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Volume 23, Issue 1

From Planet English

Recalling the silence and grief that pervaded our department last fall, when many of us returned from summer break to learn of the death of our colleague Claire Sponsler, this academic year opened on a more auspicious note. With a solar eclipse on the first day of classes and an inspiring conference in honor of Claire Sponsler to cap off the week, many of us paused to experience a sense of ritual time that Claire herself would have appreciated, amid the seemingly endless deadline-driven tasks that accompany the start of a new semester. 

The conference, “Performance, Culture, and the Book,” brought over a dozen of Claire’s former graduate students and colleagues from UI and other institutions to our department for two days of stimulating presentations that explored Claire’s scholarly contributions to the study of medieval performance and material and print culture. A highlight of the event was a standing-room-only reading by Jeff Porter, who shared excerpts from “Planet Claire: A Love Story,” his memoir in progress about his life with Claire. A gift economy reigned in EPB that weekend, as Jeff invited conference participants each to take a book from Claire’s office library, and the presenters themselves modeled a spirit of scholarly generosity based on citation, collaboration, and recognition. Many thanks to Eric Gidal, Kathy Lavezzo, Jeff Porter, Jon Wilcox, and Joelle Petersen for providing us with this surfeit of intellectualism and collegiality to sustain us through the coming year.

As if we didn’t already know, the latest statistics provided by undergraduate advisors Kate Torno and Zach Hickman confirm that undergraduates are gravitating toward the English and Creative Writing major in numbers that exceed our initial projections. As it enters its second year, English and Creative Writing has approximately 500 declared majors, while “Pure” or “Badass” English, as some local wags refer to the elder major, has approximately 350. The new English Department Publishing Track, meanwhile, officially launches this fall with approximately 40 participating students from both majors. While we await further data about our programs that will become available in October, it is clear that our next few years will be dedicated to fine-tuning the undergraduate curriculum to meet the needs of our students, studying enrollment patterns to predict student flow through various levels of coursework, and fostering a departmental culture that celebrates writing across the genres. Speaking of writing and genres, as a matter of fact, we are super excited about this year’s search for a professor of Fiction Writing, who will contribute to the creative writing curriculum, and we hope, herald a period of upturn in faculty numbers.

But, I get ahead of myself. It’s only week five of the semester, and various imponderables make this an extremely lively period in the larger institutional scheme of things: a new budget model in the offing, tuition increases on the table, revised collective bargaining legislation in effect, possible Collegiate reorganization on the horizon, and impending changes of leadership in the UI Provost’s Office and CLAS Dean’s Office. English Department faculty, staff, and students, friends and fellow travelers, we are part of a very dynamic cosmos. The departure from ordinariness that some of us felt as we donned dark glasses and gazed into the sun on the first day of school is something we’re unlikely to shake as we move through the coming academic year. I look forward to sharing the experience with you in future issues of Reading Matters.


Undergraduate Matters

Congratulations to English and Creative Writing major Austin Hughes, whose poem "Similes" was nominated by Robyn Schiff and selected as the winner of the inaugural David Hamilton Undergraduate Creative Writing Prize. The poem can be read here.

Fellow English major Tatiana Schlote-Bonne's essay "Me Before You," nominated by Kerry Howley, was named runner-up for the inaugural David Hamilton Undergraduate Creative Writing Prize and can be found here.

Elijah Thompson-Acquah was one of three students who won a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study in Ireland over the summer with the Irish Writing Program.

English and Creative Writing major Jessica Albright blogged about studying abroad in Florence, Italy.

Erin McInerney's story, "Wedding in Galena" was published in Little Village Magazine.


Alumni Matters

Jessica Graff, a Spring 2017 graduate of the University of Iowa, studied English and Engaged Social Innovation with a focus on interfaith studies. After her graduation, Graff taught K-6 students about world religions and tolerance in after-school programs in the Iowa City area. Click here to read more about her honors thesis project, "The Interfaith Initiative."

KT Hawbaker, who graduated in 2013 from the department with a specialization in creative writing, is now Arts and Entertainment Editorial Assistant at the Chicago Tribune, after earning an M.A. in New Arts Journalism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago – with columns available here.

University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program alumna Angela Morales won PEN America's 2017 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for her debut essay collection, The Girls in My Town: Essays. Read the announcement here.


Graduate Matters

Congratulations to Samuel Fitzpatrick, one of fifteen students to receive a CLAS Dissertation Writing Fellowship for his dissertation titled, Descent Into the 'Easy Rawlins Mysteries Series': Walter Mosley and the Return of the Black Detective.

PhD candidate Victoria Burns, a member of the Spring 2017 Next Gen PhD pilot class, blogged about Judith Pascoe's process-focused Next Gen Romanticism seminar. Burns's blog post can be read here

Gemma Goodale-Sussen, Kate Nesbit, and Anna Williams published NextGen blogposts for Judith Pascoe's blog. Goodale-Sussen reported on her thesis in this article, "The Modernist Writer and the Criminologist," Meanwhile, Nesbit's, "From Ink to Hyperlink: Experimenting with an Online Comprehensive Exam Portfolio," can be read here, and Williams discussed her podcast dissertation in detail here

Faculty Matters

The graduating class of 2017 recognizes “All English Professors” for making a positive difference in their time as a Hawkeye. Congratulations to all instructors featured on this list, including Nellene Benhardus,
Linda Bolton, Florence Boos, Lori Branch, Matt Brown, Frances Cannon, Kathleen Diffley, Barbara Eckstein, Claire Fox, Gemma Goodale-Sussen, Michael Hill, Mark Isham, Adam Hooks, Tom Keegan, Marie Kruger, Brooks Landon, Chloe Livaudais, Ethan Madore, Kimberly Maher, Peter Nazareth, Kate Nesbit, Phil Round, Robyn Schiff, Kevin Smith, Anne Stapleton, Garrett Stewart, Inara Verzemnieks, Stephen Voyce, Jonathan Wilcox, Andrew Williams,
and Doris Witt. English undergraduate advisor, Kate Torno, also received recognition on this list.

Lori Branch was invited to lecture in China on postsecular studies and spent a week in late August giving talks and meeting with interdisciplinary groups of faculty, graduate students, and professionals in and around Beijing.

Matt Brown published two pieces this spring and summer: a review for Public Books on the aesthetics and history of audio literature, by way of a discussion of Matt Rubery’s The Untold Story of the Talking Book, and an essay for American Literary History called “Blanks: Data, Method, and the British American Print Shop.” He also gave a talk at Princeton University for the “Protestantism and the Materiality of Texts” symposium.

Ed Folsom was mentioned in the New York Times Book Review in an article titled, "Two New Old Books That Show Walt Whitman’s Different Selves."

Claire Fox co-edited The Latina/o Midwest Reader with Omar Valerio-Jiménez and Santiago Vaquera-Vásquez. 

Loren Glass was featured in an Iowa City Press-Citizen article related to University archival research and restrictions. It can be read here.  The Los Angeles Review of Books published his interview with Marvin Bell, "A Lifetime in Poetry: Marvin Bell on Iowa and the “Dead Man” Poems." 

Lena Hill was recently appointed as the University's Chief Interim Diversity Officer. "Professor Hill has been a steady and valued voice in the President’s Cabinet as well as an exceptional professor and an inspiring member of our community. I am confident she will execute these new responsibilities with her usual excellence," commented President Harreld in an article for IowaNow, which can be read here.

Congratulations to both Lena and Michael Hill, for the continued recognition of Invisible Hawkeyes, which won the Shambaugh Certificate of Merit.  The Hills hosted a Hawkeye Lunch and Learn Series on their book as well, with sessions in both Iowa City and Des Moines.

Visiting Assistant Professor, Jennifer Janechek, discussed her courses, research/dissertation, and more on the Modernist Podcast.

Chris Merrill's International Writing Program MOOC, Power of the Pen: Identities and Social Issues in Poetry and Plays, started in July and ran through September 7th. Merrill was recently featured in an interview by Orion Magazine on "Writer's, Climate, and the Paris Agreement." Chris was also the recipient of the Changwon KC Literary Prize. 

Anne Stapleton, in partnership with The Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio at UI Libraries, connects American towns with Sir Walter Scott's novels in "Under the Banner of Waverley," a project that "maps where and when the titular towns were founded, explores why the Waverley novels appealed to readers, and illustrates how Scott’s legacy continues into the 21st century."

Inara Verzemnieks published a memoir, Among the Living and the Dead: a Tale of Exile and Homecoming, which has received numerous positive reviews. In this one, The New York Times hails her work as "thoughtful and eloquent."  And The Washington Post calls her work a "searing memoir" and "exquisitely written." It was also profiled in Iowa City's Little VillageInara read from her memoir at Prairie Lights on August 30th and hosted a workshop with the Iowa Writer's House from Sept. 15-17 called, "Seeing is Believing: Crafting Great Characters from Real Life." 

The Iowa Review published Stephen Voyce's interview with Commune Editions in their Spring 2017 edition. It can be read here.

Other Matters

Amy Chen is the new librarian for the department. Before completing her PhD in English at Emory in 2013, she obtained her BA with Honors in English from the University of Iowa in 2006. As the English and American literature librarian, she supports instructors (graduate students, lecturers, and faculty) by teaching information literacy and research methods. She also provides reference help, manages the collections budget for the department, and serves on committees to support humanities on campus and nationally. Contact Amy at to make an appointment.

Nicholas Kelly, Loren Glass, and Nikki White received a research center award from the HathiTrust for their project, "A Writers' Workshop Workset with the Program Era Project (PEP)." The PEP team will compile a proof-of-concept workset with, at first, prominent individuals (faculty, staff, students) who were involved with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (IWW), then produce “style cards” for each author’s works (by volume), based on stylometric data gathered through text analysis of the IWW workset within the HTRC Data Capsule. It is the goal of the project to also create a living workset that can be continually updated for scholars who wish to engage with IWW authors and their writing.

The Iowa Review was featured in an LA Times article titled, "Could $499,000 in grants that help our soldiers be one reason Congress spared the NEA?" The Iowa Review was called, "an invaluable platform for poets and writers of fiction," and was featured for its literary prize, the Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veterans.

Upcoming Matters

English@Work: Storytelling and Videogame Design with English Alum, Lauryn Ash - September 20th, 12:30-1:20 pm, Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

NWP Visiting Writers Series: David Wallace-Wells - September 21st, 3:30-4:30 pm, Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

Working with Students in Distress Workshop with Barry A. Schreier, PhD, September 22nd, 2:00-3:30 pm, Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

Lecture by Joshua Miller, "In the Narrative Time of Translation: Miéville and Linguistic Apocalypse" - September 26th, 3:30-5:00 pm, Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

The Iowa Review's Annual Prairie Lights Reading - September 28th, 7:00 pm, Prairie Lights

Annual Fall Reception for English Graduate Students, Faculty, and Staff - September 30th, 4:00-6:00 pm

Colloquium with Ed Folsom: A yet more terrible and more deeply complicated problem’: Walt Whitman, Race, and American Democracy, October 3rd, 3:30 pm, Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

IWP 50th Panel: World Literature Today with English's Peter Nazareth - October 10th, 12:00-2:00 pm, Iowa City Public Library, Meeting Room A

IWP 50th Panel: Fifty Years of Latin American Literature with English's Claire Fox - October 11th, 2017,12:00-2:00 pm, Iowa City Public Library, Meeting Room A

Faculty Meeting - October 12th, 2017, 3:30 pm, Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

NWP Visiting Writers Series: Kiese Laymon -  October 12th, 2017, 7:00-9:00 pm, Shambaugh Auditorium

Reading: Zachary Turpin and Ed Folsom - October 14th, 2017, 10:00 am, Prairie Lights

Colloquium with Kathy Lavezzo: “‘Wandering Christians’ and Accommodated Jews: Domesticity, ‘the Jew,’ and the Future of Early Modern England," October 17th, 3:30 pm, Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism: Gillian Beer - October 19th, 4:00 pm, Old Capitol Museum Senate Chamber

Click here to visit the News and Events on the English Department website for more details.