Friday, September 28, 2007

Taming of the Shrew: Discussion and Cheap Performance

Professor Jonathan Gil Harris will discuss Taming of the Shrew at the Shakespeare Theatre on Sunday as part of the Windows series. Information below. There is also a pay what you can performance that same day.


part of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Windows Discussion Series.

Sunday, September 30, 2007, 5:00 P.M.
at the Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th Street NW
Washington, DC 20004
(Located south of Verizon Center between D and E Streets)

All are welcome to the Theatre for a free introduction to Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Joining us for this special discussion will be Jonathan Gil Harris, Professor of English, George Washington University, and members of the artistic team who will share approaches to Shakespeare’s play.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bruce MacKinnon wins WWPH Poetry Contest

Bruce MacKinnon teaches creative writing here at GW. His wonderful new book of poems is called Mystery Schools. Here are some endorsements and some information.
“In his attention to detail and in his reverence for the smallest moments of experience Bruce MacKinnon compounds and intensifies the events of daily life. Mystery Schools sings with a passionate and capacious clarity reminiscent of Gerald Stern and like Stern, he portrays our ‘life and death struggles’ that ‘go on without mercy.’”
--Michael Collier

“The ‘glide in slow circles’ may be one means of suggesting the ease of movement and gift for segue inherent in the narratives of these large poems, but it should also define their essential lyricism: how they return and return to their common yet surprising centers of gravity. Mystery Schools is thorough and deeply textured poetry and adult in the way serious poetry should be – by not taking itself too seriously while allowing the writing to take its own good time.”
--Stanley Plumly

“There are truly masterful poems in Mystery Schools . . . Bruce MacKinnon seems to have sprung out of Zeus’s head fully formed and fully skilled—a true original. In poems at once genuine, charming, ferocious and poignant, MacKinnon writes about domestic life as a son, a father, a husband; in his tender tough-guy voice, he tackles the big subjects—fate, mortality, death, love. His long, gorgeous sentences, once cast out, loop back over themselves and continue on with driving rhythms and absolute confidence.”
--Jane Shore

Bruce MacKinnon’s Mystery Schools is a collection of poems that weaves together a life of initiation, grounded in the mysteries of the natural and spiritual worlds.

Mystery Schools has been a finalist for the Academy of American Poets Walt Whitman Award, The National Poetry Series Competition, The Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, Ohio State University Press Journal Award, the Four Way Books Larry Levis Prize, and the Utah State University Press May Swenson Poetry Award. MacKinnon’s poems have appeared in Salmagundi, Boulevard, The Sewanee Review, Poetry East, Poet Lore, The Indiana Review, The Nebraska Review, Green Mountains Review, Mid-American Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, The Literary Review, Sonora Review, The Sycamore Review, The Midwest Quarterly, WordWrights, and Poetry Northwest, for which he won the Richard Hugo Prize. He has also been awarded the Richard Soref Scholarship in Poetry for the 2005 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Poetry, an AWP Intro Journals Prize, and an Academy of American Poets Prize.

David Wagoner, in awarding MacKinnon the Richard Hugo Prize, described his poetry as “strange and lovely.” Peggy Boyer, editor of Salmagundi, praised his work as “very skillfully written and surprisingly powerful – certainly the best poems that have crossed my desk in quite some time.”

Here, for your enjoyment, is a taste of the book: MacKinnon's keen poem "Atlantis."


How is it she comes back, resurrected,
always rising like the corn, her body like yours
spread across the motel bed, the ocean still outside,
the rain mapping the sand, the doorway open,
pelicans and gulls drawn in gray and blue. The waves
whisper outside these doors, where desire undresses
each one slowly, first curling as far and as slow
as the eye can see, then building power until the horizon
comes closer, is there at your feet, where you grow
out of the ground, rooted a moment more, before you go
with her and everything tastes of salt and honeysuckle,
the one drop from each bitten, cream-brown flower.
Her legs are here and then there, the nape of the neck,
the shoulders, the grains of sand, clear and white
as sugar that roughs the skin, that bruises the soft inside
of a thigh, the goddess reclining like the history
of the world. And then the instant it takes to see flowers
on the table, Queen Anne's Lace and Black Eyed Susans,
a thousand eyes bring you into the room,
where the mist curls as she looks up, her hands behind her,
over her head now and beneath a pillow as if grasping
through the clouds for something just beyond
the headboard and through the wall in the next room,
where mermaids become human with desire, and Atlantis
lies buried. You'll soon see if the mist rolls off,
if the announcer gets it right, the one whose blurred voice
you hear somewhere between the bands of static
the waves make, the sheets make, she makes as she moves,
rolling between planes, fingernails long and red as poppies,
as your bodies rise from the waves of sheets
like the backs of dolphins beyond the black rocks,
or the blink of the lighthouse down the coast,
a warning rising up against the sky for ships
to come no farther, that beyond that point,
they must not go.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Department creates Director of Undergraduate Study

As chair of the department I'm in frequent contact with our alumni, men and women who have gone on to an array of careers that -- quite frankly -- amaze me in their variety and their ambition. I noticed during my first year as chair, however, a puzzling phenomenon: our current majors and former majors tend to have strong attachments to particular faculty members, but don't always have a strong sense of the department as a whole. That's a shame, because we are in fact a lively community and a fairly unified group.

During a retreat in which the faculty participated just before classes began, we decided that we would work to give our majors a better sense of the cohesiveness and the shared values within the department. We're serious about this endeavor: we want our students to know that they are part of an intellectual community that extends far beyond the time they enjoy in our classrooms. To help achieve this important goal we have created a new administrative position within the department, the Director of Undergraduate Study. The preliminary job description runs as follows:
The Director of Undergraduate Study is responsible for fostering intellectual community among our undergraduate majors through the oversight of specific courses, the administration of the Honors Program, and the sponsoring of events such as lectures and workshops.

The DUS will administer sophomore seminars and the honors program. This office is charged with oversight of special undergraduate initiatives and courses of study such as the Folger Library Seminar for seniors. The DUS will be the faculty contact for the undergraduate majors club.

The DUS works in partnership with the Director of Undergraduate Advising.
This academic year we will experiment with the position and see if it is worthwhile. If so, we'll emend our bylaws to make it permanent come spring. Professor Gil Harris has graciously volunteered to serve as our first DUS. Please let him or me know if you have any feedback or suggestions as we attempt to make this office one which will serve our students well.

Yours sincerely,

Jeffrey Cohen

Friday, September 21, 2007

GW English Mission Statement

The faculty of the English Department voted unanimously yesterday to adopt the following as our mission statement:

The English Department of the George Washington University is a research-active community of scholars and creative writers. We prize excellence in teaching, publication, and service. We engage with a diversity of texts within a global and transnational context. Our creative writing and scholarship contributes to and critiques this capacious literary world. Our teaching fosters in students a rigorous and informed critical reflection on literature, connecting reading practices with writing and argumentation. As a humanities faculty, we are especially interested in the artistic exploration of identity, community, cultural conflict, and history.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


All events are free and open to the public; seating is limited. The Marvin Center is found at 800 21st St. NW, while Rome Hall and the Visitor Center are parts of the Academic Center complex, at 801 22nd St. NW.

8 PM Marvin Center Amphitheatre
Ryan G. Van Cleave is the Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Washington at The George Washington University. He has taught creative writing and literature at Clemson University, the Florida State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, as well as at prisons, community centers, and urban at-risk youth centers. The author (or co-author) of eleven books, his poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in many significant journals as well as in numerous anthologies. His most recent full-length book of poems is The Magical Breasts of Britney Spears (Red Hen Press, 2006).

7:30 PM Marvin Center, Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre
Program A – plays by Mark Ferguson, Julia Moss, & Evelyn Duffy – Oct. 4, 6, 12, 14
Program B – plays by Jaclyn Levy, John Shortino, & Timony Guillot – Oct. 5, 7, 11, 13
Brief student plays, written with the assistance of coursework in the Creative Writing program, receive rehearsed, partially staged readings. Please see separate fliers for additional information.

8 PM Marvin Center Amphitheatre
About his first novel, Loosing My Espanish (Pantheon, 2004), Wendy Gimbel wrote in The Washington Post, “[the] narrative moves backward and forward, alternating between the present and historical time. If one considers the present moment as a force field that holds together all the disparate elements in the book, a cohesive tale emerges from a seemingly disorderly series of scenes. An adroit writer, Carrillo is a master of these kaleidoscopic techniques” (2005). “Hache” Carrillo, whose MFA is from Cornell, has joined the faculty of the GW English Department this semester as an Assistant Professor.

5 PM Visitor Center
The “Jenny 2” series, funded by the English Department, features local Washington writers invited and introduced by members of the Creative Writing faculty. Readers to be announced.

8 PM Marvin Center Amphitheatre
Nadeem Aslam was born in Pakistan in 1966 and moved to the UK as a teenager, his family settling in Huddersfield. He studied Biochemistry at the University of Manchester, but left to become a writer. His first novel, Season of the Rainbirds (1993) won a Betty Trask Award and the Authors’ Club First Novel Award, and was shortlisted for the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the Whitbread First Novel Award. His second novel, Maps for Lost Lovers (2004), which took 11 years to write, won the 2005 Encore Award and the 2005 Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize. He is the first British Council USA Writer in Residence at GW, and will be visiting classes, leading a one-credit 700-series reading class, and making guest appearances around town during the month he is here.

in conversation with KAVITA DAIYA
5 PM Visitor Center
An intimate conversation and interview with Professor Daiya of the GW English Department, providing many opportunities for questions from the audience.

with an English Department faculty panel
2 PM Marvin Center
Professor Gil Harris has assembled a large panel of English Department professors whose research and writing engage issues of “the global.” Intended for English majors but open to all, this panel presentation displays numerous intellectual and imaginative ways to make texts, or make sense of texts based on the experience of multiple and conflicting heritages and cultures.

5 PM Visitor Center
Readers to be announced.

introduced by Christopher Merrill
8 PM Marvin Center Amphitheatre
Since 1967, over a thousand writers from more than 120 countries have attended the IWP at the University of Iowa. The project is designed for established and emerging creative writers — poets, fiction writers, dramatists, and non-fiction writers. The minimum requirement is that they have published at least one book, and that they possess sufficient proficiency in English to profit from the Iowa experience. Readers to be announced.

8 PM Marvin Center Amphitheatre
About Incomplete Knowledge, Harrison’s fourth book (Four Way Books, 2006), the reviewer in Booklist wrote, “A scribbly abstract expressionist painting adorns Harrison's new collection, but don't judge the book by it. Harrison's poems aren't abstract; they are full of definite actions, clear thoughts, and real things. They aren't expressionist, either--never histrionic or formally eccentric. Their content comes out of Harrison's own reasonably average life, but they are never just about Harrison. He is always eager to communicate what experiences mean to him and, he hopes, to you, who could easily have had their like. Driving with a friend to see Vermeers in Washington, visiting another friend in New York who's become unemployably strange, and walking out to appreciate the world's abundance despite knowing next to nothing, it seems, about it are typical of the experiences Harrison shares. He also relives, in the sequence that makes up the second half of the book, a rarer occurrence: living on after--and, really, with--a suicide in the family. Like a fine playwright, Harrison brings us into his experiences so artfully that we feel their weight and their truth as ours.” Though he now lives and teaches in New England, at an earlier point in his career he taught Creative Writing on a part-time basis here at GW.

5 PM Visitor Center
Readers to be announced.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Reading Course with Nadeem Aslam

The English Department has arranged for interested majors to enjoy a 1 credit reading course with our esteemed British Council Writer in Residence Nadeem Aslam.

The course will meet on four Tuesday evenings (10/23, 10/30, 11/6, 11/13) from 6:30-8 PM in Rome Hall 663 (English Dept. small conference room). The class is limited to no more than ten students. It is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The official course designation is ENGL 701. 10 Studies in Contemporary Literature (CRN 67503). Three books have been ordered by Mr. Aslam and are available at the GW bookstore: Kazuo Ishiguro, An Artist of the Floating World; Alan Warner, Morvern Callar; and Geoff Dyer, Out of Sheer Rage. If you would like to take the course, you should also have read or be currently reading Aslam's Maps for Lost Lovers. We would also like you to participate in the English Department's "book club" on the novel, to be held on Thursday October 25 at 8 PM in Marvin Center 402. All students and interested readers are welcome at that event!

Students enrolled in the course will keep a reading journal. A copy of the journal and three pages of reflection upon the course's materials will be due to the department chair at course's end. The course is graded PASS/FAIL.

Students interested in taking the course should write a one paragraph letter of application to the department chair, stating their reasons for wanting to participate. The letter and a completed add/drop form for the course should be turned into the department main office (Rome 760) by Wednesday Sept. 26.

Nadeem Aslam "Book Club"

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

l'shana tova

Here's wishing a good new year to all readers of the English Department's blog.

A note to current English majors

Dear English major,

I hope that your semester is off to a good start. Many of you will have noticed that we have two terrific new faculty members this year: the medievalist Jonathan Hsy, and the renowned novelist Herman Carrillo. We've also introduced a new course, English 40W: Literature of the Americas. A second version will be taught in the spring, Myths of Britain.

I want to call your attention to an exciting series of events the department will sponsor this fall centered around the monthlong residency of Nadeem Aslam. If you don't know Aslam's book
Maps for Lost Lovers, I encourage you to stop doing your homework for all your English literature classes, run out, buy and READ it. It's one of the most moving novels I've experienced (but please don't tell your professor that I recommended not doing assigned work, and don't blame me when your GPA tumbles).

Here are our planned events. Please mark your calendar; you won't want to miss any of them. Locations will be announced.

Mon. Oct. 29 -- Nadeem Aslam will read from his work (8 pm, Marvin Center)

Thurs. Nov. 1 -- Nadeem Aslam in conversation with Kavita Daiya, an intimate interview (5 pm)

Mon. Nov. 5 -- Nadeem Aslam & other writers speaking out, a conversational format on urgent topics (aesthetic, political, moral, etc.) (8 pm, MC)

Fri. Nov. 9 -- Literature in a global age: an English Dept. panel including Nadeem Aslam and faculty from the English Department. This event is specifically for our English majors (2 PM, Marvin Center)

We will also sponsor a Book Club on
Maps for Lost Lovers that will likely meet on October 25. Oprah will not, unfortunately, be attending.

Lastly -- and thank you for reading this entire note -- we are also sponsoring a one credit reading course in which you will read three novels with Nadeem Aslam and write a very short paper. This is a once in a lifetime chance! Please email me directly if you are interested. The course will meet several times (3-4) over a three week period.

PS If you are an alumnus and reading this blog -- or simply an interested member of the public -- you are most welcome to attend these events as well. The class, however, is limited to our current majors.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Jonathan Hsy joins English Department Faculty

We are very happy to welcome the medievalist Jonathan Hsy to our faculty. We asked Professor Hsy to say a few words about himself, and he writes:

I received an MA from Stanford and my PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, and I'm excited to be joining the English department at GW this fall. I specialize in late medieval literature, and my research and teaching areas include Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and their contemporaries; medieval romance; sociolinguistics; and material culture. My current research investigates multilingualism and commerce in medieval England and France, but my interests extend into later fields and periods, including early print culture, postcolonial theory, and the history of the English language. I am presently working on a book project, tentatively entitled Polyglot Poetics: Merchants and Literary Production in Late Medieval London. I am also writing articles on medieval sea travel, mixed-language poetry, and French music manuscripts. In my work, I often ask how the study of pre-modern literature and historical language contact helps us to rethink the ways different languages interact in our own era of globalization.

Professor Hsy is currently teaching "Medieval Literature" and "Intro to British Literature." We know that our students will enjoy his presence; he is a wonderful teacher and astute researcher.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Chaucer and Writing in the Disciplines

A few years ago GW initiated a Writing in the Disciplines (WID) program to ensure that the attention to writing given in the first year of study continues thereafter. I'm naturally skeptical of all initiatives, especially when they come bearing acronyms, but I have to say that the WID program is very well thought out pedagogically. In fact, WID has changed how I teach.

A WID course emphasizes comprehension through writing and revision within discipline-appropriate modes. In a way most literature courses achieve these objectives already, but a true WID experience entails a consistent reliance upon writing as a mode of analysis, especially through frequent small exercises -- and not just the single big research paper which is the crowning jewel of traditional classes. WID courses move away from the examination model of evaluation completely, something that after years of grading near indecipherable handwriting I have found refreshing. (I tell my students that some day their kids will mock them for having had to compose anything in longhand; the in-class examination is one of the few spaces where this archaic practice still unfolds).

I'd always relied on the exam to ensure that comprehension of Middle English passages was what it should be in my Chaucer class. This semester I am finally teaching a transformed version of the course under the WID rubric. I still do a complete Canterbury Tales, but instead of two midterms and a quiz we have five writing assignments, all of which are completed back at the dorm to free up more class time (though we will talk about them in class to ensure that the students' labor is integrated into what we do in the classroom; I want these exercises to be central to our endeavors, not annoying little tasks completed in spare time).

Here are the five:
1. Take five lines of the General Prologue and rewrite as a faithful translation into Modern English, then into Modern English but with no poetic language (no figures of speech, nothing fancy, just a statement of bare meaning).

2. Translation of two quotations from the CT with an analytical paragraph on themes and context. Rubric:
(1) Briefly identify the passage by work, speaker, and context.
(2) Translate the passage into good Modern English.
(3) Paying close attention to the images, structure, and language of the passage, explain its significance to the themes of the tale in which it appears.
(4) Making specific reference to other tales, explain the significance of the passage to the themes of The Canterbury Tales as a whole.
Be ANALYTICAL: do not merely summarize plot.

3. Three passages of Middle English analyzed thematically
Rubric as above, but no translation.

4. Evaluation of a scholarly article.

5. Opening paragraph and one page prospectus for final paper.

We help studnets along the way through workshops and peer review, so this five assignment arc is a guided process through which my TA and I will get to know our student's strengths and weaknesses in writing and interpretation very well.

I'm also using, for the third time, the fairly new Chaucer: An Oxford Guide. I like this compendium because it helps us achieve one of our course objectives: understanding how various scholars analyze Chaucer, preferably so that we can disagree with them and mount persuasive interpretations of our own. To that end the big (15pp) research paper has this rubric:
The objectives of this paper are twofold: to acquaint you with the ways that contemporary medievalists interpret Chaucer, and to hone your own analytical skills while making a convincing argument for a reading of one of the Canterbury Tales.

Choose a tale that you have found especially rich and provocative. Reread the narrative carefully, making notes about the themes and problems of the text. Carefully read the relevant notes on your chosen tale at the back of the book (these notes are broken down by line number, so you will find yourself flipping back and forth between notes and text).

Now find two recent (published within the last seven to ten years) critical articles about your chosen tale, each of which offers a distinct interpretation. Good ways to unearth useful scholarly criticism include:
• the MLA International Bibliography (can be accessed via the Gelman web page, most easily via the "English and American Language Research Guide" [])
• Project Muse (a cluster of scholarly journals in electronic form, easily searchable:
• JSTOR (another such cluster, though these journals tend to be at least five years old:
• the essays in Chaucer: An Oxford Guide (ed. Ellis)
• the bibliographies and index in Chaucer: An Oxford Guide (ed. Ellis)

Not especially useful or reliable for a project such as this would be a Google search or most internet sites.

Your task in this paper is to analyze critically each scholarly article, demonstrating both its strengths and its weaknesses. Throughout this section of your essay you must keep Chaucer's text in mind, quoting from it to support your analysis of the two articles. You must then argue your own interpretation of the tale, making good use of the two essays but pushing their analysis farther – either to a place at which they meet or (even better) towards an interpretation neither anticipates but to which you, through reliance upon Chaucer's text, can confidently bring the line of argument.

You will be graded upon clarity and competence of writing; knowledge and critical use of your chosen Canterbury tale; depth of engagement with and understanding of the two scholarly articles; originality and persuasiveness of your interpretation.

I've framed the research project this way since last year, and students have actually enjoyed the assignment. This narrowed exercise has seemed so much more rewarding to them than the usual, vague "Go away and write me a good essay about a Canterbury Tale" approach.

We'll see how this all turns out, but I've been very pleased to have the chance to rethink how I teach the course -- my absolute favorite to teach.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Literature of the Americas

This fall we've introduced a new undergraduate literature course that places American texts within a hemispheric frame. Taught by Gayle Wald, the class has proven extraordinarily popular. Weekly lectures are coupled to small discussion section meetings. The course is writing intensive. Here is the syllabus.

ENGL 40W.10: Literature of the Americas
“Slavery and the Circum-Atlantic”
Fall 2007
Prof. Gayle Wald
Julia McCrossin (TA) Anne Showalter (TA)

Course Description: “Literature of the Americas” is a new writing-intensive course that explores American literature in a “post-national,” trans-hemispheric framework. Following this fall’s theme, “Slavery and the Circum-Atlantic,” we’ll delve deeply into literature that reflects, or reflects upon, the routes (and roots) of the transatlantic slave trade that has linked the Americas, Europe, and Africa since the 16th century. In this course, we’ll read works from the 18th through the 21st centuries, by well known and lesser known authors, and including H.G. Carillo, a novelist who has recently joined the English department faculty. We’ll encounter an ex-slave narrating the terrifying journey from Africa to the “New World,” a contemporary Caribbean writer re-imagining the Salem witch trials from a young black woman’s point of view, a love story between a Native American and a Puritan, and a taut and tense Herman Melville story set, like Moby Dick, on the open seas. Through our reading of these texts, we’ll attempt to conceptualize American literature as writing that both probes and spans the boundaries of the nation, connecting the United States to the rest of the Americas, and—imaginatively, and perhaps materially—to other parts of the globe.

The goals of the course are:
1) to introduce you to significant works of literature by a diverse group of writers
2) to give you confidence analyzing a variety of literary genres (novels, short stories, slave narratives, autobiography, poetry, essays)
3) to introduce you to cutting-edge approaches to the field of American literary studies
4) to give you significant opportunities to practice and hone your analytical writing

Course format: The course meets twice a week, on Mondays at 11:10 a.m. in Corcoran 302 for lecture and on Wednesdays for discussion sections. Attendance at both lecture and discussion is mandatory. There will be opportunities for questions and group discussion at lectures.

Required books: (Available from the GWU Bookstore)
H.G. Carillo, Loosing My Espanish
Lydia Maria Child, Hobomok
Maryse Condé, I,Tituba, Black Witch of Salem
Henry Louis Gates, ed., Classic Slave Narratives
Langston Hughes, The Big Sea
Herman Melville, Great Short Works of Herman Melville
Philip Roth, Goodbye, Columbus

1. Attend lectures and discussion sections; participate in on-line and in-class discussions; complete readings on time.
2. Reading quizzes: Lectures will incorporate brief reading quizzes. Lateness or absence from lecture is not an excuse for missing the quiz, and quizzes cannot be made up. The quizzes cumulatively take the place of a midterm and final exam.
3. Writing assignments: There are five writing assignments, including one required revision (of the first paper). Each writing assignment is on an assigned topic. Detailed information about the assignments will be available in advance on Blackboard, and you will have opportunities to discuss the assignments in class. All assignments should be turned in on Blackboard (preferably as a Word document or in .rtf format).
4. Discussion questions: Each week, starting Sept. 10, you will be required to submit a question to the Discussion Board for your particular discussion section (these will be on Blackboard). Questions are due on Tuesdays by 10 a.m. Your question should reflect your genuine curiosity: about something said in lecture, about the reading, about something mentioned by a classmate during discussion. (Please aim for open-ended, thought-provoking questions.) Discussion questions will not be formally graded, although they will count toward your participation grade.

Policy on lateness and extensions: Extensions on papers may be granted at the discretion of Professor Wald. Only reasonable extensions will be granted, and only if you give us adequate notice. No extensions will be granted within 24 hours of the due date of a paper, except in cases of extreme emergency. There will be no extensions on the due date of the final paper.

Academic dishonesty: Academic dishonesty of any kind will be treated as a serious offense. At very least, you will receive a zero; in most cases, you will also fail the course. You can find more on GW's Code of Academic Integrity at