Thursday, October 29, 2009

Renovated Seminar Room Burglarized

Someone stole the electronic projector last night from our newly renovated seminar room. Value: $3500. Please let us know if you have any information or saw anything suspicious.

This is very disheartening.

BA / MA Program in English

The GW English Department offers a five-year dual degree BA/MA program. Students complete their Bachelor of Arts at the end of four years of undergraduate study, and their Masters after one additional year. By undertaking graduate coursework during senior year, students complete the MA one year faster than they otherwise could.

The first step to entering the BA/MA program is to apply into the Honors Program in English. After admission to departmental honors (spring of junior year), all students who desire may also enter the dual degree program. Students electing the five-year BA/MA submit a simple program application form, which they can obtain from the Director of Undergraduate Studies (Marshall Alcorn). Students need not take the GRE.

The MA portion of the program requires ten graduate courses and a qualifying assessment (to be completed during the last semester of study). Two of these graduate seminars are taken during the senior year, and count towards both the BA and MA. In their fifth year students complete their final eight seminars. One or more may be taken during the summer.

We hope that this program will appeal to highly motivated students who will enjoy the chance to undertake graduate study while still an undergraduate, and who will appreciate the chance to obtain an important graduate credential more swiftly than they otherwise could.

Discount Tickets for Orhan Pamuk!

Although we are at GW to learn, we must admit that student discounts are a huge benefit of being a college student. If you were interested in hearing Orhan Pamuk speak at the Smithsonian, but slightly worried about the ticket price, you can now attend because tickets will only be $10 for students!

With this cheap ticket price, no one should miss this brilliant author. Pamuk won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006 for My Name is Red and has seen his work translated into 58 languages. He will be interviewed by NPR's Robert Siegel, the host of "All Things Considered." The two men plan to discuss Pamuk's work and inspiration.

The event will be held at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History Baird Auditorium on Monday, November 23 at 6:45pm.

To order tickets, click here and use the promotional code 181822. Or log on to, QUICK TIX CODE: 1J0-572, and use the promotional code 181822 or call (202)-633-3030. (A non-refundable handling fee applies to telephone orders.) If you have any questions about this promotion, please call or email Kristin Schmehl,, or (202)633-8638

Your Official Introduction to José Muñoz

José Muñoz is off to Berlin this week. But do not worry, our already much-loved Wang Visiting Professor in Contemporary Literature this semester is enjoying his time at GW, its just that his work has just been translated into German hence the trip.

It is really no surprise that Muñoz is always traveling. He is a pioneer in the field of Latino Queer Theory and a fundamental scholar of performance studies. Except for this semester, when GW gets the good fortune of having him, Muñoz is the Chair of Performance Studies at NYU's the Tisch School of Arts. He is a sought-after individual who is world-renowned, but without any pretension. With his thick black glasses and energy, Muñoz is incredibly approachable.

Muñoz is a people-person by career though. "English is a language art," he said. "You have to talk and listen to people as part of that art. I teach about people's lives and knowing people." Performance studies only builds on this. It is "performance in everyday life: our street performance, how language performs, especially in terms of gender, sexuality, and race," he said. He cites theorists Judith Butler and J.L. Austin in sparking his initial interest in performance studies. Muñoz said,"Race, gender, sexuality, ability, and class all intersect. They are not natural, but very real."

His own studies led to his own theories. Muñoz's first book Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics was published a decade ago, but was so innovative that it continues to be significant. "My first book was the first book to study queers of color," he said. "The book has been in print ever since." Muñoz has been constantly publishing since then. Whether articles or reviews, he is always contributing to scholarly discourse. His next book Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity comes out on November 30th, however the English Department will be having a book launch on November 12th at 2pm (Rome 771). Muñoz has found his time at GW so far to be inspiring for his next book, Feeling Brown: Ethnicity, Affect and Performance.

"Teaching is completely crucial to me. There is no better place to articulate ideas and see if people find them compelling or not," he said. Muñoz describes GW students as "wonderful" and completely different from his NYU students. He said, "I teach graduate students at NYU who are interested in the avant-garde. Grad students here are very smart and focused and interested in literary [scholarship]."

Muñoz also appreciates his ability to work with undergraduates. "Undergraduates here are much more in tune with the world and politics. They actually read the newspaper here, which I find very refreshing," he said.

His easy transition to DC has been aided by the generous GW English faculty. "I've been very welcomed by my colleagues," he said. "There is a very vital colleague circle here."

DC is equally vital for Muñoz. He attends a monthly reading group of faculty doing queer studies in the area, but also enjoys exploring the city. "My folks were here last week. We went on a doubledecker red bus and went to Mount Vernon. All those fun touristy things," he said. Muñoz finds himself equally inspired by his current neighborhood, U Street. He said, "U Street is completely vibrant and interesting. Its a progressive African American area that gives me energy."

Muñoz is clearly loving his time in DC. "It's good to switch things up, keeps you on your toes. My time here has been good for my focus," he said.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Famous Authors at the Smithsonian

Feel like you have missed all of the famous author readings this semester? Although there are only a few authors visiting GW in the next coming months (Margaret Atwood will be doing a dramatization of her latest novel The Year of the Flood at Lisner Auditorium this Friday, October 30th. Tickets are as low as $10 and still available!), GW is not the only venue to get your book signed.

The Smithsonian also does a "Connect with the Authors" series. Just within the next month nine authors (ranging from chef Lidia Bastianich to biologist/TV star Jeff Corwin) are coming. This group also includes Nobel Prize in Literature winner Orhan Pamuk, author of My Name is Red, coming on November 23, and eventually Tracy Chevalier (although information on her reading has not been posted yet.) Books will be for sale at each event and tickets range from $13-25.

From the Times Literary Supplement: Untimely Matter

From a superb review of Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare in the TLS:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

From GW Today: Rosemarie Garland-Thomson

Menachem Wecker's account of the inaugural GW English Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies:

Gas Chambers and the Metro
Lecture series opens with contrast of spaces for “worthy” and “unworthy” citizens by disability studies pioneer and author Rosemarie Garland-Thomson.
By Menachem Wecker

Although Washingtonians often love to hate the Metro, they do not compare it with the cattle cars the Nazis used to transport the disabled to euthanasia clinics. Neither does Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, though she titled her Oct. 23 lecture “The Gas Chamber and the Metro: Space, Mobility and Disability.”

Dr. Garland-Thomson’s talk was the inaugural GW English Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies, which GW President Steven Knapp called “another significant milestone in the growth of humanities research and scholarship at The George Washington University” in his introduction.

In his introduction, José Muñoz, Wang Visiting Professor of Contemporary English Literature, called Dr. Garland-Thomson a “foundational presence in the field of disability studies.” The lecture was made possible by the support of the Wang Endowed Fund in English Literature and Literary Studies.

Throughout her talk, Dr. Garland-Thomson, a professor of women’s studies at Emory University, made clear she was studying literary rather than historical spaces. “In comparing and contrasting the gas chamber and the Metro, I am not putting forth a progress narrative,” she told the audience of about 100 at the Marvin Center, “but rather I undertake a spatial analysis of the design, use and material aspects of these two historical circumstances to argue that the built environment reflects, produces and sustains both shared cultural understandings and the material reality of who is included in the human community, of who is worthy of citizenship and who is not.”

In other words, Dr. Garland-Thomson was not comparing the physical spaces where D.C.-area residents commute to work and where millions were murdered during World War II per se. Instead, she was contrasting the idea of the gas chamber with that of the metro.

Whereas the Nazis gas chambers formed a system in which hundreds of thousands of disabled people were selected for permanent exclusion (“unworthy citizenship”), the Metro was built upon a principle of universal access and selects disabled people (“worthy citizenship”) for democratic inclusion.

Dr. Garland-Thomson admits her juxtaposition is provocative but thinks it reveals an understudied contradiction in the way contemporary society responds to disabled people.

“On the one hand is the endeavor to integrate people with disabilities into the public world by creating an accessible, barrier free material environment,” she said. “On the other hand, is the medical mission to eliminate people with disabilities from the human community.”

The lecture never resolved the contradiction, but Dr. Garland-Thomson concluded that the Metro, in its accessibility and inclusiveness, is “literally the embodiment of democracy.”

The Metro might not be the only part of the Washington cityscape that is simultaneously shaping people and being shaped by people. In his introduction, Jeffrey Cohen, chair of GW’s English Department, said it is hard to forget that the University is a mere three blocks from the White House.

“Washington is a center of government. But it is also truly a global city and a capital of the arts,” he says. “The Kennedy Center is even nearer than the White House. The Library of Congress and Folger Shakespeare Library are adjacent to the Capitol. This new lecture series is our contribution to the vibrant humanities landscape of this city – and a public announcement of how strong humanities research is at GW. ”

Writing on the English Department blog, sophomore Tess Malone, says the lecture could further raise the department’s profile.

“After Dr. Garland-Thomson’s talk many of us will probably never view the Metro in the same way again,” she says. “This is the genius of her theory, she unearths theories that we all subconsciously were curious about, but never thought to ask about … If Garland-Thomson’s talk is an indicator for the future of the humanities at GW, there will be a very bright future.”

Monday, October 26, 2009

Much Ado About Nothing: An Innovative Production Worth Noting

Seeing Shakespeare rarely conjures up the taste of jerk chicken or the sounds of Bob Marley, but that is not to say that the Bard was not meant for the beaches of the Caribbean. These were exactly Timothy Douglas' thoughts when directing a Much Ado About Nothing set during the 2009 DC Caribbean Festival at the Folger Shakespeare Library Theatre.

The comedy boasts strong female characters, so rarely used to their full potential in most male-oriented productions of the play. Hence the setting in the matriarchal society of the Caribbean allows Beatrice to really lash Benedick with her wits. Feisty Beatrice (played by GW's own Rachel Leslie) and caustic Benedick (Howard W. Overshown) really feel well matched as worthy adversaries in love. Overshown stands out due to his simple sarcastic delivery, that makes his lines sound like a current comedy routine rather than centuries old writings.

Not only do the two well-cast leads shine, but everyone equally garners their own laughs. Bumbling constable Dogberry (Alex Perez) and his mumbling partner Verges (Matt MacNelly) easily play up the laughs in crazy slapstick routines, that help to balance out the fast banter of Benedick and Beatrice. Evil conspirator Don John (also played by a GW graduate, Joel David Santner) is instantly menacing and hilarious in his tight 80s rock star jeans, attire that can only be worn by the worst of men.

Craig Wallace as Brother offers probably the most innovative element to this production. As the resident DJ of the group, he helps set the tone of the play based on whatever reggae he happens to be playing. In one of the most original scenes, a song within the original play is turned into a rap with the main women as chorus. These sporadic dance routines liven up the play eventually moving the audience to dance around at the curtain call.

The theater itself may be reminiscent of the original Globe Theatre and you cannot deny that the main hall is impressive, but this bright and vivacious production is what really stood out. Having seen one other more traditional production of this play, I can definitely say the eternal adaptability of the play is always interesting and why we still find ourselves crowding the theater and laughing harder than we would at a traditional production.

Much Ado About Nothing is running from October 21-November 29. Tickets range from $30-60 (although there is really no bad seat in the intimate theater). The Folger is a short walk from the Capitol South Metro stop on the Orange and Blue Lines.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Mind-Opening Evening with Rosemarie Garland-Thomson

We are sure that you heard about the GW Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies with the amazing Rosemarie Garland-Thomson last night. There were posters all over campus. Virtually every blog post in the past month has mentioned it. Professor Cohen even threatened the GW English Department's Facebook fans with this particular status, "What will we harangue you with when this event passes?" Although we would like to claim credit for your presence due to our publicity, we are sure it was really the brilliant Rosemarie Garland-Thomson that led to the packed ballroom last night.

As President Steven Knapp said after his introduction by Professor Cohen, "This event is a significant milestone in the growth of humanities research and scholarship." It is true that the English Department has grown exponentially in the past year thanks to the Wang Endowed Fund in English Literature and Literary Studies, which sponsored last night's event as well. Garland-Thomson would not have had such a wonderful introduction if it were not for another Wang Fund sponsored professor, José Muñoz.

Muñoz emphasized the significance of one particular phrase of Garland-Thomson's to academic world, "Staring helps us arrive at a new encounter with the visual," he said. Each word in this sentence shows how revolutionary Garland-Thomson has been to English literature by having us think about staring in terms of "encounters" and "visuals," a field that is technically "new," but has been anxious to break through for years. Muñoz concluded, "We should embrace staring as a way of knowing others and as a sign of hope," he said.

Finally, Garland-Thomson took the stage and graciously acknowledged her three introductions and then proceeded to give a mind blowing talk that took us to the gas chambers of Nazi Germany and our own metro station at the same time. She uses these two modes of transportation to ask the following crucial question, "What circumstances produce lives understood to be worthy?" One world, the T4 gas chambers used to euthanize disabled people at first, only excluded people from society by deeming them "unworthy." Another world, that of our own metro system provides universal accessibility.

We live in a contradictory society as Garland-Thomson noted, "We integrate people with disabilities into the public world," she said. "Yet medicine eliminates people with disabilities from the public world." The later was exploited in Nazi Germany where the mass euthanasia of disabled people was considered granting a "mercy death." This mercy death was only expedited by modern technology and transportation in 1941, where thousands of disabled people were easily able to ride on buses to their deaths. This event started the Holocaust essentially, yet a little over thirty years later an entirely different form of mass transit began.

The DC Metro is designed for everyone. "It was an inclusively built environment from the start," said Garland-Thomson. Through escalators, stairs, lights for the deaf, paving for the blind, stability aids, multiple linguistics, and uniform design, the Metro is universal. Although a fierce debated ensued over whether elevators were really necessary, a decision was finally reached that separate, but equal was unacceptable thus making the Metro one of the most egalitarian transportation systems in theory. This allows for "self-determined mobility" a concept of Garland-Thomson's that is crucial to public worthiness. She said, "The Metro is a built public sphere that builds better public citizenry, expanding the range of participating citizens. This is crucial for democracy."

After Garland-Thomson's talk many of us will probably never view the Metro in the same way again. This is the genius of her theory, she unearths theories that we all subconsciously were curious about, but never thought to ask about. Whenever a Garland-Thomson theory is presented we find some of our perspective on literature and life altered for the better. If Garland-Thomson's talk is an indicator for the future of the humanities at GW, there will be a very bright future.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Inaugural GW English Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies: Friday October 23

Friday October 23
5 PM
Marvin Center Continental Ballroom
800 21st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson
delivers the inaugural GW English Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies
"The Gas Chamber and the Metro: Space, Mobility and Disability"

Introduction by José Muñoz, Wang Visiting Professor of Contemporary English Literature
University welcome by President Steven Knapp
Free and open to all who wish to attend

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson was recently named one of Fifty Visionaries Who Are Changing the World. A professor at Emory University, she is well known for her work founding disability studies. Her most recent book is Staring: How We Look (Oxford University Press). For a recent interview, look here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

From Staring

We know that you are going to see Rosemarie Garland-Thomson on Friday. We offer the following quotation from her brand new book Staring: How We Look to whet your appetite.

Staring is profligate interest, stunned wonder, obsessive ocularity. The daily traffic reports capture staring's disruptive potential with the term "rubbernecking," a canny summation of our reflexive compulsion to look. In line at the supermarket, a freak on a tabloid cover or the senasational photo of a murder vicitim lures our hapless eyes, trumpeting harsh evidence of the randomness of human embodiment and our own mortality. We may gaze at what we desire, but we stare at what astonishes us ...

Staring is a conduit to knowledge. Stares are urgent efforts to make the unknown known, to render legible something that seems at first glance incomprehensible. In this way, staring becomes a starer's quest to know and a staree's opportunity to be known. Whatever or whomever embodies the unpredictable, strange or disordered prompts stares and demands putting order to apparent disarray, taming the world with our eyes. Because we are all starers, knowledge gathering is the most productive aspect of staring in that it can offer an opportunity to recognize one another in new ways.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Woman Behind One of the Most Exciting New Theories: Rosemarie Garland-Thomson

He is one of the most famous egomaniacs in literature. He is also one of the most famous disabled characters in literature. Who is he? Chances are Herman Melville's Captain Ahab was not your first guess. Although the character's missing leg is one of his most defining features, the crazed captain of the Pequod is rarely analyzed in this way. Of course, he is not the only disabled character in literature, there are many, but rarely are they labeled as "disabled."

Marginalization is not a new literary school of criticism. Feminist and Queer Theory are quite prominent today, so why is disability studies not equally significant? One woman is set to change this lack of representation, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. "I realized that the critical perspectives and knowledge building enterprise directed toward the subject of women and gender could be useful in understanding and analyzing disability as a social identity, a cultural concept, and an historical phenomena," Garland-Thomson said. "I also recognized that English as the discipline was not doing this, so I set out to make a contribution in that area."

For Garland-Thomson, the transition from studying American literature to disability studies was only natural. She said, "What we think of as disability is fundamental to the human condition, it is a theme pervasive in literary representation and narrative, as it is in art and philosophy-- in other words, in all areas of human culture." She holds that once famous texts such as Moby Dick or even William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury are looked at through this lens, the understanding of them only deepens.

Clearly disability studies was more than ready to be introduced into the scholarly world. Once Garland-Thomson pioneered the theory a rapid scholarly dialogue immediately emerged. "New questions are constantly being brought forward so that a particularly vibrant conversation is underway about how disability operates in representation and in the material world," she said. Other scholars, such as GW's own Robert McRuer (a prominent queer theorist) have easily intersected disability studies with their own work. Garland-Thomson said, "Scholars are developing comparative identity theory especially productively in this way by inquiring, for example, about how racialization and disability work together."

Garland-Thomson has even found that disability studies opens up many other critical categories in itself, such as her newly coined "critical theory of staring." What began as an examination of the act of staring at disabled people in freakshows turned into a meditation on staring in general. "Thinking about the spectacle of disability led me to consider visual relations between subjects," she said. "Disabled people are stared at quite often when the way they do things or look is unusual." Garland-Thomson is aware that she is not the first to analyze visual dynamics, but sees this particular angle as new and refreshing.

Similarly she is also building off of euthanasia studies. When Garland-Thomson initially started researching this area she realized that historians were already quite well versed in the subject, so she decided to look at it in a new way. "I have been working on an analysis and theoretical infrastructure that focuses on the concept of mobility in modernity to see how it plays out in the specific set of material practices of eugenic euthanasia and contemporary accessible transportation," she said. Obviously the theory is still developing and experimental, but Garland-Thomson claims this is one of the most exciting parts of being a scholar.

She also enjoys discussing her work with others, hence she is very excited to visit GW for the Inaugural GW English Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies, this Friday (October 23) at 5pm. "This is part of what I'm particularly looking forward to that GW, which is to learn how the intellectual community there thinks about disability and how disability studies is being developed at GW," she said. And we look forward to seeing her here!

Monday, October 19, 2009

From Today's Hatchet: English Department Faculty Member Steven Knapp

Check out this shout-out to literature at GW, from an OpEd piece published in today's GW Hatchet. President Knapp composed the piece about a task force to which he has appointed (among many others) the chair of the English Department and Director of the GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute -- a person who is pleased that his kvetching here at the GW English blog about foregrounding humanities research at GW must cease for a moment. To quote President Knapp:
"In the coming years, we will continue increasing our selectivity and enhancing the opportunities our students enjoy. What it means to be a great university has changed, however, in the two centuries since Washington spelled out his vision in his last will and testament. We are still in the business of forging citizens, although now we forge citizens not just of the nation but of the world. We must now build our stature as a university that contributes intellectually to the solution of national and global problems. By matching the excellence of our instruction with the strength of our research, we will join the ranks of truly world-class universities and fully ensure the value of a GW degree. In so doing, we will also strengthen our instruction itself. There is no more exciting way to learn than to work with a professor who is pushing a frontier of knowledge, whether the field is neuroscience, early modern literature, environmental engineering, or international law.

Our priorities, then, are clear. We must continue investing in student learning and experience, on campus and off; and we must increase our investment in the kind of discovery that will firmly establish our international stature. In short, we must increase what we invest in our students, our faculty, and the infrastructure that supports them both. It is reasonable to ask where the funds for these investments will come from."

Special Spring 2010 Opportunity for Current English Majors

We are honored to have Sarah Werner of the Folger Shakespeare Library teaching a seminar for us this coming spring. Though the seminar is offered at the graduate level, we are opening five spots in the class to undergraduate English majors who are interested in the subject and who would like to do some advanced work in Renaissance literature.

If you are would like to take the course, please email me a brief paragraph of interest as soon as possible ( This is a unique opportunity for anyone interested in the contemporary study of Shakespeare and Renaissance drama. I hope it will appeal to some of you.

By the way, Professor Warner runs a terrific blog about early modern books and culture.

English 209: Studying Renaissance Drama and Performance
Wednesdays 2:00-4:00
Dr Sarah Werner

The aim of this seminar is to explore the relationships between Renaissance drama and performance. The and here is crucial—we will not be studying the plays in performance or performances of the plays, nor we will be considering whether performances reveal plays or whether plays contain performances. Rather, we will be taking a multiplicity of approaches to explore how the study of performance and the study of Renaissance drama work together in order to create new understanding of each. Reading Renaissance plays (those of Shakespeare as well as those of his contemporaries) alongside theories of performance, audience studies, production histories, and textual scholarship, we will explore different arenas where drama and performance come together: script, performer, audience, theatre, archives, memory. How, for instance, does actor training affect the meanings an audience might find in a performance? Is it possible to speak of “the audience” when different spectators react in different ways? Where might traces of past performances and possible future performances be located in an edition of a play? Can we recover a sense of early modern theatrical practices from reading the plays? What are the myriad elements that work together (or against each other) to make up a performance of a Renaissance play?

Possible play texts include The Revengers Tragedy, Henry V, Spanish Tragedy, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew, Volpone, and Knight of the Burning Pestle. We will read modern scholarship and theories about performance by W.B. Worthen, Barbara Hodgdon, Bridget Escolme, Robert Shaughnessy, and Courtney Lehmann. And we will see some stage and film performances, probably the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Henry V, Synetic’s Antony and Cleopatra, and Alex Cox’s film of Revengers Tragedy. Students should be prepared to write frequent brief position papers as well as a longer research paper.

The Dalai Lama and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson

What do the two people in our blog post title have in common, besides serenity and good looks? Funny you should ask. Both the Dalai Lama and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson were just named in the Utne Reader list of "Fifty Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World."

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson is, of course, our inaugural GW English Distinguished Lecturer in Literary and Cultural Studies. She will be presenting a free public lecture in the Marvin Center Continental Ballroom this Friday, October 23, at 5 PM. Information here. Please come.

Will the Dalai Lama attend? He'd better, otherwise he will miss the visionary Utne Reader describes with the following blurb:

Disabled people attract stares—and this social critic posits that the attention sometimes transforms a would-be stigma into empowerment. Learn more about Rosemarie Garland-Thomson at Emory University’s website, including where she’ll be speaking. You can also read an excerpt of her latest book on Google Books.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A message from the department chair

On October 23 at 5 PM in the Marvin Center, we will hold our inaugural GW English Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson will present. Complete information is here.

I urge you to come. We are trying to build a better sense of intellectual community at GW, especially for those of us who work in the humanities. If you read this blog frequently, you know that I have observed that GW does not celebrate what we humanists do with the enthusiasm we merit. That is a shame. You can send a strong message to President Knapp simply by attending this lecture. He is delivering the university welcome, and if he looks out and sees the faces of our undergraduate majors, our graduate students, our faculty and our alumni and our friends in the Continental Ballroom, he will know why the event matters.

Just as importantly, Professor Garland-Thomson is a terrific speaker. I promise that you will learn much and feel engaged. I look forward to seeing you on Friday October 23.

Jeffrey Cohen

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Friday October 23
5 PM
Marvin Center Continental Ballroom
800 21st Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson
delivers the inaugural GW English Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies
"The Gas Chamber and the Metro: Space, Mobility and Disability"

Introduction by José Muñoz, Wang Visiting Professor of Contemporary English Literature
University welcome by President Steven Knapp

Free and open to all who wish to attend

Monday, October 12, 2009

From The Hatchet: About our future

I know I talk and write about this issue a great deal: I am passionate about it, because it is so central to my department's mission and future. 

The English Department has everything in place to be the envy of the Ivy League: excellent undergraduate majors, a world-class faculty whose research and creative work are widely cited and internationally admired, alliances with institutions like the Folger Shakespeare Library that offer unparalleled archives and research opportunities. What we do not possess is an adequately funded graduate program. The MA and PhD students we attract are excellent, but -- unlike the universities with which we compete -- we can fund only a few. The national reputation of a department depends heavily upon its graduate program, so money spent on graduate student support is an excellent investment in the research profile of the whole university.

GW excels at humanities research. The university should boast of that fact more frequently, and invest strategically to ensure we remain in the avant-garde.

My thanks to Drew Spence and The Hatchet for reading this blog. Below, Mr. Spence's article from the front page of today's Hatchet.

The head of GW's English department says the University's graduate English program has everything it needs to be one of the best in the country, except for one thing: funding.

Department chair Jeffrey Cohen said D.C. has some of the best resources available to English students - like access to world-class resources and professionals at the Folger Shakespeare Library - but said that due to a lack of funding for scholarships, schools such as the University of Pennsylvania, New York University and Columbia University often attract students who would have otherwise come to GW.

"We have everything in place for greatness, except a well-funded graduate research program," Cohen said. "We have the faculty for it, we just don't have the student support."

Cohen said the primary way graduate educations are funded at GW is through a Graduate Teaching Assistant package - an aid package that pays for a student's tuition and living expenses, and students work as teaching assistants. Currently, the GW English department only has a budget for nine GTAs, whereas English departments at other Universities can support up to 30, he said.

Because graduate studies often involve a good deal of research, Cohen has sent notes to Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa in hopes of securing funding for the program, noting that funds have already been allocated to the "hard sciences" like medical and engineering research.

The National Endowment for the Humanities, for example, provides grants for research pertaining to the study of the humanities, which includes the study of the English language, according to NEH's mission statement. Chalupa has been charged with raising GW's research profile, in part by securing grants for the University.

Cohen has been making a public push on the English department's blog to increase support and awareness for his department's graduate programs, pointing out that medical and other "hard science" research are often cited as critical to remaking GW into a first-class research institution.

"Washington D.C., besides being the center of government, is an arts and intellectual world capital," Cohen said. "There's a lot of exciting work going on in humanities and we need to boast more about what we're doing."
In hopes of raising funds and awareness, Cohen began posting blog entries on the English department Web site encouraging readers to take note of the strength of GW's graduate English programs.

Cohen said Chalupa and the University have been very responsive to his requests and seem like they would be willing to work with him.

"I agree entirely with Professor Cohen that more and better support is required if we are to get the very best graduate students not just in English but in all subject areas," Chalupa said. "This should be one of the priorities for GW."
Cohen said he is optimistic that the graduate English program will receive the funding it needs to grow.

"A fully funded graduate program has been my dream since I came to GW in 1994. I am hoping the day will arrive when by philanthropy, grant money and or institutional investment, we have such a program," Cohen said. "I am quite serious when I say it would be among the best in the U.S. We have the faculty, the resources, the possibility."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Michael Chabon for Amateurs

What do you think of when you hear the name, Michael Chabon? Comic books? Coming of age? Judaism? Pittsburgh? Movie adaptations? Chances are marijuana was probably not on that list. So when the lights dimmed in Lisner Auditorium this past Friday night and Chabon cracked the spine of his new collection of nonfiction essays, Manhood for Amateurs, to read about this particular topic I was definitely surprised. Yet I found myself laughing out loud many times as he recounted the many hypocrisies of parenthood, marijuana being one of them.

So maybe the topic was unexpected (well that's not entirely true if you have read Wonder Boys), but that is why we love Chabon. He takes ideas that we think cannot be made into real literature (comic books, detective stories, and adventure tales) and turns them into best sellers as well as Pulitzer Prize winning novels. How many times do you read an award-winning book only to find yourself asleep in your chair? With Chabon I find myself up all night racing to find out if Joe Kavalier will ever get back to his family or if Meyer Landsman will crack the murder mystery. Chabon almost always delivers, so I let myself sit back on Friday night and laugh, ponder, and generally just enjoy myself.

Besides Chabons' allusions to Grady Tripp of Wonder Boys, he also read from more poignant essays. One essay discussed the dating lives of divorced mothers, including Chabon's own mother, ultimately reflecting on divorce's effect on the child. Due to his expressive reading, he was able to easily change the tone, to his final essay about music on the radio. I must admit, I felt a bit left out in this nostalgia of an era that I was definitely not born in, but nevertheless the audience seemed to understand as they laughed along. From his readings both this semester and last, I am definitely eager to read my freshly signed copy of the book. As Chabon noted, the book is only a natural progression from the themes of fathers and sons explored throughout his novels.

Although Chabon is an excellent reader, I found he really excelled in the Q&A period. He admitted that becoming a Simpson was very cool, but has ruined the TV show for him now. He was also mortified that the one time he was invited to the White House was for a godawful slam poetry session. Yet as self deprecating as Chabon was, he gave praise to others. When asked about the film adaptation of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (which cut out a crucial character), he diplomatically noted that the director really loved the book and that was what really came through on screen. Its nice to know that even after many awards Chabon is still hilarious and humble and willingly inscribing books for all.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The First Day of the Cuba in the World Symposium: Mayra Montero

What does Cuba mean to you? To be entirely candid with you, my only experience with Cuba is its delicious cuisine. However, Cuba has always fascinated me with its rich cultural and political history. Last night's reading with author and journalist, Mayra Montero only solidified that interest.

As H.G. Carrillo emphasized in his warm introduction of Montero, GW is quite lucky to have the author of nine novels and a collection of short stories in such an intimate vicinity as the Cuba in the World Symposium. Montero is especially distinct compared to her peers because she predominantly writes in Spanish. Although her novels are still vivid and exciting when translated into English, you can really hear the rhythm and life of her writing when she reads in her native tongue. The reading had a more intimate tone when she predominantly switched to expressing herself in her first language.

There is also an enthusiasm and hope to Montero's writing. Although she focuses on 1950s Cuba in her novels, particularly the Cuban Mafia, she is looking forward to the new Cuba that is emerging in the world. "Cuba is the most fascinating question mark in the Carribean," she said. She compared this current moment in Cuban history to the Cuban Missile Crisis. "There is a real eagerness for change," she said. "That eagerness itself is the real change."

Montero believes that the best way to understand that change is through literature. "We have to drink on the fountain of literature," she said. She chooses to focus on old Cuba because of its rich impressionistic culture. Obviously the politics of the time are equally fascinating. She said, "There was no blood or no appearance of blood in Cuba, unlike Chicago. So the internal corruption affected casinos not daily lives." Although she cannot help but be influenced by her childhood during the revolution in her writings, Montero considers her books love stories, not just thrillers.

It is the love found in her books that she hopes will aid the new Cuba. Previously Cuba has been rather isolated for writers, but the internet has allowed authors to write. Montero sees a future more all encompassing though. "There is a future for relations [between the US and Cuba]. A brilliant future," she said. And I think we all cannot wait for it to come.

Although the Cuba Symposium is off to a great start do not forget there are actual symposiums throughout the day today and the documentary La Lupe by Ela Troyana (who will be present for discussion) at 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Marvin Center 309. We hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

From Austen to Honors: Maria Frawley

In 1894 literary scholar George Saintsbury coined the term "Janeite" as a devotée of Jane Austen. Professor Maria Frawley (pictured with her cat Zeke) is a self-proclaimed Janeite, although she would like to emphasize that Janeites are scholars as well as devotées. You cannot deny this fact when meeting with the witty and warm Frawley who is not only a Nineteenth Century literature professor, but the new executive director of the University Honors Program.

Although Frawley has been teaching for years she had never been on the administrative side of things until now. "It has been very revealing and enlightening to learn what goes on behind the scenes," she said. "There are a lot of balls in the air at once."

This is not surprising since the University Honors Program is a university wide program serving all students in all schools. "The most important piece is adapting the curriculum to fit all students," she said. This includes assessing the somewhat new curriculum. Frawley said, "I keep what's working working and bring new ideas to the table."

One of her prominent goals is working with the Admissions Office to market the program more. "We are a program that is freshmen only admission partly so we start building the community early on," she said. Although most Honors students graduate with departmental honors, the English Department's Honors Program is open to all who wish to apply whether they are in the University Honors Program or not.

Frawley finds this new community one of her favorites aspects of the job. "It's very easy to find a niche in your home department and very rarely get outside of it," she said. "The happiest part of my job is meeting new people."

But this does not mean that Frawley is completely absent from her home department. She stills attends meetings, keeps up to date with English department friends, and continues to read and write. She said, "I have no intention of giving up that component of my identity."

Frawley looks forward to teaching again next semester. She describes her Jane Austen Dean's Seminar as a annual "multivitamin." And eventually she hopes to have a teaching relationship with her Honors Program students.

Despite her busy new schedule and future plans to return to teaching, Frawley still finds time to advise students. "There are important relationships to nurture. I do not want to cut that cord," she said.

Similarly Frawley continues to read and research. Although she admits, "It's very easy to say I will read in the morning, but I use the time to respond to the email deluge instead," she said. Despite the distraction, she is currently working on a lecture on Austen for Parents Weekend, writing a book review for a biography of Florence Nightengale, and even writing a new book on keywords distinctive to Austen's writing.

Its safe to say Frawley is plenty busy, but still present as ever in all areas of GW. Just stop by her office in the Honors Program building and you will find a shrine to Jane Austen for Frawley is a true Janeite and GW professor if there ever was one.

To read more about the University Honors Program, you can visit their blog here.

Meet My New "Mentor": David Sedaris

I had been in line for over ninety minutes. In this time I could have gone to a movie, but I needed to meet the man who made me laugh harder in just two hours than I have in an entire month.

There's no doubt about it, if you thought David Sedaris was hilarious in print, you really need to hear him read live. His reading is not the dry sleep-inducing "class participation" professors often force you to engage in, but almost a stand-up comedy routine. Whether he's reading fractured fables with very anthropomorphic animals or just pages out of his diary (which are just as well written and side splitting as his full essays) you hear a full variety of laughs throughout Lisner Auditorium.

Sedaris knows how to time a joke, but just because he's a master of his craft does not mean he's lost his humility. He knows how to answer audience questions ranging from "Have you ever drank breast milk?" (there was a relevance to this question believe it or not) to the nasty "What do you think about health care?" (Don't you ever wish they would ban audience Q&As?).

Even after that annoying Q&A period, we were still hungry for more, and that is why I stood in line with all the rest of the NPR listeners and Capitol Hill staffers (it was amazing how few students were actually in the auditorium) to get my book signed and hear what the ever personable Sedaris had to say to me.

Maybe if you ever see me around the English department offices you will notice that I have an odd obsession with collecting bizarre animal-themed necklaces. Last night's weird accessory happened to have an owl on it, which was surprisingly enough what Sedaris and I talked about. He proceeded to sign my book and draw an owl in it all while discussing whether or not I was an actual student here. He was glad to hear I was an English major (of course) and asked if I wrote or just read a lot Jane Austen. I replied I have done a bit both, but the writing did not surpass this blog. Though he did assure me this blog was a very valid form of writing and I should continue with it because I had a very "interesting way of talking." Encouraged to write by David Sedaris? I couldn't ask for a better night!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

David Baldacci Book Launch

DC author David Baldacci will be having a book launch of his latest thriller True Blue on Wednesday, October 28th at 6pm. The book is about a high profile homicide entangled with the shady side of national security.

The launch will be held at the Washington Post Conference Center. Although the event will be open to all, tickets are $50. The ticket price covers the cost of the new book, refreshments, and a donation to the DC Police Foundation.

Tickets can be purchased here.

Catching Up with Alumna Ayanna Jackson-Fowler

It is not uncommon to walk into college with one major and come out with an entirely different one and luckily for 2002 alumna Ayanna Jackson-Fowler, that major was English. Although Jackson-Fowler entered GW as a pre-Med major she quickly realized her real passion. She said, "I really enjoyed studying and creating literature. So, I figured that I should devote my life to doing this."

As anyone reading this blog should know, there is no shortage of devoted professors within the English department, so Jackson-Fowler easily found her niche. She remembers particularly loving her classes with James Miller, Cynthia Leenerts, and Marshall Alcorn. Each professor had a long lasting impact on Jackson-Fowler. Dr. Miller introduced her to Zora Neale Hurston, Dr. Alcorn made critical theory accessible, and Dr. Leenerts introduced the concept of academic freedom in her course. "I was able to create my own paper topics," said Jackson-Fowler. "I was so excited to get the opportunity to write about whatever I was interested in."

Through all of these various teaching methods and texts, Jackson-Fowler learned what she really wanted to do with her life, teach. Not only did GW help her decide her future career, but also give her the skills to achieve in that career. "Each course that I took demanded a lot of me mentally, and this was beneficial to me because, when I got to graduate school, I found that I was already working at a more advanced level," she said. If things ever got too complicated Jackson-Fowler easily found advice from various professors such as Debra Bruno and her adviser, Phyllis Mentzell Ryder.

It was not until graduate school that Jackson-Fowler really found her literary focus, Early Black Writing. After taking a few eighteenth and nineteenth century British literature courses she became fascinated by the work of former black slaves in the British Empire. "Studying Early Black Writing allows me to merge my interests in African American Literature and Eighteenth-Century African British Literature," she said. " Through exploring Early Black Writing, I am able to study the works of writers who are transatlantic, figuring in both American and British literature." Jackson-Fowler's dissertation explores the influence these writers had. She said, "I explore how the rhetoric of early black writers like Phillis Wheatley, Ignatius Sancho, Ottobah Cugoano, and Olaudah Equiano influenced radical women writers of the Romantic period."

Eventually Jackson-Fowler would love to teach as well as research. She had the opportunity to teach and learn her teaching style through the Composition and Creative Nonfiction class she taught at Texas Tech. Jackson-Fowler's main priority in the classroom is student participation. She said, "I have my students sit in a circle (as opposed to rows), and I prompt them to discuss the works that we read by asking them pointed, in-depth questions. This method is quite efficient because I find that students are able to learn from each other as they engage in discussion."

Even though Jackson-Fowler has gone beyond GW and eventually hopes to teach like some of her favorite professors here, she still looks back at the university fondly. She may miss the Hippodrome and her old dorms, but there is one thing she can still do to keep herself involved in the GW community. "I also miss walking through The Quad on the main campus. Whenever I visit GW, I always make it a point to walk through there," she said.

We hope to see her around campus soon and look forward to hearing more about her work.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

From a note I wrote to GW's VP of Research

Through its alliance with the Folger Shakespeare Library, the best archive of Shakespeare and Renaissance materials in the US, and one of the best in the world, GW is uniquely positioned to train researchers in early modern and medieval studies. Even Ivy League schools do not have these resources. Here is what we have already:

(1) GW supports the publication of Shakespeare Quarterly, the field's preeminent journal, through a yearly subvention, and a GW faculty member is its associate editor
(2) the Director of the Folger is a former GW English faculty member (Gail Paster)
(3) the Folger is the go-to destination to conduct research on early modern topics, so scholars from around the world are constantly in town to use its archives.
The GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute has been thriving in part because we've been able to take advantage of this alliance. The doctoral program in English, though -- the research enterprise on which our national reputation rests -- has not been consistently able to recruit and retain the stellar students who apply because we don't have the funding to support them. These students end up at places like U Penn, NYU, Columbia, Emory, the UC system because they get full funding at those places -- but not the access to a research archive and leading specialists from around the world that we can offer.

Our faculty are doing our best to raise the research profile of the humanities at GW via our books, our international talks, our peer reviewed articles. But lacking the support to fund the graduate students who want to do their advanced research here has been crippling. Our PhD program moved up eight spaces last year in the US News ranking. We won't be satisfied until we are in the top TEN, and we can't do that until we have the grad student support that will propel us there.

Cuba in the World: This Thursday and Friday in the Marvin Center

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:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Welcome Back James Miller

There are certain things that seem to only occur in literature: personification, metaphor, allusion. However reoccurring themes can appear in real life too as Professor James Miller knows well. This is particularly true in relation to his latest book Moments of Scottsboro: The Scottsboro Case and American Culture.

The project started in the late 1990s when Miller was working with colleagues who have now all gone in separate directions and was picked up again from 2002-6, with the book finally being published this year. "Scottsboro has been a long process. I was doing another project that was concerned with the representation of African Americans in 1930s culture. In the process of doing that work, I kept coming back to Scottsboro," he said.

What is Scottsboro to Miller, who is not only an English professor, but the Chair of the American Studies department? "Scottsboro was the 1930s. It was the defining issue of the period," he said. "It was reenacted over and over again in film, culture, poetry, music, visual arts, and drama." Miller's book covers everything from the case itself to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

DC has some amazing resources for professors and students alike. Miller found he was able to do most of his research at the Library of Congress. He said, "It turns out that some of the key documents I used are Soviet Union documents. After the Soviet Union collapsed the Library of Congress secured the documents of the American Communist Party." Miller also researched records of the NAACP and the International Labor Defense, all readily available at the Library of Congress. "The Library of Congress is absolutely indispensable," he said.

Ironically though, Miller's next project could not be researched within his own surroundings. In order to study jazz, he found himself a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Whitwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa last semester. He said, "My research was on jazz history, the history of connection and relationships between African Americans and South African jazz musicians in the 1950s-70s." He was specifically looking at the jazz opera "King Kong," the first musical production in South Africa with an all black South African cast. "It was the place out of which many jazz musicians we came to know started from," he said.

Jazz has also been a reoccurring theme throughout Miller's life. "I've been interested in jazz since I was an undergraduate," he said. "Its been important for my work. I always study with jazz in the background." He even used to work at a jazz organization in Connecticut where he met many prominent jazz musicians.

Though these two projects may seem unconnected to the untrained eye, Miller sees it as one fluid work. "There's a logic in my own mind that sees important continuities between the two projects," he said. "They are the cultural politics of African American life in the US and the world in the 1930s and 1960s. Scottsboro is one important chunk and jazz is another important chunk." Miller almost sees himself as working on a trilogy of sorts, even though he is still unsure of the third part of the trilogy.

With all of this research how does Miller find himself connected to teaching still? "Teaching is a way of riffing on these themes. Keeping my brain alive and testing these ideas out in the classroom," he said.

We look forward to hearing his ideas and as Miller said,"I am happy to be back."