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Volume 21, Issue 8

From (Under) The Chair’s Desk

Could it really be three years already? Even as we are all aware of challenges, budgetary and institutional, in the last few years, that time has certainly gone by in a flash. And the end of the academic year is a good time for noticing the continued vibrancy of the department, with the celebration of undergraduate achievement reminding us all of the exciting range of classroom teaching that has inspired a cohort of undergraduates to do their own exciting work, while the celebration of graduate achievement gave us a chance to recognize the continued impressive work of our Ph.D. students as well as our stunningly strong MFA program in nonfiction writing. Faculty colloquia and the outpouring of books and articles and essays attests to the continuing scholarly and creative work coming from the department. While some things will surely change as our long-awaited new degree in English and Creative Writing is getting closer to approval (it is rumored to be on the docket for consideration by the Board of Regents this summer), the near-constant hum of great teaching in the rooms of EPB, the never-ending round of talks and lectures, and the outpouring of research and creative work will surely continue unabated. This is an exciting department to be associated with and thank you all for making it so.

All that scholarly endeavor takes some organization, as I well know. I want to express particular thanks to the fantastic team of associate chairs and directors I have had the pleasure of working with in the last three years—to Ed, Phil, and Loren; to Loren, Alvin, and Bluford; to Doris, Blaine, and Lena; to Kathy and Barbara; to John; and to Jeff. It has also been a pleasure to work with the support of such dedicated and effective staff. Barb Pooley oversees the operations of the whole of EPB with unflappable goodwill and with prodigious effectiveness. Jenny Britton has quickly become invaluable in her support of our always-capacious HR needs. Hannah Rounds provides unfailingly cheerful support for faculty needs and has become an essential mainstay for the complex system of ideals and realities that we call a curriculum. Cherie Hansen-Rieskamp continues to provide her indefatigable support for the graduate programs and attends to the needs of all our graduate students, ably complemented by Joelle Petersen, with her attention to all things to do with TAs and her thoughtful support of the General Education Literature program. Kate Torno is a tireless advocate for our undergraduates, providing valuable guidance to our 794 declared English majors and working imaginatively and effectively to encourage more to come and join us. Mandy McAllister has quickly established herself as a stable hand at our front desk and a super facilitator for all travel claims. In the background, Dianne Jones supports all our computer needs, and Kristina Swanson has taken over making our budget work. My warmest thanks to all the staff, without whose often invisible work the department could not be the successful operation that it is.

And so ends my three years of pondering how to maintain and advance the particular constellation of interests, enthusiasm, and expertise that constitutes the Iowa English Department within the complexly developing world of higher education in America and the local twists on that world here at the University of Iowa. After a stint sharing the position of summer chair alongside Claire Fox, I look forward to continuing to contribute to our joint mission with a little more emphasis on the research side as I return to my project pondering the nature of books in Anglo-Saxon England, emerging from under the chair’s desk, to hand over desk and department with every confidence to my so-clearly-competent successors, Claire Sponsler and Claire Fox. With thanks and appreciation to you all.


Faculty Matters

Congratulations to Jen Buckley, who has been selected as co-director of the 2016-17 Obermann Center for Advanced Studies Working Group on “Performance Studies,” alongside Rebekah Kowal of the Dance Department and Kim Marra of Theatre Arts.

Congratulations to Patricia Foster, who has essays forthcoming this spring in Ninth Letter and H.O.W. Journal as well as an essay in Wave Form: 21st Century Essays by Women, forthcoming in the fall. Her essay "Inside" (Ploughshares) will be translated into Farsi and published in Hamshahri Dastan Magazine in the coming month.

Eric Gidal has been selected as co-director of the 2016-17 Obermann Center for Advanced Studies Working Group on “Spatial and Environmental Humanities,” alongside Adriana Méndez of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. In addition, Eric oversaw the recent release of another stimulating issue of Philological Quarterly, PQ 94:4 (Fall 2015), bringing the journal’s cover date ever closer to the present season. Further congratulations are in order for, in February, Romantic Circles posted a video Book Chat on Eric Gidal’s Ossianic Unconformities: Bardic Poetry in the Industrial Age, with Tobias Menely, Theresa Kelley, and Jesse Oak Taylor, which can be found here. Ossianic Unconformities was also listed as one of the “Best Scottish Books of 2015” by the Association for Scottish Literary Studies here.

Bravo to Blaine Greteman, whose receipt of the Honors Scholar Advocate Award, given by the University Honors Program, was recognized at the CLAS faculty honors celebration.

Congratulations to Michael Hill, who has been selected as co-director of the 2016-17 Obermann Center for Advanced Studies Working Group on “University of Iowa Urban Labs,” alongside Emily Hughes of the College of Law. Michael has finished a year as a fellow in the CIC Academic Leadership Program.

Congratulations to Jeff Porter, whose new book, Lost Sound: The Forgotten Art of Radio Storytelling was recently released by the University of North Carolina Press.

Bravo to Horace Porter, whose appointment as F. Wendell Miller Professor has been renewed for a further five years, reflecting the College’s pride in his scholarly work and professional contributions.

Congratulations to Phil Round, whose appointment as the John C. Gerber Professor of English was celebrated at the CLAS faculty honors celebration.

Congratulations to Robyn Schiff, whose newest book, A Woman of Property, has been reviewed by several prominent publications including the New York Times. The article can be read here.

Bravo to Stephen Voyce, whose strong undergraduate teaching was recognized this year with the English Department’s own John C. Gerber Undergraduate Teaching Award.


Shakespeare Matters

Adam Hooks reports on next semester’s Shakespeare excitements in association with the visit of a Folger Library copy of the First Folio.

Shakespeare died 400 years ago, and is buried in Stratford-upon-Avon -- but he is alive and well in our contemporary culture, around the world and right here in Iowa! This fall the University of Iowa will be joining in the global centennial celebration of Shakespeare, and so I'm writing to let you know about just a few of the events that we've scheduled for our "semester of Shakespeare" in Fall 2016. And if you think you are not interested in Shakespeare, then simply read "Shakespeare" as "the Humanities," since we have an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the value of our teaching and research on and beyond our campus.

First, the UI Libraries will be hosting the Folger Library's First Folio tour and exhibition from August 29 - September 25. Preliminary information can be found at where you can also book a time-slot for your class to tour the exhibition. Our own exhibit will remain in place through December.

Thanks to the support of the Folger Institute's NEH-funded "Teaching Shakespeare to Undergraduates" grant initiative, we will be hosting a pedagogical conference and workshop on September 23 and 24, as a capstone to the First Folio exhibit. Preliminary information can be found at All faculty and graduate student instructors are welcome to participate! This workshop will consist of a series of collaborative sessions aimed at actively creating and building assignments, resources, and course materials -- including interactive classroom "kits." More information about the goals of this conference, and you can also access a preliminary schedule. In addition to the Folger grant, this event will be co-sponsored by the Department of English, the UI Libraries, the UI Center for the Book, the Obermann Center, and other campus units.

We are also organizing events for local high school teachers and their students, as well as our very own future teachers in the English Education program. There will also be many other community outreach events, such as a "family day" on September 18 (just outside the library) and various other programs at the ICPL, the Theatre and Music departments, and more.

If you have any questions, or ideas for ways in which the English Department can further participate and showcase our strengths, please do let me know.

Whitman Matters

The Walt Whitman Quarterly Review has been generating a huge amount of publicity with the new identification of a journalistic series called “Manly Health and Training” as the work of Walt Whitman. The newly online-only journal was able to reproduce and circulate the complete work, an advantage of digital publishing that Ed Folsom made clear in countless engagements with the press, including front-page treatment in the New York Times. The WWQR website had over 20,000 downloads in one weekend, suggesting the exposure made possible in the digital age. Click here for the IowaNow account of this story.


Graduate Placement Matters

The following is a partial list of recent graduate placement news, with a fuller list maintained on the English Department website.  Please report corrections or additional news to Cherie Hansen-Rieskamp (

Nichaolas Kelly (Ph.D. ’16, Brooks Landon, dir.) has accepted a full-time position as a Lecturer in the Rhetoric Department, University of Iowa. 

Jennifer Loman (Ph.D. ’16, Phil Round and Kristy Nabhan-Warren, co-dirs.) has accepted a full-time position as a Lecturer in the Rhetoric Department, University of Iowa. 

Sonja Mayrhofer (Ph.D. ’15, Claire Sponsler, dir.) has accepted a full-time position as a Lecturer in the Rhetoric Department, University of Iowa.

Benjamin Miele (Ph.D. ’15, Adam Hooks dir.) has accepted a tenure-track Assistant Professor of English position at the University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Texas. 

Jennifer Shook (Ph.D. ’16, Matthew Brown, dir.) has accepted a two-year postdoctoral scholar position at Grinnell College and the University of Iowa as part of the Digital Bridges for Humanistic Inquiry funded through the Mellon Foundation.  


Undergraduate Matters

Bravo to Nathalie Halcrow, who is one of 14 UI students to receive Fulbright awards for 2016-17, and who will be heading to the Ivory Coast as an English teaching assistant. She also plans to organize a creative writing group that will explore a fusion of American and West African written and oral traditions. See

Congratulations to English and Anthropology major Nate Otjen, who won the Callen Prize from the UI Graduate College to support an outstanding graduating senior heading to graduate school. Nate, who is graduating with high distinction, will be pursuing an English Ph.D. at the University of Oregon. See for more.


Alum Matters

As the Department continues to develop its new media presence, we now have our own YouTube video channel, This is currently dominated by interviews with alums explaining the value of their English major to their subsequent career profile (with special thanks to Lena Hill and Kate Torno). The site is also available for archiving other videos of departmental interest, such as the English seminar documentary produced by students in the English honors seminar about Native American literature. 


History Matters

2016 marks the 50th birthday of the English-Philosophy Building, which was conceived in 1964 and opened in 1966. John Harper, who is working on volume two of the history of the English Department, covering the years 1961 to 1985, provides the following account.


In 1964, the central office of the English Department was in 101 University Hall, which is now  the President’s office; and the entire central administration fit into the main floor of Old Capitol. The rest of the English Department was scattered around campus in eight other buildings, half of them now demolished or burned to the ground by arsonists.

When John Gerber became Department Head in 1961, it was one of his dreams to see the entire operation housed under one roof. And in 1964, he and retiring President Virgil Hancher discovered a source of federal funds which would pay for most of the costs of a new building. A site along the river was selected, and University architects started drawing up plans. In order to save money, many of the floor plans for Phillips Hall, just completed in 1964, were used.

 In 1966, programs and departments such as American Studies, Comparative Literature, Linguistics, the Writers Workshop, and European Literature and Thought were all sub-units of the English Department. By the end of the 1960’s, African-American Studies, Women’s Studies, International Writing, the Windhover Press (which eventuallyexpanded its horizons and became the Center for the Book), the Center for Modern Letters, and the Center for Textual Studies had been added to that list. A new building with plenty of space allowed them to expand, become truly interdisciplinary, and to grant their own degrees.\

Gerber discovered he needed to keep a close eye on building planning. For one thing, the original plan had the building turned around 180 degrees on the lot, so that six floors of faculty offices faced onto the railroad bridge and only a stairwell faced the river. The low bid went to Mercury Builders of Chicago, a company of dubious reputation which went out of business shortly after EPB was completed. Gerber fought for central air conditioning, and won the battle only by conceding elimination of half of the 5th floor. Objections to the dark brick interior went unheeded.

The building was temporarily named EPB, with another suitable name to be chosen within a year or so.. And so it opened on the first day of the fall semester, 1966, with much of the construction and furnishing unfinished. The floors were still bare concrete, students in classrooms sat on folding chairs, and the steps in the main stairway had not yet been installed.

On the positive side, EPB was spacious enough to meet every perceived departmental need. There was a conference room and a seminar room on every floor, a large study hall, six classrooms for writing courses, both faculty and graduate student lounges, and special office complexes for publications. Provisions were made for the Midwest Modern Language Association, which had just established its permanent headquarters at Iowa, as well as the International Writing Program, which was founded in the semester that EPB was first occupied.

On the negative side, the windows were all sealed shut, and the wall units could only be switched between heating and air conditioning twice a year. There was a large system of air ducts which blew fresh air into every room; but there was no system for re-circulating the air back outside. So during long breaks in the school year, the build-up of air pressure made the building almost uninhabitable.

1966 marked the beginning of large-scale demonstrations against the Viet-Nam war, as well as free love and widespread experimentation with drugs. It wasn’t unusual to have to cross picket lines to enter EPB, nor to see an occasional joint being passed around a classroom. A number of TA’s lived in their offices, with hot plates and sleeping bags, and put up clotheslines to hang up laundry done in the restrooms.

By the 1968-69 academic year, mass demonstrations of thousands of students were taking place on the pentacrest with some frequency, accompanied by acts of vandalism in University buildings and in the downtown area. So graduate students and younger faculty members were enlisted for shifts of guard duty in EPB and other major campus buildings.   

One night in the spring of 1969, the Old Armory Temporary, a two-story metal building just on the other side of the railroad bridge east of EPB, was burned to the ground. It had housed all of the faculty and TA’s of the freshman Rhetoric Program. The next day, it was determined that some 10 professors, 75 TA’s, and office staff would have to be “temporarily” housed in EPB until a suitable new permanent home could be found.

So Rhetoric moved into all the offices, the conference room, the lounge, and some of the classrooms in the basement, as well as the first floor study hall and three writing classrooms on the 4th floor. They remain there 47 years later on a temporary basis. Along the way, Rhetoric faculty and the main office were moved to the first floor after a major flooding of the basement.

Over the years, some of the major construction problems have been fixed to some extent. Fresh air now flows out as well as in. Windows can be opened if you know the secret formula. And one summer in the late 1990’s, almost all of the building was vacated while every ceiling in EPB was removed in order to get at the tons of asbestos which were part of the original construction. Many offices and classrooms have had makeovers, and 12 years ago the Gerber Lounge got new furniture, carpet, art work, and wiring for power point presentations.

John Gerber would surely have been saddened by the thought that many of the programs allied with English eventually started to move back out of EPB and into far-flung locations around campus. Both the Writers Workshop and the International Writing Program moved into houses along Clinton Street. American Studies and Women’s Studies re-located to the Jefferson Building.  

Over the years there have been many proposals presented to the central administration for the re-naming of the building. The most frequent proposal was to name it after Gerber, who was considered a major national leader and innovator in the discipline. When members of the Philosophy Department objected, another plan was put forth to name it the Gerber/Brodbeck Building, to honor former UI Provost and philosophy professor May Brodbeck. But no proposal ever made the cut; so it remains one of the few buildings on campus with a generic name.

Yes, it’s still a little dark and gloomy inside. But brighter lighting and attractive study spaces have been added in the hallways and elsewhere. In another 50 years, EPB should be ideally equipped to carry out the missions of the Department.

Professor John Harper, the author of this article, was hired as executive assistant to Department Head John Gerber in the summer of 1966. His first assignment was to= order all of the furniture and equipment for EPB, and then to move the English Department from its nine previous building locations.