Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Michael Chabon Mystery Solved!

I have a confession to make, I am a Michael Chabon addict. My first Chabon high came from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. With spunky Sam Clay and rogue Joe Kavalier as the heroes, I discovered a new passion for comic books or at least the history of them, a new favorite book, and a new author to obsess over. Although K&C still remains my favorite Chabon, that did not stop me from reading five of his other books over the past year. It got so bad, my friend chided me that I must read nothing but Chabon, which I actually did not even find an insult.

My addiction really hit its peak when charismatic Chabon read at GW last year. I wished he could have spoken for longer and signed more of my books. Little did I know, that he would be back less than a year later at Lisner Auditorium on Friday, October 8th at 8pm. However, how to get tickets remained a total enigma.

Luckily the case has been solved. Chabon tickets are actually FREE! Just go to the Lisner box office (from 11am-5pm on Tuesday-Friday), show your GW ID, and get a free ticket for the event (only one per person allowed)! Of course, I rushed over to grab mine and hope you will too.

Oh, the other mystery of the evening, what will Chabon be reading? He will be reading from his latest nonfiction work, Manhood for Amateurs:The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son. Which I have a feeling is what he read from last semester. I cannot wait to find out!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Design a Poster, Hobnob with the Chair, the President, and Assorted Celebs

On October 23 2009 at 5 PM, Professor Rosemarie Garland-Thomson of Emory University will deliver the inaugural GW English Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies in the Marvin Center Continental Ballroom. Her talk will be entitled The Gas Chamber and the Metro: Space, Mobility, and Disability. Professor Garland-Thomson is a founder of Disability Studies, an interdisciplinary approach to literature and culture that examines (among many other things) how the normal is created, and who is excluded from that category.

Professor Garland-Thomson will be introduced by José Muñoz, the second Wang Visiting Professor of Contemporary English Literature. GW President Steven Knapp will give the university welcome.

The event is free and welcomes all who would like to attend. But would you also like to have the chance to meet Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, José Muñoz, and Steven Knapp in person? One lucky GW student will have that privilege, attending a reception at President Knapp's house after the lecture as the guest of the Chair of the Department of English.

How do you earn all that fame, you ask? Simple: we are running a poster contest to advertise the event, and would welcome your submission. The winner gets the hobnobbing! and the food! and the fame! The poster must include:
  • the title of the lecture 
  • Rosemarie Garland-Thomson's name
  • the fact that she is being introduce by José Muñoz and that President Knapp is giving the welcome
  • that this is the inaugural GW English Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies
  • that the event is made possible through the generous support of the Wang Endowed Fund in English Literature and Literary Studies
Click here for more information about the lecture's topic,  and here to steal a picture of Professor Garland-Thomson. You can also use the image that we have used to illustrate this post, a juxtaposition that will be used in the lecture itself. You are not required to use any of these images, though: we are looking for something visually powerful and creative.

All submission should be in .doc, .pdf, or some other easy to open format. Send your poster to Jeffrey Cohen ( by MONDAY OCTOBER 5.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Nothing human is alien to the pen of a novelist or to a reader."-Julia Alvarez

It was a cold and wet, absolutely miserable day. This could be the start to a novel, but definitely not a good start to your day. Nevertheless, I and thousands of others crowded the metro to get to the National Mall for the Library of Congress's National Book Festival yesterday. Yet there was a reason we were all willing to stand out in the downpour and that reason was literature.
(I apologize for the bad photo quality. Blame it on my bad point&shoot.)

As Julia Alvarez said during her speech at the Festival, "Reading and sharing stories offers a way through the debris that come tumbling down." Whether that debris is literal or figurative, we were there to hear some of our favorite authors expound wisdom, gratitude, and share a few stories. With the dozens of authors there it was a bit challenging to decide whose story you wished to hear, but luckily I found a chair in the Fantasy/Fiction tent and stayed there through seven authors.
(Lois Lowry)

For some authors the tent was a bit of a misnomer for their true writings. As Jeanette Walls (author of The Glass Castle) lamented, "I tried to fictionalize my book. But I couldn't even come up with fake names for my family, so I used their middle names," she said. Although I have never read a word of Walls, she turned out to be more engaging than some of the more famous authors.

John Irving (author of The Cider House Rules among other novels) related writing to wrestling, as repetitive and challenging. Unfortunately I found his interview a bit repetitive myself, but as he noted, "You have no choice of what your obsessions are," he said. Apparently Irving is not one of my obsessions.

After enduring thirty minutes of Nicholas Sparks's arrogance (I learned that besides writing sob stories he also coaches a winning track team, opened a private school, and trained his German Shepard to climb trees. What this has to do with books is unapparent to me.) I welcomed Junot Dìaz (author of The Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao) whose language was colorful and creative. He discussed how as a child growing up in the Dominican Republic he did not even expect to write fiction. He said, "My mother's greatest fear was that one of her 'smartest children' would be an artist." Yet he did find a country that valued his art. "We need art so that we do not forget about life," he said.
(Tim O'Brien)

Although I loved Dìaz, part of the reason I stayed out in the cold for five hours was to hear Tim O'Brien (author of The Things They Carried). He somehow manages to be as poetic, poignant, and hilarious as he is in his books. Compared to Sparks in his oxford shirt, O'Brien in old jeans and a baseball cap was down to Earth, funny, and inspiring. The perfect end to a long, but satisfying day of literature.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Don't Miss the National Book Festival Tomorrow!

There is the Superbowl for football fans, dozens of music festivals for anyone who owns an ipod, and there is even Comic Con for all of those scifi/fantasy/comic book geeks out there. So what is there for bookworms? Maybe there are not hundreds of festivals in honor of books (although there should be!), but there is one ultimate one, the National Book Festival!

Luckily, for GW students and professors that festival takes place practically in our own backyard! Sponsored by the wonderful Library of Congress, the festival will be held on the National Mall from 10am-5:30pm tomorrow, Saturday, September 26.

Anyone who has ever bought a book (and clearly anyone reading this blog probably has run out of shelf space for all of their purchases) should go to the festival. Authors span from young adult fiction to nonfiction. Ideally there should be an author for everyone: Tim O'Brien, Julia Glass, Junot Díaz, John Iriving, Jeannette Walls, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham, Julia Alvarez, Nicholas Sparks, Judy Blume, etc. For a full list of authors click here.

Each author will be holding discussions and signings at different pavilions on the Mall related to their genre. For a full schedule of discussions and signings, click here.
[Click to enlarge]

I know I will certainly be there tomorrow even with the awful rainy forecast. Maybe I will see you there too? If you sadly cannot go, make sure to check the blog later on this weekend for a recap of the Festival.

Margaret Soltan on the Lehrer News Hours ... speaking about Dan Brown

You might know that Dan Brown's latest mystery is set here in DC. You might not know that Professor Margaret Soltan has read it, and talked about the book last night on the Lehrer News Hour. From the transcript (here):

MARGARET SOLTAN: [Mystery blockbusters] appeal to a large audience because they're fun to read, they're scary, they're lurid, all those kind of lower emotions they appeal to. The other way of getting at it is that his books are -- they satisfy that curiosity. I mean, serious literature tells you life is mysterious, but at the end of the novel, it's still mysterious. It's even worse, OK? Here, it's mysterious, and things get solved in a very satisfying way.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Introducing Ed Skoog: GW's Latest Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Residence

What influences poet Ed Skoog? Really, the question should be where is Ed Skoog influenced. Skoog, the newest Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Residence, may be in DC right now, but whose to say where he will be next fall. Even he does not know or want to know. "I don't want to pick a place to settle down," he said.

This somewhat nomadic existence is a good thing for Skoog and his poetry. Moving constantly is what stimulates him as a writer. He said, "It's disorienting and exciting. The tensions that come from it are beautiful. So how can you choose? To choose one place is to deny so many others."

Luckily, Skoog has never had to make that choice. Although his family has lived in Kansas for eight generations, he left as soon as he could, for college in Montana. Yet he did not even stay there for long and packed up a car to drive to New Orleans. For almost a decade he let the city inspire him, but coincidentally he took a job in California only ten days before Hurricane Katrina hit. There does not seem to be an semblance to any of these locales, yet Skoog sees it differently. "I'm drawn to places that were kind of margins of regular contemporary society," he said.

Skoog has always felt somewhat on the margins of society just by his career choice. "Poetry is not a job exactly, but what I do," he said. "All I wanted to do since age nine is write poetry. I've never been good at anything else."

Skoog's talent as a poet is what led him to the prestigious fellowship he holds and enjoys today. "It's exciting to talk about poetry with people who are interested in hearing about it. It's exciting and enlivening. Any conversation affects my work that day," he said.

Although he only teaches two classes, one for undergraduates and one for all citizens of DC, Skoog has found himself incredibly productive since he arrived here. He walks around the city carrying a notebook and taking notes on what he sees and hears. "I go to museums, matinee movies, and observe street life. Its a mix of high and low art," he said. Dialogue, everything from podcasts to overhearing conversation inspires him. In the evenings you can frequently find Skoog at the Black Cat taking in bands such as the Fruit Bats. A serious banjo player since age sixteen, he finds that music influences his work just as much as any other medium. And somehow, he still finds time to do a drawing or make a collage every morning.

There is no question about it, Skoog was meant to be in DC. The city has always held a special significance for him. He remembers visiting his grandparents in Bethesda and going to many arts events throughout DC as a child. He said, "Its important to me to develop a sense of the city, culture, aesthetics, art, and creative life here." And there is no better time than now, "I want to go where the action is. Where there is good writers, art, living, and cooking," he said.

Skoog has found his arts community through GW. "Wherever I go, the thing that changes is the audience, the people I meet," he said. "My colleagues in the English department are fine poets, scholars, and readers. The department is very welcoming, friendly, and social. I automatically stepped into an interesting group."

He is also a literal part of the community, living in the historic Lenthall House. "The house is a nice metaphor for the role of imaginative writing in the university. Its domestic, quiet, and private, a nice visual metaphor for the city," he said. And Skoog is the perfect new inhabitant for the house, the city, and the fellowship.

Make sure to visit Skoog's website. And look for his new book, Mister Skylight.

From The Hatchet: Research Centers Must Mean Science. Or Policy. Or Science Policy.

Emily Cahn reports:
The University's first vice president for research says he hopes to raise the University's research profile by starting new research centers in the fields of autism, computational biology, science policy, energy, sustainability and neglected diseases.
Well, you don't need to hear it from me again. But you will. Could the day please arrive when a new research center doesn't predictably focus on science or policy -- or science policy? While GW's medical school has been on academic probation, while the imagined science center's budget burgeons like the national deficit, why not a modest investment in a Humanities Center? All the prestigious universities have them. Can't we at least catch up?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Humanities @ GW: A Student's View

In the discussion that unfolded at this post about the humanities at GW, Calder Stembel kindly linked to a letter he composed to The Hatchet about arts and politics at this institution. The letter in its entirety is worth your time, but I want to excerpt some parts that speaks to the crux of the problem:
Based on GW's student body, curriculum and budget allocations, you wouldn't think that D.C. had much to offer in the way of arts. Who cares that the Library of Congress just completed a project to restore its Thomas Jefferson Building? Who is excited to see Antony and Cleopatra, opening next week at The Shakespeare Theatre Company? ... In focusing on politics at the expense of the arts, attending GW does not represent the overall experience of living in D.C. - the city has the potential to be a cultural capital as much as a political one.
GW seems to forget that to understand any foreign society, one must study its culture - including music, theater and dance and film ... All of the resources exist in D.C. for a successful arts curriculum, but they do not exist at GW ... It is impossible to attend school in D.C. without considering the city's artistic and cultural side. Politics and art are both integral parts of the city, and it is about time that students at GW be able to take advantage of the city's vibrant culture.
It seems to me that many of our students have caught on to this: that's why the English major is doing so well here, despite the institutions ardor for all things contemporary and policy-directed. What will it take for GW to be proud of the humanities in and of DC, in and of the university itself, and to nurture humanistic study to ensure that GW is well known for its strengths in these disciplines?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Return of Jonathan Gil Harris

As students sunbathe in the last weeks of summer, professors feel the start of the new semester as an entirely different weather pattern. "The new semester has crashed with all the force of a tsunami. But sometimes it's good to get wet," said Professor Jonathan Gil Harris.

This academic year is a complete change from last year for Harris when he spent his days in "the bat cave," that is the independent study rooms in the Folger Shakespeare Library. He eventually emerged one year and one book later to find himself in the throes of the new semester, where he is not only teaching but administrating as the new Director of Graduate Studies. During this transition period Harris notes, "I felt a little like Prospero on his island or maybe I was more like Caliban in the sense that I was doing work for others," he said.

It is fitting for one of GW's recognized Shakespeare scholars to make a reference to one of Shakespeare's more biographical plays. Harris truly is, in a sense, both controversial characters of the play. He became Caliban after a commission from Oxford University Press to write his latest book Shakespeare and Literary Theory, so Harris found himself on a year long sabbatical at the Folger.

Although GW is a research institution, Harris had been doing plenty of research before his last commission. He said, "I was wary because I had just finished two other projects." (Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare and his critical edition of the play The Shoemakers Holiday.)

Yet his latest book was a different style and challenge in itself. The book is meant to be read by undergraduates and graduates, not just scholars thus putting Harris into the Prospero role. "It was a tightrope act I had to preform," he said. "On one hand making these difficult ideas from Shakespeare and literary theorists accessible. And on the other hand, not dumbing it down."

The research was so extensive that Harris only spent four months writing the actual book. He found the book came naturally. "In a way I was having an extended conversation with an imaginary audience," he said.

This internal dialogue did not replace the actual dialogue he had with students and professors. Therefore even after experiencing the gratification of finishing the book Harris was eager to return to GW where he resumed teaching, but also assumed the role as DGS. This is a role Harris is excited to have. He said, "We've got a really fabulous graduate program in terms of faculty and students."

Though Harris is a professor currently, his years as a graduate student are still fresh in his mind. "It was the most exhilarating and demoralizing time of my life. The highs are very high and lows are very low." Harris hopes though that his graduates feel mostly exhilarated. He said, "One of my missions is to nurture the growth of a community." Harris remembers loving his discussions with fellow graduate students and still enjoys discussion with the graduate students he advises.

He hopes this will dissuade students from falling in a void of solitude like he did sometimes during his graduate work. "There are these romantic fantasies that graduate study is simply the life of the mind, but this is a dangerous idea," Harris said. For the most part though, GW students are already savvy and sociable. "Our students are very good," he said. "They do not disappear into the void."

Will Harris himself disappear into a void from his undergraduate teaching? Absolutely not! Harris emphasizes his need for interacting with and teaching undergraduates. "I actually feel there is a very important link between undergraduates and scholarship," he said. "I need research to keep me alive in the classroom, but I need the classroom to keep my ideas accessible and clear."

Harris may have been gone for a year, but he has returned and is more present than ever. Welcome back Professor Harris!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Play of Dorian Gray

Drugs. Sex. Money. Excess. Narcissism. Moral depravity. I could be referring to the nightly news, but really I am referring to Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. That novel about a man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty, that slowly sucks you in, thrilling and horrifying you at the same time. You cannot leave that book without being a little scarred, but also excited too.

Clearly many others have been impacted by Wilde's hedonistic writings, for Roundhouse Theatre in Bethesda, MD has turned the infamous novel into a play. Why pick the only novel by Wilde, when the man wrote many plays? Yet playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa did not just change the form of the story, but also the setting. I do not know what type of reader you are: the one who finds the Venice Beach setting of Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo+Juliet" offensive or the one who relishes modernizations. Personally, I am always eager to see a book jacket dusted off and turned into something visually gripping. If the book is turned into a play then why not go all out?

Dorian Gray is particularly modern in a world of Botox and Hollywood. Setting the story in 1980s London is perfect for the plot. It was a time of too much money, too much cocaine, and moral extremes. It was also the time when now-famous modern artists, like Damien Hirst, were discovered, thus making Dorian's haunting portrait relevant.

The portrait is certainly haunting. In many ways, the story works better visually. We can really see the excess of Dorian's life and the degradation of his painting because of this. This is not a play for children (particularly because of the full frontal nudity) or those easily prone to nightmares. The novel is not a fairytale, but one gone wrong.

For the most part, the actors understand this. With a sparse, but sharp cast of seven, each actor is relied upon to convey many characters and emotions. Dorian himself is perfectly tortured and the rest of the actors show their torment well. There is one weak part though and sadly this actress drags down the first half of the play with her appalling British accent. Its a little ironic that she happens to play the "actress" Dorian falls in love with only because of her acting.

Nevertheless, the play is gripping and an intriguing overall adaptation.

DG is at Roundhouse until October 4th. For those under 30, tickets can be purchased for $15 by calling 240.644.1100 . The theatre can be found off of the Red Line's Bethesda Metro stop.

About GW and the Humanities

An undeniable fact: the humanities are strong at GW. The English and History departments alone have well over two hundred majors, each. Both departments have a long history of graduating distinguished alumni. Both possess world class faculty whose research has taken their disciplines in new directions. Both are well known for their excellence in teaching, their student satisfaction, their enduring alliances with their graduates and with the city we inhabit.

I've taught at GW for fifteen years. Early in my career I made peace with the fact that the institution's ardor for Washington DC has mainly to do with the current occupants of the White House and Congress. The city's history, culture, and arts have never seemed to merit the same enthusiasm at Rice Hall as has its politics. In some ways this relative lack of attention has been a good thing: the English Department, free from institutional micromanaging, has been quietly able to accomplish the things at which we excel. I'd like to think we've done a pretty good job. We've been greatly aided by our alumni. Donors like David Bruce Smith have enabled our resources to begin to match our ambitions. The philanthropy of the Wang family has been transformative. Just as importantly, the many alumni who give so generously to us each year have not only sustained us, but made possible endeavors that our institutionally allotted budget would never support.

GW is, understandably perhaps, a university obsessed with policy, with government. We have an abundance of political science majors who come here just for that reason. Our institutional vision statements therefore talk quite a bit about the bond between the city as a place where policy is made and the university as a participant in that process. This enthusiasm has frequently seemed to me to lack specifics, to be a kind of "being in love with being in love" -- a celebration of the fact that we happen to be located near the White House, but without a good number of concrete notions of the educational consequences that ought to follow from geographical proximity. Lately this policy-love has been joined with an enthusiasm for sustainability.

Don't get me wrong: policy and sustainability and participating in the governmental landscape of the city are of vital importance. But they are neither the beginning nor the end of DC's story, of GW's story. Look, for example, at this webpage on GW in the City. "Culture of Leadership" gets a great deal of press (opening sentence: "GW’s location at the center of the nation’s capital provides the University community with access to policymakers, political leaders and opinion makers"). "Center of Discovery and Enterprise" follows, but the description focuses only on research in the sciences. "Arts and Culture" follows with an anemic description of some performing venues that happen to be here. "Global Perspectives," which also could have foregrounded the humanities as an active part of the city (rather than a passive element of its landscape, a museum that one visits) states simply that "an awareness of global perspectives informs our educational enterprise." I do not know what that tangibly means.

Sometimes the institution seems to forget that among our neighbors in DC are the Folger Shakespeare Library, a pre-eminent archive of early modern materials. The White House is nearby; the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is nearer. Capitol Hill has two domes upon it: a big painted iron one over a seat government, and a smaller but more elegant dome atop the Thomas Jefferson building at the Library of Congress. Surely the quiet of the reading room here, with its unparalleled research resources, merits as much mention as the halls of the nearby Senate. What happens in Lafayette Park matters, but so does what happens at Busboys and Poets -- a space for the arts named after the African American poet Langston Hughes. African American literature and culture have made DC what it is. The English Department knows this. Where are Langston Hughes or Edward P. Jones in our GW in the City statement?

Now that our university has a PhD in English at its helm, might we finally speak in our GW vision statements and in our strategic plans and in our fundraising and in our articulations of the relationship between city and university of the importance of culture, history, the arts, the humanities? Can we really aspire to be "GW in the City" without understanding and forming alliances with the history, the literature, the research resources, and the arts of the District of Columbia?

The humanities explore human identity across time and culture. The humanities are about the past, the present, and the future of our being in the world: they are the study that ties us to what we have been, and maps what we can become. The humanities are already strong at GW. Isn't it about time we started boasting about that fact?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Introducing Gregory Pardlo: GW's Newest Poet & Professor

Stepping into Gregory Pardlo's office is an odd, but charming combination of thrift store and art museum. Picasso adorns the wall as well as a salvaged window screen from Brooklyn. They are not just mere decorations, but help to explain some the fundamentals of GW's newest creative writing professor.

For Pardlo is not just a creative writing professor, but a well recognized poet. A man who takes inspiration from everything around him: working at his grandfather's jazz club, Steven Speilberg movies, Bob Dylan lyrics, and Walt Whitman poems just to name a few. The inspiration seems to be working. Pardlo has managed to finish a Bachelors, MFA, and a considerable amount of a PhD, win three prestigious poetry awards, and even get married, have two daughters and buy a house, all since 1995.

Pardlo is clearly driven, but surprisingly poetry did become his focus until age 25. "I'm coming from a working class background where poets are the marble busts in the library, not vocational," he said. Poetry was always an interest for Pardlo though. A lifelong guitar player, he always loved music and eventually realized that what drew him to artists such as Bruce Springsteen or Prince was their lyrics. Pardlo said, "So it was a natural progression to begin writing poetry from lyrics."

Even with this revelation Pardlo played around with several majors in college, eventually dropping out to travel. He called Denmark home for a year of his life, later leading to an interest in translating Danish poetry awarding him the National Endowment for the Arts Translation Grant in 2006. Finally after a stint working for his grandfather's jazz club, Pardlo reemerged in academia where only one semester of poetry at Rutgers turned into a life changing experience. "I was able to identify living poets," he said. "Not people shouting on street corners or selling books on a table on the sidewalk. So it gave me permission to write poetry."

Once Pardlo decided to pursue poetry he was courted by many MFA programs, finally settling on NYU. The mainstay of the MFA program, the workshop, is still one of his favorite parts of academia. "I look for opportunities to get in the workshop setting," he said. Propelling Pardlo to lead workshops for both the PEN America Center and the Calabash Writer's workshop in Kingston, Jamaica.

An MFA can only get one so far, hence Pardlo attended CUNY for his PhD. Although a PhD is required for tenure at CUNY, Pardlo found another way to get around that. "I was the first person of color to ever win the American Poetry Review's Honickman Prize [in 2007 for his book Totem]," he said.

If Pardlo was eligible for tenure how did he find his way to GW? "I did not want to teach freshman composition. I felt I would be most valuable teaching in poetry," he said. "So I look for an institution that agreed with me." And as you can guess, GW was that institution.

Pardlo's expectations have been exceeded by GW. He is enthused about being in DC during the Obama Administration. He quotes Shelley, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." Mostly though he appreciates his ability to work on his own poetry as well as teach. "GW is a research institution. They value professors who actually are working in their field," he said.

What type of poetry does Pardlo write though? Even he cannot easily define it. "I try and stay out of whatever comfort zone I am able to identify." He does admit to some consistency however, "I love lush imagery and language we are maybe familiar with but somehow seems moving and striking," he said. He particularly likes looking for surprising combinations, likening it to cooking. "It's like how to make a hot dog haute cuisine," he said.

However when he is not writing he has been impressed by the quality of the students he teaches. He said, "At CUNY students expect creative writing to be an easy course. Here students are eager. I find myself looking for more innovative challenging ways to teach."

Although Pardlo has only been at GW for a few weeks he is already inspired. He said, "I expect to learn as much from students as I hope to teach them."

Read one of Pardlo's poems on the American Poetry Review website. Also look for his editorship in the Calloo Literary Journal. And of course, make sure to take one of his creative writing courses!

GW MEMSI Calendar for 2009-10

Below you will find the (almost) complete schedule for the George Washington University Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute (GW MEMSI). All events are free and welcome all who would like to attend.

  1. September 17, 3-5 PM: Seminar on Messianic Time and the Untimely. Registration has closed, but please participate in the e-discussion here.
  2. October 23, 11:30-1 PM: Gina Bloom, lunch seminar: “ ‘What’s Trumps?’: Onstage Gaming and the Epistemology of Male Friendship.” Paper will be circulated one week in advance. English Department seminar room.
  3. November 13: Seminar on Cary Howie's book Claustrophilia. Preliminary details here.
  4. December 10: book launch celebration for Leah Chang, Into Print: The Production of Female Authorship in Early Modern France. English Department seminar room, 2 PM.


Gateway Lecture series
These public lectures introduce a critical field or subdiscipline within medieval and early modern studies. They provide an opportunity for both beginning students and advanced researchers to learn about emerging research topics and methodologies and to have a conversation about their impact. (Times and places to be announced)

  1. January 29: lunch seminar with Alf Siewers, author of Strange Beauty: Ecocritical Approaches to Early Medieval Landscape
  2. February 12: one day symposium on "Early Transnational Europe"
  3. March 26: Lunch seminar with Marissa Greenberg (University of New Mexico)
  4. April 17: "New Worlds" graduate student conference at University of Maryland College Park

Thursday, September 10, 2009

From the Hatchet: Julia McCrossin on Fat Studies

Professor Julia McCrossin looks into how authors use fat characters in literature and film. Fat studies has gained national attention but is still considered an
Media Credit: Anne Wernikoff
Professor Julia McCrossin looks into how authors use fat characters in literature and film. Fat studies has gained national attention but is still considered an "emerging" field of identity issues, she said.
by Caitie Daw
Hatchet Reporter

A GW professor is making waves in an emerging field you may not know existed - fat studies.

Julia McCrossin, an English professor and doctoral candidate at GW, first came across the idea of fat studies in 2003 during an introductory cultural anthropology course. Six years later, McCrossin is one of the few experts bringing the field into the national limelight.

McCrossin said the field of fat studies encompasses many aspects of society, from film, literature and popular culture, to anthropology and history. Her studies are often focused on literary characters and the impact that the characters' obesity has on the plot of the novel.

"I wanted to think about why some characters 'needed' to be fat and how that fatness affected the works in which they existed in," she said.

While the cultural concept of "real women have curves" is hardly new, the literary study of fatness is. The discipline is gaining traction, McCrossin said, and her article titled "The Fat of the (Border) land: Food, Flesh and Hispanic Masculinity in Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop" was part of a collection of essays recently featured in an article in The New Yorker.

"I came to fat studies because of one simple thought: as someone who studies literature, I believe that when authors create fat characters, they don't do so innocently or free from the cultural baggage fat people have traditionally had," McCrossin said.

GW's Department of English has been supportive of her research, she said.

"Reactions have always been great. When you do smart, fun, provocative research, everyone has an opinion and likes to talk about what I do," McCrossin said.

McCrossin continues to present her work and speak at academic conferences around the world, including the International Willa Cather Conference in France. She also co-chairs the fat studies section of the National Popular Culture Association.

The topic of fat studies is still developing and may not expand in the same way other disciplines - like women's or gay and lesbian studies - have, she said.

"I don't know if fat studies will ever be codified in the academy in the way that, say, women's and gender studies has been, but the interdisciplinary nature of fat studies means that this work is popping up literally in every liberal arts discipline you can think of, and some that you can't," she said.

McCrossin is not the only one engaging complex identity studies relating to food and fatness, professor of English Robert McRuer said. Abby L. Wilkerson, who teaches in GW's University Writing Program, is finishing a book on food studies - which is "the politics of food production and consumption globally." McRuer's own work is on queer and disability studies.

McRuer said McCrossin is going beyond the traditional ideas of her field to make fat studies a recognized part of academia.

"Julia's work in fat studies is drawing attention to class relations, to gender and race, and so it is not simply identity studies," McRuer said. "... Julia is at the cutting edge of this new field."

Joe Fisher's "Critical Methods" Blog

Joe Fisher's student-run blog, entitled "You Made Me Theorize," is up and running. The blog is a class project of English 120, "Critical Methods." The course examines the history and diversity of interpretive modes for literature and culture.

Professor Fisher invites all readers to follow--and comment on--what will surely be spirited debates about Russian formalism, Derridian deconstruction, queer theory, disability theory, the role of critical theory in higher education, and how men in their forties can still skateboard. If that last bit is confusing, go to the blog for clarification!

Check it out.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The English Department Thanks Its Summer Donors

Alumni, students, parents, faculty and friends generously support the GW English Department through their philanthropy. In amounts ranging from $5 to $30,000, these contributions enable us to have famous writers visit campus, support faculty and undergraduate research, hold special events, and enrich the study and teaching of the humanities at GW.

We'd like to recognize the following donors for their generous gifts this summer. Without benefactors like these, we'd never be able to accomplish as much as we do. On behalf of the faculty and students, Thanks!
  • Shoshana Moskowitz Grove (1982) and Peter H. Grove
  • Sean Michael Perkins (2004)
  • Leah Martha Webster (student)
  • Ayanna Denise Jackson (2002)
  • Amelia Joy Rommel (2008)
  • Dr. Donald Kauder and Mrs. Tamara Kauder (parents)
  • David Bruce Smith (1979)
  • Mr. John George Sussek III and Emily Sussek (1979)
  • Erika Laren Kauder (student)
  • Tara Wallace (faculty)
If you too would like to make a gift to the English Department, you may mail a check made out to GWU (memo line: English) and send it c/o Adancement Office, 801 22nd St NW, Suite 212, Washington DC 20052. You may also use a credit card and contribute via this link, but please ensure that you designate your contribution for the ENGLISH DEPARTMENT. All contributions are fully tax deductible. We thank you, as always, for your support.

From the Hatchet: Famous Authors to Read at GW

From the 8/27/09 Hatchet:

Sedaris, Atwood will speak at Lisner
Michael Chabon and Al Gore round out the venue's fall lineup

by Sarah Scire
Senior News Editor

Bestselling authors Margaret Atwood and David Sedaris have been added to the long list of celebrity authors appearing at Lisner Auditorium in the fall.

Sedaris, the popular humor author of "When You Are Engulfed in Flames," "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim," and "Me Talk Pretty One Day," will speak Oct. 7 at 8 p.m. His appearances in Lisner are a regular fall favorite. Atwood, known for her novels "The Handmaid's Tale" and "The Blind Assassin," will speak Oct. 30 at 8 p.m.

At the Atwood event, the writer will conduct a dramatic reading from her newest novel, "The Year of the Flood," with the help of several students, according to the Lisner Web site.

Joining Sedaris and Atwood at Lisner in the fall is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon, who will speak Oct. 9 at 8 p.m. Chabon read at GW last year, as part of an English class designed to introduce students to prominent Jewish-American authors.

Former Vice President Al Gore will read from his new book, "Our Choice," on Nov. 5. No ticket information has been released for the Chabon or Gore readings, and both events are being held in conjunction with Politics and Prose Bookstore.

Student tickets for the Sedaris event start at $15, and it will cost $10 to see Atwood. The Lisner Box Office is Tuesday through Friday, 11a.m. to 5p.m. and accepts cash, GWorld, MasterCard and Visa.

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: Sedaris tickets are almost sold out so make sure to buy yours ASAP!)

Famous Authors at Folger this September and October

Come hear Jonathan Lethem (author of Chronic City) and Stacey D'Erasmo (author of The Sky Below) participating in a PEN/Faulkner reading on September 25 at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The authors will be introduced by Professor Patricia Griffith.

Come to the Folger again on October 26 where Professor Griffith will introduce Chimamanda Adichie (author of Half of a Yellow Sun) and Fae Myenne Ng (author of Bone).

The Folger is off of the Red Line's Union Station stop.

Monday, September 7, 2009

For Published Graduate Student GW Is Only the Next Step

For most graduate students, getting a PhD will be their greatest recent accomplishment. However when Tariq Al-Hayder came to study at GW he was not only a teacher, but a published novelist as well.

Originally hailing from Saudi Arabia, Al-Hayder taught English at King Saud University in Riyadh for a year. Whether in the classroom or not, he has been very much aware of longstanding racial prejudices within his society thus propelling him to write his first novel, Helat Al-Abeed (Slave District).

The novel focuses on a friendship between two men, a young Saudi and a man of mixed race. This complex relationship allows Al-Hayder to discuss racial troubles often not marked in Saudi society.

“In the novel, I equate a certain type of tribalism with your more run-of-the-mill racism. But because a lot of Saudis are so immersed in it, they don't see it,” said Al Hayder.

The novel was presented at the Riyadh International Book Fair in Saudi Arabia and sold out in only six days. Al-Hayder is completely surprised at the success of the novel. “I had no expectations as to how successful (or not) it was going to be. I just wanted to be done with the thing, to be honest!” he said.

Regardless of the surprising success, Al-Hayder has always wanted to be a writer. He attributes his love of fiction to his early reading of Judy Blume books. Going on further to say, “It's always been a goal of mine to write a novel. Of course, I always assumed it would end up in a shoebox under my bed.”

Fortunately the novel is now in the hands of hundreds, not under a bed back in Saudi Arabia. And just like Al-Hayder’s book has gone along way from its origins Al-Hayder is now halfway across the world too. But to him the move to GW only seems fitting, “I felt that I would find an ideal environment for exploring the concepts of identity, race, the tribe and all the myths that are connected to those ideas,” he said.

The real question though is will Al-Hayder ever write another novel? “God-willing,” he replied.

Friday, September 4, 2009

How to Tame Your Appetite for Shakespeare

If you are a GW student money is probably on your mind. With the extreme tuition and high prices of DC, finding anything to do for free is a godsend. Luckily, The Shakespeare Theater Company understands this and offers a free play every fall. This year the selection is slightly ironic though since the money-obsessed The Taming of the Shrew is the play of choice.

This is not your average production however. The setting has been moved to modern times on a glossy red set picking up on the color of the boxing gloves depicted in the poster. The affluent Baptista family seems to be an advertising agency with a bikini billboard above their house in Padua, Italy and the youngest flirtacious daughter, Bianca, paraded around like a shiny new car.

This play is not about Bianca however (even though Christina Pumariega is perfectly coy), but the infamous shrew, Katherina. Sabrina LeBeauf has come a long way since "The Cosby Show," but she really only achieves her best when her paramour Petruchio is on stage too. Ian Merrill Peakes as Petruchio easily steals the show (though some of the servant roles are quite good). He helps to bring some charm and humanity to the harsh character. When the two are on stage you can feel the energy, particularly in the crazily choreographed physical flirtations between the two characters.

It is the physicality, the hilarious use of lighting, and modern setting that really makes this play pop. And did I mention its free!? The play might cost you a little time though. Besides the two hour run time (with an intermission), the line to actually get tickets stretches down the block long before the booth opens at 6pm. I would recommend waiting at least one full hour before they even go on sale.

Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew at the Sidney Harmen Hall until September 12th

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cuba in the World: A Public Reading and Symposium

Please join us for a two-day event on Cuba and its diaspora sponsored by the English Department with the assistance of American Studies and Africana Studies, under the auspices of the Wang Visiting Professor of Contemporary English.

Cuba in the World: Literature, Politics, Performance
A Public Reading and Symposium

October 8 and 9, 2009
Marvin Center
George Washington University

The GW programs in English, American Studies and Africana Studies have gathered some of the most influential and innovative scholars and cultural workers in the fields of Cuban and Cuban Diasporic Studies to consider new ways of thinking about Cuba and its cultures, its people and its politics. Far too often, Cuba has been characterized as a nation of endless transitions: the beginning and the end of empire, pre- and post-slavery, before and after La Revolución, from exile to beyond. Our question—“What is Cuba now?”—asks scholars and artists to offer a response that acknowledges this vexing, anticipatory discourse, one in which Cuba and Cuban history are imagined as forever “on the verge."

Reading and Discussion with novelist Mayra Montero: Thursday, October 8, 8 p.m., Marvin Center, 3rd-Floor Amphitheater, 21st Street N.W. between H and Eye Streets

Mayra Montero is an award-winning novelist and renowned journalist. She is the author of Dancing to “Almendra,” The Last Night I Spent with You, and many other works. Born in Cuba and living in Puerto Rico, Montero has become an active voice in the Puerto Rico independence movement.

Moderator: H.G. Carillo, Assistant Professor, English, George Washington University, author of Loosing My Espanish: A Novel

Symposium: Friday, October 9, Marvin Center, Room 405, 21st Street N.W. between H and Eye Streets

10:30 a.m. to noon: Political Presents


José Buscaglia-Salgado, Associate Professor, American Studies, Director, Program in Caribbean Studies, SUNY-Buffalo, and author of Undoing Empire: Race and Nation in the Mulatto Caribbean

Peter Kornbluh, Director of Cuba and Chile Documentation Projects, National Security Archive, George Washington University, and author of Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability, and other works

Yesenia Selier, Writer and Performer, with work on race, music, and Cuban society appearing in such publications as Encuentro en la red and Islas; a former member of the Juan Marinello Center for Research on Cuban Culture, Havana

Moderator: Antonio López, Assistant Professor, English, George Washington University, author of essays on Cuban-American culture and racial identity in Latino Studies and The Afro-Latin@ Reader

1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m: Cultural Conditions


Ariel Fernández, Writer, DJ, and Producer, founder and editorial director, Moviemiento, journal on hip-hop and Afro-Cuban issues, former producer and host, Microfonazo, national Cuban hip-hop radio show. His writing has appeared in El Caimán Barbudo and Diario/La Prensa

Jill Lane, Associate Professor, Spanish and Portuguese, New York University, and Deputy Director, Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, author of Blackface Cuba, 1840-1895

Ricardo Ortiz, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, English, Georgetown University, author of Cultural Erotics of Cuban America

Moderator: José Esteban Muñoz, Chair, Performance Studies, New York University, and Wang Visiting Professor in Contemporary English Literature, George Washington University; author of Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics

7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Marvin Center 309: Ela Troyano’s Documentary La Lupe (Filmmaker Present for Discussion)

La Lupe traces the life and art of La Lupe, “The Queen of Latin Soul,” one of the few women to reach iconic status in the world of salsa. Ela Troyano is a Cuban-American filmmaker and documentary artist living in New York. Troyano will be available for question and answer following the viewing.

We look forward to seeing you at our “Cuba in the World” events and welcome your participation in the discussions that will follow.


Antonio López:
H.G. Carrillo:
Jennifer James:

Kudos: Tara Wallace

Congratulations to Professor Tara Wallace, who published two essays this summer:
Professor Wallace teaches Eighteenth-century British literature and is currently the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in the Columbian College.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Welcome, Welcome to Another Year at Hogwarts...Wait, that's wrong. Confessions of a Dork

My name is Tess Malone and I am a sophomore at GW majoring in English. This is what I have been filling out on every index card my professors pass out during our first class. Of course it really tells you nothing about me, the new Communications Liaison Intern, and definitely does not suffice for an introduction on this blog. English majors are supposed to be creative types, so let’s see what I can muster up.

As it turns out, I have not gotten over the summer slump so I will resort to a traditional and somewhat obnoxious list that will only prove how big of a dork I am and hopefully show you how I am qualified to update you on all of your English needs!

You Know You Are An English Major When:

You start a summer bookclub with your friend leading to arguments on why you could not seem to finish your first selection, Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. Somehow though you did find time to read three Michael Chabon novels in the same time period.

-When you check out John Steinbeck's East of Eden the librarian asks you if are in summer school.

- You have to read the book the movie is based on before going to see it even if this means rereading the sixth Harry Potter book only four hours prior to the midnight showing.

-You turn into the annoying friend who gives books as gifts and then pesters the recipient until they have read the book. (Case in point, I am still waiting for my roommate to finish Sheri Holman's The Dress Lodger even though she got it last December.)

-When authors visit campus you resemble one of the screaming girls when the Beatles first arrived in the US.

Yes, sadly all of the above is true and happened this summer. Besides blogging and voraciously reading you may also find me reporting for the Hatchet Life section, working on my photography skills, cooking, and meandering around DC.

I look forward to writing for the blog this semester. Expect updates on readings and various events throughout DC, alumni and faculty interviews, etc. I will also be managing the GW English Department’s Facebook page. Please feel free to drop me an email at tmalone(at)gwmail(dot)gwu(dot)edu.

Won't You Be Our Facebook Friend?

Follow this link and fan us on Facebook.

That was an imperative to be obeyed, not a request.

And if you are reading this during class, close your laptop and pay attention to your instructor. Geesh.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Alumna Update: Gowri Koneswaran

English major and creative writing minor Gowri Koneswaran (class of 1997) writes:

I've been thinking about the folks in the English department a lot lately! For the past four years, I've been working down the street at The Humane Society of the United States. For some of my non-creative writing, check out
this article I co-authored on meat, egg, and milk production and climate change.

Back in 1997, I graduated from GWU with a major in English and a minor in Creative Writing. David McAleavey was my advisor (and first creative writing professor) and I was also privileged to study with Cornelius Eady, Jane Shore, and Jody Bolz -- as well as participate in the Lannan Fellows program with the Shakespeare Folger Library.

These days, I have been exploring the world of spoken word poetry. I've taken a couple of workshops with slam poet extraordinaire Regie Cabico of the arts and activism organization Sol y Soul and I regularly perform at open mics at Busboys & Poets, Bohemian Caverns, and Black Cat. I've also been collaborating with other poets on group pieces like
this one that some friends and I performed at a show in July. I send my best wishes to the faculty, staff, and students in the department! You can connect with me at

We love to hear from our alumni. Thanks for writing, Gowri! ... and we look forward to the day when we invite you back to celebrate publication of your first book of poetry.

Alumnus Update: Keith Feldman

Department alumnus Keith Feldman writes:

I’m pleased to report that I write you from my new office at UC Berkeley, where I’ve just begun a tenure track position in comparative ethnic studies. As you might imagine, I’m thrilled—and deeply humbled—by the opportunity to work in such a generative atmosphere.

I was hired in part because of my interest in what have often appeared as new forms of racialization haunting both foreign and domestic spaces in the wake of 9/11. When asked to narrate how and where such an interest emerged, I often turn to my experience at GW, where I’d started as a grad student in the fall of 2001, and was taking Bob McRuer’s seminar on literary theory and Kavita Daiya’s seminar on postcoloniality. A quirk of scheduling had us reading selections from Frantz Fanon in both classes early on in the semester—precisely the moment when questions of race and imperial power were smoldering in the embers on the other side of the Potomac and the new blast walls erected around the State Department. I distinctly remember the care both Bob and Kavita showed in helping us think race and gender, violence and liberation, religion and secularity, modernity and coloniality, not to mention philosophical questions about the shape of the human and epistemological questions about the legibility of decolonial knowledge production. Couple that with searching discussions on the work scholars can do while on shifting global terrain and my research trajectory quickly emerged, one that has only become more complicated, more exciting, more pressing in the age of Obama.

After two wonderful years in Foggy Bottom—connecting with faculty in American Studies and the Human Sciences as well as in the English Department—I moved to the PhD program in English at the University of Washington in Seattle. With amazing mentors in both locales I was able to write an interdisciplinary dissertation on the question of Palestine and U.S. imperial culture and connect with an inspiring cohort of scholars.

And now I’m here, daunted, nervous, writing you when I probably should be revising my syllabi for the fall, not to mention that pesky book manuscript. Wishing you all the best for a new semester! Oh, and drop me a line anytime:

Congratulations Keith and best of luck at Berkeley from your friends in the GW English Department!