Friday, October 29, 2010

Seeing Symphonic Structure: Reflections on the Howard Norman JMM Reading

On Thursday, October 28, a herd of anxious attendees--students, professors, the book-selling rep--heralded yet another successful reading in the fall JMM Reading Series. At 7:51 pm the doors remained locked; I (perhaps peevishly) took pleasure in each arriving individual, for they approached the shut doors and the unrelenting deadbolt with a fervor I found refreshing. Peeve, Pollyanna, call me what you will: in each attempt to enter the Marvin Center Amphitheater I saw positive persistence. "Is Mr. Norman inside?" a student stammered, as successive, unsuccessful attempts to open the door led some to suspect the trick was on them.

In a matter of minutes, the Marvin Center staff opened the door, and the herd filed in to await the entrance of Norman with respectful reverence. The novelist was introduced by fellow fiction writer/head of GW Creative Writing Thomas Mallon (credited with writing the introduction to one of Norman's collections of short stories The Chauffeur, Prof. Mallon came prepared). Mallon's opening words offered a snapshot of the sincere, curious center from which the featured author explores human lives in extremis. Mallon mentioned Norman wrote his thesis on "Fatal Instances of Unrequited Love,"and this subject--humanity located in an almost inhuman, extreme, agonizing environment--seems continually crucial to the creative mind of Norman.

Although only addressed in passing at this reading, the symphonic structure attributed to Norman's fiction writing is a subject the author addresses in several extant interviews about What is Left the Daughter:
....if they [novels] did not offer difficulty in the writing how would you ever feel you needed to maintain the deepest possible level of engagement with the story, its setting, its character, every aspect of the symphonic structure a novel requires? [without this level of almost "operatic" dramatic engagement] You would have only stayed on the surface of life. The difficulties of writing are the most tenaciously adhesive elements of writing itself, in that they won't loosen their grip until you have dealt with them directly and the whole cloth.
(interview by 'Jen' with seattlest)
This idea of the novel as an opera, or a symphony--with choral components (dialogue)--of course, is captivating. As Norman read an excerpt from his recent novel, I glimpsed the panoramic nature of the author's writing--the "whole cloth" if you will. Norman was the conductor. He read the scene--a dinnertime dialogue--in speech schizophrenic, but the actions and reactions read were unavoidably components of the texture of this dynamic, cloth whole.ll It seemed almost unfair to experience an excised sliver of this story. After all, an excerpt of a symphony hardly allows for attention to the moment when the cellist ceases play and sits back on his stool as the violinists move their wrists, shifting to rapid strokes in the upper registers of their instruments. Even a movement is merely a part of grander spectacle.

Words and sounds--in casual conversation, philological study, wartime radio broadcasts--are all attached and interwoven in Norman's writing in a complex yet canorous manner. Even silences, according to one of the novel's characters, play a role. Silences, Wyatt's aunt argues, indicate "angels are passing." In explaining the complicated love triangle in What's Left the Daughter, Norman employs musical metaphors: "It was imagination working in concert with basic incidents and circumstances of people's lives during wartime that I discovered during my yearly travels in Nova Scotia that made for a duet between fact and fiction." Toward the end of a brief Q&A session, the author told an anecdote that highlights the delicate nature of composing such a duet. With a small smile--close to a chuckle--Norman told of the response of one friend from the maritime provinces to What is Left the Daughter. Norman had sent her his manuscript to make sure "there were no embarrassing" misrepresentations contained in its pages. The woman wrote back. The piece was fine--yes, it was good, she said only those cranberry scones (consumed by several of the central characters) weren't right. No, she maintained, they'd of been raisin scones, really.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crime Novel Becomes Reality for GW English Professor

GW Professorial Lecturer in English Matt Fullerty, who is currently teaching ENGL 62 (Comedy) and ENGL 52W (English Literature), recently found himself in the middle of a national news story in the UK.

Last weekend, a human skull was dug up in the garden of broadcaster/naturalist Sir David Attenborough in London. It turns out to be the long-missing head of an 1879 murder victim named Martha Thomas, who was killed by her maid Kate Webster.

In a peculiar twist, Dr. Fullerty has been writing about the murder--in the form of a novel--for the past two years. After the murder, Kate impersonated Martha Thomas around London, wearing her clothes and jewelry, and selling her victim's belongings. After trying to flee to Ireland, Kate was arrested and put on trial at the Old Bailey, eventually confessing to her priest. She was hanged in Wandsworth Prison by the "royal hangman" William Marwood on 29 July, 1879.

When the story broke on Saturday in England, Matt became the go-to source for the British press. The result was a feature in Tuesday's Daily Mail about life of the killer (and the man who hanged her).

You can read more about Matt Fullerty's novel The Murderess and the Hangman here. Matt is currently looking for a publisher for his work, and we hope this strange turn-of-events will help him land a book deal in time for Halloween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Novelist Howard Norman to Read Thursday, October 28

On Thursday, Oct. 28 at 8 pm, the English department will host distinguished novelist Howard Norman reading from his latest and critically acclaimed work What Is Left the Daughter (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). The latest in the department's series of Jenny McKean Moore events, Norman's reading will take place in the Marvin Center Amphitheater. The event is free and open to all.

Norman, an author and translator, teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Maryland, and has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment of the Arts fellowships (3 times), and the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction. With our own Prof. Jane Shore, he also happens to be one half of one of the country's most celebrated literary couples.

Attention students planning to attend the Wooden Teeth Halloween party on Thursday: the party has been moved back to allow you to go to Howard Norman's reading, and you are encouraged to show up in costume!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Plotzfest is Amazing!

Yesterday's Plotzfest was a huge success. More than 100 people came out to hear our six wonderful speakers--Carolyn Betensky, Richard Flynn, Margaret Higgonet, Uli Knoepflmacher, John Plotz, and Rajeswari Sunder Rajan--and celebrate Prof. Judith Plotz's long and productive career.

We heard papers about the "happy" and "unhappy in Victorian literature (Betensky), Randall Jarrell's work for children, "The Bat-Poet" (Flynn), movable books and three-dimensional reading in the late 19th century (Higgonet), the relationship between a young Rudyard Kipling and an older Robert Browning (Knoepflmacher), the idea of semi-detachment in Victorian painting and literature (Plotz), and representations of ethical citizenship in contemporary Indian fiction (Sunder Rajan).

Here are some photos of the day:

John Plotz and Richard Flynn are ready for their PowerPoint presentations!

PhD students Erin Vander Wall (left), who designed the amazing conference programs, and EGSA president Amber Cobb Vasquez.

Carolyn Betensky, formerly a professor at GW and now a member of the English Department at the University of Rhode Island, with her new book, Feeling for the Poor: Bourgeois Compassion, Social Action, and the Victorian Novel (University of Virginia, 2010).

Prof. Plotz and her husband Dr. Paul Plotz listen to the papers.

From left: Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, Margaret Higgonet, Uli Knoepflmacher.

Papers elicited lively question-and-answer sessions.

After the afternoon panel, Prof. Plotz talks about her career. The period of the late 1960s/early 1970s was, relatively speaking, an auspicious time: opportunities were opening up for female academics; students were as passionate about literature as they were about social justice; GWU fostered a community of engaged, caring scholars.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Creative Writing Faculty Read Wednesday night at 6

Join the English Department Wednesday, October 20 at 6 p.m. for a poetry reading by three GW creative writing faculty members: Frederick Pollack, Lara Payne, and Daniel Saalfeld. The reading, which will be held in at 1776 G Street NW, Room 148, is part of our "Jenny 2" series, sponsored by the Jenny McKean Moore Fund, which also sponsors our Jenny Moore reading series and our JMM Writer-in-Residence.

Click on the image of the flyer above for more information about the faculty members who will be reading.

Sara Ahmed to Visit Campus Nov. 4-5

The English Department is pleased to announce that our second annual Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies will be delivered by Prof. Sara Ahmed, Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmith's College, University of London.

Ahmed is the author of scores of articles and essays and several books, including Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Duke University Press, 2006) and, most recently, The Promise of Happiness (Duke University Press, 2010). Her work has influenced academics across disciplines, including philosophy, women's studies, literary studies, cultural studies, queer theory and LGBT studies, critical race theory, and postcolonial studies. Within the English department, her work has been taught in classes on medieval cultural studies, early modern literary and cultural studies, queer theory, and identity politics.

Prof. Ahmed will be involved in three events over the course of two days.

On Thursday, November 4, from 3:30-5 pm, she will hold a special seminar for graduate students in Rome 771. Graduate students from all departments are invited to take part. There is no set agenda; rather, this is an opportunity for students to engage Prof. Ahmed, and for Prof. Ahmed to talk about her work as a scholar and teacher.

On Friday, November 5, from 10-11:30 am, Prof. Ahmed will be holding a seminar especially designed for undergraduates. This event is similarly open to students from across the University, not just English. The event takes places in Rome 771.

Finally, Friday at 4 pm, in 1957 E Street, Room B12, Prof. Ahmed will be delivering the GW English Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies. Her talk is titled "A Willfullness Archive." Here is a brief description:
A willfulness archive is what we assemble when we “follow willfulness
around,” tracking where willfulness goes, and “in what” or “in whom” it is
found. We can learn from these archives how willfulness is deposited in
certain places, which allows the willful subject to appear as a figure,
one who has certain qualities and attributes. Willfulness has been defined
as "asserting or disposed to assert one's own will against persuasion,
instruction, or command; governed by will without regard to reason;
determined to take one's own way; obstinately self-willed or perverse."
Willfulness offers a moral diagnosis of character. Willfulness has also
been thought of as a relation of part to whole: the willful part is the
one who does not will the preservation of the whole. The paper suggests
that a willfulness archive is an archive of rebellion, one created by
parts who wander waywardly.
We encourage everyone in the University community to come out to join us for Prof. Ahmed's lecture and the student-centered events. Spread the word!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Plotzfest: The Schedule

We're looking forward to greeting colleagues and friends from near and far for our fabulous Plotzfest conference in honor of Professor Emerita Judith Plotz on Friday. The fun begins at 10 am in the Marvin Center, Continental Ballroom, and continues throughout the day, with a culminating reception at 4 pm in Phillips 411.

Please join us for any part of--or all of--the day on Friday.



“The Happy Few and the Unhappy Masses”

Carolyn Betensky, University of Rhode Island


“Absent-minded Handclasps: Semi-detachment in George Eliot and the Paintings of Lawrence


John Plotz, Brandeis University


“Randall Jarrell’s The Bat-Poet: Poets, Children,

and Readers in an Age of Prose”

Richard Flynn, Georgia Southern University


Question and Answer session



12:15 - 1:30

"Movable Books: Peeps Into Victorian Worlds"

Margaret Higonnet, University of Connecticut


“Rudyard Kipling as ‘The New Browning’?”

Uli Knoepflmacher, Princeton University


“An Ethics of Postcolonial Citizenship: Lessons from Reading Shama Futehally’s Tara Lane

Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, New York University


Question and Answer session


A few words from Judith Plotz




Thursday, October 14, 2010

Next Up: Ruth Franklin, Plotzfest

The English Department is happy to be a co-sponsor of a reading/presentation by Ruth Franklin, author of A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction, at the DC Jewish Community Center on Tuesday, October 19 at 7:30 p.m. The reading is part of the DC JCC's Hyman S. and Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival, which runs from October 17 through October 27. (For those who have never been there, the DC JCC is a pleasant 25-minute walk from campus, and is also reachable through public transportation.)

Do Holocaust narratives need to adhere to a certain standard of "truth" and historical fact? What is the line between fiction and non-fiction in representations of the Holocaust? In A Thousand Darknesses, Franklin, a literary and cultural critic and a senior editor at The New Republic (and a magazine blogger) examines the role of the imagination in representations of the Holocaust and makes a case for fiction as a "vital vehicle" of understanding.

And .... don't forget:

THE PLOTZFEST IS COMING! THE PLOTZFEST IS COMING! On October 22 celebrate Judith Plotz with six distinguished speakers, who will give informal and accessible talks relating to Victorian literature, children's literature, and postcolonial literature and theory. Then raise a glass to Judith.

The fun will take place in the Marvin Center Grand Ballroom, 10 am -4 pm with Grand Reception in Phillips 411 to follow.

Tell your friends.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Howard Jacobson Wins the Booker Prize

We are thrilled to learn that Howard Jacobson, who was in residence at GW last spring through a joint program with the British Council, has won the 2010 Booker Prize. Congratulations to Howard!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

EGSA Symposium Friday, Oct. 15

English graduate students at GW are a busy and productive group. In addition to the usual--taking classes, studying for and taking graduate exams, writing master's and PhD theses, teaching and TAing--they do a tremendous amount of work organizing social and academic activities. These include research discussion groups, dissertation reading groups, and the occasional EGSA night out.

To highlight graduate student research, this year the GW English Graduate Student Association (EGSA), the group that represents graduate students, is sponsoring a symposium, "Emerging Scholarship: New Directions in the Study of English Literature and Culture." The event will be held Friday, Oct. 15 from 9 am-1 pm in Rome 771. The program includes four graduate student papers, a keynote address, and lunch. The papers are:

  • Erin Sheley, "Victim Narratives and ‘Truth’ in Criminal Sentencing"
  • Tawnya Ravy, “Geographies of Intimacy in Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth
  • Theodora Danylevich, “Sein S(t)ein: On the Affectivity of Being a Mediating Structure: A Joint Reading of Tender Buttons: ‘Objects’ and Phenomenology of Spirit: ‘Observing Reason’”
  • Robert Brown, “‘Negative Space’: The Anti-Establishment Identities of Kurt Cobain and Henry David

Prof. Robert McRuer and GW alum Dr. Julie Passanante Elman will be co-delivering a keynote titled "The Gift of Mobility: Disability, Queerness, and Rehabilitation it the Emergent Global Order."

Prof. McRuer is the author of Crip Theory:Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. Prof. Elman, who received her PhD from GWU in American studies, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University.

The organizers of the EGSA Symposium hope the event will strengthen graduate community at GW. According to EGSA Vice President Leigha McReynolds:

When EGSA was re-formed last fall, the board's main goals were to foster a graduate community and provide graduate students with resources and support. The Symposium will help us meet these goals by providing a forum for graduate students to come together to share and discuss their work with their peers and the faculty. We hope that, after several years of continued success, the symposium will eventually evolve into a graduate conference, which will allow the GWU English graduate program to strengthen its relationship with other graduate programs and to provide students with a larger forum for academic engagement.

This event is open to everyone: current students (undergraduate and graduate), prospective students, faculty, friends. Please come out on Friday to support the EGSA, and don't forget to "Like" them/RSVP on Facebook.