Monday, February 28, 2011

Jenny 2 Readings by Three Talented CW Faculty

Last Wednesday, I had the fortune of seeing GW English professors Michelle Brafman, Mary Tabor and Lisa Page, in a reading that displayed an amazing array of talent. The three writers, also fiction and creative writing professors in the GW Creative Writing department, were part of a series of readings entitled "Jenny 2," in conjunction with the Jenny McKean Moore Fellowship Foundation.

Prof. Michelle Brafman

Prof. Brafman, who gave the first reading of the series, was actually my creative writing professor last semester, and is currently my fiction writing professor this semester. Although I had never read any of her works, I was astounded with the reading she gave of her incredible short story, "Washing the Dead," an excerpt of the novel she is currently working on of the same name. Inspired by both her previous work as a filmmaker and a visit to a waterpark with her family, the story explores a mother's struggle right before she is about to have an exceedingly difficult conversation with her daughter. Exploring the different outcomes of the conversation through the lens of an independent film the woman formulates in her mind, the story utilizes attentive details in regard to lighting, specific actors and soundtrack, making it incredibly rich and intriguing.

Prof. Mary Tabor

Instead of jumping into the reading, Prof. Mary Tabor spoke first about her journey in finding herself as a writer, and everything that happened in between that inspired her to write her book (Re)making Love: A Sex After Sixty Story. "The writer must crush him or herself, and say the unsayable," she advised the audience, while exploring where her writing came from. She read an excerpt from her memoir, a beautiful, intricately written piece about her relationship with her ex-husband. This story particularly struck me, as music played a heavy influence in the riveting story, especially with her personification of the piano. I was also found myself admiring Tabor's optimistic outlook, and being able to openly speak about difficult life experiences. I found her parting words to be particularly inspiring: "If my husband hadn't left me, I would have never embarked on this journey."

Prof. Lisa Page

The third and final reader, Prof. Lisa Page, read a compelling piece about childhood. A recent nominee for GW's Professor of the Year, awarded annually by GW student-athletes, she was asked to write a piece for the Children's Defense Fund. Utilizing her creative abilities, she was able to implement attributes from her childhood, as well as cultural and societally significant topics. Her piece "Psychedelic Shack," named after a song by The Temptations, brought back a whirlwind of nostalgia. "Childhood is like a myth--we idealize it and believe in its magic," she began, going into her experience growing up in the south side of Chicago in the late 1960s. With mentions of Martin Luther King, 45s and penny loafers, Page's story was a wonderful piece combining the cultural and the individual and personal, with the thread of childhood experience underlying the story.

This trio of talented writers were all part of a phenomenal reading- stay tuned for more readings soon!

- Paula

Friday, February 25, 2011

Toni Morrison's 80th Birthday Celebration at the LOC

Prof. Schreiber toasts Toni Morrison (seated, at left) at her birthday celebration at the Library of Congress last week.
This guest post is from Prof. Evelyn Schreiber.
On Feb. 18, Profs. Evelyn Schreiber, Jennifer James, and H.C. Carrillo attended the 80th Birthday Reception for Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison at the Madison Hall of the Library of Congress. Prof. Schreiber was co-chair of the event with Dana Williams, chair of the English Department at Howard University.
In addition to chairing the event, Prof. Schreiber contributed a chapter entitled "Personal and Cultural Memory in A Mercy" to the Festschrift which was presented to Ms. Morrison at the Reception. This book, entitled Memory and Meaning: Essays in Honour of Toni Morrison, contains tributes by scholars and artists, including Princeton Professor Cornel West, and poets Rita Dove and Sonia Sanchez. 
Leftovers of Morrison's amazing cake were consumed in the English Department lounge!
The reception included a performance of Songs of Edward "Duke" Ellington by the opera singer, Jessye Norman; Greetings from the President of Howard University, Sidney A. Ribeau; tributes from classmate (Howard '51) Mary Wilburn and Professor of Religion David Carrasco, Harvard University; music by the Howard Jazz Trio; remarks by Dr Carolyn Denard, the founder of the Toni Morrison Society; and a proclamation by DC Mayor Vincent Gray that Feb. 18th, 2011 was Toni Morrison Day in the city of Washington. Michel Martin of NPR, who hosted the evening, read out a birthday tribute from Barack and Michelle Obama.
The co-chairs gave the closing Birthday Toasts as the cake was presented and champagne was served.  Here is Prof. Schreiber's toast, which contains words from all nine of Morrison's novels and riffs on various Morrison "keywords."
Professor Morrison, tonight we have come from all over the world to celebrate your birthday and the community that you have created through your works.  Thank you for enabling us “to pass on” to our students compelling histories and complex emotions, providing each generation with a vision of their past, insight into the present, and a guide to the future. 

Your work teaches us what it means to be human, to recognize our limitations, and to carry on despite them.  To believe in the power of love, family, and community and to verbalize our personal and communal pain as well as our triumphs.  We thank you for your generosity:  you share, you nurture, you listen.  Your works profoundly affect the lives of your readers.  To read Toni Morrison is to be altered forever:  you “remake” us as readers and as human beings.  You teach us how to “nourish the soil so that seeds can grow,” to not settle for a “secondhand” self, to “name and claim” ourselves, to recognize our “templates” and to rejoice in them, to “feel our way” and see what “certain kind” of people we can be, to allow us to “hum,” to “fly,” to be “Complete,” and to be our “own best thing.”  We eagerly await your work to come.

I asked my students what I should say to you in this toast and they wanted you to know that you have given them something that no amount of therapy ever could—the ability to embrace personal history as something to celebrate and to appreciate what makes them unique.  Thank you for helping us sift through the voices of our culture to find our own healing voices.  Thank you for the academic, personal, and psychic home that you provide. 

On your birthday and always, know that you are loved as you “have loved us all.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"This Conversation Is Not Over": The Theft of Flat Langston

This post is guest blogged by Prof. Gregory Pardlo.

It seems we have not quite put AWP behind us. One of the controversies enlivening the recent writer’s conference has now managed to capture the imagination of people outside the literary community. Picked up by the Associated Press, the debacle over what is now known as “Flat Langston” has gained more widespread attention in two weeks than most books of poetry do during their entire shelf life.

Flat Langston is a life-sized cardboard cutout photograph of Langston Hughes dressed in his busboy uniform from the time when Hughes worked in the Wardman Hotel [now the Marriott Wardman Park, where AWP was headquartered]. He is holding a tray of dirty dishes. This cardboard cutout image was “liberated” from the 14th Street Busboys and Poets by the poet Thomas Sayers Ellis, a DC native who currently teaches at Sarah Lawrence College. The GW community will remember Ellis from his appearance here in the Fall 2010 semester when he gave a reading sponsored by our Creative Writing Program. Ellis also visited my Intermediate Poetry Workshop for an in-depth discussion of the craft of poetry. Not only is Ellis a Harvard and Brown-educated and award-winning poet; not only is he co-founder of the Dark Room Collective, a poetry collective based in Cambridge in the early 1990’s, out of which grew poets such as Pulitzer Prize-winner Natasha Trethewey, Major Jackson, Tracy K. Smith and Kevin Young; not only is he a respected literary activist and an accomplished photographer; but it gives me a perverse thrill to know that we can now add petty larceny to the long list of Ellis’s accomplishments.

As to why TSE stole Flat Langston, here’s the nutshell: There is a faction of the DC literary community that has a longstanding beef with Andy Shallal, owner of BB&P, for what they see as his exploitation of poets and the literary heritage of DC. Indeed, it is more than just a beef over money. The argument, most frankly articulated by poet and Assistant Professor at American University, Kyle Dargan, is that while Shallal is profiting not simply through shrewd marketing and business practices (Shallal is unarguably a shrewd businessperson), the good will he enjoys with his customers is born out of the associations the restaurant has with DC poets and poetry. Further, there is a pretense that BB&P is contributing materially to the development of DC literary talent. However, the $50 weekly stipend BB&P offers their resident poet, Dargan argues, doesn’t cut it.

Into this fray waltzes Flat Langston. Or rather, into DC waltzes the largest annual gathering of American poets and writers, and the spillover delivers TSE to his fateful faceoff with Flat Langston in the dining room of BB&P.

A dramatization:

TSE:     Mr. Hughes, what are you doing here? And dressed like that? You only had that job for a little while. If you must be here, you should be honored as a poet, not a busboy.

FL:     Poets have to pay their dues, Thomas. Don’t be so proud. If I weren’t bussing tables, I would be adjunct teaching somewhere for the same amount of money.

TSE:     All due respect, Sir, it’s not a matter of pride. It’s a matter of literary history. Your legacy is not defined by one of your many temporary jobs. Yet this restaurant has turned you into a mascot.

FL:    You think?

TSE:    Sir, by rights, if you were respected here, you would be a marble bust. Or a portrait with a little brass lamp over you bathing you in eternal glow. Have you seen yourself lately? Not only are you depicted as a busboy, but you’re a cardboard cutout.

FL:     Is it a racial thing? It’s a racial thing isn’t it. It’s always a racial thing.

TSE:    Sir, sir, we really don’t want to be distracted. Let’s just say it’s complicated. In many ways more complicated now than in your day. But we do have to get you out of here, Sir. C’mon. You comfortable in there? muffled response from FL under TSE’s coat OK, let’s go.

The AP article points out that the bookstore Politics and Prose does not pay its featured readers either. The article does not point out however, that Politics and Prose does not have the benefit of plying its customers with food and drink once the literary environment, if not the readers themselves, draws the customers to the store. This is not to say Shallal has no defense. Shallal’s position is clear in one of his recent statements on matter: “We want to be better stewards. We are the big boy on the block.”

Along with an open letter making patent the intricate motivations for liberating Flat Langston, Dargan delivered a check for the cost of the cutout to Shallal, $150. The open letter was signed by a host of DC poets, myself included. Shallal returned the check and promised not to replace Flat Langston. He also replied to the letter with a conciliatory letter of his own. The subject is still a sensitive one, but the grievances have been aired. And it is clear the two sides of the issue have the best intentions for the DC literary scene. In the words of Ezra Pound, “let there be commerce between us.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bob Ganz's "Last Lecture"

Prof. Robert N. Ganz delivered a "Last Lecture" to more than 100 friends and colleagues.

Prof. Robert Ganz's unique legacy of teaching that began in 1964 culminated Friday February 18 with an honorary "last lecture" that drew friends, alumni, former students and colleagues. Although I never personally had a class with Prof. Ganz, I was able to see the remnants of his "eccentric, wonderfully abrasive" teaching, as described by former students, an engaging style that has made him a notable and integral part of the GW English Department over the years.

During the lecture, Prof. Ganz utilized dramatic emphasis, proclaiming phrases and quotes emphatically, serving to both engage and educate the audience. Interwoven with mentions of Frost and Nietszche, Ganz's lecture focused on the premise of the lived experience in modernism. Ganz concluded his lecture by quoting Frost, stating, "my time has reached its last." A standing ovation, as well as a reception, marked the end of a rich career for an English department veteran.

- Paula

[Note from the Chair: For those who were unable to make last Fridays' event, or for those who simply want to think about his remarks more fully, we will try to have a copy of Prof. Ganz's last lecture available soon. Look to this page for more information.]

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An Interview with Prof. Robert Ganz, who delivers an honorary 'Last Lecture' Friday

Prof. Ganz enjoying time outside of the English Department
Prof. Robert Ganz, an integral component of the GW English Department since 1964, will retire this spring. As a valued professor and scholar of Robert Frost and modernism, Prof. Ganz has seen the growth of the GW English department, as well as the different eras filled with talented students.

I was fortunate enough to have a few words with Prof. Ganz on retiring, the GW English Department and how student life has changed over the years.

What will you miss about teaching?
I'm retiring, as it happens, at a stage in my life when I’ve been particularly enjoying teaching and preparing for my classes. Thanks to humanities department, I’ve been able, during the past twenty or so years, to teach a lot of new-to-me works spread out over the whole gamut of the Western canon. I’ve not been confined to works by English speakers nor, for that matter, just to literary works. I will also miss the opportunity to consult with my colleagues on matters of mutual interest. I hope that the humanities program will be revived. It’s been the case for some time now that these courses have only been taught when I or someone else has persuaded a dean to let us do so. These humanities courses have always been over-subscribed and I have found the students to be for the most part very enthusiastic.
How have the students changed over the years?
Students now are different from the ones I started with in the early sixties. In those days they were better prepared. I could count on them to have read certain things in advance of coming into my course. But today’s students are still card-carrying members of homo sapiens; hence have the same intellectual curiosity that I have and the same sense of likeness and of how to use it.
Any memorable students?
I’ve had wonderful students including Ann Romines, Patti Griffith and Faye Moskowitz, who are now members of our department. Others who have gone into the profession include Al Nielsen and Richard Flynn. Patrick Prentice, who was in my first class at GW, has gone on to success as a film-maker with more than three hundred works to his credit. Another early student, the late Sarah Jewler, ran New York Magazine. Still another, early student was Judith Hermanson Ogilvie, who has had a career in foreign affairs and has just been appointed by Northern Illinois University as the founding director of a center for non-profits which draws on "real world " experience and offers an interdisciplinary degree. My apologies to those other equally worthy former students whom I have failed to mention during this off-the-top-of-my-head improvisation.
What will you do during your retirement?
I'm only retiring because, at going-on 86, I think I should be setting my own lands in order outside of academia before I lose the capacity to do that. Recently, I’ve been concentrating my focus on the last slightly more than two centuries and taken that to be one period. Perhaps my favorite of all periods is the Baroque, though I have no special expertise in it. But it’s certainly been a wonderful couple of decades of self-education, aided and abetted by the opportunity to pursue this activity in close collaboration with others: my students.
Prof. Ganz will deliver an honorary “Last Lecture” for students, faculty, alumni and friends on Friday, February 18 in Funger 103. Following the lecture, there will be a celebration of Prof. Ganz’s life and work in Phillips 411, with hors d'oeuvres and cocktails. For more information, call 202-994-6180. This event is open to all friends of Prof. Ganz.

- Paula

Monday, February 14, 2011

Prof. Wald at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

That's me at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in conversation with Lauren Onkey last week.
Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at a screening of the new documentary Godmother of Rock: The Rosetta Tharpe Story at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. The event kicked off the Rock Hall's Black History Month celebration, which this year focuses on black musicians on film.

The screening paired the Tharpe documentary with the 1929 film St. Louis Blues, which contains the only extant footage of blues singer Bessie Smith (who does a nice turn as the Wronged Woman). It was followed after by a lively Q&A session moderated by Dr. Lauren Onkey (an English Ph.D. and former professor!). Click here for footage of the Q&A.

Next month the Rock Hall opens a "Women in Rock" exhibit, which will continue through next year. And book your tickets now for Cleveland in January 2012, when the Rock Hall will open its Library and Archives, a fabulous public facility which will instantly become an important resource for anyone interested in American music.

Friday, February 11, 2011

David McAleavey in "Poetry Northwest"

You can read a new prose poem by Prof. David McAleavey on the website of the journal Poetry Northwest. David's poem, "Daylily Season," appears as a Web-exclusive feature. Find out how King Lear, the lingering scent of cigarette smoke, an umbrella, high heels, and Lady Bird Johnson enter the poet's imagination. You can even leave your own response to the poem!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

AWP Conference Highlights

Last weekend I was thrilled to have an all-access pass to the 2011 AWP Conference (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) here in DC. With a badge and notebook in hand for coverage, I trekked over to the Wardman Park Hotel on a beautiful afternoon with no idea what to expect. Little did I know that I would find an unbelievable wealth of resources, information, unique experiences about writing, and extraordinary talent, all in one amazing display of writers over an incredible weekend of events.

One major highlight of the conference was the panel celebrating 35 years of the Jenny McKean Moore Fellowship at GWU. Poet and professor Greg Pardlo introduced the panel, which also included Prof. Faye Moskowitz, president of the fellowship and founder of the Jewish Literature Live author series; Prof. Jane Shore, poet and recipient of the Jenny McKean Moore scholarship in 1989-1990; Honor Moore, poet and daughter of the late Jenny McKean Moore; and Prof. Thomas Mallon, director of the Creative Writing Program at GW. 

Prof.  Pardlo introducing a panel celebrating the Jenny McKean Moore Fellowship at GWU.

The panelists engaged in an open discussion about the life and legacy of Moore, a writer, activist and "vibrant woman, who found a place in your consciousness and settles in," according to Prof. Moskowitz. Also on the panel were former JMM fellows Ed Skoog, a poet, and novelist Tayari Jones. Following the event, there was a great reception at the hotel's Stone's Throw restaurant.

Dept. Office Manager Constance Kibler, JMM Fellow Tilar Mazzeo, and Prof. David McAleavey.

With forums, readings, a book fair, and exclusive author events, it was almost overwhelming how much there was to do. GW had a great booth in the book fair, with new brochures and information about the Creative Writing program!
We distributed these beautiful new brochures at the conference.
I was so impressed with the events on Friday, I brought two friends with me from GW on Saturday for an amazing reading and conversation with Amy Hempel and Gary Shteyngart. Hempel, a professor at Harvard University and Bennington College and recipient of awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the United States Artists Foundation, and the Academy of Arts and Letters, read from three of her short stories, beautiful accounts of the interaction between humans and animals. An animated Shteyngart, author of The Russian Debutante's Handbook and Absurdistan, both national bestsellers, read from his newest book. The lively discussion and readings were followed by a talk by our very own Tom Mallon.

I could go on and on about the conference- it truly was a phenomenal experience. I'll definitely be making plans to attend next year!

- Paula

Monday, February 7, 2011

Prof. Priyamvada Gopal to Address Department this Thursday

Prof. Priyamvada Gopal
Please join the English Department as we welcome Prof. Priyamvada Gopal, of the University of Cambridge, on Thursday, Feb. 10 from 4-6 pm in Rome 771. The title of Prof. Gopal's talk is "Is Feminism Bad for Multiculturalism? Gender, Cultural Identity and Literary Controversy"

Prof. Gopal is the author of two books, Literary Radicalism in India (Routledge, 2005) and The Indian English Novel: Nation, History and Narration (Oxford University Press, 2009).  She also reviews books and writes for newspapers like The Guardian, The Hindu, and Outlook (the weekly Indian newsmagazine) on politics and culture.  She has also co-edited, with Neil Lazarus, After Iraq: Reframing Postcolonial Studies, a special issue of the journal New Formations.

Prof. Gopal's talk is co-sponsored by English and Women's Studies, and organized by English Prof. Kavita Daiya.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Creative Writers' Conference in DC

Starting this afternoon, thousands of writers will be gathering in DC for the annual conference of the Associated Writers & Writing Programs, headquartered this year at the Marriott Wardman Park in Woodley Park. The conference features readings from scores of writers, as well as opportunities for writers to network with editors, publishers, and each other. Panels cover topics from contemporary poetry in Toyko to DC's literary lineage to writing and publishing in an increasingly paperless world. Thanks to the generosity of Columbian College and the Offices of the VP for Research and Provost, GW is an institutional sponsor of the conference, and was able to offer free all-conference passes (a $45 value!) to our English-Creative Writing majors. GW English will also have a presence at the Conference Bookfair, where we will be giving out beautiful brand new brochures about GW's Creative Writing program.

A couple of events--one that requires conference registration, one open to the public--are of particular interest. On Friday at 4:30, a panel organized by GW Prof. Gregory Pardlo will celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the Jenny McKean Moore Fellowship, which funds poets and writers for a year in residence at GW, typically during crucial early stages in their creative development. Recent and former fellows will share reflections on their fellowship year, discuss the impact of the fellowship on their work and the literary community beyond GWU, and celebrate the legacy and generosity of the fellowship’s benefactor. Panelists include: Profs. Faye Moskowitz and Jane Shore, Prof. Emerita Maxine Clair, former JMM Fellows Tayari Jones and Ed Skoog, and Honor Moore, daughter of the late Jenny Moore, for which the fellowship is named.

On Saturday night at 8:30, GW English will host a reading and conversation with Amy Hempel and Gary Shteyngart, moderated by Prof. Thomas Mallon. A recipient of awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the United States Artists Foundation, and the Academy of Arts and Letters, Hempel is author of the highly acclaimed Collected Stories. She teaches at Harvard University and Bennington College.

Shteyngart’s first novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, won the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. His second novel, Absurdistan, was a national bestseller. He was named to both Granta’s Best Young American Novelists and the New Yorker’s Top 20 Writers Under 40 in 2010.

The Hempel-Shteyngart event will be in the Marriott Ballroom on the lower level of the hotel. It  is free and open to the public.