Tag Archive for English Department

5 Questions With . . . Ashraf Rushdy on Lynching in America

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

In his new book, Professor Ashraf Rushdy explains why lynching became a form of spectacle in the late 19th Century until the 1930s. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

(Story contributed by Jim H. Smith)

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we ask “5 Questions” of Ashraf Rushdy, professor of English, professor of African American Studies and chair of the African American Studies Program. Rushdy is the author of American Lynching, a meticulously researched interpretive history of how lynching became a uniquely American phenomenon and how it has endured, evolved and changed over the course of three centuries. The book was published by Yale University Press in October 2012.

American Lynching by Ashraf Rushdy

American Lynching by Ashraf Rushdy

Q: Scholars have been writing about lynching for more than a century now. There is a significant body of extant literature. What did you aim to achieve with American Lynching? How is it different from other books on the subject?

A: There are, indeed, many books about lynching, and I’m beholden to that body of scholarship. Many of the books that have been written are about specific cases of lynching. There are fewer books that attempt to interpret the phenomenon generally. That’s what I have attempted to do with my book.

Lynching has been part of the American fabric for a long time, but the term has not consistently described the same thing over that time. I wanted to understand how lynching had taken root in America and how one practice, widely referred to as lynching, could develop into something quite different. And I wanted to offer a strong interpretation.

It’s interesting to note that lynching was not always a racially motivated act. The relative absence of lynchings in slaveholding Northern states and the occurrence of lynching in non-slaveholding western states is explained by the extent to which the mores and established precedents that emerged from those original slave laws took hold of the imagination of the residents of those states.

Q: Is lynching a uniquely American phenomenon, or is there a uniquely American “style” of lynching?

A: Well, the term “lynching” is certainly uniquely American. It derives from Colonel Charles Lynch,

Cohen’s Book Named a National Book Critics Circle Finalist

Book by Lisa Cohen.

The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) named Assistant Professor of English Lisa Cohen’s book, All We Know: Three Lives, a “2012 Finalist” in the biography category. Founded in 1974 in New York City, the NBCC is the sole award bestowed by working critics and book-review editors.

A finalists’ reading will be held at 6 p.m. on Feb. 27 at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium. Winners of the National Book Critics Circle book awards will be announced on Feb. 28.

In All We Know: Three Lives, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Cohen revives the forgotten lives of three women. Esther Murphy, an heiress whose conversation was renowned for its brilliance; Madge Garland, a pioneering fashion editor; and Mercedes de Acosta, a collector and “quintessential fan,” had much in common: as lesbians and as women perceived to be failures. Cohen’s work rescues their reputations and confronts the reader with a fundamental question of biography: whose lives do we choose to remember, and why?

 

Cohen’s Book Named Top, Most Notable in 2012 by Publishers Weekly, NYT

Book by Lisa Cohen.

Publishers Weekly named Assistant Professor of English Lisa Cohen’s book, All We Know: Three Lives, as one of the “Best Books of 2012.” In All We KnowPublishers Weekly says “Cohen … fully delineates the conventional biographical matters of ancestry, parents, schooling, marriages, affairs, friendships, breakups, work, and death. This well-researched, gossipy, informative, and entertaining biographical triptych is also a thoughtful, three-part inquiry into the meaning of failure, style, and sexual identity.”

The New York Times also named the book one of the “100 Notable books of 2012.” In a book review, the NYT says “Cohen’s own idiosyncratic hybrid doesn’t disappoint. She builds a rich picture of a lost world — and three women who dared to inhabit it on their own terms.”

 

Willis Speaks on Assemblage Artist Joseph Cornell in New York

Elizabeth Willis, professor of English, Shapiro-Silverberg professor, was a part of a talk commemorating Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York on Nov. 16. Cornell was an American artist, sculptor, and experimental filmmaker. He was also one of the pioneers of an art form known as assemblage, which involves compositions of various 2-D and 3-D objects. In this distinctive event, Willis joined other contemporary poets and filmmakers and shared poetry readings inspired by Cornell’s unique creations.

Reed’s Son of Destruction Published

Book by Kit Reed.

Book by Kit Reed.

Kit Reed, resident writer in the English Department, is the author of Son of Destruction, published by Severn House (U.K.) in October 2012. The U.S. version will be released in March 2013.

When his mother dies, Dan Carteret has only two leads to the identity of his father: a photograph of four young men, and a newspaper cutting showing the remains of a victim of spontaneous human combustion. Carteret travels to his mother’s hometown of Fort Jude and discovers that three cases of spontaneous combustion have occurred there in the recent past. In the search for his father, he confronts an affluent, insular society that closes ranks and refuses to give up the secret of what happened to Carteret’s mother at a fateful beach party in her youth. A fragmented narrative, using half a dozen different viewpoints, tells the story of the “thin line between an organised society and raw nature,” and presents a compelling account of people torn by clan loyalty and made desperate by love, hate and loneliness.

More information on the book is online here.The book is reviewed in The Financial Times.

Cohen Author of All We Know: Three Lives

Book by Lisa Cohen.

Lisa Cohen, assistant professor of English, is the author of All We Know: Three Lives, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in July 2012. The book is 448 pages and includes 52 illustrations and notes.

In All We Know, Cohen describes three women’s glamorous choices, complicated failures, and controversial personal lives with lyricism and empathy.

Esther Murphy was a brilliant New York intellectual who dazzled friends and strangers with an unstoppable flow of conversation. But she never finished the books she was contracted to write—a painful failure and yet a kind of achievement.

The quintessential fan, Mercedes de Acosta had intimate friendships with the legendary actresses and dancers of the twentieth century. Her ephemeral legacy lies in the thousands of objects she collected to preserve the memory of those performers and to honor the feelings they inspired.

An icon of haute couture and a fashion editor of British Vogue, Madge Garland held bracing views on dress that drew on her feminism, her ideas about modernity, and her love of women. Existing both vividly and invisibly at the center of cultural life, she—like Murphy and de Acosta—is now almost completely forgotten.

At once a series of intimate portraits and a startling investigation into style, celebrity, sexuality, and the genre of biography itself, All We Know explores a hidden history of modernism and pays tribute to three compelling lives.

For more information on the book and to read book excerpts and reviews, go here.

Cohen’s New Book Reviewed in The New Yorker

A new book by Lisa Cohen, assistant professor of English, was given an enthusiastic early review in The New Yorker’s book blog on March 12. Her book, All We Know, will be published in July 2012.

“Cohen’s remarkable, sui generis study about three modernist figures—Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta, and Madge Garland, for many years a fashion editor at British Vogue—is, in part, about dread, which is to say failure and fear of self-exposure, and how we accommodate our lives to suit the various shadows splashed by the sun of occasional triumph…

By servicing Murphy and, in the book’s shattering final section about Madge Garland, a fashion star who reimagined her life out of the detritus of family neglect, English snobbism, and sartorial surface, Cohen services her subjects while merging and emerging from them. She extends them every loving courtesy, such as the human desire to identify with other humans, while exercising her right as a major writer: to make of her subjects and, to a certain degree, herself, what she will.”

Two Professors Receive Prestigious Guggenheim Fellowships

Magda Teter

Magda Teter, Chair of Medieval Studies, Jeremy Zwelling Professor of Jewish Studies, professor of history, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and Elizabeth Willis, the Shapiro-Silverberg Professor of Creative Writing, professor of English, have been awarded 2012 fellowships by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

According to the Guggenheim Foundation, the prestigious academic honor is presented to scholars “who have already demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.” This year, the 87th annual competition recognized 180 scholars, artists and scientists from across the U.S. and Canada. They were selected from a pool of almost 3,000 applicants, range in age from 27 to 84, and represent 62 disciplines and 74 different academic institutions. Through their fellowship projects, they will travel to all parts of the globe.

Teter also was recently awarded a Harry Frank Guggenheim fellowship. Both fellowships will allow her to take a full year sabbatical and support her travel and research expenses to the Vatican and Poland as she works on a new book, The Pope’s Dilemma: Blood Libel and the Boundaries of Papal Power.

The Pope’s Dilemma takes the familiar story of blood libel against Jews to tell a much broader story of religion and politics in Europe, demonstrating that the persistence of the ‘blood libel’ illuminates the reach, and also the limits, of papal authority in coping with local powers – a topic of significant interest even today, in light of the sex abuse scandals,” Teter says.

According to her biography on the Foundation web site, Teter specializes in early modern religious and cultural history, with an emphasis on Jewish-Christian relations in Eastern Europe, the politics of religion, and the transmission of culture among Jews and Christians across Europe in the early modern period. She is the author of Jews and Heretics in Catholic Poland (Cambridge University Press, 2006), Sinners on Trial (Harvard University Press, 2011), and a co-editor of and contributor to Social and Cultural Boundaries in Pre-modern Poland (Littman, 2010). She has also published numerous articles in English, Polish and Hebrew. Teter serves on the editorial boards of Polin, the Sixteenth Century Journal, and the AJS Review, and is co-founder and editor of the Early Modern Workshop, an open source site with historical texts and videos of scholars discussing them.

Elizabeth Willis

Willis, who specializes in poetry, is the author of Address (Wesleyan University Press, 2011), which won the PEN New England Winship Award for Poetry. Her other books include Meteoric Flowers (Wesleyan University Press, 2006), Turneresque (Burning Deck, 2003), and The Human Abstract (Penguin, 1995), which won the National Poetry Series. Her biography on the Foundation web site notes: “Her most recent projects are investigative in spirit, shifting increasingly toward hybrid genres and explicitly questioning the boundaries of literary representation.” Willis has been awarded fellowships in poetry from the California Arts Council and the Howard Foundation. She has held residencies at Brown University, University of Denver, Naropa University, the MacDowell Colony, and the Centre International de Poésie, Marseille, and was a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at Mills College.

With her Guggenheim fellowship, Willis will travel to Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Idaho, New York and California to conduct research for a new project. She explains, “I’ll be working on a new project that involves American religious, cultural and political history. It’s a book-length poem, not a history, but along the way it is thinking about theater, film and improvised family structures. I’m interested in what constitutes a sovereign body within America’s evolving concept of itself as a nation. And for me, poetry always brings up interesting questions about representation and voice.”

Willis adds, “I’m thrilled. The fellowship is a once-in-a-lifetime honor, and the timing couldn’t be better for me. The work I’m doing now involves a good deal of research and travel, so I’m immensely grateful that I’ll have the chance to focus on it more completely.”

Pfister Invited to Teach American Literature in China

Joel Pfister

Joel Pfister, the Kenan Professor of the Humanities, chair of the English Department, is invited to serve as one of two American faculty members in the West-China Faculty Enhancement Program in American Studies.

The program, which will take place in July in Xi’an, China, is sponsored by the Ford Foundation and China Association for the Study of American Literature.

Pfister will present 10 intensive, two-hour lectures on American literature to faculty from universities in western China that have poor rural students. He’ll also conduct a seminar session on American studies pedagogy.

“The aim is to better equip these university teachers to teach American literature and American history within a wide-ranging and theoretically sophisticated American studies context,” Pfister says.

Olin Unferth’s Revolution National Book Critics Finalist

Book by Deb Olin Unferth

A book written by Deb Olin Unferth, assistant professor of English, was named a 2011 finalist in the National Book Critics Circle.

Olin Unferth’s Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War (Henry Holt) is one of five finalists in the autobiography category. In the memoir, Unferth describes the year she ran away from college with her Christian boyfriend and followed him to Nicaragua to join the Sandinistas.

Winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards will be announced at the awards ceremony on March 8 at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium in New York.

Read more about the finalists online here.

Millett Visiting Writer Edwidge Danticat to Speak Feb. 8

Edwidge Danticat is the 2012 Millett VIsiting Writer. (Photo courtesy of the MacArthur Foundation)

MacArthur Fellow and award-winning author Edwidge Danticat will deliver a reading at 8 p.m. Feb. 8 in Memorial Chapel. Danticat, a Haitian-American writer, is the 2012 Fred B. Millett Visiting Writer.

Danticat, a 2011 recipient of the Langston Hughes medal, is the author of Breath, Eyes, Memory (an Oprah Book Club selection), the story collection Krik? Krak! (a National Book Award finalist), The Farming of Bones (an American Book Award winner), and the novel-in-stories, The Dew Breaker. Her memoir, Brother, I’m Dying, was a 2007 finalist for the National Book Award and a 2008 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. Create Dangerously, her most recent book, is a collection of essays.

She also is the editor of The Butterfly’s Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the United States and Haiti Noir.

Danticat received a B.A. from Barnard College and an M.F.A. from Brown University. She worked as a visiting professor of creative writing at New York University and the University of Miami.

“I am absolutely thrilled that we are finally able to bring Edwidge to Wesleyan especially in this particular manner as the Fred B. Millet visiting writer— given Millet’s defense of free speech,” says Gina Athena Ulysse, associate professor of anthropology, associate professor of African-American Studies, director of Center for African-American Studies. “Besides her numerous accomplishments and personal lost, she continues to work tirelessly exercising such graceful restraint in her work as she gives voice to experiences that are often erased. Since the 2010 earthquake, she remains a devoted soldier in Haiti’s non-ending battle for humanity.”

The Millett Visiting Writer event is held annually in honor of the late Fred Millett, professor of English, emeritus. Cynthia and George Willauer ’57 are two of the initial donors.

The English Department, African American Studies, Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the Office of Diversity, the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and Academic Affairs are co-sponsoring the event.

Danticat’s visit is part of the Spring 2012 Writing at Wesleyan Russell House Series on Prose and Poetry.  To view the upcoming speakers, see: http://www.wesleyan.edu/writing/community/writing-events.html

Reed Authors New Story Collection

Book by Kit Reed.

Kit Reed, resident writer in the English Department, is the author of the book, What Wolves Know, published in spring 2011.

The collection of stories includes tales of mothers who are monstrous in their maternalness, families on the brink of implosion, children mutated by parental pressure in every dream home a dystopia. The title story is about a boy raised by wolves who struggles to adapt to the modern world.

Read more about this story collection and others at http://www.kitreed.net/.