Saturday, December 19, 2015

Margaret Soltan Comments on the Shkreli Case for Newsweek

GW English Professor Margaret Soltan has provided some commentary for Newsweek on the Martin Shkreli case.  Shkreli gained notoriety this year for dramatically increasing prices (by more than 5,000 percent) on life-saving drugs one his pharmaceutical company gained the license to those drugs.  Shkreli is now facing criminal charges related to fraud and tried to defend himself by talking about the supposed millions that he has donated to charity.  At least one charity has indicated it will return any money Shkreli donated.

Hunter College, where Shkreli was a student, has come under particular scrutiny.  Parents and alums of the school, which received $1 million from Shkreli, have urged the school to return the money.  They have opened a Crowdrise page (a platform that allows for donations and raises awareness) and their intent is to convince Hunter to reconsider its acceptance of the gift.

Newsweek reports:

'Margaret Soltan, a George Washington University professor who gave Hunter $75 through Crowdrise on Friday, said schools should stand up to people who behave badly by returning their money. She is not connected to Hunter but blogs on education topics.
Keeping the money "just makes you look cynical. It makes you look mercenary and immoral," Soltan said.'
You can read the whole article here.  And follow Margaret Soltan's ongoing blogs on higher education here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

POPSUGAR in Dubai: A GW English Grad Abroad

GW English Alum
Georgia Bobley (BA '10, MA '15)
Georgia Bobley grew up in New York and graduated from GWU with a BA in 2010 and an MA in 2015, both in English Literature. She now lives in Dubai where she is working with a team to launch the Middle Eastern outlets of the American websites SHOPSTYLE
(e-commerce) and POPSUGAR (an editorial website). 

1. When did you graduate from GW?

I graduated from GW with my BA in English in May 2010. In 2013, I returned to GW for my MA in English and graduated in May 2015. 

​2. ​What do you remember most from your GW years? 
GW was a wonderful experience for me, both as an undergrad and a graduate student. I decided to come back to GW for my Masters primarily because I wanted to continue working with the professors I had come to know and respect so much during my time as an undergrad. I loved being in Washington, and I really appreciate how the university incorporates the city into the curriculum. I think as a graduate student, in particular, what was most rewarding for me was having classmates who were all there because they wanted to be-- not because they had to be because of a requirement. The passion of my professors and of my classmates really shaped the discussions that we had in class, and certainly made my time in the program enjoyable and worthwhile. 

​3. What is your current work about? ​

I'm currently working for a website called POPSUGAR, which, with 95 million unique monthly views, is the most widely read women's lifestyle site in the world. It's a US-based site (founded in San Francisco, now with offices in NY, LA, Chicago, and internationally, as well), and I moved to Dubai in late September to work on the launch of POPSUGAR MENA (Middle East/Northern Africa), scheduled for December 1. 

​4. Although you grew up in the US, you decided to move to 
the Middle-East for work.​ Was that a difficult decision?    What prepared you for it, and what attracted you to it?  Describe your work goals and what you hope to accomplish.  How did your GW experience or study prepare you (or not!) for this work. ​

I applied for and was offered my job in Dubai fairly quickly, and moved from DC to Dubai within three weeks of getting the offer. I hadn't been planning to move to the Middle East prior to applying for this position. I've always had an interest in the region, but never imagined myself living here. That being said, I'm definitely happy I made the move. I was initially attracted to the position because I wanted to work for POPSUGAR, and was (and am) excited about launching the site in a region and for an audience that has nothing like it. One of the biggest challenges for me has been that I really don't know the region, and am not fully comfortable or familiar with the audience to which I'm writing. I love the challenge of learning what women in this region want to read-- and of figuring out how to bring that to them. Dubai is a liberal city, but I've still had some cultural challenges-- both in and out of the office. 

I think GW prepared me for this move in one really important way, which was that I learned to think broadly; and I think most importantly, to be sensitive of and curious about cultural differences. The Post-colonialism class with Prof. Kavita Daiya I took particularly prepared me for living in this region, as it taught me to more fully recognize and understand the ways in which the ways in which, and the extent to which the history of colonialism works and impacts daily life today.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

SPRING 2016 COURSES: Prof. Hsy's Chaucerian Afterlives

ENGL 6260.10
Chaucerian Afterlives: Theory and Praxis
Prof. Jonathan Hsy (

Spring 2016
Monday 6:10-8pm

This seminar explores the global reception history of Geoffrey Chaucer from his earliest English and French contemporaries to modern-day popular culture and digital media. Focusing on Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, our class will “code-switch” between medieval and postmedieval frames of reference. First, we will read selected poems by Chaucer in the original Middle English language alongside important works of historicist literary criticism; second, we will consider how Chaucerian works are repurposed in modern media (such as spoken word poetry, visual art, film, dialect literature, YouTube videos, and comic books). As this course toggles between two modes of reading, it tests the boundaries between literary criticism and popular reception history. It also asks how present-day translation theory confronts a perceived chasm separating static text-based models of “translation” from embodied culture-based models of “adaptation.” Readings will provide exposure to key critical terms in medievalism studies, comparative literary analysis, and adaptation studies, and we will explore some new methods and practices emergent in disability studies and the digital humanities (such as the open-access journal Accessus and the Global Chaucers project).

Assignments will include a comparative close reading that engages with current criticism; an analysis of digital adaptation, product, or archive; and 20-page research-based essay or a 20-minute conference paper.

Readings in addition to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and other works will include Deaf and Afro-Caribbean appropriations of The Wife of Bath’s Tale (Peter Cook’s Finger-licious Stories, Jean “Binta” Breeze’s “The Wife of Bath Speaks in Brixton Market,” Patience Agbabi’s Telling Tales). We will also read selections from Chaucerian reworkings by contemporary Latina/o and Asian-American fiction writers; Bruce Holsinger’s historical novel The Invention of Fire (2015); and Paul Strohm’s public-facing “microbiography” of Chaucer entitled Chaucer’s Tale (2015).

This course is open to graduate students and advanced undergraduates in English or a related field (such as American Studies, History, or Women's Studies).

The course fulfills the pre-1700 requirement of the GW undergraduate English major.

No prior experience in Chaucer is assumed. With the exception of Chaucerian works in Middle English, all non-English works will be provided in modern English translation.

Required texts:

Agbabi, Patience. Telling Tales (Canongate, 2014).
Lynch, Kathryn (ed). Geoffrey Chaucer: Dream Visions and Other Poems (Norton, 2006). 
Mann, Jill (ed). Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales (Penguin, 2005).


Ashton, Gail (ed). Medieval Afterlives in Contemporary Culture (Bloomsbury, 2015).
Emery, Elizabeth, and Richard Utz (eds). Medievalism: Key Critical Terms (Boydell, 2014).
Holsinger, Bruce. The Invention of Fire: A Novel (William Morrow, 2015).
Nelson, Marilyn. The Cachoeira Tales and Other Poems (Louisiana State, 2005).
Strohm, Paul. Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury (Penguin, 2015).

Friday, December 4, 2015

SPRING 2016 COURSES: Professor Chris Sten's Modernism At Home and Abroad

English 6450 Modernism, At Home and Abroad: Transnational Ties          Spring 2016
            Professor Chris Sten (                                             W 4:10-6:00 pm
                                                                                                                                 Rome 771

This graduate seminar on Modernist writing, which is open to graduate and advanced  undergraduate students alike, will feature the work of several U.S. authors, including Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cather, Dos Passos, Djuna Barnes, Stein, and Wright, who lived in Europe as well as America and wrote about life in the two cultures between the First and Second World Wars.  We will read the work of these authors with one eye on politics and the other on aesthetics.  On a broader scale, we’ll explore the historical and political conflicts or “fault lines” that defined Euro-American culture during this period while also exploring Modernism as an international movement in the arts, and the efforts of American fiction writers in particular to launch a transnational American literature.

Some of the key topics to be considered include: modernity; nativism, transnationalism; commercialism; the “lost generation”; the Jazz Age; embodiment and conformity; radicalism and the avant garde; race, class, and gender.  Requirements include a short paper or book review on modernity and/or Modernism; two oral presentations; and a 15-20 page critical and interpretive research essay.

The course is open to graduate students and advanced undergraduates majoring in English or an allied discipline, including American Studies, Women’s Studies, and History.  Readings:

Hemingway, In Our Time; The Sun Also Rises                      
Gertrude Stein, Three Lives
Cather, One of Ours; The Professor’s House                                    
Richard Wright, Lawd Today!
Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night               
Jean Toomer, Cane
Dos Passos, 42nd Parallel                                                       
Nella Larsen, Quicksand
Djuna Barnes, Nightwood                                                                              

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

GW Scholar of Trans Literature Goes to the White House

"I think we need to be really mindful. This is not only historic, all of us in this room, but this is divine intervention at its most astonishing. I am of a generation where this would not only be impossible but illegal."

Alexandra Billings


On Nov 23rd, 2015, I attended the White Houses's event honoring the Transgender Day of Remembrance and LGBT Champions of Change in the arts. I was contacted earlier in the month with the invite in recognition of my scholarship, particularly my work with Transliterature and Transform Talks. Despite numerous official documents being sent my way, it was not until I passed through the second of two security check-points, twice body-scanned, and twice interviewed that I began to believe that the White House was really allowing me - even inviting me - to enter. The security guards gave me a green pass-card with the letter "A" emblazoned on it in white. The card had a metallic chain that allowed it to hang around my neck so everyone could see at a glance whether or not I was welcome inside our national locum sanctum. As a transgender woman, I often am made to feel unwelcome in many places but here, today, this green card was an affirmation that I am accepted at the White House. I was invited to attend the national transgender day of remembrance and to celebrate those LGBTQI Champions of Change working in the arts. Until recently, this meeting would be unthinkable. It was not until 2015 that the word "transgender" was even spoken publicly by a U.S. president, much less would there be an event at the White House with the word prominently posted on it and named as the target demographic of those invited, remembered, and honored. This meeting was one powerful sign that the "Change" President Obama promised back in the 2008 election is underway. The change was not complete. Nor was the change embodied in a single candidate. Rather, change was being invited to the White House. It was brought in the present collection of activists and artists.

M.W. Bychowski at the White House
Ahead of me in line to enter the White House was members of the cast from Amazon's Transparent. The crowds shifted and I lost sight of them, unable to make out particular persons as we were shepherded down hallways and through locked doors. I began to fall back, not wanting to wander the halls of the chief executive building alone, I mingled in with those who were the next in the door. Behind me, I gathered, were producers of the Danish Girl. Only later would I come to realize how intermeshed the creative talents are making these groundbreaking pieces of transgender media. The drive to reclaim transgender stories and tell the untold histories brings together film and TV makers to share resources, struggles, and successes. With goals beyond merely entertaining an audience or profiting a production company, people are eager and willing to work with anyone who can help further transgender discourse and justice. I learned all this in our conversations on upcoming media and scholarship. I also learned this as we burst through a door into a coat-check area and I almost fell right into Jeffrey Tambor, the lead actor of Transparent (2014-), a show on Amazon Prime based on the true life story of a trans parent who transitioned later in life and her family's reactions. As soon as I walked in and found an empty space to stand, he acknowledged those I had entered with as colleagues and then came over to me. Hand extended, he said, "Hello, my name is Jeffrey. Honored to meet you!" In the discussions and meetings to follow, the openness to affirm and collaborate with the work of those present was evident.



With Jeffrey Tambor, I discussed family. As the lead in Transparent, Tambor plays Maura Pfefferman, a transgender woman who transitions late in her life after having three children, who call her Moppa. The show is not only about Maura but rather - as my own mother has observed - more about her family as they experience the transition together. Transparent understands that no trans person's experiences, no life, occurs in complete isolation. Even the points of conflict and separation demarcate another place our lives take shape. We become like life-sized statues, brought into shape both by what is preserved (highlighted) and what is removed. Tambor's family lives in New York and is awaiting the upcoming winter. He asks about my family. I tell him about my partner and our two young girls. We talk about the difficulty in raising children who recognize and value their queer, trans family in a world that does not reflect their lives back to them. Art is often more of a mirror than a window and raising children with so few representations on TV or in the movies that allow them to reflect back on the particularity of their family can be difficult. This is one reason queer, femme, trans, crip, people of color are often better at creativity and understanding metaphors in literature, I often say. We know the world is not built for us and does not tell our story, so we must always translate things for our own use and contemplation. In this way, the lives of children with a trans parent at once suffer a loss but also gain an acute power that will allow them to better understand and transform the world around them. At the end of our conversation, after I shared about the girls, my voice was cracking. Stepping forward, embracing me, Moppa gave me a big hug.

M.W. Bychowski with the cast of Transparent
In another moment, I got to have a conversation walking down the halls of the White House with Bradley Whitford about transgender politics and the history. Whitford is well known for these "walk-and-talks" from his role, Josh Lyman on the West Wing. But today the discussion progressed through a shared interest in the erased pre- and early modern history of transgender. "This is nothing new," Whitford said. "I just saw a great production of Twelfth Night and I kept on thinking, 'this is nothing new.'" That is interesting, I replied. I pointed out that Shakespeare not only imagines those assigned women bucking the system to live as men, but specifically had Viola call themselves Cesario, "an eunuch." Shakespeare's London was no stranger to trans and non-binary genders. Castrate and effeminate boys were a staple of the London theater, playing primarily female roles. Then again, there were the trans masculine figures of London, such as Moll "Cutpurse" Frith, a local personality featured numerous times in London Comedies and in a personal biography. But in creating roles such as Cesario, Shakespeare pointed to the many trans masculine personas that filled his world and creative environment. Eunuchs and other castrates, while different than current day trans women or men, constituted a unique gender - physically, socially, legally, and theologically. "This is nothing new," I agreed with Whitford. In so many ways, what we do on this day in the White House is not the forging of a new path but the remembering of an old, long, hard fought road.



After an hour of coffee and mingling, the official event began as the group filed into seats for a series of panels where guest speakers recounted the histories, literature (including film and TV), and activism currently being explored in LGBTQI politics. While the panels were framed by official and mainstream projects, including a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem by Alex Newell who played the transgender woman of color, Unique, on Glee, nonetheless, the content of the event pushed radical and intersectional social justice agendas. Among the most radical calls for justice was a thread that ran throughout the day on reparations for oppressed minorities. The discussion began, as it should, with the still pressing need for reparations for African-Americans to further the realignment of society after the nation's violent history of chattel slavery. The White House continues to stand as one of the countless American institutions built on the backs of slaves who are yet to be properly compensated for generations of exploited labor and abuse. Echoing a theme of the event, social justice demands more than representational concessions but seismic structural reforms that forever changes the map of cultural powers in the country. It is not enough to affirm, like, or speak support for #blacklivesmatter. Rather, society needs to shake ups in police protocols, hiring practices, and cultural orientations. The White House's Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a transgender woman of color recently hired to direct outreach and recruitment for the Office of Presidential Personnel, noted the ways the White House affirms the call for systematic changes through strategic hires and training for members from across marginalized communities.

Alex Newell sings the National Anthem
During my conversations with the cast and production staff of Transparent and the Danish Girl I was thrilled to discover that the production team for Transparent aimed to further the penetration and integration of trans creative workers into the TV and film industry by designating that at least 20% of their hires would be from the transgender community. This included writers, actors, and producers but also technicians, set builders, lighting experts, and assistants. "Many trans people have a desire to work in film but aren't given the entry level or advancement opportunities required to make a living in the industry," said one of the producers. "That is why we make it a point to hire, train, and promote trans talents. We want to make sure that they leave our production team with experience that will serve them as they continue on in their careers." This is the sentiment of artists and activists who understand that social justice is not just about changing narratives and representations but the systematic structures that determine what bodies are allowed to succeed financially, socially, or politically. Each of the speakers for Transparent and the Danish Girl echoed the intersectional and systematic calls for justice of the other speakers. Throughout the day, the LGBT Champions for Change demonstrated that society will never be able to fully affirm #translivesmatter without also affirming #blacklivesmatter, without crip allies, without intersex siblings, without straight, cisgender, white women, without men of privilege stepping from secure places of authority to redirect their power towards collective justice. Change is antithetical to polite politics as usual. Change means that the safe and familiar may have to pass away in order for a better world to be forged from the remains.


For more information see:
M.W. Bychowski is a Ph.D Candidate of Medieval Literature at the George Washington University in Washington DC concentrating on transgender and disability studies. Her dissertation develops contemporary transgender theory and puts it in conversation with medieval narratives: Trans Literature: Transgender Histories and Genres of Embodiment, Medieval and Post-Medieval. In the classroom, she has taught classes "A Genealogy of Gender and Genre," on gender and disability in medieval literature as well as courses on "Transgender Theory and Social Justice." In addition to forthcoming academic articles on Chaucer, Gower, Kempe, and Mandeville, she also directs Transliterature Online (, a center for the study of transgender and disability, pre- and post-modern. On GWU's campus she directs MATCH: A Crip/Queer Working Group. Additionally, she offers "Transform Talks" to help schools, businesses, and churches on improve access, safety, and support for the LGBTQI and disability communities.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

English 3980 Students to Hold Public Symposium Saturday

Transnational Queer Film Studies students and
Professor Karen Tongson of USC in Prague
Photo by Robert McRuer
Professor Robert McRuer’s annual fall class, “Transnational Queer Film Studies and LGBTQ Cultures,” was held again this fall.  This was the seventh instantiation of the class, which is taught at GW every fall, but which is simultaneously taught in Prague to students from the Czech Republic (and across Europe) by Professor Kateřina Kolářová of the Charles University Gender Studies Program.  For one week each November, Professor McRuer’s students travel to Prague to meet their counterparts and to attend together the Mezipatra Queer Film Festival (Mezipatra means “mezzanine” in Czech, signifying a place in-between, in the middle).  This course is offered in partnership with the Short-Term Study Abroad Program. From November 5-15, 2015, the two classes met daily together for several hours each day to talk about what they had been studying all semester and about the films that they watched during the week’s attendance at the film festival (the festival's theme this year was The Days That Shook the World).  This innovative class is, for many students, one of the highlights of their GW education, and is also (for some students) part of GW’s LGBT Studies Minor (housed in the Women’s Studies Program).

This semester was an especially rich one for students in DC, who were not only able to study with Professors McRuer and Kolářová, but with also with queer theorist Karen Tongson, an Associate Professor of English and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California.  Professor Tongson, author of Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries, and numerous other essays in the field, was a special guest of the film festival and the class.  In Prague, Professor Tongson presented some of her recent work around the concept of "Normporn."

The students in the class invite you to attend a public symposium to highlight their work-in-progress emerging from the class.  Three sessions will be held this Saturday, December 5, in Rome Hall 771, from 1-4 PM.  The schedule is below.  Come out and support this innovative student work and this unique class!

Transnational Queer Film Studies and LGBTQ Cultures Symposium

1:00-2:20 PM
Morgan Franklin, "Black Men Loving Black Men: A Revolutionary Act: Masculinity and Sexuality in Tongues Untied"

Emily Clott, "Aren't You a Man? Passing as Straightening in Viola di Mare"

Alexis Farkash, "Queer Women in Indonesia: Fighting for Themselves in a Global Context"

Mehreen Arif, "Charting Transgender Representation in Bol (Speak) through a Critique of Gendered Exclusion in Pakistan"

2:20-2:30 PM BREAK

2:30-4:00 PM 

Ro Spice-Kopischke, "What's So Gay about Giant Robots? Online Fandom and Queer Readings of Mainstream Media"

Emily Holland, "Don't Cry for Men: Pleasure and Female Power Structures in The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant"

Jonathan Rice, "Queering the Night: An Analysis of Almodovar's La piel que habito and Postmodern Film Noir's Working in Queer Film"

Ian Funk, "'So It Doesn't Matter, Does It?'  Queering Film Noir and Cold War Masculinity in Otto Preminger's Advise and Consent"

Opening of the 16th
Mezipatra Queer Film Festival
in Prague (photo here and below by
Jonathan Rice)