From (Under) The Chair’s Desk
Reading through the curriculum vitae of the forty-four tenure-track faculty in this department provides a wonderful opportunity for reflecting on the strengths of Iowa English. I am happy to report our ideas and scholarship are circulating to the world in many forms and outlets. In calendar year 2013, from what I can see, we produced seven single-authored monographs and some further twelve edited books or journals, in addition to launching or maintaining seven major digital projects. We contributed some 33 articles to journals or book collections, published 24 reviews or review essays, wrote some dozen pieces for the news press, and published a further dozen creative essays or poems. And, by my count, we gave some 103 conference papers, lectures, or readings. While numbers do little justice to the nature of that achievement, they do provide a handy tally of the sheer vitality of this department!
In addition to strengths in research and creative work, this department also continues to deliver superb teaching at many levels. While the next Reading Matters will be devoted to celebrating our achievements with graduate students, the present number is designed to reflect on some of our many strengths in undergraduate teaching. With thanks to Doris Witt, Director of Undergraduate Studies; Blaine Greteman, assistant to the DUS and overseer of scholarships; Miriam Thaggert, Director of the Department’s Honors Program and advisor to the English Honor Society, Sigma Tau Delta; Jeff Porter, Director of the Undergraduate Creative Writing Track; Bonnie Sunstein, Director of Undergraduate Nonfiction Writing; Anne Stapleton, Advisor to the English Society and to Sigma Tau Delta; and to Megan Gioielli, our oh-so-capable undergraduate advisor; as well as to all of you teaching and inspiring our undergraduates, this issue of Reading Matters celebrates the accomplishments of our undergraduate students.
Thanks to some generous donations, including the second of five years of a Golden Pledge award from an anonymous donor, we are now able to acknowledge the achievement of our undergraduates with a particularly impressive array of scholarships. Indeed, the complete sum available through the English Department to talented undergraduates is now in the order of $60K, suggesting that we may be able to make a meaningful practical as well as intellectual contribution to these students. Please come and celebrate the achievement of our students this Friday, May 2, at 3:30 p.m. in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol. This will be an opportunity to learn more and celebrate our students’ many accomplishments, and also to acknowledge and talk with some of the donors of these scholarships who will be attending. I look forward to seeing many of you there!
Doris Witt writes: It is a great honor to welcome you to the annual issue of Reading Matters dedicated to our Undergraduate Studies program in English at Iowa. The year has flown by amidst a veritable blizzard of activity. Our students read voraciously, researched intrepidly, wrote passionately, and otherwise did their part to ensure that Iowa City remains a top worldwide destination for the study and creation of literature. They are a remarkable group, busy hatching plans to become writers, teachers, lawyers, small business owners, administrative professionals, editors, agents, journalists, and digital entrepreneurs, to name just a scattering of goals that students from my own classes have mentioned to me of late. We on the faculty take great pleasure in sharing with our students the literary texts that inspired us to become English professors in the first place, and we feel very fortunate indeed to know that our students will carry the torch as they go out into the world.
In what follows, several members of this year’s very dedicated undergraduate steering committee provide updates about their work with a wide range of our majors. Here I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to the faculty members of that committee: Professors Blaine Greteman (Outcomes Assessments), Anne Stapleton (English Society and ATI), Miriam Thaggert (English Honors Program and ATI), Jeff Porter (Creative Writing Track), John D’Agata and Bonnie Sunstein (Nonfiction Writing Program), and Lori Branch and Harry Stecopoulos (Introduction to the English Major). I speak for all of us, moreover, in expressing our deep gratitude to our remaining committee member, Megan Gioielli, the English Department’s incredible but, alas, outgoing Director of Undergraduate Advising. Megan, you will be sorely missed! Our solace is that the wonderful Justin Denman and Hannah Rounds will continue to anchor our staff support team in 308 EPB.
Thanks also to the unfailing support and sage counsel of English DEO Jon Wilcox, I myself not only survived intact a frenetically busy spring but look forward already to next fall, when we as a department will move to begin implementing ideas we have discussed all year long for updating our undergraduate programming. Stay tuned!
Megan Gioielli writes: Once again, it has been a busy and exciting year in the Undergraduate Advising office. Students continue to be interested in various facets of the English program—literature, creative writing, English education, and graduating with honors in the major. My schedule was kept busy not only with current undergraduates but also with prospective English majors and their families during campus visits. This spring I collaborated with other campus programs to create a presentation on “Writing at Iowa” which we gave to prospective students during larger visit days on campus.
Current English majors studied abroad all over the world this year—destinations ranged from the United Kingdom to Australia, Spain, Italy, Denmark, and Greece—and while some took the opportunity to take English major coursework, others met other UI requirements or simply went for the experience. It is always fun to hear their stories! The department’s English @ Work series continues to grow and evolve. This academic year, we held sessions focusing on MFA programs, career opportunities abroad, careers in publishing and book sales, and how students can market themselves as English majors for the job search. We were thankful to have panelists from the UI Nonfiction Writing Program, International Programs, Office of Study Abroad, UI Press, Prairie Lights bookstore, and Pomerantz Career Center share information with our undergraduates. Starting in the Fall 2014 semester, we will be expanding our English @ Work series to include a credit-bearing course.
Students are currently registering for summer and fall courses as faculty are in discussions about the curriculum and overall undergraduate experience. It is an exciting time, and I continue to be amazed by the talent and determination of our English majors and the passionate, supportive, and ever-so-scholarly faculty in the department who help them along the way.
Student Organization Matters
Anne Stapleton writes:
The University of Iowa English Society
I would like to recognize the fine work of outgoing officers Trent McMahon, President; Alex Grapp, Secretary; Kelsy Westman, Publicity Officer; Deirdre Heneghan, Service Chair; Aubrey Bierwirth, Academic Chair; and Yu Tsai Su, Social Chair. I am also especially grateful to my co-advisor Megan Gioielli, whose tireless and inspiring work has benefitted our English majors!
The Alpha Tau Iota Chapter of Sigma Tau Delta
Please congratulate new members Sophie Amado, Ellen Andersen, Lauren Gordon, Cole Highnam, Paul Hossenlopp, Koll Johnson, Rachel Kahan, Heather Kitt, Alyssa Lattner, Chloe Leach, Hannah Leonard, Emily Levine, Patricia Mackey, Michael O’Hara, Joseph Pettit, Lisa Sullivan, Emma Syth, Shaina Tromp, Natalie Vicchio, and Anna Walker. I would also like to thank my fabulous co-sponsor, Professor Miriam Thaggert, and the ATI officers who served their fellow students so well this year: Alex Grapp, President; Sharon Kann, Vice President; Trent McMahon, Secretary; Jamie Simpher, Treasurer; Matt McLaughlin, Membership Officer; Anthony Critelli-O’Donnell, Historian; and Danica Bird, Publicity Officer (fall semester).
English Honors Program Matters
Miriam Thaggert writes: Fifteen undergraduate students completed English honors projects this academic year. The subject matter of the theses ranged from the representations of “home” in medieval poetry to the impact of alcohol on the University of Iowa’s campus. A complete list of the students and their hardworking advisors has been posted in the hallway outside 308 EPB. You can also read the titles of the theses projects to get a sense of the remarkable range of our honors students. Thank you to the faculty who generously devoted their time to evaluating the theses. I am happy to report that several honors students have won major fellowships, such as Fulbright scholarships, and have been accepted to graduate programs at Indiana University, Columbia College of Illinois, and University of Nottingham. EHP highlights for the upcoming year include: working with the nineteen seniors who have expressed interest in writing a thesis, working with Jeff Porter to develop guidelines for multimedia theses (a growing interest for English honors students who are in the Creative Writing Track) and updating the English Honors website. I’d like to thank the previous faculty involved with the program, Eric Gidal and Kathleen Diffley, for being patient while I learned about UI Honors and the EHP. I’d also like to thank Megan Gioielli, Justin Denman and Hannah Rounds for their assistance throughout the year.
Creative Writing Track Matters
Jeff Porter writes: Over the past year, the Undergrad Creative Writing Track admitted 50 students, a figure that keeps the total enrollment fairly stable at about 100 students. Fall semester’s courses included the recurring four genre seminars taught by the Provost’s Visiting Writers and two advanced special topics classes, taught by Alvin Snider (Epic Transformations) and myself (Literary Sound Art). Judith Pascoe taught a Prose Style class as well, which qualified as an advanced creative writing class for Track students. In all, we listed seven classes for about 120 students. This Spring there were nine classes: four genre seminars, two advanced special topics courses taught by Patricia Foster (Fun Time: Velocity, Stillness and Narrative Form) and Doris Witt (Literary Retelling and Impersonation), and three advanced Nonfiction classes taught by Brooks Landon (Prose Style), John D’Agata (The Essay Prize), and me (Writing about Science).
One thing that’s become increasing evident is the value of advanced writing classes taught by not only creative writers but also literature faculty. Downplaying the role of genre in thinking about writing has helped to chisel away the hard division between “creativity” and “criticism.” Students now submit a “critical” paper when applying to the program, along with “creative” samples from two genres. In several instances, oddly enough, it has been the critical paper (rather than the creative sample) that has gotten applicants into the program. Megan and I have streamlined a number of procedures, with most now being electronic, including the application process and the evaluation of admission files. Recently, Track students held an Open Mic night at the Mill. With about 35 students on hand, there was plenty of free pizza and pepperonic eloquence to wrap up the year’s work and showcase students’ talents. Many thanks to Robyn Sciff for launching the Track so successfully.
Undergraduate NWP Matters
Bonnie Sunstein writes: Over this past year, the undergraduate nonfiction program offered seventeen courses taught by our MFA nonfiction candidates. We’ve kept our old traditions, tweaked them a little, and added new ones:
1. In December, over eighty people packed Gerber Lounge for our Writers Gone Public reading, featuring writers from each of those classes. Our Spring reading will be May 7 in the auditorium of the Art Building.
2. Throughout April, we began a new series of six small Saturday intensive free MASTER CLASSES: “Recreating Honest Memory on the Page,” “Surprising Beginnings, Startling Endings,” “How to Get Unstuck,” “How to Write the Perfect Literary Selfie without Annoying Your Friends,” “Writing With Images,” The MFA: WTF?”
3. For the 2014-15 academic year, we’re introducing new “Art and Craft” nonfiction courses to our more general nonfiction choices, inviting undergrads to read and write in these special topics: Culture, New Media, Food, Social Change, Humor, and Immersion Journalism.
4. We were able to offer four Undergraduate Literary Internships: at Sarabande publishers, McSweeney’s journal, Iowa City’s Mission Creek Festival and Little Village. We look forward to repeating those internships for new students and adding another next year at Sarasota magazine in Florida.
5. We’ve submitted five nominees to the prestigious and lucrative Norman Mailer Creative Nonfiction Writing Contest for college students.
Scholarship and Award Matters
Blaine Greteman writes: Our undergraduates have won a spectacular array of awards this year. Derek Heckman won one of the nation's most prestigious awards for graduate study — the Beinecke Scholarship, which will provide over $30,000 for graduate study in an MFA program. Derek was one of twenty students nationwide selected for the award. Other schools represented included Stanford, Dartmouth, and Harvard. Closer to home, English majors Dot Armstrong, Darian Sloat, Ellen Cranberg, Christina Crowley, Laura Wang, Brittany Callahan, Virginia Davis, and Catherine Shook were all recognized by the University of Iowa Honors Program as Honors Fellows or Rhodes Dunlap Scholars. Only 10-20 students from each class at the University of Iowa receive this distinction, making the Department of English the single most successful major in the university in this regard.
English majors also won a host of internal scholarships:
Ruth Gulden Holsteen and Charles Sophus Holsteen Memorial Scholarships
Helen K. Fairall Scholarships
Sherry Simmons Loring Memorial Scholarship
Margaret Leuz/Fred Einspahr Memorial Scholarships
The Emily Wagner Memorial Scholarship
The Darwin T. Turner Award
The Louise P. Herring Scholarship
The Scott Anderson Memorial Prize
The Maloney Family Scholarship
The Golden Pledge Scholarship
The Elizabeth Dietz Essay Prize
Lennis J. Holm Scholarship
John C. McGalliard Prize
Miriam Gilbert Award for Shakespeare Studies
Jen Buckley's article “The Bühnenkunstwerk and the Book: Lothar Schreyer’s Theatre Notation” will be published later this month in Modernism/modernity 22 (April 2014).
Jen Buckley was also awarded a Travel Grant by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas for work towards her book manuscript, Every Page Must Explode: Avant-garde Performance in Print.
Congratulations to Loren Glass, whose essay, “Zuckerman/Roth: Literary Celebrity Between Two Deaths,” came out in the latest issue of PMLA! (See PMLA 129:2 (2014), 223-36.)
Lena Hill was one of the speakers at a round-table discussion orgranized by the UI Council on the Status of Women on the challenges of finding a work-life balance, especially for those who manage the demands of both parenthood and work. Thanks, too, to graduate student Jennifer Loman, chair of the Council, for organizing the event.
Adam Hooks celebrated Shakespeare’s birthday on April 21 with a live streaming session from Special Collections, alongside Colleen Theisen, Special Collections Outreach librarian and new technologies guru. You can view the live stream here. For more details, go here.
Mark Isham is the subject of Faculty Focus in the April 2014 issue of TILE newsletter, an online publication of the University of Iowa TILE (Transform, Interact, Learn, and Engage) program. Mark talks about adjustments to teaching in the TILE classroom and benefits of the transition in "Faculty Focus: Mark Isham and Teaching in the Real World." Read more here.
Tom Simmons was elected Vice-Chair of the CLAS Faculty Assembly, working with Anita Jung from Art and Art History, who will be the Chair next year. The Vice-Chair is the Chair-Elect for the following year, so Tom will be overseeing that august body in 2015-16. Bravo, Tom!
There will be a modest reception on Wednesday, April 30, 3:00-4:30 p.m., in the Zimansky Reading Room, in honor of Linda Stahle on the occasion of her retirement after 41 years working in the department supporting General Education Literature. Light refreshments will be available but, at Linda’s insistence, the event will be low-key and informal, with no speeches.
Saturday, May 3, will see two outdoor memorial events that will be of interest to many in the English Department.
At 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 3, a remembrance service to honor Bill Boos will be held at the Davenport Street entrance to Hickory Hill Park. The obituary for Bill Boos that was published in the Press-Citizen is available here.
At 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 3, a celebration of life service followed by a reception will be held to honor our emeritus colleague, Bob Sayre, at Terry Trueblood Park on the south side of Iowa City. The obituary for Bob Sayre that was published in the Press-Citizen is available here, while a tribute written by John Raeburn will be available on the department website soon.
Faculty Colloquium with John D'Agata titled "Plutarch: A Reading of New Translations." April 29, 2014 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Reading by NWP Visitor Lisa Heinemann. May 1, 2014 at 7:00pm. Prairie Lights.
Undergraduate Honors Ceremony. May 2, 2014 at 3:30pm. Senate Chamber, Old Capitol.
Reading by NWP Visitor Kate Christensen. May 7, 2014 at 7:00pm. Prairie Lights.
Writers Gone Public. May 7, 2014 at 7:00pm.116 Art Building West.
Reading by NWP Visiting Writer Cheryl Strayed. May 8, 2014 at 7:00pm. Prairie Lights.