Monday, May 31, 2010

Prof. Ann Romines Publishes Willa Cather Cookbook

Happy Memorial Day to readers! I wish I had a dollar--no, make that $25--for every time someone has asked me whether, as a university professor, I "work" during the summers when I'm typically not teaching. For English graduate students and faculty, summer indeed offers a respite from the usual round of classes, office hours, meetings, and lectures, but that doesn't mean we're sunning ourselves at the beach eating bon-bons. (Well, maybe for a week or two...)

Rather, we're using the luxury of less-scheduled summer days to work on research in libraries and archives and to devote ourselves to various writing projects, from books, articles, and essays to fellowship applications, tenure dossier reviews, and peer reviews for scholarly journals and university presses.

And the faculty and graduate student publications keep coming. This time, we congratulate Prof. Ann Romines on the appearance of At Willa Cather's Tables, a cookbook published by the Willa Cather Foundation, an organization that since 1955 has worked to preserve Cather-related sites and artifacts, encourage reading of Cather's work, and facilitate Cather scholarship.

Here's how the publisher's press release describes the book:

“Preparation of food is one of the most important things in life,” said Cather, the novelist who loved the arts of the kitchen and the pleasures of the table. This new cookbook, edited by Prof. Romines, one of the nation's leading Cather scholars, allows readers to experience and enjoy recipes from Cather’s work, from her family and friends, and from the many places that were meaningful to her. An extensive final section includes dozens of recipes from the Foundation’s special events and from loyal friends and volunteers.

At Willa Cather's Tables may be ordered from the Cather Foundation website or by calling 866-731-7304.

Congrats to Ann, and bon appetit to readers.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jane Shore to Accept Poets Prize in NYC Thursday night

If you're reading this and will be in New York on Thursday night, May 20, come cheer on GW creative writing Professor Jane Shore as she accepts the prestigious Poets' Prize for her 2008 book A Yes-or-No Answer at the Nicholas Roerich Museum at 319 West 107 Street. The $3,000 prize is awarded to the best book of verse by an American in a given year. The Poets' Prize is particularly special because the selection is done by other poets (hence: Poets' Prize).

The prize motto? “We believe there is no greater honor than to be awarded a prize by a jury of one’s peers.”

A Yes-or-No Answer is Jane's fifth book of poetry. Her previous collection, Music Minus One, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Jane has also won the Juniper Prize and the Lamont Poetry Prize. Look for an ad taken out by Jane's publisher, Houghton Mifflin, to celebrate the award in Thursday's New York Times.

Brava, Jane!

Monday, May 17, 2010


Congratulations to our 2010 graduates! I had the pleasure of marching with students at Saturday's CCAS Celebration, which went amazingly smoothly, given the challenging logistics. (In the photos posted here, we're in Funger Hall, eagerly awaiting the call to march into the Smith Center.) Most people's names were pronounced correctly, and there were photo ops galore: here, approaching the dais! here, as one's name was being pronounced! here, as one accepted a rolled-up document from the Dean! My job was to greet each graduate and to give out the Columbian College medal, which resembles an Olympic medal except that it's made of a cheap alloy. (But like the Olympic medal, its value cannot be measured in mere monetary terms.) And I set a new personal record for the number of "congratulations" consecutively offered. But really, it was quite thrilling to celebrate with everyone and to be part of the general gladness and cheer.

In the Smith Center, we were pleased to see 2010 graduate Samantha Barry, recipient of a 2009-10 Luther Rice Award for undergraduate research, and English Professor (and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies) Tara Wallace on the podium along with CCAS Dean Peg Barratt. And there was now-Emerita Professor Judith Plotz, leading newly minted English MAs and Ph.D.s in her crimson Harvard regalia, which featured a fine beret. Among this group were the department's first class of BA/MAs: Carolyng Gomes, Scott Jacobsen, Landon Manjikian, and Rosemary Tonoff. Also marching was our former work-study student Sasha Moss, who is off to Scotland soon for graduate work in English.

Before the Celebration, English department faculty and staff feted our graduating class at a reception for students and their guests. Well over 100 people showed up, and were treated to spirited readings from (now ex-) seniors Laura Feigin and Carolyn Kerchof. Laura, who hails from Flemington, NJ, read William Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech. She's not finished with GW, yet, however; Laura will be staying on for our 5-year BA/MA program. Carolyn, who grew up in and is returning to work in Birmingham, Alabama, read a wonderful poem by the young South Carolina-born poet Terrence Hayes.

We are especially proud of the accomplishment of students who received Departmental Honors this year: Emily Anderson, Laura Feigin, Darci Frinquelli, Erica Manoatl, Emma Martin, Rajiv Menon, Sean Mooney, Samuel Munford, Candice Shang, Makala Skinner, and Margaret Wexler. All of these students produced an honors thesis, evidence of their ability to do sustained independent research. And we congratulate those who won this year's departmental prizes for their creative and critical works: Emily R. Murphy, Margaret A. Ilersich, Rajiv Menon, Tay Tufenkjian, Jason Krasner, Chen-Wen Lo, Elizabeth Lothian, Emma Martin, and Chelsea Kerwin.

As I told the group of us gathered together in Phillips Hall, from the point of view of faculty, the best teaching experiences are also learning experiences. So thank you to all of our graduates for the privilege of teaching you, and for teaching us, during your four years at GW. Keep in touch!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Join Prof. Patty Chu at the National Gallery of Art Monday

Prof. Patty Chu will be giving a lunchtime lecture titled "Narratives of Return: An Asian American Photographic Odyssey," at the National Gallery of Art on Monday, May 17. The talk will be in the East (I.M. Pei) Wing, Small Auditorium, at 12:10 and again at 1:10. It runs 30 minutes, with time for Q&A.

Here is what Patty says about the lecture:

As a scholar of Asian American literature, I study "Narratives of Return" in which Asian emigrants and their descendants visit Asia in search of ancestral connections. As part of this work, I returned to China in 2010 to meet with family members and explore family history and Chinese culture, accompanied by Lee Ewing, my husband, and our children. This lunchtime talk, illustrated with Lee's digitally innovative photography [see example above], will explore the work of constructing the stories and images that comprise a family's cultural legacy.

Directions by subway: Take the Red Line toward Silver Spring to the stop at Judiciary Square. Take the South entrance (courthouse, not Architecture Museum). When you come up from the escalator, you should see a Firehook bakery on your left. Go straight/south toward Pennsylvania Ave. Cross Pennsylvania, enter the modernist East Wing on your left, and ask for the small auditorium.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What's Next for Judith Plotz

Judith Plotz is amazing, but you already knew that. One of our most beloved faculty members is retiring this year because, as she puts it, "Well, I thought I better retire when people were surprised I did rather than when it wasn't surprising." Jokes aside, Prof. Plotz has been inspiring students to follow their passions for decades now; it's finally time that she follows her other passions.

These passions have nothing to do with the traditional retiree trip to Florida. Rather, Prof. Plotz dreams about walking the Via Francigena, the ancient road between Rome and Canterbury, with her husband. She said, "All of these walking trips take a certain amount of time and stamina, and we're not getting any younger. I want to do this before my knees go." However, Europe is not Plotz's only future destination; she may be teaching in India or Turkey. So if you never were able to take her romanticism class, now is your time!

Plotz has been teaching romanticism for years now and if you thought the GW's Square 54 building was going up fast, just imagine how much Plotz has witnessed the campus transform throughout the years."The campus was lower, uglier, more modest--there are some remains of the rowhouses. Physically it was much less imposing. It looks ever much better," she said. However, the real change that Plotz has noticed is in her students.

Plotz can track the student dynamic by each decade. She said, "The 1960s and '70s were a wonderful period to be a young teacher. Students weren't necessarily academic and pedantic, but they were immensely sure literature could change the world. There was an earnestness about reading." In the 1980s, Plotz noticed more conservatism among her students. "They were good students in the way the '60s students weren't. They did work on time, didn't do as much pot, but were intellectually more conservative," she said. Perhaps the '60s experience is reemerging today though. "Today, the idealism is different than the '60s and '70s, maybe partially due to bad times, but people's ambitions now as an English major are more of an emphasis on getting a good profession, more in the direction of social activism. It's a good change," she said. "Turbulence in the economy in some ways is freeing. The safe choice isn't so safe anymore, may as well do what your skills and heart want."

Plotz herself almost did not follow her heart and thought about becoming a doctor at one point. "My father was a doctor. Periodically, I thought I should've been a doctor," she said. "Sometimes I think I should be doing something healing, physically, not metaphorically, but metaphorically I believe literature is as healing as as medicine." Naturally, Plotz's thesis was on John Keats, the poet and doctor. As it turns out, teaching romanticism has always been in her blood and throughout the years she has taught every form of it from romanticism and autobiography to "green" romanticism. However her favorite course lately is her Children's Literature course.

Of course, part of her is tempted to stay at GW forever. She said, "This is a very engaging profession and there's always something new to do." She particularly loves her colleagues. "My young colleagues are fabulous, wonderful, lively people. Here there has always been considerable respect and we generally do have a diversity of method in this department," she said. Similarly, the students are equally impressive and passionate. She said, "We've always had students who were very keen on English from the word go, the board scores go up and we have a lot of the smartest students." Students are not the only young people in Plotz's life, she also has five grandchildren she would love to see more often.

Despite her walking tours and visits to her grandchildren, Plotz will not have fully left the academic sphere behind. She is hoping to finally work on her book on Rudyard Kipling and perhaps pursue fiction. "I played around a lot with fiction, but somehow the fiction got crushed out of me," she said. "I've done half of a novel and I want to finish that." Mostly Plotz would just like the time to finally enjoy everything she has been unable to do for years. "I'm doing it right, with leisure, without the anxiety of [teaching] class," she said. Although we will miss her, we wish her the best of luck with her travels and books!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tara Wallace Publishes "Imperial Characters"

Congratulations to Prof. Tara Wallace, whose book Imperial Characters: Home and Periphery in Eighteenth-Century Literature is now out in print from Bucknell University Press, in its Studies in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture series edited by Greg Clingham.

During the long eighteenth century, Britain won and lost an empire in North America while consolidating its hegemony on the Indian subcontinent. The idea of imperial Britain became an essential piece of national self-definition, so that to be British was to be a citizen of an imperial power. The British literary imagination inevitably participated in the formulation and interrogation of this new national character, examining in fiction empire's effects on the world at home.

Imperial Characters traces a range of literary articulations of how British national character is formed, changed, and distorted by Britain's imperial project. Looking at texts from Aphra Behn's early description of seventeenth-century colonists in Surinam to Robert Louis Stevenson's historical narrative about eighteenth-century Scotsmen roaming the globe, Prof. Wallace shows how these works enact "the opportunities, disruptions, and dangers of imperial adventurism."

Prof. Wallace is currently Professor of English and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in CCAS. Congratulations, Tara!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Our graduating English majors do amazing things

[Last update May 14, 2010]


.... stay at GW for the English Department's BA/MA program (Laura Feigin) or to attend GW Law School (Amanda Heerwig)
.... get a grant to make art in Paris (Anya Firestone)
.... work as a legal assistant in a small energy firm in Dupont Circle as a prelude to law school (Sean Mooney)
.... do Teach for America in Baltimore (Meg Wexler) while getting an MA in Ed from Johns Hopkins) (Cecilia Blute)
.... take a 3-week geography course in Morocco, followed by backpacking through Southeast Asia for a few months, while blogging about it all (Crystal Bae)
... attend the University of Chicago for an MA in humanities (Emma Martin) and at the New School in New York for an MA in Liberal Studies (Emily Anderson)
.... work towards their MA from GW's Graduate School of Education and Human Development, with the goal of teaching high school English (Jessica Yager)
.... take their English minor to graduate school in biomedical sciences for a year, en route to medical school. ("Having an English background has really helped me stand out among the competition, and especially helped with writing and researching proposals in biology," says Alexis Cates.)
.... work on an MA in English literature at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland (Sasha Moss)
.... embark upon an MA/MS in English and book publishing at Portland State University (Kathryn Cusma)
.... work at GW Law School as the Executive Assistant for Academic Affairs in the Dean's Office (Alexis McClellan)
.... love DC so much that they will work here before moving on to law school (Candace Shang) or graduate school in English or creative writing (Chelsea Kerwin)
.... enroll at Rutger's-Newark for an MFA in Creative Writing (Elizabeth Lothian)
.... attend Vanderbilt University for an M.Ed. in secondary education, en route to a career as a high school English Teacher (Katie Riley)
.... study for a law degree at NYU (Darci Frinquelli)
.... go to Brandies University for a Masters of Public Policy (Amy Glynn)
.... move to Birmingham, Alabama to work at a non-profit called Impact Alabama (Carolyn Kerchof)
.... work part-time in Philadelphia while volunteering at a grandfather's nursing home, with an eye toward applying for MFA programs for fiction writing in the fall (Colleen McKenna)
... head off to the New Jersey Institute of Technology to study architecture (Tarek Al Hariri)
... work at United Press International (UPI) as their Content Optimization Specialist (Kaitlin Vignali)

We wish everyone luck and urge you to keep in touch! Seniors who haven't contacted the department can still update us on your post-GW plans. Just email

Anya Firestone: "A Self-made Mannequin of Aesthetic Hedonism"

You may have seen senior Anya Firestone on the Dangerous Liaisons posters throughout campus a month ago. Or perhaps you have seen the fashionista in the flesh standing out in her heels and dress in a sea of flannel. However, this summer you will find Firestone in Paris, France. Firestone will be graduating this month, but the next she will be emulating her favorite expats as she works on a prestigious art grant from Parsons. The program is a six-week residency in Paris, where Firestone will have access to individual studios and the advice of curators, artists, designers, and writers. During the program she will work on her own mixed media art and attend lectures, visit museums, and finally have her and fellow students' work showcased in the Parsons Paris Gallery. It is a dream come true for a girl who has loved art ever since she was a child and fell head over heels for Paris last year when she studied abroad there.

Firestone has been longing to return to her favorite city since she left last spring. As a junior, she used her time in Paris to fuse her Art History and English degrees together. One of Firestone's proudest projects was her proposal to pair William Shakespeare's Titus Adronicus with abstract art. She said, "Abstract art and Shakespeare are both difficult artistic realms to understand for many. People will say abstract art is silly and childlike and that Shakespeare's language is dated and plots irrelevant. I thus proposed a project that allowed for a contemplative approach to understanding esoteric theater, language, and art in terms of one another: 'performance art' at its finest." Even though she had to take a statistics course while abroad, Firestone synthesized it with her art as well. "I catered my Statistics project to art, recording data of 100 works from Sotheby's Auction House. I yielded a formula through Data Desk’s statistical analysis program to determine the Hammers Price with Buyers Premium of a painting based on categories such as 'genre' and 'size,'" she said. "When a painting was deemed an 'outlier,' I referred to its history in art to understand why this was so." Firestone lives and breaths art, and is is clear that Paris is the quintessential city for her.

Firestone did not just find art in her classes while she was in Paris, but everywhere. "My favorite part of Paris is the feeling of being in it. I have created a life for myself bubbling with jobs, studies, and everyday strolls, so as to be endlessly consumed in a euphoric intoxication of beauty, an Eden of aesthetics," she said. Part of that Eden of aesthetics is fashion. Firestone likens Paris to a Monet painting. "Looking at Monet’s waterlilies, their delicious purples and blues melting into a pond of paint, makes me want to reach into the canvas and grab them," she said. "That is precisely what fashion allows us to do: to take Monet’s flowers and place them on our naked bodies—and voila, a dress! –to place them on our heads, dangle them from ears, tie them into a bow. That is fashion; when art escapes the frame and embraces the body. This is the feeling I get when I step into Paris, like stepping into the Monet or into the most magnificently crafted dress." Firestone remembers walking through the cobbled streets of Paris, gazing into glamorous apartment windows, inhaling the sumptuous smell of pastries, and being surrounded by history and art. It is easy to understand why she could not resist this Parsons program.

Firestone's art will focus on Paris, a city that to her means literature, intellect, art, and fashion. As she proposed in her essay for the program, her project will "structure the overall blueprint of the city with the tags from garments I have collected over the past four years. I want to exemplify the importance of the city’s structure and layout, which in itself is a design to be marveled. I want to elicit a response in the spectator that mimics the feeling of being surrounded by the city, by being wholly wrapped in something beautiful. And through the use of tags, the evidence of my personal fashion, I will connect the aestheticism of the city to that of couture." Of course, literature is also part of art and Firestone could not create something without invoking literature of some sort. Therefore, she also hopes to literally integrate pages of avorite works into her mural--works such as Gertrude Stein's "Paris France" and Ranier Maria Rilke's "Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge." This symbiotic relationship between art and literature may seem obscure to some, but to Firestone art and literature have always complemented each other.

Growing up in New York, Firestone attended an Orthodox Jewish school and connects her ability to link art and literature together to her close study of the Torah. "I have been conditioned to locate patterns, make connections, and analytically think in a specific manner. I took this religious training and ran with it; now, I channel it not on a religious level but on an intellectual one through my studies in the arts," she said. "I approach literature as I was trained to approach Biblical texts, in a scrutinizing and detail-oriented manner. And, I believe this same approach to understanding poetry or prose can be and should be applied to understanding the visual arts." This means that she can connect David's silence in the Bible to the negative space in a Rauschenberg painting. For Firestone, art and literature cannot be understood without each other. Her ability to find the relationship between both artistic mediums had also led her to find her life's calling. She said, "My life’s thesis where there exists my self-proclaimed prophecy that is diaphanously clear: I am to reinstall an appreciation for art, to provide an inspiration to indulge in beauty, in an aesthetic hedonism confounded on creating, supporting, and treasuring the worth, the delicious delight of the sublime power of aesthetics."

Firestone may be jetting off to Paris soon, but she must also give credit to GW for her helping her find her passion. After experiencing culture shock after spending her year abroad, Firestone found herself reconnecting with the college community through a production of Dangerous Liaisons. "The play was the perfect outlet to rid me of my Parisian melancholy because we created the most magnificent work of theatrical art in a pretend Paris," she said. "My character was a woman in 18th-century France, philosophising about love and men, wearing big bows in her hair and French lace stockings, pink and gold Marie Antoinette stylized dresses, and poofy petticoats on a stage painted pink in pretend Paris." Firestone will always look back at the experience as one of her favorite times at GW, a time when she was" living the dream, and doing so with the most incredible group of friends who are all dedicated to making art and creating the most memorable characters known to the stage." We can only hope that Firestone continues to create art in all forms and inspire others to adore art as much as she does.

[Pictured above. Anya Firestone, the production of Dangerous Liaisons she acted in, two of her original art works]

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Graduation Celebration: An Invitation

Members of the Class of 2010 and their guests are cordially invited to celebrate with the English Department on May 15 from 1:30-3 p.m. in Phillips 411 (note changed time and location). A short program, including greetings, the announcement of departmental awards, and poetry recitations for the occasion, will commence at 2 p.m. Light refreshments will be served.

We look forward to toasting our excellent graduates!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Thomas Mallon in GW Today!

Thomas Mallon is in GW Today. Read the article below!

Wordsmith of Washington

Critically acclaimed novelist will lead GW's creative writing program.

By Jennifer Price

May 3, 2010

Thomas Mallon, who will become the head of GW’s creative writing program later this month, didn't start writing fiction until he was in his 30s.

As a young writer, he lacked the confidence to invent his own stories.

But after publishing a nonfiction book on people's diaries, he found the inspiration that sparked a career that includes seven novels, each touching on historical events such as President Abraham Lincoln's assassination, the McCarthy era and the early days of the American space program.

“More than anything I wanted to be a novelist, but it seemed like such a daunting ambition. It seemed preposterous to say to someone, ‘I'm going to be a novelist.’” says Mr. Mallon. “The odds seemed too high against it."

After receiving his bachelor’s degree at Brown University, Mr. Mallon went straight to Harvard University for his Ph.D. in English and American literature. He then joined the faculty at Vassar College, where he taught modern British literature and essay writing for 12 years.

“My literary inclinations got diverted to scholarship so most of my writing was academic writing,” he says.

In 1991, Dr. Mallon left teaching to become the literary editor at GQ and focus on his own writing. In 2005, he served as the deputy chairman for the National Endowment for the Humanities. And he regularly teaches at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, one of the most prestigious writing conferences in the country.

His seven novels include “Henry and Clara,” “Bandbox,” and “Fellow Travelers.” He has written nonfiction books about plagiarism, diaries, letters and the Kennedy assassination, as well as two volumes of essays. His writing regularly appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly and The New York Times Book Review.

While he taught for one semester at GW in 2004, he didn’t really return to teaching until 2007. For the past three years, he’s been an adjunct professor of English in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. In addition to creative writing courses, Dr. Mallon has taught dean’s seminars for freshman on diaries and the Lincoln assassination.

“I like the performance aspect of teaching,” says Dr. Mallon. “I’m probably a bit of a ham. I went to college thinking I would be a theater major.”

While Dr. Mallon believes students need to have a certain amount of imagination to succeed in a creative writing class, he believes a lot of students don’t realize how much imagination they have until they are pressured to use it.

“I like to push students to their limits and want to give students the most exciting and rigorous experience they can have,” he says.

Later this month, Dr. Mallon will begin as director of the creative writing program in GW’s English Department and teach one course per semester as an English professor.

“The English department is thrilled to have Tom both as a faculty member and as the incoming director of creative writing. He is a writer and teacher of incredible energy and generosity, and he will be a terrific leader of our creative writing program as it enters a phase of reassessment and revitalization,” says Gayle Wald, professor and English department chair.

Dr. Mallon says he believes every student can improve his or her ability to plot a story, pace a story, deepen the characterization and learn to write with different emotions

“The full-time addition of Tom Mallon, an acclaimed novelist, journalist and non-fiction writer, to our English faculty is a real coup for us,” says Peg Barratt, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. “His talent will elevate our creative writing program to a new level of excellence.”

Although Dr. Mallon didn’t publish his first novel until he was 36, he prefers fiction writing over nonfiction.

“I love the freedom of it. There’s a sense that you’re in charge of this whole universe that you create,” he says. “There’s more emotional involvement writing fiction, but I don’t think of nonfiction writing as a chore. I’m generally working on both genres at once.”

Dr. Mallon didn’t move to the District until 2003, but four of his novels are set in Washington: “Henry and Clara,” “Fellow Travelers,” “Two Moons” and his latest novel “Watergate,” which is set to come out next fall. “Henry and Clara” tells the story of the couple who shared the box at Ford’s Theatre with the Lincolns on the night of the assassination. “Two Moons” takes place at the old naval observatory in Foggy Bottom. “Fellow Travelers” tells the story of a gay romance at the State Department during the McCarthy era. And “Watergate” tells the world-renowned story of Richard Nixon’s downfall from the presidency that started just a few blocks from GW.

“Every big national story in Washington is also a local story,” he says. “I think that meshing is really interesting to me. Washington is not just the capital of the country. It’s a city unto itself, and I like to take these big stories and personalize them.”

A resident of the Foggy Bottom historic district, Dr. Mallon has gotten a lot of inspiration from his neighborhood. In fact, one of his characters in “Fellow Travelers” lives in an apartment building during the 1950s that today is GW’s West End residential hall.

“My whole life has been about books. I have virtually nothing in the way of hobbies. I’ve spent my entire life reading and writing, and I wouldn’t change any of it,” he says.

Last month, the English department announced the hiring of Pulitzer Prize winner Edward P. Jones. A Washington native, Mr. Jones will officially join the department in September and will begin teaching classes in January.

“GW already had a noted creative writing faculty, with nationally and internationally recognized writers, but the hiring of Tom Mallon and Edward P. Jones really pushes us to the next level,” says Dr. Wald.

Why English is the Best Major

You know you are an English major/professor when you are dorky enough to wear this t-shirt. Thanks to (from left to right) Tess Malone, Gayle Wald, Connie Kibler, and Jeffrey Cohen for making t-shirt day happen!