Tag Archive for romance languages

5 Questions With . . . Catherine Poisson on the Benefits of Bilingualism

Catherine Poisson

In this issue of The Wesleyan Connection, we ask 5 Questions of Catherine Poisson, associate professor of romance languages and literatures.

Q: Professor Poisson, you were recently named a Chevalier L’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (a Knight of the Order of Academic Palms) by the Minister of Education for your contribution to the promotion of French language and culture. What was your reaction to receiving this award, and why do you think you were nominated for the honor?

A: I was puzzled and somewhat apprehensive on receiving the notice of Certified Mail, so when I opened the envelope at the post office, it was a happy surprise; I felt flattered. My nomination is in recognition of my contribution to the association Education Française à New York (EFNY). I confess I went to Wikipedia to check exactly what L’Ordre des Palmes Académiques was. I discovered it was founded by Napoléon to honor eminent members of the University of Paris. It consists of a medallion of palms attached to a purple ribbon, which will be presented to me at a ceremony at a later time.

Q: Last June, you were featured in The Wall Street Journal as the president of the EFNY (Education Française à New York). What is the purpose of this organization?

A: EFNY was created in 2005 by Francophone parents who were struggling to have their children not lose their ability to speak French. Those parents – myself included – could not afford private bilingual schools, and believed that private tutoring was not an answer. Bilingual children feel somewhat estranged and we needed to place them in social situations with other peers. EFNY’s mission is to promote French in the Public School System both for Francophone and Anglophone children. We do so in two ways: creation of after school programs (we have 10 sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn) and launching French/English dual languages classes in elementary schools. And we are now moving towards a continuation of the program at the middle school level.

Q: Why is it important students learn a foreign language at a young age?

A:  I would gladly write 20 pages on the subject!  But in a nutshell: the brain is a spectacular sponge till you are 12. From age 12 on, learning a second language becomes increasingly difficult and the results are not as good. Teaching a 5- or 6 year-old child a second language is a true gift; she/he learns to think in several dimensions and the effects are long lasting and far-reaching. Bilingual children are more open to intellectual questions, more curious, and perform better on tests. There are numerous experiments to prove that it is a spectacular advantage in life. My colleague Ana Pérez-Gironés used to have a poster on her office door that said: “Monolinguism can be cured.” I use the motto whenever I can.

Q: Do you encourage your Wesleyan students to study abroad? What is your involvement with the Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris?

A:  Studying abroad is not a requirement for the major, but at least 90 percent of the French studies majors do spend a semester or a year in a Francophone country, as do most of the many other Wesleyan students who study French but are not FRST majors. In the French section of Romance Language and Literatures, we believe it is a key component of learning French, whether or not you are a major, and we can usually spot students who spent a semester abroad upon their return. Not only is there a change in their language ability but also a slight change in the way they dress or interact; it can truly be a life changing experience. The French faculty are all very involved in the Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris, from the orientations that take place on campus to the change of curriculum. I will be the resident director in 2012-2013 and am very happy about it even though it is a tremendous amount of work, much more work than teaching courses here on campus.

Q: Where are you from, and what led you to teach French at Wesleyan? Also, what classes do you teach at Wesleyan?

I am from Paris, came to the States to work on my M.A. on the American Thriller of the late 30s, completed the degree, then decided to settle here and did an M.A. and a Ph.D. in French Literature at New York University. It is a pretty common trajectory for French faculty in U.S. universities. The year I completed my Ph.D. I was offered a position at Wesleyan and have been happily teaching here ever since. I go back to France twice a year for about six to eight weeks per year. Being bilingual is one thing, being bicultural is another. For myself and my students, it is important to keep up with what’s going on in France.

My focus is literature and culture of the 20th and the 21st century. This semester, I teach a new course on French Popular Culture from 1840 to today examining the question of high and low cultures through sentimental, detective and graphic novels. Very new material for me and very absorbing. I also teach a language class which we believe all tenured and tenure-track French faculty should do.

Curran Recipient of Clifford Prize for 18th-Century Research

Andrew Curran

Andrew Curran, professor of romance languages and literatures, is the co-winner of the 2010-11 James L. Clifford Prize.  The prize is awarded annually by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies to the author of the best article regarding any aspect of eighteenth-century culture.

Receiving the award is Curran’s Rethinking Race History: The Role of the Albino in French Enlightenment Sciences.

The Clifford Fund was originally established to support an annual prize in honor of James L. Clifford. Clifford founded The Johnsonian News Letter in 1940, was Secretary to the English Institute, twice a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and third President of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. During his long and energetic life, he produced numerous books, articles, bibliographies, essays, edited collections, editions and, of course, the much beloved, imitated, and quoted Johnsonian News Letter. Accordingly, the Clifford Prize is awarded to the author of the best article on an eighteenth-century subject, interesting to any eighteenth-century specialist, regardless of discipline.

The American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies is a non-profit, educational group founded to promote the study of all aspects of the eighteenth century.  It sponsors conferences, awards, fellowships and prizes, and publishes Eighteenth-Century Studies and Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture.

Shapiro Translates Gautier’s Selected Lyrics

Book translation by Norman Shapiro.

Norman Shapiro, professor of romance languages and literatures, is the translator of Théophile Gautier’s Selected Lyrics. The book was published in December by Yale University Press.

Théophile Gautier [1811–1872] was a prominent French poet, novelist, critic, and journalist. He is famous for his virtuosity, his inventive textures, and his motto “Art for art’s sake.”  His work is often considered a crucial hinge between High Romanticism—idealistic, sentimental, grandiloquent—and the beginnings of “Parnasse,” with its emotional detachment, plasticity, and irresistible surfaces.

According to the book’s preview: “Norman Shapiro’s translations have been widely praised for their formal integrity, sonic acuity, tonal sensitivities, and overall poetic qualities, and he employs all these gifts in this collection.  Mining one of the crucial treasures of the French tradition, Shapiro makes a major contribution to world letters. “

Lowrie Translates Rimbaud’s Illuminations

Translation by Joyce Lowrie

Joyce Lowrie, professor of romance languages and literatures, emerita, is the translator of the book, Arthur Rimbaud ILLUMINATIONS, published by XLibris in 2010. Norm Shapiro, professor of romance languages and literatures, wrote an introduction to the book.

According to Lowrie: “to see – or not to see: that was[ Rimbaud’s] option. ‘To See’ became his will. In his poetic career, Rimbaud chose ‘to see’ by confounding the very instruments of vision: his eyes and his intellect. He dreamed about and ‘saw’ the Crusades, he ‘saw’ enchantments, magical dream-flowers, a flower that says its name, a digitalis that ‘opens up over a tapestry of silver filigree, of eyes, and tresses,’ flowers that were like crystal disks, or made of agate and rubies. He ‘saw’ giant candelabras, grasses made of emeralds and steel, theatrical stages that could accommodate horrors or masterpieces, circus horses and children. He ‘heard’ rare music, the sounds of waves and of water, or ‘the rare rumor of pearls, conchs, and seashells’ hidden deep in the ocean. He saw russet robes, objects made of opal, sapphires, or metals. He ‘saw’ objects made of steel studded with golden stars, angels of fire and of ice, carriages made with diamonds. He also described what one might call ‘nothingness’ as opposed to ‘being,’ in these days of ours.”

Shapiro Translates Irony, Puns in Preversities

Book translated by Norm Shapiro.

Norm Shapiro, professor of romance languages and literatures, translated and edited the book Preversities: A Jacques Prevert Sampler, published by Black Widow Press, September 2010.

Jacques Prevert (1900-1977) was a poet and screenwriter who actively participated in the Surrealist Movement as well as the Rue du Chateau group with Raymond Queneau and Marcel Duchamp. His poetry is taught in schools in France and his works appear in countless anthologies throughout the world. This comprehensive anthology, drawing from all time periods of his work, is the first in English to present a picture of the whole of Prevert’s poetic achievement.

Shapiro translates the full-range of Prevert’s irony, puns, and word play that has enchanted French readers throughout the 20th century.

Tölölyan Interviewed by French Publication

Khachig Tölölyan, professor of letters, professor of English, founder and editor of Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, was interviewed by the French weekly publication L’Express about Thomas Pynchon on Oct. 6. The article is online, in French.

Degiovanni Honored for His Latin-American Scholarly Book

Fernando Degiovanni

Fernando Degiovanni, associate professor of romance languages and literatures, associate professor of Latin American studies, was awarded the prestigious Alfredo Roggiano Prize for his Los textos de la patria: Nacionalismo, politicas culturales y canon en Argentina (2007). This prize is awarded every three years by the International Institute of Ibero-American Literature to the author of an outstanding scholarly book on any phase of Latin American literature or culture.

The International Institute of Ibero-American Literature is the oldest association of scholars devoted the study of Latin American literature and culture in the United States.

Schiavi Supports Romance Language Department

Kristine Schiavi, administrative assistant for the Romance Languages and Literatures Department, enjoys interacting with the countries and cultures represented in the department. (Photo by Emily Brackman '11)

Q: Kristine, when did you come to Wesleyan?

A: I started working at Wesleyan in January of 2006, originally as an AA in University Relations.

Q: What are your main job responsibilities?

A: My job responsibilities are wide and varied. My job is to provide support to the Romance Language Department, including 23 faculty members and five foreign teaching assistants. Specifically, that can mean anything from supervising student workers and organizing information to planning events and travel, as well as accounting for more than 50 accounts, and troubleshooting any manner of old building

Curran Elected Fellow by N.Y. Academy of Medicine

In July 2010, the board of the New York Academy of Medicine elected Andrew Curran, professor of French, Department of Romance Languages, a Fellow of the Academy in the history of medicine. Curran had previously received the Paul Klemperer fellowship in the history of medicine at the Academy and had given a lecture there on “natural history and slavery.” While at the Academy, Curran finished a book on 18th-century life sciences, The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Era of Enlightenment (Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming 2011).

Shapiro Honored by French Minister of Culture and Communication

Norman Shapiro

Norm Shapiro, professor of romance languages and literatures, was decorated as Officier de Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the Minister of Culture and Communication in France on April 23.

France has a long history of official government distinctions for exceptional achievement. The “Order of Arts and Letters” was established in 1957 to recognize eminent artists, writers and people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world.

Shapiro is the author of dozens of books on French culture, literature and poetry. Many are award-winning.

The Order of Arts and Letters is given out twice annually to only a few hundred people worldwide. Robert Paxton, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep are among the Americans who are recipients of the medal.

Recipients of this decoration are entitled to wear the lapel rosette and the medal, insignia of this order.

Paige Receives Gordon Award for Flash Fiction

Paula Paige

Paula Paige, adjunct professor of romance languages emerita, won the online Gordon Award for Flash Fiction, sponsored by Our Stories Literary Magazine, for a story titled “Moshiach is Here.”

Although she’s been writing fiction for a long time, this is her first publication.  She was long-listed for the Fish International Fiction Prize, and received Honorable Mentions in the “New Millennium Writings” winter competition of 2009 and in the 2010 Richard Bausch Short Story Prize. She was Writer in Residence at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, in 1991.

A segment of the story follows: “The garage on 87th disgorged a big black SUV, which zoomed so close it brushed her skirt; a little boy in the back seat stuck out his tongue at her.  She stuck out hers back, and the father in his yarmulke turned and glowered at her over his shoulder, almost hitting a passing taxi.  Serves you right, she thought:  if you want to live in the city, why don’t you walk?  Isn’t it the Sabbath, anyhow?”