Sunday, March 30, 2008

Creative Writing Feature: Jessica Deputato

Senior Jessica Deputato hails from Jane Shore's Intermediate Poetry 104 class.

Pleasant View Drive

My parents had just left
for my 3rd grade Back-to-School night
when the officer knocked on our front door.
Outside, men unraveled yellow tape
around my neighbors’ house
like birthday streamers.
Something happened next door,
the officer told my grandparents.
He asked us if we had seen anything,
but all I could see was a swollen
white bed sheet
wheeled across the walkway.
After he left, my grandparents and I
huddled by the window
until my parents came home.

I found the newspaper article
the next day in the kitchen drawer
where my mother had been hiding it.
The black ink smeared my fingers
as I read every last detail.
56 year old female stabbed.
12 times in the neck.
I heard my parents whispering
that her husband killed her
and I wondered if her French poodles
saw it happen. I remembered
learning to swim in her pool
as her husband grilled hamburgers.
I remembered sinking beneath
the bitter water until she pulled me up.

A year later, the tragedy faded.
My younger sister and I got rollerblades
for Christmas from Santa.
We guarded ourselves with pads and helmets,
and made rough circles around our backyard patio,
falling down and laughing. But then
my sister screamed. She had seen him,
our neighbor, walking down the driveway.
He grinned, holding a bottle of wine
with a crimson bow tied around
the neck.
When he left
my parents opened the bottle
and let the liquid flood the kitchen sink,
drowning the dishes
in a murky pool of red.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Alumna Update: Julie Donovan

Julie Donovan completed her graduate studies at GW, and we've caught up with her to see what she's been doing and how she's been flexing her English degrees.

Since defending my dissertation in May 2007, I have been working as a part-time lecturer at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Last semester I taught a Victorian to Modern survey, and this semester I'm teaching a class in literary analysis and a seminar in Irish literature. I've also completed two essays for a forthcoming collection titled Irish Women Poets, due out this year from Alexander Street Press. The essays are on Catherine Gray (Lady Manners) and Charlotte Nooth, more or less forgotten now, but notable writers in their day. I also had articles published in periodicals such as Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, Literature Compass, and Eire-Ireland.

I'm delighted about the forthcoming book, for which the working title is Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan) and the Politics of Style. It's a contextualized study of a relatively neglected writer who was an important part of literary, cultural, and political life in nineteenth-century Britain and Ireland. A robust nationalist and feminist, Owenson's most famous work was The Wild Irish Girl (1806), a significant work in the development of the novel and an unacknowledged inspiration for Walter Scott's historical novel. Scott didn't favour Owenson's bombastic Whiggism and the fact that she was a bit of an exhibitionist. One of the interesting things about The Wild Irish Girl is how long before Harry Potter toothbrushes etc., Owenson's heroine, Glorvina, spawned a fashion spin-off industry as upper-class women, wanting to emulate her Celtic chic, bought Glorvina bodkins and shawls on sale in Dublin shops. Owenson cashed in on the phenomenon, "becoming" her character by signing her letters as Glorvina, and appearing at parties as Glorvina, decked out in antique Irish costume, playing the harp, and being charmingly "Irish" to oder. She was perfectly aware that she was often trapped by the success of her own performance, and deployed her wit and ironic sense of self-parody to avoid being typecast as a sort of stage-Irish figure. As you can imagine, Owenson was a brilliant subject to write about.

My dissertation analyzes Owenson through the prism of what I call her politics of style. I cover her fashionista status, which was always politically charged, together with how text and textile intertwine in her work as she linked Irish self-determination with the history of Irish independence through textile manufacture and resistance to cultural imperialism that historically imposed edicts on Irish dress. Using the theoretical model of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, I read Owenson as a rhizomatic character, branching out in almost uncontrollable lines of flight (D&G do not address national identity directly, though their example of the ultimate rhizome, a potato, has intrinsic connections to Ireland and Irish writing). I also look at style as an affective disposition and as an important component of her politics of emblematic display, which she deployed through her working of material items to reappropriate images of English imperial might and Ireland's backwardness. Owenson transported her politics of style abroad as she wrote travelogues about France and Italy, seeking a transnational identity for Ireland as a sophisticated European and world nation rather than a measly outlying province of Britain. (One of her proudest moments was being banned from Italy because of her lambasting of the Austrian Empire.)

I benefited from an English MA and Ph.D.--well, from the sheer joy of it--if that doesn't sound too gushing. As an ex-lawyer, I found the abstract creativity of English much more rewarding, and it certainly made me a better writer and thinker. Every seminar took me into a different world. Looking back, they all became part of my dissertation.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Nada Shawish- Writing Scholarship Winner

English and Creative Writing major senior, Nada Shawish, was recently awarded a scholarship to attend the 2008 NY State Summer Writers Institute. According to the press release, over 350 applications were received, and Nada was one of thirty selected. Below, read more, in her own words, about Nada's success and her representation of the GW English community. Congratulations, Nada!

1.What was the application process?
Well, I have a wonderful creative writing thesis director, Professor Faye Moskowitz, who nominated me for the program based on the work I have done with her. For this program in particular I believe you had to have been nominated to apply. After that, the director of the NY State Summer program, Mr. Robert Boyers, sent out invites to all the nominees to apply! I have to admit, there wasn't much of a window which I was given to send in my application, I had to turn over my materials pretty soon after that. The materials requested by the program were twenty pages of your own creative work in a particular genre, a supplement application, and last but not least, a personal cover letter that describes a little about you, your experiences, and why you would be the ideal applicant.

2. What did you submit for consideration?
I tried to send in more recent material that I thought would best reflect where I am as a student at the moment. I also tried to make sure the pieces I selected were most reflective of my concerns and ambitions as a potential future writer. I thought about what I could send in that would make my creative work stand out amongst other applicants. The cover letter I wrote was more personal than I might have intended it to be, but I tried to be as honest as possible about my personal circumstances, my goals, the things I've learned, my inspirations.

3. What is your understanding of the type of program you'll be participating in this summer?
When I first applied, to be honest, I didn't know much about what the program was in too much detail. It's safe to say I hadn't anticipated actually winning a place among some of these other, certainly competitive applicants! I do know now that the NY State Summer Writer's Institute is a State funded program, directed by author and critic Robert Boyers, at the Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. The students selected will spend two weeks in July working with several accomplished authors and critics. There will be readings scheduled each evening, and seminars focused on techniques, successful works, and advice in the particular genre the applicant was accepted for. I will be in the memoir/ and mixed genre seminar with James Miller! (Also featuring Phillip Lopate.)

4. What experiences at GW have you had that prepared you for this new opportunity?
It goes without saying that I have had wonderful, wonderful professors all four years I've been at GW. It makes me so sad to think I've reached my four-year limit and will not have the opportunity to work with more of the department. I've been a pre-medical student and an English major since sophomore year, and I have found the English Department a place of refuge where I could express my ideas, be challenged, and embrace opportunities like this one. My classes and independent work with Prof. Chu, Prof. Harris, Prof. Moskowitz, Prof. Clair, Prof. McAleavey, Prof. Greenwood-Stewart, Prof. Griffith, and more, have been just inexplicable experiences for me, there just are no words.

The other part of me that I think has been both a curse and a blessing began well before my coming to GW, but became a very loud and large part of my experience throughout my undergraduate. I am a Palestinian, an Arab, a Muslim, and an American all at once. The first class I ever took at GW we were asked to tell something about our background, and among other things, I said "and I'm a Palestinian," to which another kid in class responded, and rather rudely, "there is no such thing." It's hard to say how much of my experience with the current political situation in the Middle East has influenced my entire undergraduate learning experience, but I can definitely say that similar experiences and frustrations manifest in my writing. The writing samples that I sent to the program are filtered through this particular lens of my experience, and well, it's a part of me I can't deny nor am I apologetic about, and in my application I tried to be as honest as possible about what I believe to be the truth of my experience.

6. How do you think you will benefit from the experience of the program? What do you hope to gain from it?
I think the best part of this program is that I get to meet other students from some really amazing programs around the country. I hope to gather as much information as possible, not just for myself, but that I can hopefully share with my peers after the program's end. I really believe in education, it's a gift to be able to be a part of this, and so I hope to gain everything my brain can possibly absorb while being there on behalf of GW.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Save the date: April 24

On Thursday April 24 Kathleen Biddick will be coming to GW as part of our Medieval and Early Modern Studies Seminar. She will be speaking on "THE POLITICAL THEOLOGY OF THE ARCHIVE: REFLECTIONS ON A PROJECT." All are welcome.

A professor of history at Temple University, Kathleen Biddick is the pathbreaking author of The Shock of Medievalism and The Typological Imaginary: Circumcision, History, Technology as well as numerous essays and articles. Her work matches a sophisticated use of theory to a probing analysis of the postcolonial Middle Ages.

Her talk will take place at 4 PM in Rome 771.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I recently learned of this web site, which I think many of our wordsmiths will love! The free site combines a game to test English vocabulary and donations of rice to countries suffering from hunger and poverty. The game is simple: every time you correctly choose a word's definition or synonym, you have donated 20 grains of rice. While the game can be addictive, at least you are contributing to a good cause!
Click on the image to start.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Spring Break

The English Department wishes all of it majors a restful, enjoyable spring break. We hope that if you've taken off for Cancun or Fort Lauderdale, you've at least brought your Riverside Shakespeare along with you.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More reflections on the Nadeem Aslam reading course: Chris Pugh

When I signed up for this course, I expected a contemporary British reading course, not too different than most literature courses that I have taken so far. Obviously, there was the difference of having Nadeem Aslam teach this course. However, I did not foresee a difference in the way we would discuss the literature – we would still look at gender, homosocial bonds, class struggles, and other important topics in contemporary literary theory. Only in this course, we would have a “real author” helping us dissect the texts. I approach literature from a critical standpoint, and in many ways, I assumed this was the best way to do so.

However, I am certain that not once in our four meetings did I hear of gender performance, Marxist structures, or any of these ideas that I have valued during my four years in this department. Rather, I heard about observations, emotions, and moments that seemed realistic. In many ways, I would say this course was nothing like my expectations. We did read contemporary British fiction, but even within the genre, Mr. Aslam chose writers who helped to stretch rather than solidify what it means to be British. Our texts seemed to have no real coherency except that they were from people with British passports. Naturally, the course would prove just the opposite – I was just looking at these texts from the wrong angle.

Mr. Aslam’s focus throughout this course was not on the theoretical underpinnings of the texts, but rather on how a novel comes together. These texts, therefore, each added their own part to our overall discussion. He helped us see how a writer looks at the world around him/her and then commits it to the page. I think that the most impressive part of his instruction was that he believed that all of us had a chance to write a novel. Throughout the class, he told us to always keep a journal of phrases, lines, and descriptions that will one day find their place in our own novels, those phrases and lines that just popped into our heads as we observed our world.

Mr. Aslam also gave us the tools for looking at our world with a bit more of a writer’s eye. He often explained situations or observations that he had added to his own novels. Throughout our meetings, he would pick out the lines or phrases from the current text that he found most poignant, phrases that I normally ignore because I am searching for a theoretical framework. Mr. Aslam’s course gave me a chance to revisit literature and remember why I became an English major: because I love good writing. Each week we read the first one hundred pages of a novel and then discussed what made this novel a good piece of fiction. It was strange initially to have to consider if I liked the novels. I was once told in a course (while abroad) that no one cares if I like the novel, and mentioning it makes me a bad scholar. While I now realize this view is extreme, I think often in modern criticism we ignore writing. In fact, in Out of Sheer Rage, Dyer claims that criticism and English departments kill literature rather than preserving it. Obviously, he is also a bit harsh, but his point is well taken, and I think Mr. Aslam’s course helped me understand what Dyer means. This course helped me to look at the novels as more than part of some grand social discourse, as original works with their own unique history, story, and motivation.

Each of our three novels helped us look at three essential aspects of a novel’s description. Warner’s Morvern Callar was a wonderful example of how a writer must capture the smallest of details. Mr. Aslam praised Warner’s ability to remember the most pedestrian of actions, for instance that when someone rolls dough he/she moves the rolling pin in two different angles. So while I was focused on the homosocial bonds between Lanna and Morvern, Mr. Aslam was looking at how Warner did a wonderful job describing Morvern’s opening of presents. Eventually, through our discussion, I learned how to better look on multiple levels of writing. Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage was an exercise in ideas, his novel seemed to eschew details for ranting passages. What I found most intriguing about this novel was how much I identified with Dyer’s style, partially because I was more attuned to what he was attempting. Mr. Aslam helped us to understand how these ideas contributed to creating a cohesive whole, and even more so, how even in preferring ideas, Dyer still made wonderful use of visual details. Finally, Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World worked on the levels of scene. As such, our discussion focused on how Ishiguro developed and built these scenes. Specifically, Mr. Aslam helped us to understand how Ishiguro creates Ono through his interactions with the world around him. Together these novels created an impression of how writers work, how they create fictional worlds visually, intellectually, and socially.

As someone who hopes to one day find himself working in criticism, I think this course helped me most to remember the fundamentals of literature and, in many ways, was a humbling experience. I have a better appreciation for the skill of writers like Warner, Dyer, and Ishiguro, an appreciation that I am more mindful of working on what is a highly critical and theoretical senior thesis, making me look to language just as much as theory.

Overall, I found the course to be engaging and invigorating in many ways. I have spent the last year and a half reading nothing but medieval and early modern poetry, so it was a nice refresher to get into good prose once again. Even more so, though, this course was a wonderful learning experience because Mr. Aslam’s perspective as a writer added much to these books. If anything, I would say that I took away a lot and only wish the course had been longer.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Alumna Update: Kathleen Rooney

Kathleen Rooney, a 2002 graduate, brings us much pride as a GW alum. Through my email exchanges with Kathleen, I have been continually impressed with how accomplished and gracious she is. Her thorough and insightful answers prove what a talented writer she is, and I'm sure many others will agree that we can all learn a great deal from her experiences and advice.

When did you graduate GW? Any memorable moments in English classes? Favorite professors?

I graduated from GW in May of 2002, and spent the 2000-2001 academic year at Pembroke College in Oxford. Like so many students, I arrived at GW absolutely certain that I wanted to major in poli sci. As it turned out, I ended up leaving with a degree in English and Creative Writing, a change that was due in no small part to the excellence of the English department faculty and classes. Among those, Jeffrey Cohen’s Literary Theory course was a standout because theory helps you frame the world and see things deliberately from perspectives that are not necessarily your own, or the ones you’d default to. This strangeness and displacement makes you a better thinker and potentially a more empathetic person. Tara Wallace helped me appreciate 18th century English literature more than I ever thought possible, and Margaret Soltan, my thesis advisor, challenged my arguments and forced me to defend them, thereby helping me break my undergrad habit of just assuming the sympathy of my audience. Jane Shore at GW and Kate Clanchy at Oxford gave me examples, through their lives and work, of how to “be a poet.”

What was the process like for you to get your thesis published?

In a word: hard. I was very young and thought that once you have an agent, you are made in the shade. You are not. Jane Vandenburgh generously put me in touch with an agent who was very nice and very helpful over the course of the lengthy revision process that was required to transform the manuscript from an interesting thesis to a full-fledged publishable book. Ultimately, though, the agent couldn’t sell it and gave up on Reading with Oprah (having realized that there was no longer a chance for serious money to be made off the venture), so I kept on shopping it around myself. Eventually, after many, many months and dozens and dozens of rejections, I got an offer from University of Arkansas Press, who have been amazing. Larry Malley, the publisher, has a fantastic vision for the press, and everyone there is thoughtful and receptive. As an author on a university press, I feel I have more input and interactivity than I would with a commercial publishing house; for instance, at the moment, I’m working on deciding on the cover for my next title with them, Live Nude Girl. I’m grateful to Arkansas for the respect they show their authors, and for their commitment to making books that are meant to last.

The more I work in publishing, the less I think agents actually know what they are doing, and the more I think that the author herself is her own best advocate. Steve Almond, a writer whose work and outlook I appreciate, used to be a big spokesguy for being your own agent, but now even he has an agent and a new book out with Random House, so I dunno. It may just be a necessary evil. But if you are an author and you can’t find an agent, or your agent can’t sell your work, persist persist persist, I guess, and don’t give up on yourself even if it feels like everybody else wants to.

The title of your book Reading with Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America sounds very intriguing. What can you tell us about your discoveries in your research?

When I began the project way back in 2000, I was of the opinion that maybe Oprah, as a TV talk show host, was not in a position to undertake the cultural work of being a literary gatekeeper or advisor. The more I looked into the Oprah’s Book Club phenomenon, though, and the more I read the titles she recommended, the more I realized that this was an immature, kind of half-baked mindset. I began to realize, and I still believe today, that Oprah is actually a new kind of public intellectual, and the cultural role she is playing with the book club—as a promoter of active literacy and readership in America—is crucial and beneficial.

You appear to have interviewed a number of popular writers for your research-- as a young writer, was that a difficult challenge?

It was a challenge. Some writers were incredibly rude. Most, though, were incredibly gracious. The whole experience of approaching these people—people whose careers and success I admired—helped me realize that if I ever have the good fortune to be in a position of power and experthood, I will do my best to appreciate that position and be kind to everyone, regardless of how much power or experthood they may or may not have. I think some people like to help other people because they genuinely find such behavior satisfying and worthwhile, and others like to help people because it’s a power trip for them—they can be kind or they can be withholding—and I hope never to be the latter.

How would you describe the success of your book, and what future opportunities has it afforded you?

I think it’s hard to accurately describe the success of a book. Of course, from a career-path perspective, as someone who loves teaching and who would love, one day, to be a tenured professor, having a book is better than having no books, and having many books is better than having just one. So I’m full of gratitude for the doors that may be opened, hiring-wise, as a result of my having multiple titles published by reputable presses. That said, I’m not sure about how successful Reading with Oprah has exactly been, though I’m thrilled that it has done well enough to go into a second, revised, and updated edition. I think that sometimes, the perception of “success” in the publishing industry—in all aspects of American life, probably—are dangerously skewed to the point where we are encouraged to think that unless you sell the MOST copies, make the MOST money, get the MOST fame as a result of your efforts, you are not a quantifiable “success”. So I’m resistant to use a market capitalist model as a measure of creative or literary success. I think books are like messages in bottles in a way—you very often don’t know who you’ve reached or what your reaching them has inspired them to do. Your books go out on their own and lead their own lives and touch other people’s lives and it’s so exciting to think of that, but it’s almost impossible to measure numerically, or at least to measure numerically in a way that means anything.

I read that you are a co-founder of Rose Metal Press. What is the focus/niche of Rose Metal Press?

Abby Beckel and I founded Rose Metal Press in January of 2006 as a nonprofit publisher of work in hybrid genres. By hybrid genres, we mean works such as prose poetry, novels-in-verse, short short fiction, and other forms that move beyond the traditional categories of poetry, fiction, and essay to find other means of expression. I met Abby at Emerson College in Boston, and I could not ask for a better publishing partner; her knowledge and her energy are both apparently endless.

We chose to focus on work in hybrid genres because we wanted to distinguish ourselves from the many small presses already out there doing great work in traditional genres, and because we wanted to give writers opportunities to publish risk-taking, hard-to-categorize work that might fall through the cracks otherwise. Often, especially with the big commercial publishers, marketability is the biggest factor in deciding whether or not a work deserves to be published. Abby and I do not think that this should be the case. Again, just because something might not sell a million copies to an easily-defined audience does not mean that it does not deserve to exist. So much in commercial publishing is calculated toward not taking risks, so I like being able to operate on my own terms on a scale where risks are encouraged. We believe that there is a lot of entertaining and challenging literature that can be offered on a smaller scale, and it encourages us to see how many people appear to agree. I have so many indie publishing peers and heroes I admire and whose examples I look to for inspiration: Kelly Link and Gavin Grant of Small Beer Press, Johnny Temple of Akashic Books, Justin Marks of Kitchen Press, Rope-a-Dope Collaborative in Boston, Featherproof and Switchback Books in Chicago just to name a few, but the list is really endless. All you have to do is hit the internet to see how many hard-working and dedicated people are producing beautiful and interesting books, books that are, in most cases, much more beautiful and interesting than anything I’ve seen lately from the trade houses.

You have had a number of poems published, including a chapbook of collaboration—how does collaborative poetry work for you and Elisa Gabbert?

Elisa Gabbert is a super-smart, super-funny person, as well as a super-smart, super-funny poet. She and some friends were visiting my husband Martin and me in Provincetown while we were there for Martin’s Fiction Fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center, and she was poking through the books on our shelves when she came across the collaborative poetry collection Nice Hat. Thanks. by Joshua Beckman and Matthew Rohrer. She suggested that she and I collaborate, and I said yes. That was in early 2006 and we’ve been at it ever since. All our collaborations take place over Gmail—never in person. We experiment with a variety of forms and approaches, including some of the rules and games set forth by the Oulipo movement, as well as forms of our own devising. There are many things we like about collaboration, but a couple of the big ones, I think, are the way that working together helps free us both up to have more fun and to put more playfulness into our work. When you are working with a partner, the task of writing a poem is less solitary—in a sense, you already have a built-in audience for the writing even as you are writing it. So we’ve gotten good at providing checks and balances to each other—killing each other’s and our own darlings, as they say. Also in collaboration, in addition to the freedom to lighten up a bit and be more funny (or at least maybe not to take ourselves too seriously), we’re freed to an extent from assumptions about the lyric “I”. Even though we write a lot of our collabs in the first person, there is an understanding that this particular “I” does not necessarily refer to the autobiographical experiences or impressions of a single real person.

Additionally, you have a forthcoming memoir, Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object. Another intriguing title! What can we look forward to about your new book?

Thanks—glad you like the title. It’s an occupational memoir about posing nude for artists, which my marketing guy (whose opinion I trust) says sounds “dry” so to put it in a tagline, it’s “One woman's take on taking it off for art” or “A peep into the world of nude modeling,” or “An artist's model bares it all” or “A revealing look at art modeling.” I don’t know—which one do you like? Seriously, it’s a memoir about the five years I spent—starting when I was a senior at GW and then continuing when I lived in Boston, Provincetown, and Tacoma—working as a model, very often a nude model, for art classes and professional artists. I started doing the job because it pays very well and I needed the money to pay for school, but then even after I’d settled into a “real” job as a creative writing professor, I kept modeling on the side, I think because I’m sort of addicted to it. More abstractly, the book is an exploration about the relationship between being made into an object and objectifying others. It’s a meditation on art and how art helps us record and make permanent people and things that will one day be dead and gone. It’s about erotic desire, and beauty, and the human desire to be a part of something bigger than oneself and to make a difference and be remembered. Basically, it’s about being paid money to take off your clothes and hold really still, but it’s also about so much more than that.

Since you write both poetry and prose, are your creative processes noticeably different for each?

Yes, the processes between the two are noticeably different, and I find that if I’m really absorbed in writing in one genre, it’s difficult to simultaneously work deeply in the other. I think I’m in kind of a prose phase right now (aside from the collabs), but it goes back and forth. I also think that in a way, short stories and poetry are very similar to each other, as are personal essays and poetry, or at least they can be. I think that there can be a lot of overlap among genres and I’m very interested in the places where these overlaps occur. Elisa and I have also been working on translations of the French poet Max Jacob, and translation is a totally different process from either prose or poetry. I also like to write plays sometimes, also in collaboration with a writing partner. I’m interested in almost every genre and hope I have time, eventually, to try my hand at all of them.

You have also taught Creative Writing. Has teaching been mutually beneficial in the ways you may now think about your own writing?

Last year I was hired to be a visiting assistant professor of creative writing with an emphasis on memoir and the personal essay. Even though my first book, Reading with Oprah, was nonfiction, it was criticism with a personal bent, not memoir or the personal essay per se. So when I put together my syllabi, I felt like I was taking the courses myself before I taught them to my students, which was an awesome feeling. I learned so much as I read those books—Joan Didion, Sarah Vowell, Phillip Lopate, Michel de Montaigne, Saint Augustine, Mary McCarthy, George Orwell, Mark Twain—and crafted those writing prompts. And as I presented that material to my students and read the writing they produced in return, I couldn’t help but get inspired. Even though I’d never really written what I’d consider a true personal essay before that time, I felt compelled to write a dozen in the space of under a year, largely because of the inspiration provided by the professional and student examples I was coming into contact with on a daily basis. Also, it was one of those periods when everything in my life seemed like something I should write about, so I did. Not all the attempts led to “finished” essays, but many of them did, and I feel so lucky to have had that experience. In short, I loved teaching. But I did not always enjoy the politics of the academy. Which is part of the reason why, at the moment, I’m in actual politics where people are at least honest about their politicalness. I’d like to return to teaching some day, but for now I’m enjoying where I am (putting my GW poli sci training to decent use).

Any advice for current English undergraduates?

Believe in yourself, make sure you really work at constantly improving, and never give up. As my friend Allen likes to say, go hard or go home.

For more info on Kathleen Rooney, please visit her web site.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Creative Writing Student Feature

Carrie Cummings is a student in Professor McAleavey's Intermediate Poetry 2, 107W, class.

Mother’s Arrival in Omaha, 1985

He peeled her off the canvas of a Klimt he saw in Paris,
wrapped her up in brown paper
– her red tendrils leaked from the edges –
and shipped her home to meet his mother
(who, upon her arrival, said,
“the painter could have used a nice navy blue instead”).
Fucked her in his beige bedroom
and thought it love making.
Stripped the fire from her hair, turned it brown,
and hung her above the mantel beside
his grandfather’s musket.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A Reading List from Nadeem Aslam

To commemorate our GW-British Council Writer in Residence, the British Council is generously providing a substantial book fund. Nadeem Aslam has drawn up a list of contemporary British fiction he would like to see in the Gelman Library purchased through this fund. Here it is:
Haunts of the Black Masseur - Charles Sprawson
Redundancy of Courage - Timothy Mo
John Berger - And Our Faces My Heart Brief as Photos + Once in Europa
Pat Barker - Ghost Road
Candia McWillian - Debatable Land
Holinghurst - Folding Star
Colm Toibin - Blackwater Lightship
Amit Chaudhuri - Freedom Song
Bruce Chatwin - Utz + On the Black Hill
Romesh Gunesekra - Reef
Mohsin Hamid - Moth Smoke
D H Lawrence - Twilight in Italy + Sea and Sardinia
Ian McEwan - The Cement Garden
Naipaul - A House for Mr Biswas + A Bend in the River + The Engma of arrival
Fermor - A Time to Keep Silence
Sebastain Barry - A Long Long Way
Geoff Dyer - The Ongoing Moment + Missing of the Somme + Yoga for People who Can't bt Bothered to do it.
Roddy Doyle - Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
Sarah Hall - The Electric Michelangelo
Kamila Shamise - A City by the Sea
William Fiennes - Snow Geese
Ali Smith - Hotel world
Ben Rice - Pobby and Dingan
Sarfraz Manzoor - Greetings from Bury Park
Winterson - The Passion
David Mitchell - Ghostwritten + Number9Dream + Black Swan Green
Hanif Kuraeshi - Buddha of Suburbia

Although we will not be able to purchase all these books, the fund will enable a significant increase to our collections ... and will ensure that the GW-British Council Writer in Residence leaves an enduring and material imprint.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A student reflects upon the British Council Writer in Residence

Rajiv Menon, a junior here at GW, was one of ten students enrolled in a one-credit reading course with our GW-British Council Writer in Residence, Nadeem Aslam. Students in the class were required to keep a reading journal and compose an essay about the experience. We thank Rajiv for sharing his reflections with the English Department blog.


When I found out that Nadeem Aslam would be the first British Council Writer in Residence at George Washington University, I was ecstatic. I was familiar with Mr. Aslam’s writing, as I had just recently finished Maps for Lost Lovers. The novel amazed me, as I could relate to many of the themes in the novel as a second generation South Asian American. Aslam’s characters fascinated me, as he was able to invoke feelings of empathy and disgust with the decisions that his characters made. Aslam was able to recreate many of the negative experiences of members of the South Asian Diaspora, without completely vilifying the community. I was so impressed with the novel that I decided to pursue the amazing opportunity to take a course with Mr. Aslam.

The first day of class was a great indicator of what I could expect from the class. Mr. Aslam came into the class and introduced himself. He decided that we would spend the first class having a general discussion about ourselves and our interests in literature. Mr. Aslam seemed very interested in the way that University Students in the United States live and study. He had just been to the bookstore, and he decided to read aloud from The English Patient in order to show us the kind of writing styles he appreciates. He then asked us to talk about what we had read recently and what our favorite novel is, and he provided he opinion about these different works of literature. When it was my turn, I mentioned that my favorite novel is The God of Small Things, and Mr. Aslam discussed a particular scene in the novel that he particularly enjoyed. The informal nature of this first day was extremely helpful, as it helped establish the tone for the rest of the class.

Mr. Aslam had advised that we read each novel with a pencil in our hands, underlining passages that were particularly meaningful to us. At first this was difficult for me, as I am not used to reading in this manner. Our first novel was Morvern Callar, which I found extremely disturbing, yet still enjoyable. I was particularly struck by the jaded and apathetic attitude that Morvern takes towards her own life and the death of her boyfriend. At first, I found the novel difficult because of its use of vernacular, which Mr. Aslam warned us about before the novel was assigned. As my reading progressed, however, I grew used to this writing style and I was more comfortable understanding Warner’s style of narration and the way that Morvern speaks in the novel. In addition, Mr. Aslam also asked us if we felt Morvern’s actions were believable, and said that he did not. I, however, found her actions to be very believable, since I found her to be so jaded and morally ambiguous that it did not surprise me that she stole her boyfriend’s manuscript and destroyed his body. I was particularly interested by the way Morvern treats violence and brutality as commonplace. She often presented actions of violence as normal, and mentions them with no more fanfare than she does anything else in the novel. Overall, this was a very enjoyable novel and I am very glad that I was able to read it in this course.

The third session covered Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage, which I also enjoyed quite a bit. At first, I was reluctant about the novel because I was not familiar with Lawrence and I was worried that I would not be able to follow the book. I made a point of underlining ever passage I was confused about or that I found particularly interesting. Dyer’s book was driven by his impressive observations and eloquent use of language. I was very interested in the insight Dyer provided about his writing process, and I found it extremely impressive that he constantly made reference to the book as he was writing it. I felt that this book was able break the fourth wall many times, without it being excessive or distracting. Though I did enjoy the novel, I enjoyed it the least out of the three, largely because I enjoyed the other too so much. This book did, however, make me want to read Lawrence in the future.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World was easily my favorite novel that we covered in the class. I greatly enjoyed the simple and matter-of-fact style of the novel, which I found extremely powerful and effective. Ishiguro’s descriptive language made it easy to visualize the scenery of the area. I was fascinated by the “auction of prestige” which was an incredibly insightful way to open the book. In class, we discussed the nature of the familial relations in the book and whether we sympathized with the daughters. Personally, I found that often, the daughters were disrespectful, while others in the class found that their attitudes were justified. After this, we discussed the process of storytelling and discussed the ways that our families share stories. I found this to be particularly enriching because we were able to link the novel to our personal experience. I found this to be an excellent note to end the course on, because it allowed us link our personal experiences to literature like we did on the first day. The course ended on an excellent note, and this was overall an excellent experience.

The GW British Council Writer in Residence was an extremely positive experience for me, and I look forward to future writers being part of the GW community. Since my personal interests are in Postcolonial and Diasporic writing, this residency is especially important to me since it focuses on Diasporic British writers. The reading events and the fiction panel were very enlightening and informative. I hope to have more opportunity to work with authors and take courses like this one.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Prof. Wald Speaks on "Stunning" Panel

On Monday, March 3, Prof. Gayle Wald participated in Woolly Mammoth Theater's panel discussion for its new play, "Stunning." Prof. Wald was invited to contribute her scholarly insight into the play's themes.
Here is what Prof. Wald had to say about the event:

The evening consisted of a reading of a scene from the play by two students from the University of Maryland, followed by a panel discussion in a Q&A format.

"Stunning" centers on two characters: Lily, a 16-going-on-17-year-old Syrian-Jewish bride, who is marrying a man much older than she, and Blanche, a 43-year-old black woman whom Lily hires as her maid. Lily comes from very insular community, and so Blanche's presence forces her to question her assumptions. And so on.

I talked a bit about the role of the African American domestic in contemporary American theater. Tony Kushner's award-winning "Caroline, or Change" also features an African American domestic--in this case, one who has a powerful impact on a young Jewish boy in Mississippi. "Stunning" is set in the present, in Brooklyn, yet raises similar issues.

I also talked about Lily's characterization of herself as "white" and Blanche's perception that she is not white. There is a tension in the play between Jewishness and Arabness. As a U.S.-born Syrian Jew, is Lily Jewish? Is she an Arab? Is she white?

The show opens March 10 at Woolly Mammoth Theater, and there will be pay-what-you-can performances that night as well as March 11. Prof. Wald would like to encourage all GW students to see live theater, especially "Stunnning," which looks to be "an interesting and challenging play."

For more information on the play, click here.
Also, for more information on Prof. Wald's latest book, check out her web site.

GW Creative Writing Students

The poem below is from senior Sam Chiron, who is a Political Science major. Sam is taking Jane Shore's Advanced Poetry (117W) class, and this poem is the result of a fugue assignment.

Spinnning for Jessica

the teacher is a spinning smile is too skinny spinning yelling “keep spinning”
i am spinning, the teacher is spinning, the thin people are legs spinning.

spinning legs molded to spinning hips at the spinning joint are spinning, the teacher
is a spinning smile is too skinny spinning yelling “keep spinning keep climbing ”
i am spinning, the teacher is spinning, the thin people are legs spinning.

bodies spinning sweating and steaming
keep their legs spinning, the teacher
is a spinning smile is too skinny spinning yelling “keep spinning keep climbing keep spinning”
i am spinning, the teacher is spinning, the thin people are legs spinning.

thin people are legs spinning, impassioned spinning legs
thaw into groans spinning into a searing boil
a person stops spinning, the teacher
is a spinning smile is too skinny spinning yelling “hurry the fuck up keep spinning”
i am spinning, the teacher is spinning, the thin people are legs spinning.

Tea and Mortality

Don't miss this beautifully composed reflection on small daily pleasures and "death-reminders" in the Professor Margaret Soltan's blog, University Diaries.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Note from the Department Chair about Jon Lucks

In the past few days more than three hundred visitors to this blog have come seeking information about Jon Lucks, an alumnus of this department whose recent death has left those who knew him in shock and in mourning. I wish I could provide a personal memory, but it was never my privilege to have Jon in one of my courses. I do know from Professors Holly Dugan and Mariah Frawley, though, what a joy he was to have in class.

If any of our readers would like to offer their own thoughts about Jon, I would be happy to publish them here on this blog. Please contact me:

For Jon Lucks: "The Road Not Taken"

I read in the Hatchet that this sly poem by Robert Frost was a favorite of Jon's, and that he could at a very young age recite it from memory. I offer it here in his memory.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Monday, March 3, 2008

GW Creative Writing Students Feature

For the rest of the semester, we will be featuring select students' creative writing that they are producing in our workshop classes. The work you will read will range from poetry, fiction, nonfiction and plays. Please check back frequently as we hope to showcase a different student's writing twice weekly.
For our first feature, I am proud to introduce Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Washington professor Ryan Van Cleave's student Cristina Sciarra. Cristina is a senior majoring in English and Creative Writing.


Many a woman has a past; but I am told she
has at least a dozen, and that they all fit.
- Oscar Wilde

At sixteen, Jack scrubs coke into her gums
with the narrow blade of an index finger,
her body splayed across the dented wood
of our bedroom floor; when she rests
her head in my lap I can smell the musky oil
she nightly kneads into her dreadlocks.

Staring up at her Jim Morrison poster
with something like reverence
he, too, is posed as if he were a martyr—
arms wide and ribs vivid. She too
will die before twenty eight, she promises.

She still makes empty promises,
but allows me only doses now,
then blames it on the distance.
I know about the cigarettes—
those she stopped bothering to hide.
I've seen pictures of her pierced nipples
too. I know about the bruises on her lower back
the size of apples, gifts from a boy
she just couldn't shake.

What I get now are spare parts; only enough
to piece together the rough outline of a story.
Like chinks of light spit from a strobe
or the swinging caress of a lighthouse beam—
part of the landscape always obscured,
the kaleidoscopic picture always changing—as if
by trying to catch her in your sight, the act itself,
is enough to damn yourself completely.

In Memoriam: Jon Lucks

It is with great sorrow that we note the sudden death of Jonathon Lucks, an alumnus of the English Department (class of 2006). He is fondly remembered by our faculty, as well as by those majors who took classes in the department with him.

We offer our deepest sympathy to his family and to his friends.

From Sarah Biggart's obituary in the Hatchet:

Lucks was passionate, inspiring'06 alum
Loved Irish music and literature

Friends and family remember Jon Lucks, a 2006 GW alumnus, as a caring, smart and brave person who inspired those around him. He died at GW Hospital Feb. 27. He was 25 years old. "He was an incredibly courageous kid," his father, Michael Lucks said. "Everyone's dad says that - and everyone has the right to be proud of their kids - but honestly, I didn't understand where his hope and courage came from." Though he suffered from spina bifida, a birth defect that paralyzed him from the waist down, Lucks never complained about his condition or the adversity he faced on a daily basis, many of his friends said. "The memory I have of Jon is a kind, good person and a great friend," said Emmanuel Caudillo, a friend and coworker of Lucks'. "Jon was a person who was always happy to see you, always asking how you were doing and always ready to listen. I respected him very much." He grew up in Malvern, Pa., and graduated from St. Joseph's Preparatory School in 2001. At GW, he studied English and political science. In addition to being a National Merit finalist and a Presidential Scholar in high school, Lucks made the Dean's List while at GW. Outside the classroom, Lucks worked for Rep. Kurt Weldon (R-Pa.) and was one of the youngest interns at the Cato Institute in 2003. In 2007, Lucks spent a short time working for the Coke Foundation. Paul Ryan, a friend, cites Lucks' humor as one of his greatest qualities. "He was a huge Eagles fan and he used to call me up and leave me a message spelling out the word E-A-G-L-E-S and then hang up," Ryan recalled. "I will remember a lot of little things that aren't going to be there anymore. They're small, but in the end they add up to be Jon." At the time of his death, he had been doing research at a D.C. law firm and had recently taken the LSATs with hopes of going to law school. Lucks had a passion for literature, philosophy, politics and Irish music. His family describes his political views as libertarian and remember him as always willing to talk about current events and his favorite authors. "I remember when he was two-and-a-half years old we had a Christmas party," said his mother, Mary Lucks said. "I had invited all of my English teacher friends, and one of my friends had picked up a book on Robert Frost. She asked Jonathan if he knew who he was. Jon was standing there on his little crutches and he recited the whole poem 'The Road Not Taken' for the room." She added that her son always inspired her with his diverse talents and qualities. "He was one of the wittiest people I ever met," Mary Lucks said. "He was a mediocre student but an incredibly smart kid. He was a great writer and he had a great love of life." Chris Ross, a bartender at McFadden's and a close friend of Lucks', said he was always happy and brightened the lives of those around him. "I've known Jon for four years now, and I can tell you I always saw him with a smile on his face," Ross said. "He touched so many peoples' lives." Ryan added, "On Thursday morning I woke up and realized that this will be the first morning that Jon will wake up wherever he is and be able to walk. I can just see him running up and down hills and leaping around. He's probably having a ball."