From (Under) The Chair’s Desk
This proved to be a busy week for representing the English Department. Tuesday saw me spend two hours with the Efficiency Group as part of a meeting of DEOs in the Arts and Humanities. (How to annoy a group of nine busy DEOs: tie them up for 2 hours to talk about efficiency!) Formally called the Iowa Board of Regents Efficiency and Transformation Review, a Town Hall meeting laying out the charge didn’t necessarily fill an English Department with confidence. Watch the video record at about minute 54 for the laugh that is elicited by a question about return on investment for a degree in English (which gets redefined as the return seen by enthusiastic accountants). The alarming bit is the accountant’s all too brief answer that suggests program rationalization is a topic for consideration.
The guide for our small-group discussion about the Arts and Humanities did not exactly inspire confidence as she clearly didn’t know the name of the unit that she told us this university is so famous for: her comments about the world-famous Writing Lab were clearly puzzling many in the group. As some of us emphasized the crying need for efficiencies in so many bureaucratic processes (I weep when I see the amount of administrative time that goes into dispensing tiny amounts of travel money), we were told that such systems are being considered by a different part of the team. (May they prosper!) Instead, we talked a lot about vision or its lack and distractions from our core mission. Our discussion leader only really perked up when she got to explain RCM (Resource Centered Management or Responsibility Centered Management) to us (that’s where you make each unit work fully with its own budget), but she seemed to concede that such wasn’t really on the agenda for this review, just the kind of thing that excited her. From her leading questions, what is on the agenda is trying to get us to work more with ISU and UNI. This discussion had a somewhat odd disconnect between the efficiency leader and the DEOs. She talked about problems between the three universities and we asked what problems? She asked about how we compete for enrollment for state students and we suggested we don’t compete within the state, each having distinctive niches, instead competing with other Big Ten Schools for out-of-state students. She suggested how we obviously want to co-list course offerings among Regents Institutions and we suggested each is distinctive enough to happily offer its own curriculum.
At the end, the discussion leader climaxed two hours of discussion by asking us what is truly distinctive and great about Iowa that we could build on. I think the stunned silence was the sound of nine DEOs thinking you can’t be seriously coming here for all the money this review is costing and asking us that as if we had never thought of the question before. After a pause, I suggested that I didn’t think it was much of a secret that we have a certain high reputation in the Arts and Humanities, and that is really quite merited; that phrases like the Writing University or the City of Interpretation are a little embarrassing – we academics aren’t necessarily fond of the simplification involved in branding – but they do get at something distinctive about what we do well; that in writing you might even say that we are world-famous. I’ll keep you posted on what efficiencies and transformations eventually transpire that will affect the department.
If the Efficiency Review seemed hard to talk to, Wednesday gave us a chance to present the case directly to the State legislators and their staff in the Hawkeye Caucus Day at the Capitol Building in Des Moines. Thanks to Blaine Greteman and to two outstanding English Department undergraduates, Allison Bries and Christina Crowley, who accompanied me. Our brief was that we would be given a table and should showcase the department’s work and answer questions to legislators, clerks, interns and staff, and lobbyists and members of the public. Within seconds of arrival it was obvious that we were rank amateurs in relation to most of the 120 faculty, staff, and students representing the university. That was obvious because groups like the College of Dentistry, the Pentacrest Museums, the UI Foundation, CLAS, and the Business College all had certain things in common which we lacked, like a banner naming the unit, poster-size displays, glossy brochures, and free junk to give away (branded coasters from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication beside us). Our table felt a little naked in the absence of any of those things. We did have Blaine’s digital humanities project, “Shakeosphere: The Early Modern Digital Network,” to display to those attracted by a screen (hastily moved to an iPad so that we could at least name the table through the English website on the laptop screen). What I had brought along was a copy of each of the books published by English faculty in 2013. Ten academic books lying on a table sure lacked the glitz of just about every other display, but netted us some interested traffic all the same, as various people wandered over to look at the unusual idea of a university department displaying, well, books. Four hours of unscientific experiment allowed us to conclude that Blaine’s book has the most attractive cover from last year, which was appealing as the other three of us could say to anyone who picked it up that the author happened to be standing right there. Dave Wittenberg’s Time Travel probably had the biggest interest from folks who actually started reading the books.
The undergraduates did us proud as examples of the great teaching offered by our English Department, with the inevitable question about career outcomes getting nicely answered when Allison received a call to arrange an interview for a teaching job even as she stood at our table. (Good luck, Allie!) The books allowed us to talk about the intellectual excitement of doing English. Brief hand-shake conversations with Vickie Lensing and with Joe Bolkcom were as near as I got to legislators, but I hope we were generating some goodwill with clerks and staff and public. In any event, the opportunity to chat about the strengths of UI English with President Mason and UI Foundation President Lynette Marshall, and to have substantive conversations with Provost Butler and Dean Djalali, made it seem like a worthwhile use of time to me. But if we go back next year, we really should invest in an English Department banner.
Other enjoyable commitments of the week gave me yet more opportunities to interact with President, Provost, and Dean. Wednesday saw the annual Faculty Retirement Dinner, which Miriam Gilbert was able to attend, even as Dee Morris sent her regrets. It turns out that the DEO gets to talk about the retiring colleague, which gave me a challenge just because I was pretty certain everybody in the room already knew a great deal about the wonders of Miriam. When President Mason set up the speeches with a comment on the bitter-sweet nature of the occasion, though, I saw my opening, remarking how the occasion was more sweet than bitter with Miriam in view of her continued presence in our community, not just still introducing local play productions, which she is; not just teaching a course on Othello for retired colleagues, which she is; but continuing to help out the department, having taught a class on Shakespeare at 8:30 that very morning to sub for a colleague who was unwell. Thank you, Miriam!
The next evening saw the first annual research and innovation excellence dinner organized by the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development. This turned out to be an event primarily honoring new university patents and start-up companies generated through university activities, with some recognition of research work in the sciences, and the occasional nod to the Arts and Humanities. It was good, of course, to have such nods, especially as Ed Folsom was presented with the first ever Creative Distinguished Achievement in Research in the Arts and Humanities Award. Bravo, Ed!
Further achievements and upcoming celebrations abound in the rest of this issue of Reading Matters, and so let me end reflecting that all that promoting of the English Department left me convinced that we will prosper in our combined missions of outstanding teaching and exciting research and publication no matter what changes do or do not occur in the university’s funding mechanisms.
Adam Hooks recently co-organized a series of panels under the rubric "Fragments and Gatherings" at the Renaissance Society of America conference, sponsored by the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP), and led a workshop on New Technologies in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. He will also be the co-leader of a workshop at the upcoming Shakespeare Association of America conference called "Digital Resources for the Early Modern Book Trade."
Ed Folsom’s and Chris Merrill’s MOOC on Whitman, which has just come to an end, has been a resounding success. For an interesting feature in the Iowa City Press Citizen, click here.
Congratulations, once again, to Claire Fox on her selection as Collegiate Scholar, an honor bestowed on the two most noteworthy researchers promoted to full professor. Claire was also one of the commentators on the film Narco Cultura in a recent Film Scene discussion panel on this portrayal of narco-traffickers as popular icons. Read more here.
Laurence Petit has just seen the publication of a co-edited collection of essays, Picturing the Language of Images, released by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Laurence is our exchange professor this year from the University of Montpellier and she is teaching a course on the Pictorial Turn in Contemporary British Fiction. Picturing the Language of Images is a collection of thirty-three previously unpublished essays that explore the complex and ever-evolving interaction between the verbal and the visual. The uniqueness of this volume lies in its bringing together scholars from around the world to provide a broad synchronic and diachronic exploration of the relationship between text and image, as well as a reflection on the limits of representation through a re-thinking of the very acts of reading and viewing. While covering a variety of media—such as literature, painting, photography, film and comics—across time—from the 18th century to the 21st century—this collection also provides a special focus on the work of particular authors, such as A. S. Byatt, W. G. Sebald, and Art Spiegelman.
Harry Stecopoulos will be one of the featured scholar/writers starring in the second annual American Literature in the World conference, “Scholars as Writers,” at Yale University on April 11.
The annual CLAS Faculty Honors Celebration will be held Monday, April 14, at 3:30 p.m., in the IMU Second Floor Ballroom. At this event, the College recognizes major College and University awards, as well as significant national and international distinctions, from the past academic year. They included Phil Round’s Guggenheim and Claire Sponsler’s NHC Fellowships last year, but there is still plenty of cause for English Department celebrations this year, including the following:
Creative Distinguished Achievement in Research Award, Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Iowa
May Brodbeck Humanities Fellowship
E. Ph. Goldschmidt Fellowship, Rare Book School
Distinguished Achievement Citation, Ohio Wesleyan University
The Nick Aaron Ford-Waters Edward Turpin Symposium on African American Literature Award, Morgan State University
The event, which features a few speeches, a handsome program booklet, and chocolate-covered strawberries, is open to all faculty.
April 10 and 11 Stephanie LeMenager, Moore Professor of Literature and Environment, University of Oregon, and co-founder of Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities, will be visiting the University of Iowa. A scholar of Environmental Criticism, The Public Humanities, and Petrocriticism and the Cultures of Energy, Professor LeMenager will be speaking at 3:30 on Thursday April 10 in 304 English-Philosophy Building. Her lecture derives from her research for her recently published book Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century (Oxford). All are welcome. Her visit has been sponsored by the journal Philological Quarterly, the UI English Department, UI’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, and the Obermann Working Group Circulating Cultures.
Three English Department proposals for Distinguished Visitors were selected through the Ida Beam Visiting Faculty awards were supported for next academic year.
Alan Riach, 3-5 Oct. 2014, part of the Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley Project, nomination by Anne Stapleton;
I am delighted to report that Hope Edelman, alum of the NWP, will be visiting as a 2014 CLAS Alumni Fellow on September 10-12, 2014. Further details to follow
Congratulations to Shuhita Bhattacherjee, who was awarded a Marcus Bach Fellowship to support the completion of her dissertation “The conversion Cornucopia: Religion, Secularism and Gender in Victorian Colonial Conversion Narratives on India, 1870-1914,” directed by Lori Branch, for Fall 2014.
Congratulations to Miriam Janechek and Annmarie Steffes for successfully organizing this year’s Craft Critique Culture conference on the theme (Mis)Leading. Keynote addresses by Colleen Theisen (of UI Special Collections), Marah Gubar (of the U of Pittsburgh), and Jennifer Teitle (of the UI Graduate College), along with some 45 graduate papers, served a substantial community.
Jennifer Yirinec reports three publications in the last year:
This is a cumulative list of placements that we know of so far this year. Please report any placement news to Cherie Hansen-Rieskamp.
Thomas Blake has accepted a one-year Visiting Assistant Professor position in the Department of English at the UI. He will be defending his dissertation, “Royal Materials: The Object of Queens in Late Medieval Romance” (Kathy Lavezzo, dir.) in May 2014.
Daniel Boscaljon has accepted a one-year Visiting Assistant Professor position in the Department of English at the UI. He graduated in August 2013 with the dissertation “Gothic Haunts” (Ed Folsom and David Wittenberg, dir.).
Kelly Franklin has accepted a tenure-track Assistant Professor position at Hillsdale College, Michigan. Kelly’s dissertation, “Out of Place: Walt Whitman and the Latin American Avant-Gardes” (dir. Ed Folsom) will be defended in May 2014.
Bryan Mangano has accepted a one-year position as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the English Department at Coe College. He graduated in 2013 with the dissertation, “Amiable Fictions: Virtual Friendship and the English Novel, 1740-1770” (Eric Gidal, dir.) and has served as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the UI for 2013-14.
Johanna Brinkley Tomlinson has accepted a one-year Visiting Assistant Professor position in the Department of English at the UI. She will be defending her dissertation, Playing with Words: Child Voices in British Fantasy Literature for Children 1749-1906” (Teresa Mangum, dir.) in May 2014.
Inira Verzemnieks (NWP MFA 2013) has accepted a one-year Visiting Assistant Professor position in creative nonfiction at Oregon State University in Corvallis. She has served as a Provost Visiting Writer in the English Department at the UI in 2013-14.
A Short Report on Recent Alumni from the NWP by John D’Agata:
As you may know, most assistant-level teaching positions in creative writing require a book, which is why the NWP usually sees a spike in job placement among our students two or three years after they've graduated and have taken some time to polish and publish their theses. I am delighted to report however that this year's spike in alumni job placements has been especially spikey.
Of the eleven full-time and tenure track jobs that were posted this year in creative nonfiction (not including this year's search in our own Department), eight have been offered to alumni of the Nonfiction Writing Program. I will let others figure out that math, but I'm guessing that it'll end up being a pretty sweet spread. Some of these alum have actually received multiple offers, so where they end up may change in a few weeks, but at the moment the positions that they've been offered are at the University of Minnesota, the University of Southern Maine, Ohio Wesleyan University, Oregon State University, University of Alabama, U. Mass Dartmouth, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and Whitman College.
We've also had some wonderful news on the publishing front. Students who will be graduating from the program or who have recently graduated, have received book contracts at W.W. Norton, Beacon Press, Scribners, Harper Collins, and Graywolf.
The UI English Society presented a Slam Poetry event featuring Carrie Rudzinski and April Ranger in Will Bill’s Coffee Shop on March 11. Trent McMahon, Treasurer of the Society, reports: “It would be an understatement to say that it went well. There were about thirty to forty people who showed up altogether. A fair few came from areas outside the English Department, as well, meaning that publicity was spread evenly across campus. Because I advertized the event in the WRAC house and in the School of Social Work, a large number of feminist activists came to the event, as Carrie and April’s work both deal with women’s issues and female empowerment. There were also a few who came from Drake University in Des Moines, three who were visiting campus from Missouri, Texas and Florida, and one high schooler who found out about the event from a feminist website! It seemed like the marketing definitely worked to our advantage – Carrie and April both loved the posters and I let them keep one for their records.”
Alex Grapp, President of the local Alpha Tau Iota chapter of the English Honors Society, Sigma Tau Delta, along with Jamie Simpher, treasurer, and Paul Hossenlopp, member, all attended the society’s 2014 International Convention, where they each gave a paper. Their collective report on their experience can be read here.
Ashley Lee, English major and Press-Citizen commentator, has started a tumblr site, “I, too, Am Iowa.” See this Press-Citizen article.
English Accolades—Congratulations to the following English majors who have been awarded scholarships for the upcoming school year:
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Scholarships
UI Honors Scholarships
The English Department’s scholarships and awards are in process and will be announced in an upcoming Reading Matters. Don’t forget the English Department’s Undergraduate Honors Ceremony will be May 2, 3:30 p.m., in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol.
And special thanks to Allison Bries and Christina Crowley for representing the UI English Department at the Hawkeye Caucus Day (with a fuller account above in From Under the Chair’s Desk).
Brooks Landon reports: Iowa PhD Joan Gordon has just won the absolute biggest and most prestigious award in the field for science fiction scholarship. It’s called the Pilgrim Award, given by the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA), and it is a very big deal. Recent winners include Fred Jameson, Donna Haraway, and Kate Hayles! I can't remember the date of Joan's dissertation, but it was the first dissertation I directed, so must have been very early 80s. Joan is one of the editors of Science Fiction Studies.
Teresa Mangum reports: Sangina Patnaik, one of my favorite UI English majors ever, is just finishing up at Berkeley and has gotten a job at Swarthmore. Sangina says: “I'm going to be an assistant professor at Swarthmore. The position is billed as "Anglophone Modernism," but, luckily, that title seems to refer to a set of concerns/literatures that no one has yet figured out. (Oxford just published a massive tome called the "Handbook of Global Modernism," but even that seems to generate little consensus).”
Shane McCrae, with an MFA from the Writers’ Workshop and an MA from English (and a Whiting Award and an NEA Fellowship), has accepted a tenture track assistant professor position at Oberlin College.
And to see EPB’s trailblazing team, click the link here.
Stephanie LeMenager lecture, "Living Oil in the USA: An Abridged Petrol Diary." April 10, 2014 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
The Iowa Review Announces its Summer & Academic Year Internships. April 14, 2014.
Faculty Colloquium with Florence Boos titled, "Empires and Scapegoats: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Near East." April 15, 2014 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Faculty Meeting. April 17, 2014 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Reading by NWP Visitor Endi Bogue Hartigan. April 18, 2014 at 7:00pm. Prairie Lights.
Reading by Professor Robyn Schiff. April 24, 2014 at 7:00pm. Prairie Lights.