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Volume 24, Issue 4

From Planet English: The Mardi Gras Labor Issue

Well, the maudlin reverie that I shared in last February’s Reading Matters has certainly come back to bite me.  With this semester’s early start, polar vortex, weekly storms, late spring break, and countless ICCSD snow days chez moi, belatedly I cherish the swan boat ride that was last winter.

Many of us, including me, it appears, had a sunnier outlook this past fall when we completed the Working at Iowa survey. The results are in, and English Department data indicate that in many areas faculty and staff feel roughly the same or better about their work life in English compared to our counterparts in other corners of the College and University (please contact me if you’d like a copy of the English results).  However, a handful of prompts drew less enthusiastic responses than those of our peers, and my attention was drawn to one in particular, “My unit supports work and personal life,” which garnered modest strong agreement (19% in English vs. 26% in CLAS), mostly middling agreement (55%), and a significant amount of disagreement (26%).

I think this response preponderantly reflects faculty sentiment, since staff comprise fewer than 10 of the 31 total respondents to the survey. And I suspect that one reason why faculty work/life balance is less than optimum is that greater administrative responsibilities are resting on fewer shoulders, impinging on time for research and personal life. In addition, we are expending extra labor on faculty recruitment this year, which would potentially provide long-term benefits to the Department. Many thanks to all who’ve contributed to these efforts!

But by this point in the semester everyone deserves a break, even though there isn’t one in sight on the academic calendar. So, with spring’s promise of new beginnings and new hires, and their potential magical effects on work/life balance, I propose that we collectively cut loose this Mardi Gras for one week (March 3-9), by living and working as though the effort allocation described on our PTEAP and labor contracts were in fact a reality. For many faculty, that would mean dedicating one work day for each 3 s.h. course taught, one day for each 20% of research or professional development time on the PTEAP, and one day for each 20% of administrative service.*  Graduate assistants, for most, living true to your contract means dedicating 20 hours per week to teaching and work assignments. Let’s luxuriate in normativity! How would that feel? After the revelry, we can go back to the non-urgent memos and eating at our desks and late-night real-time email conversations--or not!

*In the most recent Faculty Biennial Activity Report (2017), tenure-track faculty at UI self-report working a median 54.71 hours per week, non-tenure-track faculty a median of 49 hours per week, and chairs a median of 59, numbers that have remained relatively steady over the past six years, and are apparently similar across higher ed institutions.


Remembering Linda Bolton at CCC and in EPB

The Craft Critique Culture conference that will take place on April 4-6, 2019, features special events in honor of Linda Bolton, and several of Linda’s former students will be returning to campus for the event.  The conference organizers have put out a call for panel moderators on the departmental listserv, and you can find details about the schedule here.

Also in honor of Linda Bolton, over winter break Cherie Hansen-Rieskamp and Kathy Lavezzo transformed Linda’s office into a graduate student library.  Please stop by and see this lovely quiet space that is furnished with a table designed by Linda’s mother, Lorraine Bolton (keys are available for check-out at the front desk).  Finally, a series of birthday greetings to Linda from colleagues and students that she received shortly before her death have been posted to the “In Memoriam” story that appears on our departmental website.


T-Shirt Matters

Matt Brown writes: In the slow, luxurious roll-out of the department’s dreamy new wordmark and logo, you will be startled to find, in your somnambulant graphic design reverie, an action item. T-shirts! The department is sponsoring complimentary t-shirts for staff, grad students, and faculty. All cotton, two different cuts, and three different phrase choices, and size options of course. The sign-up sheet, with displayed t-shirt designs, is or will be in the Zimansky mail room. Watch out, though: the siren call of sleepy, hypnotic branding may lull you into missing the deadline: Monday, March 11. We want these things ready for spring, when you can stride with pride about the land, making all who see you a little buzzed, a little blissed out, all the better to lure them into the delights of literary study and creative writing at Iowa. Sign up by MONDAY, MARCH 11 for your English department t-shirt!


Greece Matters

This winter, John D'Agata and 18 undergrad English and English & Creative Writing majors packed a semester's worth of writing into a 12-day trip to Greece for The Land of the Muses study abroad course. Students spent time writing at Plato's Academy in Athens and visited sites such as Lion Gate (home of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra), the Temple of Apollo at Delphi (where the Plutarch worked as a priest), Olympia (site of the first Olympic Games), and the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens.

Students writing at Plato's AcademyStudents at Lion GateStudents at Temple of ApolloStudents at OlympiaStudents at Parthenon


Alumni Matters

Congratulations to English alum Keith Reed (BA 2017) who was just accepted to Mizzou, the #1 J-school in the US!

Roger Solberg (MA 1985) gave a lecture on the art of memoir writing at Edinboro University in October 2018, which can be viewed here


Graduate Matters

Spenser Santos recently had Old English poems that he translated published in the Cordite Poetry Review

Congratulations to English PhD candidate Caitlin Simmons, who received a Marcus Bach Dissertation Fellowship! During the fellowship period she will complete her dissertation, “Dispossession and Survivance in the Literature of Atrocity.” The project uncovers a collective discourse of resistance--a discourse of "survivance," not victimhood--generated by writers from a variety of groups including holocaust survivors, Native Americans and African Americans, among them.

E Mariah Spencer has been awarded the Judith P. Aikin Award for study at the Newberry Library this summer. The award was made available through the UI Newberry Renaissance Consortium, and will fund extended research on the publishing history of Margaret Cavendish's literary works


Faculty Matters

Matthew Brown’s short essay “Document” was published in a special issue of Early American Studies dedicated to “Keywords in Early American Literature and Material Texts.” The volume is one of the fruits of a six-year Mellon-funded EALMT research fellowship and summer seminar program for dissertating graduate students that Matt helped launch, based at the Library Company of Philadelphia and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies.

Congratulations to Ed Folsom, who has received an Arts and Humanities Initiative Grant to support “Walt Whitman at 200: The Bicentennial Symposium,” a major event in celebration of the poet’s landmark birthday year. This symposium will accompany a major exhibition that Professor Folsom is curating with librarian and UI English PhD Stephanie Blalock for the UI Main Library first-floor gallery from April through August 2019. 

Patricia Foster has essays forthcoming in Antioch Review, Under the Sun, and The Examined Life. Her essay, "Nowhere" from the Colorado Review has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Loren Glass' op-ed "Refusing to talk about white privilege helps maintain it" appeared in the Des Moines Register on February 6.

Congratulations to Louisa Hall who was just named a finalist for the International Dylan Thomas Prize, one of the most prestigious awards for young writers, aimed at encouraging raw creative talent worldwide. 

Congratulations to Kerry Howley, who received a prestigious Lannan Foundation Residency Fellowship and has been nominated for a National Magazine Award.

Robyn Schiff's poem "American Cockroach" was published in the Dec. 10 print issue of The New Yorkerand republished later that month in The New Yorker's online year-end roundup.

Congratulations to Jon Wilcox, who has been awarded a Fulbright Core Scholar Award to teach and conduct research at the University of Iceland in during Fall 2019. While in residence, Jon will be working on a project titled Viking-Age North-Sea Culture: Exploring Medieval Connections between Iceland and England.


Staff Matters

Congrats to Cherie Hansen-Rieskamp, who was nominated TWICE - once by Lynne Nugent and once by graduate students - for a UI Livewell Wellness Hero Award!

Cherie wellness hero


In Memoriam

The English Department is saddened to learn recently of the passing of Oliver Steele, UI Professor of English 1967-1992. To view the full obituary, featuring tributes from English faculty Miriam Gilbert and Florence Boos, please visit:


Upcoming Matters

Faculty Meeting of the Tenured Faculty DCG - February 28, 2019 | 3:30-5:00 pm | Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

The Krause Series in Contemporary Nonfiction: Lyz Lenz, Editor - March 6, 2019 | 1:00 pm | 403 EPB

EC Meeting - March 7, 2019 | 3:30-5:00 pm | 331 EPB

Obermann Center: Mentoring with Diverse Humanities Careers in Mind - ImaginePHD Workshop for UI Faculty, Graduate Students, and Staff - March 7, 2019 | 4:00-5:30 pm | Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

Obermann Center: Humanities for the Public Good Working Symposium: National Experiments in Career Diversity - March 8, 2019 | 9:00-5:30 pm | Iowa City Public Library

Elizabeth Rodriguez public talk, Collective Art/Creative Labor: Cultural Activism and the Civil Rights Movement -  March 14, 2019 | 3:15-5:45 pm | Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

Spring Break - March 18-22, 2019

Faculty Meeting (tbc) - March 28, 2019 | 3:30-5:00 pm | Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

The Morris Sessions Lecture Series: Eula Biss Event - Coffee with TAs - March 29, 2019 | 10:00-10:45 am | Becker 101

The Morris Sessions Lecture Series: "Lyric Knowledge: A Reading and Staged Conversation" with Eula Biss, Robyn Schiff, and Stephen Voyce - March 29, 2019 | 3:00-4:30 pm | Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

Mission Creek Festival: NWP Showcase Reading with NWP alumni Gabriel Houck, Jennifer S. Cheng, and Lawrence L. Ypil - April 3, 2019 | 7:00 pm | Prairie Lights Books

Craft, Critique, Culture Conference - April 4-6, 2019 

Kathryn Roberts, "The New Monastics: Yaddo, MacDowell, and the Vocation of Writing" - April 4, 2019 | 3:30 pm | Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

Mission Creek Festival: Poet Kevin Young Q&A for Writing Students - April 4, 2019 | 5:00-6:00 pm | Glenn Schaeffer Library, Dey House

EC Meeting - April 11, 2019 | 3:30-5:00 pm | 331 EPB

The Krause Series in Contemporary Nonfiction: Reading by Mieke Eerkens - April 11, 2019 | 7:00 pm | Prairie Lights Books

Johnson Society of the Central Region - April 12-13, 2019 

Undergrad Outcomes Assessment Meeting - April 18, 2019 | 3:30-5:00 pm | Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

Graduate Award Celebration/Reception - April 24, 2019 | 5:00-7:00 pm | Saint Burch Restaurant

EC Meeting (tbc) - April 25, 2019 | 3:30-5:00 pm | 331 EPB

Reading by Poet Jorie Graham, Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor - April 25, 2019 | 7:00 pm | Shambaugh Auditorium, Main Library

Master Class with Jorie Graham, Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet - April 26, 2019 | 10:00 am | Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

English Undergraduate Recognition Ceremony - April 26, 2019 | 3:30-5:00 pm | University of Iowa Old Capitol Building

Faculty Meeting (tbc) - May 2, 2019 | 3:30-5:00 pm | Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB

The Krause Series in Contemporary Nonfiction: Leslie Carol Roberts - May 2, 2019 | 7:00 pm | Prairie Lights Books

Barbara Eckstein Retirement Celebration - May 3, 2019


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