Thursday, February 26, 2009

For Your Calendar: Chabon and Jones (March 23)

The author of The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Summerland, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh -- and MORE -- will read from his work and then be interviewed live by Professor Faye Moskowitz.

Michael Chabon will be introduced by Edward P. Jones, GW's first Wang Professor of Contemporary Literature.

The event begins at 7 PM on Monday March 23 in the Jack Morton Auditorium, and is followed by a book signing for both Chabon and Jones. Free and open to all who wish to atend, but seating is on a first-available basis.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Poetry Out Loud Finals Coming to Lisner Auditorium

I expect GW to issue a press release about this at some point. Until then, here is advanced notice of a literary event coming to an auditorium near you. Poetry Out Loud is a project of the National Endowment for the Arts and Poetry Foundation.

From the Lisner website:
The 2009 Poetry Out Loud National Finals will take place in Washington, DC, April 26-28. Champions from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico will compete for scholarship prizes totaling $50,000 and the opportunity to recite at the historic rededication of the Lincoln Memorial.
No word on ticket prices or if it will be open to GW students. Or even if GW students will be interested.

DCist has more information about the student representing DC in the National Competition: Wesley Mann, a senior at St. Anselm's Abbey School in Northeast DC. Good luck, Wesley!

Thomas Mallon in the NYT

from Sunday's Book Review:

Thomas Mallon began contributing to the Book Review 25 years ago, just after the publication of “A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries.”

Since then, he’s written four other nonfiction books and seven novels, and taken detours into academia, magazine editing and even government bureaucracy (as deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities). Small wonder, then, that only now is he finishing the companion volume to his diaries book, “Yours Ever: People and Their Letters,” which will be published this fall. Mallon does most of his writing in the turret at the top of his Victorian house in Washington, the city where three of his novels — as well as a novel-in-progress about the Watergate era — are set.Though he’s content to make Washington his home, Mallon has, he explained in a recent e-mail message, long been drawn to New Orleans, whose pre- and post-­Katrina incarnations are detailed in the book he reviews in this issue, Dan Baum’s “Nine Lives.” Mallon’s most recent visit to the city was in the spring of 2006. “The French Quarter,” he recalled, “was undamaged but horribly underpopulated. You could have ridden a bicycle down Bourbon Street at midnight without worrying about knocking somebody over.”

Essay Contest on Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised

The English Department administers a biannual essay contest open to current GW freshmen, sophomores and juniors interested in parliamentary procedure. To enter, you must compose an essay of three to four hundred words on some aspect of parliamentary procedure as taught in Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised.

The essay should be submitted under a nom de plume with a cover letter identifying its author, with contact information. The essay should be placed in an envelope labeled "Kilgore Competition" and delivered to the English Department main office (Rome 760) by noon on Thursday March 12.

The contest is judged by a small faculty panel. The author of the winning essay is awarded the Kilgore scholarship for up to two years.

A Reason to be Atwitter: We Are On Twitter

Our intrepid Front Office Student Worker, Sasha, somehow conned the department chair into opening a Twitter account under the name "GWENGL." A series of tweets erupted yesterday, with more likely to follow.

We consider this twitter twaddle to be a two week experiment. Most of what will be disseminated will be lies (we are a department that composes and analyzes fiction, after all) -- but as we all know, fables are the best approach to Truth. Our Twitter feed is here. Its RSS feed is here and on the sidebar of the blog.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Jewish American Literature Live @ GW

You may have heard that David Bruce Smith generously funded an undergraduate course taught by Faye Moskowitz. "Jewish Literature Live" brings the authors of books into the classroom to interact with GW students.

What you may not know is that it's not just the students in Professor Moskowitz's course who benefit. Three of the authors coming to campus to participate in the class are also giving public readings of their work. These are free and open to all who wish to attend.
  • Anya Ulinich, Thursday March 5 (Marvin Center Third Floor Amphitheater, 8:00 PM)
  • Michael Chabon, Monday March 23 (Jack Morton Auditorium, 7 PM). Mr. Chabon will be introduced by Edward P. Jones, give a reading, and then be interviewed live by Professor Moskowitz.
  • Art Spiegelman, Thursday April 2 (Jack Morton Auditorium, 8 PM)

What's in a Poster?

Student elections are this Wednesday and Thursday at GW, and a very large pool of SA, MCGB, and PB candidates have come forward to promote themselves. According to The Hatchet, there are 56 student candidates this year, compared to 31 last year. This increase is evident to anyone passing through Academic Center, University Yard, or the Marvin Center. Posters adhere to the walls, and an unfortunate few lie on the ground, victims of the weather or a wayward hand.

Due to many restrictions on campaigning, name recognition is incredibly important. Most posters prominently display the candidate's name, some include a picture, and a few include a slogan. After Obama's "Change" campaign, it is difficult to deny the effectiveness of a strong slogan and graphic. Yet at GW, the slogans have been pretty tame. Allow me to feature a few of the posters I've seen, and evaluate their literary merits.

"It's the 21st century." Justin Snyder takes a slightly unusual approach with his poster. He doesn't make any promises or use a flashy picture. He uses a statement of fact. Facts are a powerful thing, especially when juxtaposed with such a dark and monochromatic picture. I assume Justin Snyder's implied logic is something like this: 21st century = future = progress = Justin. The message is a little obscure, but the simplicity is to be admired.

Nick Polk has a flashy poster inspired by Catch Me If You Can. The poster is clean and efficient, but lacks Justin's subtle originality and factuality. The arrows complement his slogan, "Moving forward together," which accomplishes the task of implying that a vote for Nick is a vote for progress - a theme in this election. He also seems to be going for the "I Like Ike" constituency with his "" web address, which I like better than is official slogan.

Like Nick, Julie Bindelglass includes a personal picture on her poster. I'm sure all candidates would do this if the election ballot included pictures; unfortunately it does not. Unlike Nick, Julie has united her slogan - "Take Back the SA" - with her website address to reinforce her message. The poster is a little busy and difficult to read, but up close it is effective.

Some candidates, like Michael Komo, have posters very similar to those you would find during a real U.S. Senate race. Although the poster succeeds at prominently featuring his name, the red-white-blue combo is generic, and the lack of a catchy slogan means none of his personality shines through.

Jason Lifton has a great poster, when you can find it. He uses the same palette as Komo, but in a less generic fashion, and his name is the most important thing on the poster. It helps that his website address also reinforces his name branding. Although he had the foresight to put up temporary posters, with promises of "real posters to come after rain," some of these temporary ones have not been replaced. Jason doesn't have much of a slogan, but like Justin he is also a fan of the facts.

I'll let you be the judge of this last poster. One thing I did not realize about my slogan is that, since many candidates campaign using their surname, some of my target audience does not understand that Calder is my praenomen, and an unusual one at that. Perhaps I should have gone with my alternate slogan: "Community, Communication, Collaboration. Change you can cee."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

As My Term in Office Dwindles, Some Thoughts on Our Graduate Program

In 2006 I was elected by my colleagues to serve a three year term as chair of the English Department. Doing so has been an honor, and a privilege. I know that sounds cliché, but I make the statement with feeling and without irony. I have the best colleagues, we teach the brightest and most affable undergraduates ... and (this is the part that I feel readers of this blog might not know enough about) we also have absolutely amazing graduate students. As my term as chair comes to its end, I feel that I've been able to accomplish quite a bit for faculty and English majors (there is always more to do, but I am very happy with what has come about so far). I am less satisfied with what I've been able to achieve for our graduate program.

I've written on this blog before about how, economically, it is not easy to be a graduate student at GW because our programs are in general underfunded. This paucity of resources seems especially evident in English, where we possess the means to fund a total of only EIGHT students at any one time. Graduate programs our size at comparable institutions typically fund three times that number. I've outlined on this blog what a fully funded English graduate program at GW would look like. I stand by my assertion that such a program would be the envy of anything in the Ivy League: we have resources here in DC (the Folger, the Library of Congress) that other programs simply cannot match. Our faculty are unparallelled. It disappoints me that we do not possess the resources to create a graduate program in English that achieves our actual ambitions, because everyone would benefit: undergraduates, by having the best possible teachers and role models in their survey classes; faculty, by training and working with those at the cutting edge of humanities research; and graduate students, by having the financial support they require to undertake advanced literary study.

In my annual report last year, I observed the following:
Major Challenges & Obstacles
Our greatest obstacle is our meager budget. Some pressure has been alleviated through the influx of donor and research money, so that for the first time we can afford to sponsor visiting scholars. We do not, however, have a reliable source to pay for faculty travel, office equipment, or new initiatives.

Where our poverty in resources will impact us most, however, is our graduate program. We have so few GTAs assigned to the department that we cannot actually sustain a sufficient cadre of graduate students: we cannot, in other words, attain the critical mass that we need in order to become the program worthy of a Research I university that we know we could be. As things stand now, we will likely be able to support and therefore admit NO doctoral students in 2008-09, a catastrophe for a PhD program that has burgeoned in strength and quality over the past few years. This lack of GTAs will impact undergraduate education as well, compelling us to rethink our ability to offer the successful English 40W course since it relies upon GTAs for sections.
Sadly, nothing I wrote in that second paragraph has changed since I composed its dire words last June. The English Department has seen no increase to its support for graduate students -- and may even face a reduction due to budget cuts. That lack of funding means we may not be able to attract any PhD students this year, preventing a doctoral program of great promise from achieving its superlative potential.

I want to emphasize how good the current graduate students at GW are. Three of our eight funded PhD students, for example, are working very closely with me in my popular "Myths of Britain" class. I observed their discussion sections last Wednesday, and as I watched them teach their undergraduates with such enviable passion and such innate skill, I was impressed ... and so very grateful that I get to work with those who are the future of the field. I know our undergraduates appreciate these gifted teachers as well. I'll be having dinner with all three and several other graduate students later tonight: they invited their professors to dine with them to thank us for what we have done for them. It is we, however, who ought to be thanking them.

I don't think I have spoken about our graduate program as much as I should have here at the GW English blog. I'm doing that today because I am so worried. I want to emphasize that our graduate program is not an "added extra"; it is not expendable; it is not fluff. Advanced research in the humanities and the training of the next generation of scholar-teachers is at the very heart of my department's mission. It isn't separable from what we do in the undergraduate classroom: it is an enterprise that extends that mission towards its best possible future.

The GW English Department will be much the weaker if our graduate program falters.

Student Blogs

Here are two blogs by current GW students: one, two. Here is one from a former GW English major.

Are there more? What else do GW English Blog readers read, and write?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Alumnus Update: Michael Bonett Jr

I was so pleased to receive an email from Michael Bonett, Jr., my former student and advisee in the English Department. He writes:

After I graduated from George Washington University, I worked in Maryland for a year. During this time, I got published on my birthday in Mindflights magazine. I left to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Georgia in June of 2008. My assignment in that Eastern European country was to be an English teacher. When the conflict with Russia broke out, my fellow volunteers and I were evacuated to Armenia. I stayed there until I transferred to Peace Corps: Micronesia in September of 2008.

I currently teach English to ninth graders on Kosrae, known as the “Island of the Sleeping Lady” because of the shape of its beautiful mountains. Kosrae is most famous for its singing. In particular, its Christmas marching event is world-renowned. I had the pleasure of participating in the event in my own village and it was amazing. In the village of Lelu are the ruins of a basalt fortress that dates back to 1400 A.D., where the ancient Kosraean kings lived. There are numerous Japanese WWII sites, including a series of tunnels in Mt. Ohma.

To say that my post-GW experience has been interesting would be an understatement. I’ve been to Georgian feasts known as supras, attended a wrestling festival, and played chess with the T’bilisi champion. I’ve sung informally in Gerhard Monastery in Armenia and on television during Kosraean Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. I’ve attended Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and Kosraean Protestant church services. My job is excellent and the people I work with are relaxed and easygoing. Overall, my education at GW has provided me with opportunities that have been far more exciting than I’ve ever imagined.

Thanks for writing us Michael -- and we wish you all the best in the adventures ahead!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Jada Bradley on The Known World Panel

DC Writer Jada Bradley attended our recent panel Knowing the Known World, and blogs about the experience at

My thanks to everyone who attended and made the event such a success. I believe it was the largest literary event GW has ever offered exclusively for its alumni.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

T-Shirt Thursday April 2: DO NOT BE LEFT OUT

Remember in High School when people gathered in groups that excluded you?

Don't let that happen again.

The English Department is BOWING TO THE DEMANDS of its majors (specifically to an agitated group of upperclasspeople whom we very much like) and declaring that Thursday April 2 2009 will be our first "T-Shirt Thursday." Directions for participation are as follows:
  1. Purchase the official GW English T shirt via Zazzle. Although you have the option of customizing, the preferred color is (for obvious reasons) black. All profits made from the sale of these shirts support activities for majors, such as future T-Shirt Thursdays (an endless loop).
  2. Keep your T-shirt neatly folded and safe. Wait patiently for April 2, 2009.
  3. On "T-Shirt Thursday," wear your GW English T-Shirt. Maintain an attitude of aloof superiority. Speak to no one who is not wearing such a shirt. Attend the Art Spiegelman presentation at the Jack Morton Auditorium at 8 PM. He is a nervous man: freak him out by creating a sea of black with "GW ENGLISH" afloat upon its waves.
  4. Treasure your souvenir of what may turn out to be the very best day of your life. Consider passing it along to your children, so that they too can someday participate in "T-Shirt Thursday."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

From The Hatchet: Folger Undergraduate Research Seminar

by Tess Malone
Hatchet Reporter

Senior Liz Bettinger never knew that a chance course she applied for after its deadline would turn into her thesis.

This past semester, Bettinger and a handful of other girls woke up early and took the Metro to Capitol Hill every Friday morning so that they could experience, as Bettinger puts it, the "once in a lifetime opportunity" of studying at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

The Folger holds the world's largest collection of Shakespearean and Renaissance books, manuscripts and art. Students in the seminar had full access to the Folger, which has a partnership with GW. The students used antique books and manuscripts, many of which were handwritten, as primary sources for their research projects. Some students, such as Bettinger, continue to visit the library this semester, taking advantage of their extended six-month membership.

The program is a highly competitive senior seminar with its own special application process. This fall marked its second term.

The partnership between the Folger and GW began after professor Gail Kern Paster, a famous Shakespeare expert, left GW several years ago to work at the Folger. Many members of the English faculty use the Folger collections to conduct research.

For faculty, "it's usually a place go to once a week, or spend a summer there. Professor Jonathan Gil Harris is spending an entire year there," said Jeffrey Cohen, chair of the English department. "We wanted to make sure we could share this with the students."

Harris introduced senior Christina Katopodis to the seminar. Katopodis said her time at the Folger turned out to be one of her most fulfilling experiences as an English major.

"To work with books that old means that they were special in history because they had survived. It indicates they were valued," she said.

With the help of Folger scholar Sarah Werner, Katopodis worked specifically with a 1605 book by Thomas Haywood, a famous Elizabethan writer and actor. "If You Know Not Me You Know Not Nobody" was written on vellum - a type of paper made of animal skin - and Katopodis discovered more than just archaic spellings. She also found "little hairs mixed in."

Bettinger, a history major, had more ambiguities with her book on Richard III, whose title is too long to say, let alone print.

"It was a mysterious little book with no author. My project was on how the book came to be," Bettinger said.

But as she sat and studied for four months in the Elizabethan style reading room, she realized the project could turn into her senior thesis, which analyzes the literary character of Richard III.

To finish work on her thesis, Bettinger plans on going back to the Folger to do more research later this semester.

"I was touching a piece of history," she said.

The English department plans on making the program permanent, said Jeffrey Cohen, chair of the English department. The only obstacle is the cost, he said.

"The problem is it's an extensive course to run. Hopefully we will find a donor, but it's worth every penny," Cohen said.

Katopodis said the program has made her respect books more and that when she goes into a bookstore, she is more inclined to "subconsciously think about how books are made."

Media Credit: Chris Gregory/Hatchet photographer

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bruce MacKinnon, "The Bees"

The English Department congratulates Bruce MacKinnon on the publication of his poem "The Bees," published in the February issue of Poetry. Bruce's collection of poems, Mystery Schools, was also just favorably reviewed in The Literary Review. Bruce teaches poetry in our Creative Writing program. We congratulate him for his achievements.

The Bees
One day the bees start wandering off, no one knows why.
First one doesn’t come back, and then another and another,
until those who are supposed to stay and guard the hive, those
who are making the royal jelly and feeding it to the queen,
those who form different parts of the great brain, must
put down what it is they are doing and go off in search—
having no choice, not if the hive is going to survive,
and where do they go, each one vanishing, never to be seen
again, off wandering in the wilderness, having forgotten
how, forgotten what it was they were after, what it was
that gave meaning, having known it at one time, now
a veil drawn. Is it that each one is a cell, a brain cell,
and now they’re failing one by one, plaque to Alzheimer’s,
or the way the cells in the esophagus will begin to mimic
the stomach if the acid is too intense, if you’re sleeping
and the valve won’t close, a lifetime of eating and drinking
the wrong things, those cells compensating, trying
their best, but opening the door to those other cells,
the wild ones, the ones that call those bees, out there,
somewhere, lost, having nowhere to return at night,
their search for nectar fruitful, their small saddlebags full,
but no one to go home to, no home, no memory of home,
it’s as if they’d stumbled into some alternate world,
one looking like ours but just a glass width different,
just a fraction of sunlight different, the patient waking up,
finding herself wandering, someone leading her back
to bed, but there is no bed. Confusion of the hive,
they call it, and the hive dies, each bee goes down,
each light goes out, one by one, blinking out all over town,
seen from a great height as the night ages, darkens,
as you’re parked in your car with your own true love,
until it’s just you two and the stars, until it’s just you.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sparsification of the GW Hippo

At what lean times have we arrived when the blubbery Hippo dwindles in scarcity? (I think the author of this article means "scarce" rather than "sparse": it isn't that Hippoparaphernalia is thinly scattered so much as it is ceasing to exist) (or is that the punctilious professor in me speaking?)

At any rate, we didn't sparsify our own hippo mascot, despite all threats to the contrary. But I wonder, would anyone like to offer a better image than the one we have been using, at right?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

JJC @ Gelman (Thursday 2/12)

Horn tooting of the worst kind. Click on image to enlarge.

Jeffrey J. Cohen
Chair of the Department of English, Director of GW Medieval & Early Modern Studies Institute,
Professor of English and Human Sciences

Professor Cohen received his Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University. He has an M.A. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University and a B.A. in English and Classical Studies from the University of Rochester. Professor Cohen’s book publications include Monster Theory: Reading Culture (1996), Becoming Male in the Middle Ages (1997), Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages (1999), The Postcolonial Middle Ages (2000), Thinking the Limits of the Body (2002), Medieval Identity Machines (2003), Hybridity, Identity and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain: Of Difficult Middles (2006), and most recently, Cultural Diversity in the British Middle Ages: Archipelago, Island, England (2008).

Professor Cohen’s research interests include: the history of monsters; postcolonial approaches to the Middle Ages; the mingling of cultures in the British archipelago; identity, race, violence, hybridity, monstrosity, medieval Jews, the body; continental philosophy and critical theory.

Come hear Professor Cohen discuss his latest work:

Cultural Diversity in the British Middle Ages:
Archipelago, Island, England

( Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)
Faculty Authors Book Signing Reception February 12, 2009 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm The Gelman Library Room 207

President Knapp Appointed Chair of English Department Student Complaint Committee

President Knapp graciously hosted the faculty of the English Department at his F St home yesterday. Although he holds a part-time job as president of a major urban university, Steven Knapp is most famous as a scholar of 18th- and 19th-century English literature and literary theory. He holds his tenure in the English Department at GW.

Because the event was technically our monthly faculty meeting, I took the opportunity to give President Knapp his first departmental service appointment: he will chair our new Student Complaints Committee. President Knapp was gracious in accepting the charge ... and then immediately delegated it to one of his staff.

What he didn't realize, though, is that I'd actually thrown him a softball. As department chair, I am the one in charge of student complaints ... and in my entire three years in office, a time at which we have as a department taught hundreds upon hundreds of students, I have been approached with exactly three complaints -- and they resolved themselves after a little advice. Seriously.

Now, however, if any of our students have a complaint to lodge, they will find themselves filing in triplicate and walking them over to .... well President Knapp never did give me the name of the person who was in charge on his behalf.

I may well file a complaint.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Knowing "The Known World"

Attention alumni: this event is just for you.

Knowing "The Known World"

Conversation with Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Edward P. Jones

Date: Feb 18, 2009
Time: 6:30PM - 8:30PM ET
Location: The George Washington University
Alumni House @ 1918 F Street, NW
Washington, D.C.
Description: Please join Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Spring 2009 Wang Visiting Professor in Contemporary English Literature, and four renowned GW professors, for a lively conversation about The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2004, this beautiful and heartbreaking novel follows the complicated history that unfolds around a Virginia plantation, owned by a former slave who has purchased slaves of his own. A meditation upon racism, humanity, memory, and the power of art, The Known World is a fantastic book.

Faculty members from the Departments of English, American Studies, Political Science and History examine what their disciplines have to say to Edward P. Jones's work. Mr. Jones himself will respond, then join in the free-ranging discussion. A book signing and reception will follow.

The cost of this program starts at $8 and includes the conversation and reception. Advance registration is required and space is limited.


Tyler Anbinder, is Chair and Professor of History. Professor Tyler is an expert on the American Civil War and its legacy.

Elisabeth Anker is Assistant Professor of American Studies. Professor Anker's research interests focus on the connections between American politics, philosophy and culture.

Jennifer James is an Associate Professor of English. Professor James teaches African American literature and has written about 19th century African American literature of slavery and the Civil War.

Edward P. Jones is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and the Spring 2009 Wang Visiting Professor in Contemporary English Literature.

Forrest Maltzman is Chair and Professor of Political Science. Professor Maltzman studies legislative and judicial decision-making.

Sponsored by the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the GW Alumni Association


GW Alumna Kathy Rooney Reads @ GW

Live Nude Girl In The Devil's Territory
February 22nd, 2009, at 8pm in the Third Floor Ampitheater of the Marvin Center

The George Washington Society of Arts and Letters is proud to present GWU alumna and author Kathleen Rooney with author Kyle Mino.

Their book tour is entitled "Live Nude Girl In The Devil's Territory." The reading event covers their books Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object (Kathleen Rooney) and In The Devil's Territory (Kyle Minor). Both authors have received terrific reviews so far, and it is confirmed that GWU alumni author Dan Gutstein will be showing up for the reading as well. Books will be sold and signed for those interested.
Sponsored by the George Washington Society of Arts and Letters

Monday, February 9, 2009

Anya Ulinich @ GW

Anya Ulinich, author of Petropolis will be reading from her work on campus, Thursday, March 5th in the Marvin Center Third Floor Amphitheater, 8:00-9:30PM. The National Book Foundation, 5 under 35, calls her work "...particularly exciting and among the best of a new generation of writers." Gary Shteyngart says of Ulinich's protagonist, "Sasha Goldberg is like Borat, but with a big heart!"

Join us! The reading is free and welcomes all who would like to attend. Made possible through the generous support of alumnus David Bruce Smith, and part of an ongoing effort to bring the best of contemporary Jewish American fiction to GW.

Read the fist chapter of Petropolis here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

English and Creative Writing Major

From David McAleavey:

Now is the time to apply to the English and Creative Writing major - for juniors -- i.e., ONLY for those who are to graduate in Fall '09 or Spring '10. The application consists of 2 hard copies of both a 1-p. statement explaining your interest, and a writing sample (10-15 pp. if poetry, 15-20 if fiction or play; the writing samples may be longer if need be). [Note that students who are studying abroad may submit their application electronically, as a Word.doc attachment.] Also you need 2 letters of recommendation, sent to me (David McAleavey) at -- or, if by snail mail, to me at the English Department, GWU, Washington DC 20052. (These recommendations are usually brief e-mails from those who have taught you in Creative Writing courses at GW, but you may ask other professors, both here at GW or elsewhere, if you think that would be better for you. Please note that you may apply in more than one genre, but each application should be include two copies of both the statement and the pertinent writing sample. (No need to ask your professors to send their recommendations more than once, however!)

If you have questions, please contact me (, 202-994-6515).

The announced deadline is Feb. 16, but if you need more time, let me know that too, and I'll see what we can do. If you are admitted, you'll be able to write a senior Creative Writing thesis, in a supervised independent study (ENGL 194).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Behind the Scenes at the Library of Congress

[illustration: from the Library of Congress's rare books collection: The Book of Urizen by William Blake]

GW alumnus Malcolm O'Hagan (class of 1966) has kindly arranged for a small group of GW students to have a behind-the-scenes tour of the Library of Congress, and the chance to admire up close some of its most precious holdings.

The event will be overseen by a curator in the Rare Book Division of the Library, who will give a one-hour presentation on the evolution of the illustrated book, from early times up to Poe. The curator will bring out rare and interesting manuscripts for the students to examine -- manuscripts to which the general public does not have access. The presentation will be done in a round table format, and will be combined with a highlights tour of the Library.

Most GW students never set foot in this amazing building. You have the chance not only to have a guided tour, but to see some treasures seldom glimpsed.

The tour has been scheduled for Friday March 27 at 10 AM, and includes lunch afterwards. We'll rendezvous at the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, only a limited number of students can be included in this "Only at GW" experience. If you would like to be one of those who joins me, Mr. O'Hagan, and the Rare Books curator, please email as soon as possible.

This Library of Congress field trip will be an outing that you will not soon forget!

Interested in English Honors? Interested in the Future of the Field?

Dear English Major,

The first workshop in literary studies for junior English majors hoping to enter the Honors Program in the Fall is this Monday, February 9, at 3 PM, in Rome Hall 663.

Thanks to those who have contacted Marshall Alcorn or me and expressed interest. Join us, along with Professors Jonathan Hsy and Gayle Wald on Monday to talk about "Futures of the Field." The professors present will talk about their own work and their own practices as scholars.

The workshop will run about one hour. You do not need to be registered for the seminar in order to attend. If you are hoping to enter the Honors Program in the Fall, you are expected to attend if at all possible.

Feel free to contact us with any questions.
Robert McRuer

Robert McRuer
Associate Professor
Director of Undergraduate Studies

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Introducing Steven Knapp Introducing Edward P Jones

[photo by Calder Stembel]

First, THANK YOU to all of our readers who attended the Edward P Jones Inaugural reading last Thursday.

The previous evening I had had a nightmare in which the only people in attendance at the event were me, Edward Jones, Steven Knapp, and the English department secretary. I imagined that President Knapp would be so angry he would yell "COOOHEN!" in that same voice that Superintendent Chalmers uses on Principal Skinner in "The Simpsons." You can imagine how relieved I was that the Jack Morton Auditorium was standing-room only ... and that the reading itself was so great.

Below you will find my introduction of the GW President. You will note that I refrained from calling him by his nicknames of "Knappybaby," "Steve-o," and "The Knappster," saving those for behind his back use.

Enjoy ... and again, thank you for participating in a great night for English.

On behalf of my colleagues in the English Department, welcome. I am Jeffrey Cohen, the chair. I am so happy to have you join us tonight.

I am currently in the third year of leading the English Department. Shortly after I took office, we agreed on a mission statement that foregrounds our commitment to teaching and researching literature within as capacious a frame as possible. Thus my department boasts strengths in the diverse literatures of the British archipelago, and American literatures that include Jewish, Asian, and African-American. I believe that tonight’s event is intimately related to this mission, and am so grateful for the funding that made it possible.

I could not be more pleased than I am right now, standing on the same stage as Edward P Jones (who has been a terrific addition to the Department) …. and as Steven Knapp, whom it is my pleasure to introduce.

You might not know this, but president Knapp works for me. I’m the chair of English, he has a PhD in literature and so his tenure in my department … and therefore I actually run this university. (Though I haven't really been able to convince anyone else of that fact.)

I am grateful to President Knapp for four reasons:
  • For the fine job he has done in guiding this university. There is an intellectual energy on this campus that is infectious.
  • For being an exemplary humanities scholar, who has published books with obscure titles like Literary Interest: The Limits of Anti-formalism and Personification and the Sublime: Milton to Coleridge.
  • For making it clear that humanities research is just as exciting and as valuable a university investment as policy studies and science labs (GW is deeply connected to the Folger Shakespeare Library; my department has a long history of strengths in African American and non-majority literatures, as befits our Washington DC location)
  • For answering – once and for all – the eternal question “What you do with an English major anyway?”
It is my pleasure to present to you this evening literary scholar and university president Steven Knapp.

Monday, February 2, 2009

From the GW Hatchet: Edward P Jones Reading

 University President Steven Knapp shakes the hand of visiting professor and Pulizer Prize-winning author Edward P. Jones, right, who read from his new book Media Credit: Marie McGrory/Hatchet photographer
University President Steven Knapp shakes the hand of visiting professor and Pulizer Prize-winning author Edward P. Jones, right, who read from his new book "The Known World" at the Jack Morton Auditorium on Thursday night.
by Becky Reeves
Hatchet Reporter

Edward P. Jones, a renowned fiction author and visiting professor at GW, treated literature buffs to a reading from his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Known World" in the Jack Morton Auditorium Thursday evening.

The event kicked off a campus-wide reading of Jones's novel, which will feature discussions led by GW faculty and additional readings throughout the semester.

Set in the fictional county of Manchester, Va., during the mid-1800s, Jones's novel centers on a freed slave that owns several slaves of his own. The work has received critical acclaim and numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.

Jones read two brief excerpts from the novel to a packed auditorium, giving the audience a short glimpse into the book.

During the question and answer period that followed the reading, audience members inquired about Jones's creative process and dynamic characterization.

"I don't really think in terms of history or anything else," he said, in response to a question about how he gives his stories historical authenticity. "Fiction, of course, is a bunch of made up lies and what you have to do is prettify the lies so that people will accept it."

Jones's residency, which was made possible through a $700,000 donation from Taiwanese businessman Albert Wang, will last through the spring semester. The donation, which is the single largest gift GW's English department has ever received, established the Wang Visiting Professorship in Contemporary Literature, of which Jones is the first recipient.

In addition to campus-wide reading events, his residency includes two courses in fiction writing and the discussion of contemporary literature.

University President Steven Knapp opened the event, commenting on the author's selection for the position.

"I think it's fair to say that no one writing in America today better embodies the spirit of the Wang Visiting Professorship or the mission of our Department of English than tonight's speaker," he said.

Phyllis Palmer, professor of American studies and women's studies, said that to be in the company of such a fine writer was "an enormous privilege."

Although she had already read the novel, Palmer said Jones' reading gave a new and different tone to the work than she had previously understood.

"Listening to him reading his own works, it was incredibly funny," she said. "Hearing it in the voice of the author lets us discover things that we can't get as readers."


Sunday, February 1, 2009

The South African Project

The South African Project, a benefit performance featuring youth performers from the Bokamoso Youth Center of Winterveldt, South Africa.

The rural township of Winterveldt, South Africa is plagued with serious challenges, including a 50% unemployment rate and an HIV/AIDS infection rate that affects 25% of the population; teen pregnancy and family violence; and other social ills that accompany poverty. Yet despite these problems, the community is actively working to heal and restore its population. For the past ten years, the Bokamoso Life Center has worked with at-risk youth in Winterveldt, helping to mentor them, and teach them skills that move them forward in their lives.

Since 2003, Professor Leslie Jacobson and colleague Roy Barber, accompanied by GW students on undergraduate fellowships, have worked with the youth from Bokamoso in Winterveldt, S.A. Each summer, they have developed plays and songs that address social problems in their community. Since the winter of 2004, youth from the Bokamoso Youth Center have traveled to the U.S., staying part of the time with GW students and engaging in cultural exchange. Their residency culminates in a performance at the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre of The George Washington University, to benefit the Bokamoso Youth Center. This year’s performance includes a new play by Roy Barber and Leslie Jacobson. The performance, drawn from the lives of the youth, also features traditional African song and dance, and a guest appearance by GW’s Troubadours.

SPONSORS: GW Department of Theatre and Dance, with the support of the Departments of Music, Africana Studies, and Women’s Studies; and community partners St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and The Seekers Church

Friday, February 6, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre

TICKETS: Ticket reservations are available by emailing
by calling (202)994-6178 or by visiting the box office on the night of the performance, located next to the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre, on the first floor of the Marvin Center. Admission is $10 for students and seniors, and $30 for the general public.

All proceeds go directly to the Bokamoso Youth Center of Winterveldt, South Africa.