine. I want to theorize a Funk aesthetic (beginning with Brown's work in the late 1960s) and develop an approach to understanding both the music and the cultural moment in terms of a body of what I'm calling "funk literature" and the creation of an "Afro-Modernist" impulse. Funk is deeply philosophical, and I think it's about time the genre, as well as its great innovators received a little respect.

Needless to say, I'm something of a maverick in my current department insofar as my pursuit of somewhat untraditional interests, but fortunately, I have the ooomph and vocab to back it up.

I probably wouldn't be able to pursue my current project(s) had it not been for the support and enthusiasm I received as an undergrad from Gayle Wald. She certainly encouraged me to think critically about popular culture in the form of my undergrad thesis (again on James Brown--do you see a pattern developing?) and
various papers for her courses. But this support hasn't come without consequences! Considering my interests and her encouragement, I think it would be professionally irresponsible not to watch reality TV and VH1 programming, among other televised guilty pleasures. I might have to start forwarding her my cable bills...

[The department chair adds: please wait to see if Shout, Sister, Shout! garners a lucrative movie contract. If it does, yes, forward those bills all you like!]

Friday, February 23, 2007

University Diaries

Associate Professor of English Margaret Soltan is the author of University Diaries. An irreverent take on contemporary academic life, this popular blog has discussed issues both serious and light: university funding priorities, the detrimental effects of sports mania on academic missions, diploma mills, institutional scandals, sloppy writing, the foibles of poets and publishers, aesthetics, literary theory, scholarly hoaxes, international university systems, life in Bethesda and DC.

Recently Professor Soltan offered some ruminations on teaching. An excerpt from her University Diaries entry appears below.

University Diaries
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tony Grafton, in a comment about my In Her Latter-Days UD Discovers She Loves to Teach series, talks about teaching's "immense rewards." One's love of teaching obviously lies in those rewards, yet it's hard to talk about them without sounding sappy or grandiose or self-serving.

Or presumptuous. My literature class rewards may share nothing with your astronomy class rewards. Maybe we both experience the I'm successfully conveying information and ideas and even a sort of intellectual ethos to a number of the people sitting in front of me reward, and that's a biggie. But there's more.

For me, it has to do with being given glimpses of unguarded humanity. Students tend to be blithely, surpassingly, curious. Their faces as I lecture on (to take an example from today's teaching) James Joyce's story, "The Dead" are open and avid; you can see their brains churning ... Some of them, I can tell, are preparing to challenge my interpretations ("Why are we dumping on Gabriel Conroy's after-dinner speech?" asked one. "It's a model of its kind."); others are scanning a page of the story for examples of figures of speech to add to those I've mentioned; yet others simply gaze at me in a relaxed, pensive way.

This last group can be very quiet, class after class, just looking and listening. When, eventually, one of them, from the back row, raises a tentative hand and comes out with something rather profound, it's an enormous pleasure.

This is unguarded, unencumbered humanity, learning its way more deeply into life. I get to be present at the birth of some of this learning. At least that's how it sometimes feels. And that feeling is a spectacular reward.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Robert Ganz on Robert Frost

On Sunday February 18 2007, The Washington Post published a review of The Notebooks of Robert Frost by our own Robert Ganz. Professor Ganz is one of the few faculty members here who has earned the right to the description "beloved departmental institution."

Excerpted below are a few (typically eloquent) paragraphs from the review.

But Frost wasn't much afraid of clarity. He deplored the willful obscurity of some of his contemporary poets. These notebooks show that what gave his thought its life was his passionate belief in the importance of the individual person's freedom of action. A couplet from one of his poems, "Let me be the one /To do what is done," might have served as his motto. An entry in the notebooks asks "how far can we carry the idea of human responsibility?" The point was to carry it just as far as possible ...

Frost felt that this beleaguered condition of having to hang upon unguaranteed outcomes is particularly reflected in the language of poetry. "Everything written is as good as it is dramatic," in the sense that good words also hang upon outcomes. They aren't merely saying, naming or describing things: "it has been my great object in poetry to avoid" the tone of "plain statement;" and while "it is the common way to think of the sentence as saying something . . . , it must do something as well."

Good words, then, are serving the speaker's and writer's practical intentions or "designs" upon things and other persons. They are projected outward. Even the seeming monologues in Frost's poetry are really shaped to constitute "my part in a conversation in which the other part is more or less implied" ...

There is a great difference between what we only think is the case in life and the way it is in practice. Things that are neatly separate and distinct in thought are jumbled messily together in practice: "life is a . . . mixture in which matter and spirit are made one by the paddle of action."

Amid the great jostling and shaking together of things in the field of action it is a wonder that anything is accomplished. Real prowess is required, every day, along with its attendant traits of character, which include belief, hope, love, vision and preference. The modernist inveighers against the so-called "intentional fallacy" made a great mistake in assuming that the conscious intellect is the main source of our intentions . . . our acts.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Robert McRuer: Crip Theory

Last July saw the publication of Robert McRuer's much anticipated second book Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability.

Information about the book is below. Professor McRuer is among the most award winning teachers in the English Department.

(from the NYU Press website, where the Foreword and Table of Contents can be accessed)

"A compelling case that queer and disabled identities, politics, and cultural logics are inexorably intertwined, and that queer and disability theory need one another. Makes clear that no cultural analysis is complete without attention to the politics of bodily ability and alternative corporealities."
—Elizabeth Freeman, author of The Wedding Complex

"Important and significant for its attempt to find the common ground between disability studies and queer studies. This deftly written and very readable book will appeal to a wide range of readers who are increasingly fascinated by the biocultural interplay between the body, sexuality, gender, and social identity."
—Lennard Davis, author of Bending Over Backwards

Crip Theory attends to the contemporary cultures of disability and queerness that are coming out all over. Both disability studies and queer theory are centrally concerned with how bodies, pleasures, and identities are represented as "normal" or as abject, but Crip Theory is the first book to analyze thoroughly the ways in which these interdisciplinary fields inform each other.

Drawing on feminist theory, African American and Latino/a cultural theories, composition studies, film and television studies, and theories of globalization and counter-globalization, Robert McRuer articulates the central concerns of crip theory and considers how such a critical perspective might impact cultural and historical inquiry in the humanities. Crip Theory puts forward readings of the Sharon Kowalski story, the performance art of Bob Flanagan, and the journals of Gary Fisher, as well as critiques of the domesticated queerness and disability marketed by the Millennium March, or Bravo TV's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. McRuer examines how dominant and marginal bodily and sexual identities are composed, and considers the vibrant ways that disability and queerness unsettle and re-write those identities in order to insist that another world is possible.

Robert McRuer is an associate professor of English at The George Washington University. He is the author of The Queer Renaissance: Contemporary American Literature and the Reinvention of Lesbian and Gay Identities (also available from NYU Press) and co-editor, with Abby L. Wilkerson, of Desiring Disability: Queer Theory Meets Disability Studies, a special issue of GLQ.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More on Nokuthula Mazibuko and the World Literature Residency

GW’s Fourth Annual World Literature Residency is now underway, with Nokuthula Mazibuko of South Africa in residence at George Washington University for a month, thanks to collaboration between Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the South African Embassy.

Writer and director of documentary films, including The Spirit of No Surrender, Lady Was a Mshoza and The Gift of Song, Nokuthula Mazibuko also directed and produced news and inserts for the BBC’s Africa Bureau. Her two youth novellas, In the Fast Lane and A Mozambican Summer, were part of the New Africa Books Siyagruya Series. Mazibuko has directed documentary films on South African writers for the series Mantswe a Bonono. She is also the author of a work of non-fiction, Spring Offensive, and short fiction, Love Songs for Nheti and Other Tales, and has recently completed her dissertation (on Zakes Mda) for a PhD in African Literature at the University of Witwatersrand. She lives in Pretoria (Tswane), with her husband.

The World Literature Residency is designed to bring new ideas and writers from around the world to GW to develop a deeper awareness of the contemporary mission and accomplishments of literature in a global context. The links between GW and the embassies promotes understanding, not only by bringing a writer to students at GW but also by making that writer available in the Washington community at large. World Literature Residency Fellows are encouraged to visit public and private schools and other universities, and to take part in programs of the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution. GW students pursuing creative writing, English and other literatures, and international affairs benefit from class visits and of course from the free public programs held on campus.

Nokuthula Mazibuko has given a talk (“Life Stories and Narratives of Exile: Memory and Memory-Making in South Africa,” Feb. 15), will be showing a documentary film (The Spirit of No Surrender, Feb. 20, 8 PM, Marvin Center Continental Ballroom), and will be reading from her writing (Mar. 1, 8 PM, Marvin Center Amphitheatre). All these events are free and open to the public. The Marvin Center is located at 800 21st St. NW.

Previous World Literature Residency Fellows have been Githa Hariharan (India, 2004), Witi Ihimaera (New Zealand, 2005), and Diana Bellessi (Argentina, 2006).

Friday, February 16, 2007

A Note from the Chair

I was hired as an assistant professor by the George Washington University in 1994, and have been happy to be a part of the English department from the very first day. Now as a full professor and new chair, I am daily filled with wonder at the excellence of our undergraduate students, at the vigor of our graduate program, at the teaching and writing strengths of our faculty.

Although this website is young, I hope that it provides you with a small glimpse of the intellectual liveliness that flourishes in the department. I hope, too, that whether you are an alumnus or just an interested friend of literature, you will consider -- now or at sometime in the future -- making a contribution. No doubt you have heard what GW charges for tuition, and that the endowment is doing well. Unfortunately these facts matter relatively little to our department. We rely upon the generosity of our benefactors to be able to grow our cultural and academic activities.

All gifts made to the department directly benefit its scholarly and pedagogical missions. Through funding such as yours our faculty are able to travel to conferences and present their research; to use archives in the United States and abroad in order to further our knowledge of topics as diverse as the life of Willa Cather or the world that Shakespeare inhabited; to shine new light on African American or postcolonial or medieval literature; to bring into the classroom the excitement of being at the forefront of the scholarly field. In the past donations from alumni and friends have endowed visiting scholar series like the Jenny McKean Moore professorship; have provided our undergraduates with prizes that reward excellence in scholarship and creative writing; have made possible research and writing in our graduate program and among our faculty.

In the future we would like to expand these programs and bring new ones to GW.

I urge you to consider using the CONTRIBUTE link at right, and designating your gift to the Department of English. Please also see this note. I thank you in advance for your generosity.

Yours sincerely,

Jeffrey J. Cohen


PS I look forward to hearing from you. Please drop me a line at chair@gwu.edu

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Nokuthula Mazibuko

The English Department and the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences are proud to announce that this year's World Literature Residency is being held by South African writer Nokuthula Mazibuko. The World Literature Residency brings writers from across the globe to GW to lecture, read from their works, and visit undergraduate classes. Writers typically remain in residence for about a month, and are co-sponsored by their country's embassy.

Born in 1973 in Soweto, Nokuthula Mazibuko has written well received short stories and youth novellas. She is the writer and director of two documentary films and several television shows. Her interests combine South African history, feminism, and African literature.

More information and some of her work can be found on her website, Thulacreative, where she offers:
Nokuthula writes to figure out the world, entertain and share ideas. She particularly enjoys writing for young people, as it puts her in touch with a world of endless hope and possibilities.

Ms. Mazibuko will be giving several public lectures here at GW as well as in the greater DC area. Please see our literary calendar for a complete listing. We are very proud to host Nokuthula Mazibuko's residency, and invite you to meet her and to become acquainted with her work.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Disability Studies Across the Curriculum

The English Department is a proud co-sponsor of the conference Accessing Alliances: Disability Studies Across the Curriculum, to be held at GW on Feb. 22 & 23. The keynote speaker is Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. The symposium begins with a film festival (free and open to the public). Among the GW faculty presenting will be Robert McRuer, Dan Moshenberg, Jennifer James, Abby Wilkerson and Todd Ramlow. Further information can be found here. Students and GW staff attend at a reduced price.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Gayle Wald: Shout, Sister, Shout!

Beacon Press has just published a new book by Associate Professor of English Gayle Wald: Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Professor Wald teaches courses on African American literature, popular music, and U.S. culture in the department. Her previous book Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in 20th -Century U.S. Literature and Culture was published by Duke University Press (2000).

Here is a short summary of Shout, Sister, Shout! taken from the book's website:

Shout, Sister, Shout! tells the story of "Sister" Rosetta Tharpe, a vocalist and guitarist of the Sanctified church and one of the most remarkable-yet largely forgotten-musicians of the twentieth century. Beginning in the 1930s, she commenced a colorful career as gospel's original crossover artist, its first national superstar, and the most thrilling and celebrated guitarist of the music's Golden Age.

Drawing on interviews with more than 100 people who knew Rosetta Tharpe, Shout, Sister, Shout! narrates her unlikely rise to fame: from traveling evangelist on the revival circuit to star attraction at the Cotton Club, from gospel celebrity in the 1940s to idol of the European blues revival in the 1960s.

An iconoclastic and electrifying performer, Rosetta Tharpe influenced scores of musicians, from Little Richard and Ruth Brown to Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Isaac Hayes. Her story illustrates the centrality of the Pentecostal church-especially its "underneath-it-all" women-to "rock and roll" sound and style.