From (Under) The Chair’s Desk
As you all know, I’ve done this job before. Surely that gives a person a head-start, many of you have not unreasonably suggested to me in the last few weeks. I’d have to say, it must be true, and yet… It is close to unbelievable how much the English Department does in our twin and twined missions of teaching and research, of writing and learning. And it is almost breath-taking to try to keep up with it all, still less to help steer things in a useful direction.
And so, let me begin by warmly thanking my predecessor for her fantastic leadership across the last four and a half years. The English Department is a better place for the imaginative and engaged direction Claire Sponsler has offered us. I look forward to raising a glass to honor her achievement at the upcoming fall reception on Saturday!
And let me also sing the praises of our superb staff, who make all things possible. As you know, the English Department office is feeling a little challenged at the moment as we absorb a new administrator (welcome aboard, Barb!), go through reorganization, and lose a key member of staff (congratulations on the position in the Obermann Center, Erin, but we’ll miss you from EPB!). The search for a new reception position, an Admin Services Coordinator—Front Desk, is currently under way. Even as we work through these changes, let me express my boundless admiration for what the staff achieve and my warmest thanks to Elizabeth Curl, Justin Denman, Megan Gioielli (welcome back!), Dianne Jones, Sandy Mast, Lynne Nugent, Barb Pooley, Cherie Rieskamp, and Linda Stahle, who do so much collectively to allow the energy of the faculty to turn to practical effect.
That group of faculty is now at its smallest for well over a decade, with an official count of 39.75 FTE tenured/tenure-track faculty and .66 lecturers. (No word yet on the emergency request to augment that number by one with a search in nonfiction writing with an ability to teach undergraduate creative writing.) That streamlined faculty is doing an awful lot of teaching and of intellectual enquiry. Both the 961 undergraduate majors and the roughly 29,000 student credit hours that we taught last year represent an approximately steady state across the last decade. I will provide fuller and more up-to-date numbers in susbsequent Reading Matters. For a chance to talk over the manifold issues of the classroom in an informal setting, please sign up for the first in the series of brown-bag pedagogical luncheons, organized by Doris Witt, with next Tuesday’s lunch discussion centering on teaching writing.
The intellectual enquiry is evident in so many forms it is hard to keep up. The latest in the slew of books to come out this year by English faculty are Brooks Landon’s Building Great Sentences and Blaine Greteman’s The Poetics and Politics of Youth in Milton’s England. Please join me in celebrating their achievement at the Prairie Lights café on Thursday, September 19th, from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. in what I hope may become a new tradition. Meanwhile, it was nice to see so many of you at the first showcase of faculty work in progress, with thanks to Kevin Kopelson for opening the faculty colloquium series. Further intellectual stimulation is currently on offer from the visit of this month’s high-prestige Ida Beam visitor, Phillip Lopate, organized by John D’Agata, with two more exciting Ida Beam visitors in line for next month. For details of these and other upcoming exciting, click on News and Events on the front page of the English Department website.
And if I’m not drowning in the stream of Work-Flow, running from meetings, or busy steering memos in the right direction, I’ll hope to see you there…
Publications, Presentations and other Faculty Matters
Patricia Foster's essay "Contingencies" is forthcoming in Antioch Review; her essay "Fog" is forthcoming in The Sun.
Blaine Greteman's book, The Poetics and Politics of Youth in Milton's England, is out now with Cambridge University Press. He has just signed a contract to co-edit The Global Milton Encyclopedia for Wiley-Blackwell, a folly he already regrets. He has also published two recent opinion pieces on MOOCs: one in the August 15 London Times Higher Education, and one in the August 27 South China Morning Post (co-authored with the USAID Regional Strategic Advisor for South East Asia, David Roberts).
Kevin Kopelson has been quoted approvingly in the September 2013 (United Kingdom) issue of Esquire.
Brooks Landon’s book, Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read, has been published by Plume in their Great Courses series.
Upcoming Matters: Sharing Syllabi
Thanks, all, for sending the syllabus for each of your courses to Justin. We gather these on the shared English Department L: drive, where they are available to English faculty as a record of what we are teaching each semester. Soon, though, they will have a potentially larger audience since the university will be assembling an online library of syllabi, gathering the syllabus for every course taught at the UI, and mounting these on a website accessible to UI students, faculty, and staff through a hawkid and password. Apparently the idea has been discussed and endorsed already in various consultative committees. We should expect to hear further details and a request for material from CLAS soon.
Thanks, too, for answering the questionaire about faculty travel for the year: it is always good to see the range of conference and research venues where English faculty are spreading intellectual foment. Financial support for such professional travel will probably be broadly comparable to last year, but we won’t be receiving our budget from CLAS until early October, so I won’t be able to establish specific amounts until then. Meanwhile, please be aware of the various travel policies of the university, which are being implemented with extra care. One new development is that financial support is only possible if you enter the trip authorization form through ProTrav on the Employee Self Service application before you travel (30 days before if international). At that time, you should also fill out the Departmental Trip Approval Form, available here. The latter form should be used for all travel, whether professional (to conferences, etc.) or personal (family travel, funerals, etc.) during the semester, since it aims to make sure classes are covered and you can be contacted if needed. After a professional trip supported by university funds, the TEV should be processed through ProTrav in the customary manner. At that stage, documentation for a conference trip should now include the conference agenda (presumably the conference program), signaling dates, meals included in the conference package, and your participation. When travelling for research, the accountants would like documentation of your presence at the research site, although this may not always be possible. For best advice on what is required and help with the forms, contact Justin Denman. For full details on the policies, follow the links here.
For planning purposes, there is a shared English Department calendar on Outlook (this is accessible to all in the public calendars folder, but you have to poke around to find it: Justin can advise). It would be useful if everyone would post the date and time of any events of general interest here, even if these are tentative, which you can do by sending the information to Justin. That listing can then serve as a resource for anyone planning an event and so help us avoid clashing dates and times.
The public English Department calendar is on the English Department webpage listing as events. From the front page, click on “News and Events” or the tab “More” or go directly here. Please send material for this calendar to Justin, with full information about the event.
MFA Alumni Matters
Sandra Allen (MFA '12) accepted a posistion as an editor at Buzz Feed in New York.
John Bresland (MFA ‘06) produced his first collection of video essays, Zero Station, a dvd featuring several of his award-winning video and audio essays, many of which have appeared on NPR’s Weekend America. He teaches creative writing at Northwestern University and is currently the film editor for TriQuarterly.
Amy Butcher (MFA ‘12) spent the past year teaching creative writing at Colgate University, and has just been named the new editor-in-chief of Defunct magazine. Recent essays have appeared in Salon, Tin House, The Rumpus, and The North American Review.
Caroline Casey (MFA ‘’07) accepted a position as the new Marketing Director for Coffee House Press in Minneapolis, MN.
Laura Crossett (MFA '03) published her first book, Night Sweats: An Unexpected Pregnancy. She is currently a librarian at the Coralville Public Library in Iowa.
Tim Denevi (MFA ‘10) will publish first book, Freak Kingdom, next year with Simon and Schuster. He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Arts, and teaches creative writing at the University of Maryland.
Andy Douglas (MFA ‘’05) published his third book, The Curve of the World.
Laurel Fantauzzo (MFA ‘13) accepted a full-time teaching position at Ateneo de Manila University in the Phillipines.
Hali Felt (MFA ‘08) recently published her first book, Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor, which was released this year by Henry Holt and was described by The New York Times as "an eloquent testament both to its subject and to Felt’s powers of imagination." She teaches creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.
Lina Ferrieria (MFA ‘13) completed a second MFA in translation and will publish her first book, Don’t Come Back, next year with Sarabande Books.
Tee Fleischmann (MFA ‘09) published his first book, Syzygy, Beauty, which the Los Angeles Times describes as "a re-imagining of the essay . . . creating a spare little book that reads like a collection of prose poems." He is currently the nonfiction editor of Diagram and regularly reviews for The Rumpus.
Stephanie Griest (MFA ‘12) accepted a full-time teaching position at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is the author of Around the Bloc and Mexican Enough, the recipient of a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, and a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute.
Riley Hanick (MFA ’08) accepted a teaching position in creative writing at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. His first book, Gravel Ends, which is about Jackson Pollack’s "Mural," will be published next year.
Nick Kowalczyk (MFA’08) published two long essays in Salon, "Embedded with the Reenactors" and "Blood, Gore, and Tourism: How an Axe Murderer Saved a Small Town." He currently teaches creative writing at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY.
Aviya Kushner (MFA ‘05) received a grant from the Illinois Arts Council and will publish her first book with Random House next year, The Grammar of God. She is a co-founder and contributing editor of A Public Space, and currently teaches creative writing at Columbia College in Chicago.
Amy Leach (MFA ‘05) published her first book, Things That Are, for which she also received a Whiting Writers’ Award. The recipient of a Rona Jaffee Writers’ Award, she currently teaches at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois.
Lucas Mann (MFA ‘12) published his first book, Class-A, which has been hailed by NPR, The New York Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and has been described by the Boston Globe as "raucous, scruffy, heartfelt, and true." He has also just accepted a full-time teaching position in creative writing at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.
Dylan Nice (MFA ‘11) published his first collection, Other Kinds, with Short Flight/Long Drive Books.
Elena Pasarello (MFA ‘08) published her first collection of essays, Let Me Clear My Throat, which the Philadelphia Weekly described as "a dinner party at which David Sedaris, Mary Roach, and Marlon Brando are trying to out-monologue one another." She teaches creative writing in the MFA program at Oregon State University in Corvalis, OR.
Jen Percy (MFA ’10) received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. She will publish her first book, Demon Camp, with Simon and Schuster next year.
John Price (MFA ‘95) published his third book, Daddy Long Legs: The Natural Education of a Father. He is currently the Director of the Creative Nonfiction Program at the University of Nebraska in Omaha.
Kristen Radke (MFA ‘12) accepted a position as the Marketing Director of Sarabande Books in Louisville, KY.
Rebecca Sheir (MFA ‘06) has been named the new host and producer of "Metro Connection" on NPR in Washington, DC. She is also a guest-host for NPR's "Weekend All Things Considered," and a frequent contributor to "The Splendid Table."
Angela Stewart (MFA ‘12) accepted a full-time teaching position at Townson University in Baltimore, Maryland. Her first book, Limber, will be published next year.
Deborah Taffa (MFA ‘13) accepted a full-time teaching position at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Inara Verzemnieks (MFA ‘13) received the prestigious Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award, and will serve as a Provost Writing Fellow at the University of Iowa this coming year.
English Department Fall reception. September 14, 2013 from 5-7pm. Home of Jon Wilcox and Denise Filios, 404 Linder Road NE.
Memorial Event in honor of Kim Merker, Emeritus Professor of English. September 15, 2013 at 12:00pm. Old Brick, 26 East Market Street
Brown Bag Pedagogical Lunch for Faculty: Finding Our Niche(s) in a Writing University. September 17, 2013 at 12:00pm. Gerber Lounge.
Book release celebration for English faculty members Brooks Landon and Blaine Greteman. September 19, 2013 at 5:00pm. Prairie Lights.