Tag Archive for English Department

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.

Slotkin Writes About History of Integration in the U.S. Military

Richard Slotkin

In light of President Trump’s tweeted ban on transgender Americans serving in the military, Richard Slotkin, the Olin Professor of English and American Studies, Emeritus, writes in The Conversation about the long history of integrating minorities into the U.S. military.

The armed forces have long “played a vital role in shaping American social policy toward the country’s minorities,” Slotkin writes. He recalls how “fear and resentment” of African-Americans and immigrants from Asia and Europe “generated a political backlash,” resulting in oppressive Jim Crow laws and an anti-immigrant movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Then, “The crisis produced by American entry into World War I brought these movements up short. Suddenly the nation had to raise an army of millions from scratch, with the utmost speed. There was no way to achieve that goal without enlisting large numbers of African-Americans and immigrants or “hyphenated Americans,” a derogatory term for immigrants first used at the turn of the century. It was in this crisis that American leaders rediscovered the ideals of civil equality that late 19th-century ethno-nationalism had called into question.”

Slotkin Featured in PBS Special, ‘The Great War’

Richard Slotkin appeared on PBS's American Experience April 10-11.

Richard Slotkin appeared on PBS’s American Experience April 10-11.

Richard Slotkin, the Olin Professor of English, emeritus, was featured in a PBS American Experience special, “The Great War,” on April 10.

“It’s a watershed in American history. The United States goes from being the country on the other side of the ocean to being the preeminent world power,” says Slotkin in Chapter 1 of the series.

In Chapter 2, Slotkin appears beginning around 15 minutes.

“When Wilson declares war, the total armed trained force of the United States is less than a quarter of a million men,” he says. “The British Army loses more than that in one battle.”

“In order to just enter the war at all, the United States has to raise from nothing an army of millions. But they can’t rely on volunteering because it just would take too long. So they realized that they needed to have some kind of draft.”

 

O’Shaughnessy ’08, Springer ’13, Pasarow ’13 Offer Career Advice in Publishing

Three young alumni in the publishing industry Anabel Pasarow ’13, Danielle Spring ’16, and Caitlin O'Shaughnessy ’08, returned to campus to offer tips and answer questions at a panel discussion sponsored by the English Department.

Three alumnae in the publishing industry, Anabel Pasarow ’16, Danielle Springer ’13 and Caitlin O’Shaughnessy ’08, returned to campus on Feb. 24 to offer tips and answer questions at a panel discussion.

On Feb. 24, three recent Wesleyan alumnae returned to campus for a panel conversation on “Finding a Career Path in Publishing.” The event, held in Downey House, was co-sponsored by the Department of English, Writing Programs and the Shapiro Center for Creative Writing.

Caitlin O’Shaughnessy ’08, Anabel Pasarow ’16, and Danielle Springer ’13 traced their career history and offered encouragement and tips to undergraduate audience.

O’Shaughnessy, marketing manager at Penguin Press, a division of Penguin Random House, had previously worked as an editor at Viking, and in publicity at InStyle magazine. Currently, she is also part-time student in the MBA program at NYU Stern. “Anabel, Danielle, and I talk about Wesleyan all the time at Penguin,” said O’Shaughnessy, “It was really interesting to compare our paths and try to figure out the best advice to impart to future Wes grads who are looking to get into the business.”

Springer, an editorial and publisher’s assistant at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, previously worked in publicity at Dutton Books. In preparation for her career, she had attended the Denver Publishing Institute. Glad to return to campus and experiencing a certain degree of nostalgia, Springer says she found it “very rewarding being the ‘expert’ on a topic,” also commenting on the high turnout for the Friday afternoon event, “considering that it was a gorgeous warm day and Foss Hill was surely calling”—and by the questions that were asked.

Pasarow, an editorial assistant at G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House, majored in English and math—and finds both useful in her career. “I was so happy to be a part of this panel,” she said, adding, “I haven’t been out of school for very long, so returning to campus sort of felt like returning home. It was great to see familiar faces in Downey, where I spent so much of my time at Wes.”

Professor of English Stephanie Kuduk Weiner, who chairs the department, was also pleased to see “successful Wesleyan graduates returning to campus to give back to current students.” Grateful to the panelists, Weiner emphasized the importance of their visit: “Students today are inspired when they have the chance to meet alumni,” she said. “It helps them imagine themselves in the future.”

Crosby Authors Essay on Injury and Grief

Christina Crosby, right, pictured with her partner Janet Jakobsen at a March 2015 event at Barnard College focused on Crosby's memoir, "A Body Undone: Living On After Great Pain."

Christina Crosby, right, pictured with her partner Janet Jakobsen at a March 2015 event at Barnard College focused on Crosby’s memoir, A Body Undone: Living On After Great Pain.

Christina Crosby, professor of English, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, is the author of an essay on injury and grief in a special issue of Guernica magazine on “The Future of the Body.”

Titled, “My Lost Body,” Crosby’s essay explores the grief she has experienced since a bicycle accident 13 years ago, just after her 50th birthday, left her paralyzed. The accident was the topic of her memoir, A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain (NYU Press, March 2016).

She writes, “Because of my transformation, I have worked hard to conceptualize how embodied memory works—like the muscle memory that allows you to ride a bike even if you haven’t been on one for years. Some phenomenologists use the neologism ‘bodymind’ and teach us that there is no separating body from mind. I think that’s right. What am I to make, then, of my profoundly altered state? The loss of the body that I was and the life that I had made is affectively as well as physically profound, and the sense of loss can be suddenly piercing when I see a cyclist with good form or ocean kayaks strapped to the roof of a car. For an instant, a vividly embodied memory of riding or paddling will come over me. Then the light will change, making a claim on my attention I can’t ignore, but the preemptory present cannot make me feel less alien to myself in such moments.

I recognize in that alienation the force of grief. Grief is a current running below the surface of my unremarkable days, sometimes drawing me into eddies where I spin round and round, sometimes pulling my mind insistently away from the day’s work and rushing me downward. Stiff-minded resistance is of little avail. We are counseled to surrender ourselves for a time after loss to the sheer force of grief, because only by giving yourself over to it will the pain lessen.”

Tang Authors Book on Asian American Literature after Multiculturalism

Amy TangAmy Tang, assistant professor of English, assistant professor of American studies, is the author of Repetition and Race: Asian American Literature After Multiculturalism published by Oxford University Press, May 2016,

Repetition and Race explores the literary forms and critical frameworks occasioned by the widespread institutionalization of liberal multiculturalism by turning to the exemplary case of Asian American literature. Tang reinterprets the political grammar of four forms of repetition central to minority discourse: trauma, pastiche, intertextuality and self-reflexivity.

She shows how texts by Theresa Cha, Susan Choi, Karen Tei Yamashita, Chang-rae Lee, and Maxine Hong Kingston use structures of repetition to foreground moments of social and aesthetic impasse, suspension, or hesitation rather than instances of reversal or resolution.