Renowned Writers Share Their Craft
Last fall, English professors compiled a wish list of sorts: If they could have any modern literary great join the faculty, who would it be?
After careful consideration, the professors hashed out their top two choices—Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Washington, D.C., resident Edward P. Jones, and José Muñoz, a professor of performance studies at New York University with expertise in Latino studies and literature.
The GW English professors got their wish, and now both writers will take a semester-long turn as a visiting professor.
The new position, the Wang Visiting Professor in Contemporary English Literature, was made possible by a gift from Albert Wang and his family. The gift, of which the professorship is a part, is one of the largest philanthropic commitments to the English department. It also includes support for the Wang Endowed Fund in English Literature and Literary Studies, an annual series of lectures by prominent authors and scholars.
The selection process to fill the two professorships wasn’t made public, says Professor Jeffrey Cohen, chair of the Department of English. Instead of a call for applications, the department members crafted an A-list of possible visitors. “We wanted to choose the very best people to fill the two positions,” Dr. Cohen says, “and we wanted a creative writer and a literary scholar.”
“The possibilities were endless,” he continues, but once they narrowed their focus to an emphasis on diversity within contemporary English literature, Jones and Muñoz were the clear top choices. Luckily, Dr. Cohen adds, the authors both said “yes.”
Jones, who won a 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Known World, began his spring semester residence in January with a full schedule. He led a literary reading group for undergraduates, gave public readings, and taught an advanced creative writing course, offering students one-on-one suggestions on short stories or novel chapters before they presented to the larger writing workshop group. Jones says he doesn’t make assignments. “If you want to be a writer, you go out and write,” he says.
The soft-spoken author says he is honored to be sharing his craft. “I’ve never been given this title [professor] before; It’s a distinguished position,” Jones says.
Cohen hopes the addition of Jones to the English faculty will emphasize the strengths in African-American literature. He believes Dr. Muñoz, who will be in the position this fall, will do the same for building strengths in Latino studies. Jones’ residence on campus has already “brought an excitement about writing and about literature,” Dr. Cohen says. “For his inaugural reading there was standing room only.
“Not only is Jones a world-renowned writer, but he also is a part of our own city of Washington, D.C. He is the most celebrated novelist we have had in residence at GW,” Dr. Cohen continues. “Studying with him will provide our students an invaluable experience—one that we hope they’ll remember long after they graduate from GW.”