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Volume 20, Issue 2, Oct 09, 2014

From (Under) The Chair’s Desk

What a great feast for the humanities was served up last weekend by the Iowa City Book Festival. Nice to see the English Department well represented at such events as the 75-year anniversary of Finnegans Wake and the tribute to Donald Justice. Good, too, to see Iowa City so much at the center of the buzz around the release of two new novels with a strong Iowa presence, Jane Smiley’s Some Luck and Marilynne Robinson’s Lila. Iowa City features large in the New York Times Magazine’s lavish feature story on Marilynne Robinson, available here.

For those of us with a strong historical imagination, what a delight that the Book Festival climaxed with the celebration of Sir Walter Scott’s influence in Iowa, some two hundred years after the first publication of the Waverley novels. This multi-pronged extravaganza featured amazing Scottish fiddling (Jeremy Kittel), bagpipers, singing, Scottish dance, and literary readings, all woven together by a narrative introducing Scott and describing his significance for Scottish and American culture. While the framework was read in the Glaswegian tones of Visiting Ida Beam Professor, Alan Riach, the text, like the whole event, was carefully crafted and scripted by Anne Stapleton. Bravo, Anne! An event that showcases what studying literature involves and that captivates an audience of some 400, including at least two Pulitzer prize winners, is surely a boost for what we do.

Such a boost is all the more welcome in view of the financial challenges created by the so-called Performance-Based Funding Model. This is the funding formula that adjusts State funding to the Regent universities to heavily depend upon enrollment of Iowa undergraduates. At this stage, the formula has been accepted by the Board of Regents (and so can be read among their materials here). It will be considered by the Governor in December and by the Iowa legislature in Spring. Currently, it will involve a loss of $12.9 million in funding to the UI in the next fiscal year, although both the university and the regents are requesting fill-in funding that will mitigate that loss. This is the context in which President Mason has declared our need to recruit an additional 4,000 students over five years to make the university less dependent on state funding.

In such a context, it was perhaps unfortunate to have the Dean of our College share, in a rather dramatic fashion, the drop in enrollments by department at the most recent DEO meeting. In calendar year 2014, CLAS saw a drop of 1.4% in student credit hours over 2013. English was about in the middle of the pack (we had a calendar year loss of about 1.2% SCH). There are many possible explanations for such a drop, especially as the College doesn’t seem to have experienced a drop in raw numbers of students, with the most obvious being that those students may be enrolling in (ever-so-slightly) smaller loads. Whatever the cause, one thing is clear. The College and University will not benefit from departments competing against each other to build up credit hours from students enrolled elsewhere in the College. Instead, it is crucial that we bring in new students who can benefit from our education and who will increase the total enrollment in the College. This needs to be a cooperative undertaking rather than pitting departments against each other.

The good news is that the Admissions Office is working hard to bring us more highly qualified students – which is, I think, the implication of the latest new scholarship packages that just got announced yesterday. And the other good news, I think, is that our department can offer a fantastic educational experience in reading, writing, and thinking to a significant number of those new students, especially as we work together with the Writers’ Workshop and other constituencies on a new major attractive to those with a passion for creative writing. Expect an exciting discussion of plans and possibilities at next week’s faculty meeting.

And speaking of feasts, watch for the entrée to next semester’s food theme in the next few days with events centering on Andrew Pham organized by Doris Witt. Further details below. 


Faculty Matters

Congratulations to Eric Gidal on the recent publication of PQ 92:3, with a cover date of Summer 2013. This issue contains five exciting articles and two reviews, including one by Blaine Greteman.

Congratulations, too, to Harry Stecopoulos on the recent publication of The Iowa Review 44/2, with a cover date of Fall 2014, with an exciting range of prose and poetry and including an interview of Charles Johnson by Michael Hill.

Mark Isham gave an Express Workshop at the Main Library on September 9: "Taking Notes Comic Book Style:  A Disucssion of Graphic Note-taking as a way of Listening and Reflecting In and Out of Classs".

On September 22 President Sally Mason and Provost Barry Butler honored Mark Isham and other members of the Faculty Engagement Tour of 2014 with a reception at the President's home.


Food Matters

Doris Witt reports:

Award-winning writer Andrew Pham (Whiting, Guggenheim, NYT Notable Books of the Year, etc.) will be visiting UI today and tomorrow as an "appetizer" event for the UI's upcoming Food for Thought theme semester.

Thursday, October 9, from 7-9, the Vietnamese Student Association of UI is hosting "A Culinary Odyssey" talk, taste, and learn event featuring Andrew at Public Space One, in the basement of the Wesley Center on Dubuque St. (near the Pit). We'll have food made specially for this event from Thai Spice and Pho Mai (the latter in Cedar Rapids), and a demonstration where Andrew will help us make a papaya salad recipe from his recent cookbook diary of foods from Southeast Asia, where he now resides again after coming to the US from Vietnam as a child. Andrew will talk informally about his interest in food. Open to all comers, kids included. It's OK to come for just a part of the event.

Friday, October 10, from 11-12, Andrew will do an "Artist's Journey" talk & Q@A at Prairie Lights Bookstore. He'll talk about food in this event as well, but the broader focus will be how he has developed his career as a writer and his experiences as a Gen 1.5 immigrant writer who decided to return to the part of the world his family had been forced to leave behind many years before. He'll also talk some about the new work he has coming down the pipeline. This event might be of particular interest to students who read the work of Tim O'Brien in Gen Ed lit classes, as well as to undergraduate and graduate student writers. Andrew will be able to stay for a while past 12 to chat with anyone who desires further informal conversation. Brunch items provided courtesy of the Magid Center.

Thanks to the Obermann Center for generously funding Andrew's visit.


Sad Matters

Richard “Jix” Lloyd-Jones, esteemed former colleague and past chair of the department, passed away on Tuesday, October 7. Doug Hesse, a long-ago graduate of the NWP, now Director of Writing at the University of Denver, a former student of Jix's, wrote this note to the WPA Listserv.

I'm sorry to pass along news that Richard Lloyd-Jones, known to vast numbers of us as Jix, passed away last night at his home in Iowa City. Jix was a past chair of CCCC and a past president of NCTE. He was the very first recipient of the CCCC Exemplar award, and everything about his career and personal life was exemplary. Many of you will recognize him as the Lloyd-Jones of the 1963 Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, and Schoer of Research on Written Composition. Many of you will recognize him from tireless work on several national committees and projects. An awful lot of us were fortunate to have him as a teacher and as a mentor, a word that I do not use lightly. He introduced several of us to his peers and forebears in the profession: Murray, Irmscher, Emig, Burke, Corbett, Britton, Winterrowd, Rosenblatt, and so on. Standing in a hallway at a conference with Jix was like going to conference within the meeting.

As chair of the English department for many years at Iowa, Jix was instrumental in developing the PhD in rhetoric and composition during the 1970s. He had a capacious regard for all of writing and English studies; the Iowa Writers Workshop, The Women's Studies Program, the International Writing Program, Literary Studies--all of these were united under the School of Letters, which he directed as English chair.

He was endlessly kind and gentle, befitting the magnificent mutton chops he sported in later life. His wife, Jean, is a towering figure in women's politics in Iowa. Jean served in the Iowa House and Senate, and was the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate against Chuck Grassley in 1992. How different the world might have been. Jix, kept always in the background and would joke about hoping he didn't hinder her. I'm sure that many of the political figures with whom he interacted through Jean had no clue just how accomplished he was. He was a fervent supporter of feminist and progressive concerns.

A relative of Frank Lloyd-Wright, Jix was fond of his Welsh heritage, and most years I'd receive a St. David's Day letter from him. He was also fond of his children and took great delight in keeping his friends abreast of their latest doings; he and Jean raised adventurers.

It is hard to feel sad at the passing of such a man except that he is no longer able to tell his stories in person. He lived a long and incredibly rich and accomplished life. He had many friends, and he was friend to many more. Each of us would do worse than to look to Jix's example--or to whomever are the Jix's in our own personal lives--and to emulate the best of them.


Upcoming Matters

The Lunch and Learn Seminar Series presents a lecture by Prof. Christopher Merrill titled, "The Next Frontier of Learning? MOOCs and the Writing University." Oct 10, 2014 at 12:30pm. University Capitol Center (Old Capitol Mall), Room 1117.

Creative Writing Track Informational Session. Oct 13, 2014 at 2:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.

Faculty Colloquium with Lori Branch titled “Postsecular Studies.” Oct 14, 2014 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.

Faculty Meeting. Oct 16, 2014 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.

English @ Work Presents: Law and Careers. Oct 16, 2014 at 6:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.

Comps Info Session for Graduate Students hosted by AGSE. Oct 24, 2014 at 1:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.

The Iowa Review’s annual reading at Prairie Lights. Oct 24, 2014 at 7:00pm with reception to follow in the café. Prairie Lights