Department Notepad (Dec 2009)

Department Notepad: Fall 2009
A new regular feature of the biannual English Web newsletter.

Notice: If you are an alumnus or alumna of CSB/SJU and you would like to be featured in the English Department's English Web newsletter, please write a short narrative of 8 to 12 lines on your accomplishments, etc. and forward it to [email protected].

Megan Koltes PROXIMITY: A Memoir of a School Shooting With Footnotes from Adolescent Holocaust Diaries

This creative thesis project incorporated memoir writing and the unconventional use of footnotes. The memoir addresses the school shooting that occurred at ROCORI High School in 2003. The footnotes are a compilation of excerpts from Holocaust diaries. The two modes of writing were used as a frame for a conversation about adolescence. Identity formation in adolescence itself can be seen as a sort of conflict; this project, however, explores what happens when additional conflict intercedes. Completing an Honors Thesis was one of the most challenging experiences of my four years at CSB/SJU. Yet within that challenge, I could feel myself growing as a writer, a researcher, and a critical thinker. My advisor and readers pushed me forward, and as they did, my passion for the project became natural, almost instinctive. In essence, the Honors Thesis option offered an individualized, one-on-one educational experience. I was able to ask the questions I had always wanted to in class. I was able to have in-depth conversations about my writing and research on a plane I would never have been privy to in an eighteen-student classroom. The Honors Thesis option provides the opportunity for students to learn more, to step outside of expected requirements and black-and-white curriculum content, to a place of active exploration of meaning. It is an opportunity to invest in the power of education.

Emily Persichetti How to See in the Dark is a novella that explores a take on feminist literary theory in which the protagonist, Nina, is suppressed by family and gender roles; but she is the creator of her own circumstances, rather than being imposed upon by societal expectations. The novel is told through a series of memories as Nina reflects on her childhood, her relationship with her parents, her college years and adult life, and her relationship with her husband and son. Nina believes that traditional gender roles within the family are necessary for stability and happiness. Thus, she boxes herself into an environment in which she cannot obtain individuality or self-assurance until she breaks away. Told non-chronologically, the novella explores the complex functioning of the human mind and memory, and illustrates the idea that the past may influence the present, but it does not have to dictate it.

I chose to write a novella for my senior thesis as a challenge to myself. Already feeling confident in poetry writing, I wanted to learn how to create dynamic characters and a complete plots and how to work through a piece of substantial length. Completing this project has given me great confidence as a writer of multiple styles and forms and prepared me for the world of writing after college.

Adam Halbur Adam Halbur, 1998 graduate of CSB/SJU, has been named The Frost Place Resident Poet for Summer 2010. Adam will spend July and August in Robert Frost's farmhouse in Franconia, NH. He'll give a public reading on Frost Day, July 11, readings at the Frost Festival, and at Dartmouth College. He receives $1000 and a summer of looking out at the White Mountains from Frost's porch. See www.frostplace.org for more about Adam.

Jane Opitz What a busy semester the Writing Centers are having. The twenty-four tutors, ranging from sophomores to a Grad student, had, by Thanksgiving break, held writing consultations with 737 writers, often for multiple sessions. With direction by senior lead-tutors Megan Sinner and Kyle Ellingson, they have also given presentations in thirteen FYS classes and have spent the full class hour working in peer writing groups in thirty classes. Much of the increase in business and smooth running of the Centers can be attributed to the on-line scheduling system that the Writing Centers are now using. (No more sign-up sheets on bulletin boards!) This semester's motto: Every writer needs a reader.

Mike Opitz Last summer, my long-time collaborator and bass player, Tom Daddesio of Slippery Rock State University, came to my house to record the basic parts of a new album. Tom and I had started the reggae band, The One Drop, back in the early 90's. One of the singers of that band was Kathleen Regan (now Downes). Kathleen joined us for these sessions. We were also joined by Megan Vetsch, a 2009 graduate of CSB. We worked for 8 days and came up with ideas and arrangements that we found very surprising. For example, we did not record any reggae songs. We used multiple female voices as co-vocals. We used no percussion except that which the instruments made. We discovered our sound as we recorded. I had written the songs about a year earlier. These sessions last summer are examples of the most exciting part of this creative process-the collaboration. Each person brings something to the session and each session transforms the songs. We are not finished with our remixes. The three songs included here are not finished, so I am sharing works in progress with you. Listeners will hear songs which are evolving. For example, the original sessions included me on two guitars and vocals, Tom on bass and most production, Kathleen on guitar and vocals and Megan as a vocalist and whistler. Since last July, we have added Stephanie Franzen on violin. We welcome any feedback since we are not done yet. Please feel free to comment. I hope you enjoy these songs.

Cindy Malone For the past two years, I've been up to my eyebrows in Dickens scholarship. In 2007, the editors of Dickens Studies Annual asked me to review the scholarship on Dickens published in 2008. After much searching with the help of our splendid librarians, I collected, read, and evaluated about forty books and about sixty journal articles. In September, 2009, I surfaced from my long immersion in Dickens studies and shipped the review essay to the DSA editors.

My next project will take me backward in time to the eighteenth century: I hope to have a sabbatical in Spring, 2011, to write two essays about Laurence Sterne's monster of a novel, Tristram Shandy. Sterne's novel-often described as "proto-postmodern"-offers an intriguing model of relationships between literary texts and literary criticism. Because Tristram Shandy also explodes out of conventional book form at a number of points, it highlights possibilities for alternatives to the traditional codex form. I'm eager to see what Tristram Shandy might have to say at this historical moment, when print and electronic forms are jostling against each other.

Matt Callahan This fall, one of my writing projects has been the revision of a short story of mine ("Eden") which will be included in an anthology commemorating Minnesota's recent sesquicentennial. The release date is tentatively scheduled for next summer. I reread Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road in anticipation of the film version hitting theaters last month. (It was better the second time around.) But one of my most notable experiences came in October when I was in the audience for a production of Othello by the Twin Cities theater organization Ten Thousand Things. As their web site states, "TTT brings lively, intelligent theater to people with little access to the wealth of the arts." Now in its sixteenth year, TTT travels to prisons, homeless shelters, and a variety of other "fringes of society" venues to perform some of the world's finest drama with a cast featuring the most talented actors in the area. The performance I saw was at the Open Book in Downtown Minneapolis and was part of their limited run of fund raising shows. Simply put, it was spectacular, and I encourage anyone interested in an intimate, relevant theatrical experience to check them out at tenthousandthings.org.

Jessica Harkins I am currently working on three different projects. Primarily, I am writing poems; I have just completed one manuscript and am starting to review a notebook full of material that might be a second. I have also been translating the poems of an Italian poet, Gaspara Stampa, who was a woman writing during the early sixteenth century in Venice-the first time in Italian history that women were writing and publishing. Her book of sonnets has been mistranslated and rearranged by different editors, so I am working to restore her work to its original order. My medieval studies have led me deeper into Italian work as well; I am just now reviewing my dissertation and considering how I might re-work it into a book that will be a critical study of translation. My dissertation examined the story of Griselda, first written by Giovanni Boccaccio in his masterwork, The Decameron, and subsequently dramatically reinterpreted by Francesco Petrarch and Geoffrey Chaucer (the Griselda story appears as The Clerk's Tale in The Canterbury Tales). My project highlights how differently each of the authors imagines her and how their handling of her story reveals different humanist arguments about texts, women, and translation. My poems and translations have appeared in journals in England, Sweden, and the U.S. I am preparing a set of linked articles on the Griselda story for a journal of medieval studies.

Ozzie Mayers  When current affairs begin to occupy me with their disturbing presence, I often turn to works of literature to find ways to imagine myself out of such disturbance. As I listened to the tumultuous town hall meetings this past summer and early fall and heard how uncivil and at times violent they became, I recalled a scene from Willa Cather's My Antonia that offered me another image of two people not able to "see" each other clearly. Jim Burden has returned to visit the Antonia after many years absent; they meet on her farm in the dimming light of a sunset when it is almost impossible to perceive each other's face. Here are his thoughts and actions: "I took her hands and held them against my breast, feeling once more how strong and warm and good they were . . . I held them now a long while, over my heart. . . . I felt rather than saw her smile" (Houghton Mifflin 322). I wondered what would happen if instead of shouting at each other, the town hall attendees would begin by placing their hands over the breasts of their foes. Would such an act move them out of their debilitating approach to discussing health care issues? It does sound rather naïve, I know, but perhaps we all need a bit of naiveté to remember the hearts that beat beneath the heated rhetoric of our lives.

Steven Thomas Following up on the article about my activities with the Oromo people that I wrote for the English Web last year. I continue to work with my friend Dhaba Wayessa on behalf of Sandscribe Communications to raise money for his independent film project and his communications school in Ethiopia, and I also continue to help edit the on-line webzine: Ogina: Oromo Arts in Diaspora. While leading a study-abroad in Japan this summer, I had the good fortune to meet with a Japanese organization on behalf of Sandscribe Communications and also to give a little presentation about my work with the Oromo at CSB/SJU's partner school Bunkyo Gakuin University. Later in the summer I was able to meet an Oromo student and some Oromo refugees in Nairobi while on a faculty development trip in Kenya. I am so grateful to CSB/SJU for giving me these opportunities, and as with everything else I do or think about, I have kept a running commentary on my travels in my Theory Teacher's Blog. On a different note, I completed an essay "The New James Bond and Globalization Theory, Inside and Out" that was published early this fall in issue #78 of the Canadian film journal CineAction.

Matt Harkins Matt Harkins is currently writing about youth in Shakespeare's plays and Marvell's poems. His guilty reading pleasures include belle-lettristic essays, detective fiction, and an eclectic assortment of novels. In the rest of his spare time he takes walks and naps with his lovely spouse, his clever dog, and intrepid young son; other activities include working on making the perfect coq au vin and referring to himself in the third person.

S. Mara Faulkner  A few weeks ago Aaron Voth, a former student, stopped by. He has spent the last four years in China, teaching and coordinating Maryknoll Volunteers. He's not ready to come back to the U.S. because, as he said, in China something astounds him every day. It's not always something pleasant or lovely. Sometimes a sight or smell shocks him or turns his stomach. But China never puts him to sleep. I realized that even after all these years, teaching at CSB/SJU is like being in China. Because I'm lucky enough to teach writing almost every semester, I regularly encounter brave, shocking, or profound ideas offered to me by my students. This semester has been even more like China than most. Inspired by Cindy Malone, I decided to turn my usual contemporary literature class upside down and inside out by inventing a course called "The Past, Present, and Future of the Book." It you want to hear more about the surprises this class delivers every day, I invite you to listen to the podcast linked to this newsletter. And if you have opinions about how writing, reading, and publishing are evolving before our eyes, we'd all love to hear them.

Luke Mancuso Zizek. Zizek. Zizek. ("The most dangerous philosopher in the West." New Republic). Zizek. Zizek. Zizek. Reading Zizek: http://zizek.us/ . Zizek. Zizek. Zizek. ("The Elvis of cultural theory." Chronicle of Higher Education). Zizek. Zizek. Zizek. Downloading Zizek.. Zizek. Zizek. Zizek. ("master of the counterintuitive observation." The New Yorker). Zizek. Zizek. Zizek. Zizek. Zizek as World Ruler: http://twitter.com/zizekspeaks . Zizek. Zizek. Zizek. Zizek. Zizek. Zizek. Zizek as Film Star: http://www.thepervertsguide.com/ . I euphorically teach FYS, Film Studies, and Theory each day (yes, friends, all is well in "film heaven" and/or "theory heaven"). I will share with you my forthcoming essay on Brokeback Mountain called "The History of the Future of the Normal," an analysis of Brokeback which points to the stress marks in the failed normal narratives in the film, when it is published in a new queer film theory volume in late Spring 2010 by Cambridge Publishing; and I am currently working on an analysis of Gus Van Sant's film Milk, based on Zizek's notion of the "universal exception" and the failure of the "Big Other," (Lacan) as well as the objet petit a. In the enduring words of bank robber Clyde Barrow, in Arthur Penn's 1967 cinematic masterwork Bonnie and Clyde, "Ain't life grand?".

Betsy Johnson-Miller  Betsy Johnson-Miller had a young-adult novel entitled The Bracelet that came out this May. She is just finishing up the first draft of its sequel, The Fountain, and hopes it will be published this summer. In addition, her first book of poetry, Rain When You Want Rain, will be out from Mayapple Press in February. In terms of teaching, Betsy was thrilled with her Reading Fiction class this fall; it has been one of the best classes she has ever had the pleasure of teaching-and at 8 a.m. no less. Plus, her Creative Writing class has made some of the biggest leaps in terms of imagination and ability she has ever witnessed. She sends a huge thanks out to her students for making it a great fall.

Christina Shouse Tourino I recently finished the pilot version of my new Introduction to Fiction class: "Tragedy, Passion, and Sacrifice." I was grateful for the collaboration (the tutelage, really) of Scott Richardson, Karen Erickson, Father Hilary Thimmesh, and Matt Harkins, and learning Lear with those students was perhaps the highlight for me. This winter break I'm hoping to revise and send out two pieces of rejected writing, so if you pray, etc., etc. What I'm really itching to do is make headway on a quilt I'm making for my son, Felix. The last I touched it, standing at the ironing board sticking fabric frogs and lizards to a blue pond background, I was literally in labor with my daughter Matilda. So I've been otherwise occupied for a good while. The goal: machine stitch all the animal designs in place before the Spring term begins, with the larger hope of completing the quilt before Felix outgrows it.

Bev Radaich I love fabric. I love to touch it, look at it, purchase it, and organize it, but most of all I like to cut it into pieces and then sew those pieces back together into quilt blocks and tops. A perfect evening or weekend offers time in my sewing room working with fabric. Lately my time in the sewing room has been limited, but I completed the two tops (watermelon & baby blue/green) at a quilting retreat in October and the table runner (Santa) needs just a bit more machine quilting and a binding.