Tag Archive for English Department

Murillo’s Poem Featured in American Poetry Review

John Murillo (Photo courtesy of American Poetry Review)

New poetry by John Murillo, assistant professor of English, is published in the Feb. 2019 issue (Volume 48, No. 1) of American Poetry Review. Murillo also is featured on the publication’s cover page.

His poem, titled “A Refusal to Mourn the Deaths, by Gunfire, of Three Men in Brooklyn,” is a nod to Dylan Thomas’s famous poem, “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London.”

Sawhney Speaks at Tata Mumbai LitFest

Hirsh Sawhney, assistant professor of English, coordinator of South Asian Studies, spoke on a panel about the way in which outsiders write about India at Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest. Other panelists included, from left, memoirist Carlo Pizzati, Sawhney, writer Scott Carney, and renowned Indian publisher Karthika VK.

Hirsh Sawhney, assistant professor of English and coordinator of South Asian Studies, second from left, spoke on a panel at Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest about the way in which outsiders write about India. Pictured, from left, are fellow panelists: memoirist Carlo Pizzati, writer Scott Carney, and renowned Indian publisher Karthika VK.

Hirsh Sawhney, assistant professor of English and coordinator of South Asian Studies, recently participated in Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest. The ninth annual event was held Nov. 15–18 in Mumbai and was attended by more than 100 participants from around the world.

At the festival, Sawhney participated in a panel discussion about the way in which outsiders write about India, and how outside perspectives have shaped both Euro-American and South Asian perspectives on India.

“A lot of this conversation focused on the undying legacy of empire, and we had a nuanced conversation about issues of representation and authenticity, a discussion that seemed very relevant to parallel conversations occurring here at Wes,” he said. “The conversations were obviously focused on books and writers, and there were some big writers there, such as Allan Hollinghurst. But there were also provocative conversations about contemporary political issues, such as the rise of right-wing extremist policy and rhetoric in both Indian and North American politics.”

Bloom Creates New Memoir and Personal Essay Specialization on Coursera

Amy Bloom

Amy Bloom, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, recently launched a new nonfiction writing course housed on the Coursera platform. This is Wesleyan’s 21st free massive, open, online course (MOOC) offered through Coursera.

Launched on Jan. 14, Bloom’s Memoir and Personal Essay: Write About Yourself Specialization shows participants how to write with confidence. Taught by award-winning essayists and memoirists, this specialization provides tips, prompts, exercises, readings, and challenges that prepare students to write compelling nonfiction.

Bloom, author of two New York Times best-sellers, also is professor of the practice in creative writing and professor of the practice, English. In this Q&A, Bloom discusses the new specialization. (The Q&A also appears on Coursera.)

Q: What is the Memoir and Personal Essay Specialization?

A: The Memoir and Personal Essay Specialization focuses on these two popular forms of creative writing about the self. One of the wonderful opportunities in this kind of work is that memory and observation are even more important than imagination and the ability to create fictional plot lines. Here, you weave all these skills together to help you put to paper the story you’ve always wanted to share.

Bloom ’75 Speaks on the Importance of Research in Storytelling, Character Development

Amy Bloom '75, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, spoke on "Lies, Facts, and Research" during a Staff Luncheon Series talk Nov. 27 in Daniel Family Commons. Bloom, a New York Times best-seller, has been a nominee for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Bloom explained how she weaves historical events and research into her stories. "The story leads me to research, or research leads me to the story," Bloom said. "Research is behind the whole umbrella behind the story. It offers me so many opportunities to see, develop, and illuminate characters."

Amy Bloom ’75, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, spoke on “Lies, Facts, and Research” during a Staff Luncheon Series talk Nov. 27 in Daniel Family Commons. Bloom, a New York Times best-selling author, has been a nominee for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Bloom explained how she weaves historical events and research into her stories. “The story leads me to research, or research leads me to the story,” Bloom said. “Research offers me so many opportunities to see, develop, and illuminate characters.”

Amy Bloom

For her most recent novel, White Houses (Penguin Random House 2018), Bloom studied approximately 3,000 letters written over a 30-year-period between Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickok at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library to develop her new take on the secretive relationship between Eleanor and “Hick.” Bloom also is professor of the practice in creative writing and professor of the practice, English. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Slotkin Authors New Book of Semifictional Stories

Richard Slotkin, Olin Professor of English, Emeritus, is the author of a new book, Greenhorns: stories, published Oct. 10 by Leapfrog Press.

Slotkin writes more personally in Greenhorns than in his past nonfiction books, in a series of linked semifictional stories based on his ancestors’ immigration from Eastern Europe early in the 20th century.

A kosher butcher with gambling problems; a woman whose elegant persona conceals unspeakable horror; a Jewish Pygmalion who turns a wretched orphan into a “real American girl”; a boy who clings to his father’s old-world code of honor on the mean streets of Brooklyn; the “little man who wasn’t there,” whose absence reflects his family’s inability to deal with their memories—these tales of early 20th-century Jewish immigration blur memoir and fiction, recovering the violent circumstances, the emotional costs of uprooting that left people uncertain of their place in America and shaped the lives of their American descendants.

Q&A With Novelist Kate Greathead ’05 on Writing Laura & Emma

Kate Greathead ’05, who majored in English at Wesleyan, is the author of Laura & Emma: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, 2018).

Laura & Emma, the debut novel by Kate Greathead ’05, was reviewed by Wesleyan magazine books editor Laurie Kenney, who wrote: “Nine-time Moth StorySLAM champion Greathead’s debut novel offers an insightful and witty exploration of class, family, and privilege in New York blue-blood society in the 1980s and early ’90s, as told through the eyes of Laura, an Upper East Side single mother born into wealth, and her daughter, Emma, conceived during a one-night stand. Filled with an eclectic cast of supporting characters and told in vignettes that span more than a decade, Laura & Emma offers a fresh take on the mother-daughter bond and the struggles of trying to find oneself. Booklist says, ‘Greathead’s smart and original take on the mother-daughter novel impresses and charms.'”

In a follow-up conversation with the Connection, Greathead reflected on the writing process, including her work with Wesleyan mentors, and offered advice for those still working toward publication.

Q: How did your work at Wesleyan influence this book? Any great writing advice you received?

A: I wasn’t a confident person when I arrived at Wesleyan. I had some very kind and generous professors—Anne Greene, Phyllis Rose, Roxana Robinson—who helped me develop confidence in my writing, which made me take myself more seriously as a student and a person. One of my most valuable writing experiences was writing my senior thesis, a collection of personal essays, under the guidance of Elizabeth Bobrick [then a visiting professor in English]. Every two weeks we’d meet and discuss my work. The craft of writing can be taught, but of equal importance, the substance of what you write, can’t unless the teacher tries to get to know you. The best teachers find gentle ways to push you towards your most fertile material. Elizabeth took the time to do that and I benefited greatly.

Q: Any significant discoveries you made as you wrote about mother/daughter relationships?

A: I can’t speak for all mother/daughter relationships but I suspect in most there’s a volatility that’s just as intense as a romantic one, an undercurrent of jealousy, resentment, hurt, contempt, and neediness complicating the love. It might rarely erupt, but it’s there, simmering beneath the surface.

Paper by Cohen ’19 Honored by Center for Jewish Studies

Talia Cohen '19

Talia Cohen ’19

On April 3, the Center for Jewish Studies honored Talia Cohen ’19 with the Best Student Paper in Jewish Studies award.

Cohen’s paper, which she wrote for her Romantic Poetry class during the fall semester, examines a work by Jewish composer Isaac Nathan as a powerful response to anti-Semitism. Specifically, she considers his decision to set Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty” to a Sephardic Portuguese tune for Solomon ha-Levi Alkabez’s 16th-century mystical Sabbath poem, “Lecha Dodi.”

According to the abstract, “While Hebrew Melodies (1815), the songbook to which the musicalized version of Lord Byron’s ‘She Walks in Beauty’ belongs, was widely popular and generally held in favorable opinion at the time of its publication, several reviewers criticized the project from one of two seemingly contradictory angles: some took issue with the widespread veneration of Jewish music in a Christian society, finding the songs ‘too Jewish,’ while others complained that the music was not true to its ancient Israelite roots and therefore ‘not Jewish enough.’”

Ashraf Rushdy in The Conversation: The Art of the Public Apology

In his new book, Professor Ashraf Rushdy explains how lynching became a form of spectacle in the late 19th century until the 1930s.

Ashraf Rushdy

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” Amid a flood of accusations against public figures for sexual misconduct and other improprieties, Ashraf Rushdy, the Benjamin Waite Professor of the English Language, writes a piece exploring “the art of the public apology.” Rushdy is also professor of English, professor of African American studies, and professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies. Read his bio in The Conversation.

The art of the public apology

Ashraf Rushdy, Wesleyan University

Just prior to his sentencing, former USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar formally apologized to the more than 160 women whom he’d sexually abused. He joins a growing list. Over the past few months, many public personalities accused of sexual assault have apologized in public.

Many of us at this point are wondering what these apologies mean. Indeed, like others before him, Nassar said that an adequate apology was impossible. He stated,

“There are no words that can describe the depth and breadth of how sorry I am for what has occurred. An acceptable apology to all of you is impossible to write and convey.”

What, then, is it that he and other public figures are doing when they say sorry publicly?

In a forthcoming book, I look at different kinds of public apologies, including the kind of celebrity apologies we’ve witnessed in the past few months. What I argue is that public apologies are a type of performance and therefore should be understood as being different from private.

Bloom ’75 Goes Behind Closed Doors in “White Houses”

Award-winning author Amy Bloom ’75, Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, will release her latest novel, White Houses, on Feb. 13. The book centers on First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s love affair and friendship with reporter Lorena “Hick” Hickok. Told from Hickok’s point of view, White Houses covers everything from the inner workings of the Roosevelt administration to Hick’s own brutal upbringing in rural South Dakota.

Kirkus Reviews, in a starred review, says, “Bloom elevates this addition to the secret-lives-of-the-Roosevelts genre through elegant prose and by making Lorena Hickok a character engrossing enough to steal center stage from Eleanor Roosevelt.” While Publishers Weekly says, “Cleverly structured through reminiscences that slowly build in intimacy, Bloom’s passionate novel beautifully renders the hidden love of one of America’s most guarded first ladies.”

Amy Bloom ’75 is the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing and director of the Shapiro Creative Writing Center.

Bloom will embark on a book tour in support of White Houses later this month, starting at R.J. Julia in Madison, Conn., on Feb. 13. A full list of events, including several additional Connecticut appearances, can be found on Bloom’s website.

We caught up with Bloom to ask about her experience writing White Houses.

Is this your first time attempting such a novel, based on historical figures and events? Why this story, in particular? And what were the biggest challenges involved?
Every novel is, for me, an attempt to do something new. The Roosevelts were fascinating: great leaders, complicated people. The story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok was a love story not just lost to history but literally torn out of the history pages. (Lorena was routinely cropped out of White House photos.) The greatest challenge was pretty much what it always is: Who are the people, how to the tell the story and who is telling the story. With the added burden that periodically a little voice would yell: These are real people!

How was this process different than creating characters sprung from your imagination (even if based on real people)?
The characters inevitably, even when based on fact and history, are products of my imagination, of empathy, of research and of a certain hard-to-describe leap.

How did you begin the process? Did you read the letters first and then decide to write a novel based on the relationship? Or were you always interested in exploring the genre?
I read Blanche Weisen Cook’s wonderful biography of Eleanor Roosevelt in which she mentions the 3,000 letters between Eleanor and Lorena and writes a bit about who Lorena was—crack reporter, first woman to have a byline in The New York Times, author—and about the love affair between them. Cook was pilloried for asserting that it seemed very likely there had been a love affair, until other historians finally read the letters and, slowly, too slowly, and privately, apologized and acknowledged that it was obvious from the letters that this had not been a schoolgirl crush on either side—between women in their 40s!—but a love affair that laid the foundation for a lifelong friendship.

How much did you know about the relationship, and about “Hick,” specifically, when you began writing? What additional research did you do, and how did that additional research inform your writing?
Research always offers one new rivers to follow, new gardens to visit. There have been tons of books about Eleanor Roosevelt and a few about Lorena Hickok in relation to Eleanor. I read an awful lot.

What did you find most interesting about (and what were the challenges involved in) inhabiting the mind of, and creating a voice for, Hick?
I struggled to find my narrator and there were parts of Hick I did not admire, but the Hick that I created from her letters and from her professional work is funny, frank, tough, clear-eyed, impulsive and a hell of a storyteller.

What about this story spoke to you—and what did you learn along the way that will stay with you?
Two things: A life of pretense is a death sentence, and love is not wasted, even when it ends.

Wilbur Remembered for Founding Wes Press’s Poetry Series

Richard Wilbur taught English classes at Wesleyan for 20 years. 

Richard Wilbur, pictured third from left, taught English and literature classes at Wesleyan for 20 years. (Photos courtesy of Wesleyan’s Special Collections & Archives)

Richard Wilbur

Richard Wilbur, eminent poet and former professor of English, died Oct. 14 at the age of 96. Wilbur joined the Wesleyan faculty in 1957 and taught here until 1977. During his two decades at Wesleyan, he received the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for Things of This World (1956), was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and founded the renowned Wesleyan University Press poetry series.

Over his long and distinguished career as a poet and translator, he was appointed as national poet laureate, received two Pulitzer Prizes, a National Medal of the Arts, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the T.S. Eliot Award, and the Frost Medal, among others.

Wilbur died at a nursing home in Belmont, Mass. A memorial celebrating his life and work is being planned on campus in the spring.

Read Wilbur’s obituaries in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post and on NPR.

(Information for this article is provided by Wesleyan’s Office of Academic Affairs)

Yanique: Hurricane Irma Response Reflects Unresolved Feelings on U.S. Virgin Islands’ “Americanness”

Tiphanie YaniqueProfessor of English Typhanie Yanique writes in The New York Times on how the news media’s coverage and the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Irma’s devastation in the U.S. Virgin Islands reflects a bigger failure of America to fully embrace and grant rights to the citizens who reside on the islands.

In an essay titled “Americans in a Battered Paradise,” Yanique explains that 2017 marks 100 years since the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Danish to American rule. Yet this major anniversary has been scarcely noted in the continental United States. Virgin Islanders were granted American citizenship a decade after this transfer, yet still cannot vote in U.S. general elections.

The news media made a big deal out of Hurricane Irma’s landfall on the Florida Keys, Yanique writes, “But in truth Irma had struck United States land days before as a disastrous Category 5 hurricane. That was when it hit the United States Virgin Islands, devastating my home island, St. Thomas.”

Bloom ’75, Sawhney Explore the Elm City’s Underbelly in New Haven Noir

New Haven Noir, edited by Amy BloomA star-studded cast of contributors curated by Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing Amy Bloom ’75 fill the pages of New Haven Noir, featuring original stories from Michael Cunningham, Stephen Carter, Roxana Robinson, Assistant Professor of English Hirsh Sawhney and many others. The book is the latest addition to an award-winning series of original noir anthologies published by Akashic Books, founded by publisher and editor-in-chief Johnny Temple ’88.

“I’m a big fan of noir,” says Bloom, editor of the anthology, which has garnered praise from both Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. “When Johnny called me and said, I don’t know if you’re from New Haven, but I know you’re connected to New Haven and I’d love you to edit the anthology, I jumped at the opportunity,” she said.

Bloom worked with Temple to select contributors for the anthology, with Bloom choosing to invite several writer friends who hadn’t written noir before, including Alice Mattison and Michael Cunningham. “I told them, it’s conflict and it’s mystery. Bleak. Snappy outfits. Great dialogue,” Bloom said. “And they said, count us in.”

In addition to serving as editor of the anthology, Bloom also is a contributor. Her story, “I’ve Never Been to Paris,” set in New Haven’s East Rock neighborhood, is actually an excerpt from a mystery she wrote years ago, tailored specifically for New Haven Noir.