March 31st, 2010
I believe I was born to blog (is this a good thing or should I have higher life aspirations?), but as much as I love this job I must acknowledge that there were many amazing English bloggers before me. Rajiv Menon was one of them and if his post-blog future is any indicator, I should look forward to the end of my college career too. So from your current English blogger, here is the news on one of your former English bloggers.
As many seniors scramble to find jobs or figure out which graduate school they will attend, Menon already knows he will be studying in the NYU graduate program next year. NYU was Menon’s first choice, so naturally he is thrilled, but he could not have gotten there without attending GW first. Menon has always had a passion for research. He said, “Attending my English classes, researching, and writing was never a burden for me, and I actually found myself searching for research opportunities outside of the classroom. After attending a few conferences and developing my first publications, I was completely sure that this was the ideal career option for me.”
Once Menon realized his passion for research, he was supported by the GW English department to pursue it. He believes he would not have found this career path and interest without GW’s help. “Unlike so many other undergrad programs, I always had a small classes so I got to know my professors fairly well. As I progressed in my undergraduate career, I had numerous professors I could turn to based on whatever research I was doing at the time, and often I met with professors that I took classes with in previous semesters,” he said. “My professors have been so encouraging and forthcoming with advice and constructive suggestions that I doubt that I could have achieved my goal of getting into a Ph.D. program without this support system.” Menon found he could rely on Professors Plotz, Daiya, Chu, Cook, Alcorn, Harris, and Goswami in the English department and Professor Chacko in the Geography department for support on all of his research pursuits. Read more→
March 30th, 2010
Many of the readers of this blog know about Poetry Out Loud, the phenomenally successful national poetry recitation and performance competition. Co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, Poetry Out Loud builds on the contemporary resurgence of poetry as a spoken-word art. It’s not exactly a poetry slam, since the high schoolers who participate aren’t performing their own poetry, but it has the flavor and excitement of slam, in the sense that style and grace in delivery are highly valued. Washington was a pilot city for Poetry Out Loud, which began in 2006. The national semifinals and finals return to DC on April 26 and 27. Click here for amazing videos of some of last year’s finalists.
Which leads me to this year’s reception for graduating seniors. Every year the English Department hosts a party for our graduating seniors and their families and guests. This year’s reception–mark your calendars now–will be Saturday, May 15, 1-3 p.m. in Rome 771 (and the surrounding hallways).
In years past, the primary “entertainment” for this reception has been a brief congratulatory speech by the Department Chair. I know many of you are eager to hear my reflections on your GW experience and the meaning of commencement (“It’s not the end, it’s a beginning”). But I am hoping to supplement my talk with some alternative entertainment: in particular, a modest graduating senior Poetry Out Loud.
So: I am looking for two or three students (preferably seniors; or at least people who enjoy being around seniors and who will be here on May 15) to volunteer to recite a favorite poem of their choosing at our reception. You don’t have to be a slam specialist, just someone who is up to memorizing a piece (cheat sheets permitted–for once!) and reciting it for us.
Send your names and, if you have them, your ideas for specific poems, to me by April 15. But why mark your calendar? You know you want to do this, so email me now: email@example.com
March 29th, 2010
This is an image that has been circulating online since last week, when The New Yorker magazine posted it on its blog. [Click here for a link to the White House Flickr site, where you can see a huge image of the same.]
As an English professor and as someone who loves to be edited (nothing beats someone making your own prose even better), I thought this was pretty fascinating. Clearly, our President is also Editor-in-Chief. More important, it illustrates what goes into any polished piece of writing: rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. It’s reassuring to know that even boy wonders such as presidential speechwriter Jon Favreau (born in 1981) have to submit to the process of having their work parsed so closely. But as all good writers know, good writing rarely happens on the first draft. Sometimes the key to being a good writer is being a good self-editor.
One blogger suggests that college papers ought to come back to students looking like this. I disagree. Much as I love it when someone edits my work, I also know that English professors aren’t copyeditors–far from it–and that this sort of marked-up page makes many students queasy with anxiety and dread. Good writing, especially of the analytical variety that English courses demand, demands good thinking. Good writers, in my experience, are always asking themselves: Is this the best way to say this? Does this transition make sense? Does this strategy of organization make the most impact? Are there sentences that I love that just have to go?
In any case, next time you feel disappointed with someone’s reading of your work, consider: You could have handed in your paper/essay/poem/short story/memo to our meticulous President.
March 26th, 2010
This just in from Joseph Fisher, who earned his Ph.D. in English in May 2007:
Since earning his degree, Joe writes, he has been “purchasing music in massive quantities—something I had to curtail during my years in graduate school. I have also used the very modest amount of spare time I have been granted since emerging from the Gelman cubicles to begin honing my skills as a music studies scholar, which is an interest I’ve had since (at least) my undergraduate years, when I worked briefly as a music reviewer for my college newspaper.”
Joe’s article on the rise of MP3 culture, “Loneliness Is a Cool iPod. . . Happiness Is a Warm Album Cover,” recently was published on PopMatters.com. “Though I do proudly own an iPod,” Joe writes, “I am suspicious of the way that the contemporary music media have almost universally idealized the distribution of MP3 files at the expense of cassettes, CDs, and other “outdated” physical mediums (not vinyl, of course!). Though I acknowledge that the article has some fairly pronounced Luddite overtones, I certainly won’t complain if any of this blog’s faithful readers decide to Tweet, or Facebook, or Share the article!
Joe has also been collaborating with Brian Flota, another GW English Ph.D., and currently an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University, on an anthology about the politics of post-9/11 music. In a former blog post on their collaboration, Joe and Brian described themselves as “two of the department’s most handsome students.” (This blogger will not offer additional commentary, except to note that the English Department has a high percentage of handsome people among its faculty, staff, graduate students, and majors.)
Joe, whose dissertation on addiction narratives engaged with core issues in disability studies, is currently a Learning Specialist at GW’s Office of Disability Support Services.
March 25th, 2010
The University Seminar in 19th-Century Studies, convened by English Professors Tara Wallace and Maria Frawley (who also serve, respectively, as Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Executive Director of the University Honors Program), fosters an intellectual community of faculty and students, at GW and at area institutions. The Seminar is hosting two more events before the end of spring term. All are welcome.
On Friday April 2, 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., in Rome Hall 771, American University Professor Richard Sha will present his paper on “Italian Science, Electricity, and Frankenstein.” Sha is the author of Perverse Romanticism: Aesthetics and Sexuality in Britain, 1750-1832. Lunch will be provided. Rsvp to Amber Cobb-Vasquez (firstname.lastname@example.org) by Friday, March 26.
On Friday May 7, 3-5 p.m., the Seminar will hold its second annual “grande finale” at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design. This year the featured speaker will be Barbara Gates, the Alumni Distinguished Professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Delaware and author of, among many other works, Natural Eloquence: Women Inscribe Science and Kindred Nature: Victorian and Edwardian Women Embrace the Living World. Professor Gates will present an illustrated lecture titled “Of Fungi and Fables: Beatrix Potter’s Science and Storytelling.” More details will follow, but please mark your calendars now.
March 22nd, 2010
Get to Know Your TA: Nedda Mehdizadeh
We have all seen the television commercials for the Sylvan Learning Centers, the national tutoring institution, but most of us did not follow up on the ad. However Nedda Mehdizadeh’s first job was as an English tutor there after she saw that very same commercial we all did. When Mehdizadeh graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English she was like many students, interested in everything from journalism to film. However it was not until she started teaching at Slyvan that she found her true calling. “I remember sitting with my students and watching them work and I realized this was it,” she said. Mehdizadeh appreciates the rich experience she garnered while working with such a great age range of students there, but eventually she grew tired of teaching just metaphors and wanted more.
Environment is really important to Mehdizadeh and aided her decision to attend GW. “There are a number of really brilliant universities in small towns, but I was looking at cities I wanted to live in, ” she said. “So I was looking at DC and the work that Jonathan Gil Harris and Holly Dugan did.” Mehdizadeh describes the graduate school at GW as one that “builds a community that works together and challenges each other.” For an Early Modernist like Mehdizadeh the resources of DC such as the Shakespeare Theater Company were a major draw. It was Shakespeare that actually drew Mehdizadeh to English in the first place. She said, “I remember reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in ninth grade and in drama class we did little Shakespeare plays that really spoke to me. The language made sense to me. I find it to be a fascinating world and the beauty of the language is intoxicating.” It was never really a question that Early Modern would Mehdizadeh’s area of focus after that. Read more→
March 12th, 2010
Spring break has officially started (although some of you left yesterday, I’m jealous). Just because you plan on taking a week off from Geoffrey Chaucer and James Joyce, doesn’t mean you should stop reading. It’s time for “pleasure reading”! Maybe those words seem foreign to over caffeinated English majors who pound out more papers than they read pages, but now it’s time to reacquaint yourself with the reason you became an English major in the first place. To inspire your beach reading, here is what your favorite professors are reading over break!
Your chair Gayle Wald wrote:
“My sense of what is “fun” reading changes depending on what’s going on in my life. Sometimes I gobble up old copies of the Nation, the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. (I like that I can read an article and be done.) Sometimes I read trashy magazines: People is a favorite; any fashion mag with big photos will do. The books I read for fun are usually contemporary fiction/non-fiction. Recent books I’ve enjoyed: “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “My Father’s Paradise” by Ariel Sabar, “Sag Harber” by Colson Whitehead. My current “to-read” list include Berryl Satter’s “Family Matters.” This is work-related–it is about mid-20th-century struggles over housing discrimination in Chicago, as told through the author’s family history–but it’s on my list because I’ve heard it’s excellent and because I’m just interested.”
Kavita Daiya recommends Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and is planning on reading Gilbert’s follow up, Committed. She also enjoyed The Bitch in the House edited by Cathi Hanauer
March 9th, 2010
You may have seen Gina Welch running around the English Department offices in a pair of green heels. Or perhaps you caught her segment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe last Thursday discussing her new book In the Land of Believers. Maybe you saw her book featured when flipping through the current issue of Oprah’s magazine “O.” Or you just happen to be one of the lucky students taking a creative writing course of hers. Gina Welch is everywhere lately.
Interestingly enough, the woman whose book is now on prominent display at any bookstore was too intimidated by the English department as an undergraduate at Yale that she avoided the subject almost entirely. “I felt more comfortable with a history major because it is about receiving information not interpreting it like English,” she said. Welch now recognizes that her misconceptions about the English department were purely insecure. She said, “I feel like at that age I personally was so bound up in my own insecurities and my social anxieties. My priorities had not settled yet and I didn’t know who I was.”
Despite this lack of confidence, Welch took two creative writing courses as an undergraduate and completely fell in love with the subject. Her first foray into creative writing took place in a Yale seminar taught by Mark O’Donnell, a writer for “The Simpsons.” ” I was delighted with it. It refreshed this feeling I had as an adolescent in writing and telling stories,” she said. Although Welch is naturally drawn to entertaining, it was not until her second creative writing course that she really felt like she could turn this passion into a vocation. Welch’s advanced fiction course at Yale felt like an “invitation” into the writing world. She said, “I had always had this perception you were chosen for writing, which is foolish. There’s a lot of hubris you have to have to be a writer, the ‘I have a voice that needs to be heard’ idea.” Read more→