Department Notepad (Spring 2010)

Department Notepad: Spring 2010 


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 Sinner  Refuting Gender Stereotypes in Savior Narratives:  the Gospels, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Harry Potter

This thesis project enabled me to explore literary analysis, gender roles, and Christian theology through the stories that have shaped my own conceptions of how the world works.  I grew up reading all three narratives, and I really wanted to explore the way readers of different genders and ages (and from different eras) have interpreted and applied the implicit and explicit messages in the stories.  The search for an answer to my original question, are saviors necessarily male, led me to examine girls' and womens' roles in each of the three narratives and also the roles played by each savior's closest friends of each gender.  I concluded that, because women are expected to be passive and self-sacrificing in the Western construct of gender norms, their sacrifices are not as highly esteemed as a man's.  Because a man can actively choose to either sacrifice himself or preserve his life AND still be associated with good, his sacrifice means more than a woman's (who, if she preserves her life instead of sacrificing it, cannot be associated with good).  My Honors Thesis was the most challenging but also the most rewarding of my college career, and the skills I gained about research, collaboration with faculty members, and about how to really learn will benefit me for the rest of my life.




Angela Tate  Young Adult Fiction and Its Canonical Value

Despite its undeniable popularity, young adult fiction has always had a low-brow reputation when compared to other literary and canonical works, in part because its association with popular "chick lit" novels.  Some nineteenth century fiction that was first marketed to young adults and dismissed because of its appeal to mainstream audiences has come to be recognized for its merit, while more recent, contemporary works are often disregarded as superficial and sensational.  I will attempt to reevaluate its canonical value by examining similar arguments about canonical standards made by past critics and theorists such as Michel Foucault and Jane Tompkins.  A canonical young adult fiction book must be both historically timely and also contribute to a larger cultural conversation.  Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak is the primary contemporary text through which I will support this claim.  When compared to the classic young adult novel The Catcher and the Rye, we can conclude Speak  - and other socially challenging books like it - can carry its weight in the literary canon.




Kyle Ellingson  The Wife of Sunny Camper Estates:  a Post-Apocalyptic Novel By Kyle Ellingson

A decade after a nuclear holocaust has left earth a desert of ash, hermit and housewife Crystal Gantry awakes to another day in Sunny Camper Estates.  Unbeknownst to Crystal, the Estates are a replica of pre-holocaust suburbia built within the walls of an abandoned storeroom and maintained by her husband Beckman.  Outside the Estates, Beckman struggles to defend what remains of civilization from the menacing mutant telepathic cats that roam in from the desert.  When his victory from the cats comes under threat, the stability of Crystal's illusion is tested for its limits.  In researching for the project, I drew inspiration from Richard Wagner's Parsifal, Friedrich Klinger's Storm and Stress, sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick's life and work, and the theoretical writings of Jacques Lacan and Louis Althusser.





Brendan Riley  Brendan Riley, 1999 graduate of CSB/SJU recently published an essay, "From Sherlock to Angel:  the 21st Century Detective" in the October 2009 issue of The Journal of Popular Culture.  Brendan currently lives in Chicago, where he's an Assistant Professor of English at Columbia College, Chicago, teaching Rhetoric/Composition, New Media, and courses in Popular Culture. Congratulations to Brendan!  Brendan recently received tenure at Columbia College, Chicago.








Cindy Malone  One of the great delights of the Spring semester has been working with Megan Sinner, who presented her project in a splendid defense in April.  Her committee admires the reach and sophistication of her project, "Refuting Gender Stereotypes in Savior Narratives:  the Gospels, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Harry Potter." 

I've been hard at work on a grant proposal for the National Endowment for the Humanities, collaborating with Mark Conway, the Executive Director of the Literary Arts Institute.  The NEH grant proposal focuses on a program titled "Evolution of the Book," and it seeks to integrate our amazing resources (the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, Arca Artium, the Welle Book Arts Studio, the Clemens Artists Book Collection, and the Literary Arts Institute) and to spark new scholarship and course development in the area of the history and future of the book.  The proposal is due in May, and we'll hear the results in December.  Luckily, I'll be teaching and serving as chair between the date of submission and the announcement of results, so I'll have plenty to think about while we wait for the news.




Mike Opitz  This summer, I will be working on a few projects related to teaching, scholarship and creative work.  I will attending the Hemmingway Society conference in late June/early July.  This year the conference is Lausanne, Switzerland.  I have also been busy planning a new section of Seminar in Creative Writing (English 213).  For the first time, I plan to include song writing as a genre in this class, and to that end, I have been producing and recording podcasts about song writing starring many of current and former students who practice that art form.  The podcasts will be one of the texts for the class.  I continue to write new songs and I will also continue recording my own music.  The last week in July, I will host a recording session involving several people who have played with me over the years.  Some of this work will again be posted on The English Web next year.  I'm looking forward to these projects and they should keep me active and busy this summer.




Betsy Johnson-Miller  My two Reading Fiction and Poetry classes have kept me delighted and busy this spring, as has my new love of baking bread.  My poetry book, Rain When You Want Rain, came out in February and has been nominated for a Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award.  In addition, my memoir was a finalist in the Graywolf Press non-fiction prize.  My family and I will be going with a group of CSB/SJU students to Japan in May, and then hopefully it will be a quiet summer of sun, baking bread, and writing.

I just received news that Garrison Keillor will be reading my poem, "What a Mouth Will Do," on the May 15th edition of The Writer's Almanac





Jessica Harkins  I am currently developing a pair of articles on Chaucher's relationships to the Italian writer, Giovanni Boccaccio, through a re-examination of The Clerk's Tale.  Ultimately, these two articles are part of a larger book project about translations of Griselda, the heroine of Chaucher's tale.  I hope to begin work on it sometime late this summer.  I have recently completed a manuscript of my own poetry, titled The Paled Guest, which is in circulation.  I am excited to begin work on a second manuscript, set in England and Troy, in May.  I was delighted to have a pair of my poems accepted for publication in this spring's edition of Studio One.








Matt Callahan  Spring has sprung with a zeal and tenacity rarely seen in Central Minnesota, and as I drive along the Sag each morning on my way to the Quad, I am reminded of a word I encountered last fall in Cormac McCarthy's brilliant novel The Road.  The word was salitter, which I discovered, after some digging, means "the essence of God."  In the world of The Road, this essence was, "drying from the Earth," yet here at CSB/SJU this spring, we see evidence of it every day:  a pair of bluebirds reeling through the bright morning sky, a young couple pausing to kiss along the path to the chapel, a homeless cat made welcomed and loved.  In addition to thinking about this "word of the season," I am also teaching a fine group of creative writers in 313 as well as a batch of lively first-years in FYS.  My short story "Eden" is forthcoming in the book The State We Are In, a collection commemorating Minnesota's sesquicentennial.  And on the home front, we are in the final throes of determining where my older daughter will go to college next fall.  A full, yet tasty plate indeed.





Luke Mancuso  We have had a celestial time in Film Heaven (English/Communication 286 and 386) this year, screening and analyzing 200 scenes from student-selected films such as 27 Dresses, 28 Days Later, A Clockwork Orange, I'm Not There, Titanic, Spellbound, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, A Touch of Evil, Dracula, Rushmore, Fight Club, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Cabaret, and on and on.  Life is short.  Film goes on forever.  Ask around.  We also had a brain-turning time in both Theory Heaven journeys  (English 243:  Literary Theory), where we watched such teasers as Slavoj Zizek's The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, and Astra Taylor's Examined Life; and Derrida, um, the movie, not the philosopher.  Fun for the whole family. 

These blinding spring days in Collegeville gesture back to last year, at this time, when a new essay called Brokeback Mountain and the History of the Future of the Normal got invited into a new volume called Coming Out to the Mainstream:  Queer Cinema in the 21st Century (Ed. JoAnne Juett, Cambridge SP, 2010), and it will make its debut in the coming weeks.  When the Collegeville trees have fully flowered out in May, the Ethics Seminar workshop calls out here at CSB/SJU, as a pedagogical springboard to some new runaways on flights for Core Curriculum requirements such as Ethics and Gender and Women's Studies. 

The sun is now setting over the Avon hills, with a spray of spongy green accenting the linear brown horizon.  As Jeffrey Beaumont says in David Lynch's Blue Velvet, as the camera tracks forward under the nocturnal branches of suburban Lumberton, "Life is strange and wonderful."





Ozzie Mayers  While dancing (remember I'm Cajun; we come out of our mothers' wombs dancing) has always been a source of sheer joy and release, I experienced another form of dancing this past semester that challenged my abilities.  I participated in the Dancing with Monastics/Faculty evening, sponsored by the CSB Ballroom Dance Club.  Monastics (this time only Benedictine sisters) and male faculty members were paired up with experienced students from the dance club.  Each pair had only two weeks to practice their routine.  Fortunately, I had a student who was patient and agreed with me from the start that we were going to have fun - even with mistakes!  The evening of the competition, modeled on the "Dancing with the Stars" television series, was nerve racking to say the least.  I had never danced to a routine, but I also knew that I felt confident from years of being the first dancer on the floor in high school, college, and at CSB's Christmas parties (which in previous years had live bands).  Our cha cha routine seemed to work (we received 27 out of 30 points), and in fact I earned the award for Best Latin Hip Movements (I knew those Cajun genes would come in handy one day).  But beyond the fun of the evening, I also learned that while routines might be comforting, they can also force to tap into new ways of thinking and expressing myself by ironically forcing me to break entrenched patterns.  I learned that this dance routine not just challenged my spontaneous dancing skills but also caused me to tap into new ways of relating to my body as well as to an audience.  Not a bad lesson to learn at any age.




Steven Thomas  For the past several months, I've spent a big chunk of my free time trying to get in shape for a triathlon at St. John's.  Another chunk of my free time I spend writing each week in my Theory Teacher Blog, where I post reflections on topics such as movies, politics, education, food, and taxes.  Meanwhile, I continue to work on three research projects that I started when I first came to St. Ben's and St. John's three years ago.  I'm grateful to my students, colleagues, and friends for their feedback and encouragement.  The first project, on which I'll present at a Society of Early Americanists conference this coming May, is a theoretical critique of transatlantic approaches to literary and cultural history.  The second, on which I presented at St. Ben's last spring, is an analysis of postmodern revisions of Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter via the theoretical framework of recent feminist scholarship on single parenting.  The third, on which I'll present at a Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists conference also this May, is about the symbolic meaning of "Ethiopia" in American Literature.  I also presented on this topic at St. John's last fall and wrote something about it for the English Web a year or so ago.  I will be discussing it some more at Addis Ababa University when I travel to Ethiopia this June.  Hopefully I'll learn a lot from that trip and have some interesting stories to relate in the next issue of English Web.




S. Mara Faulkner  As some of you may know, my book Going Blind:  A Memoir was a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award in the creative nonfiction/memoir category.  The winner in this category was Kent Nerburn for The Wolf at Twilight:  An Indian Elder's Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows.  Even though my book didn't win the award, it was a great honor to be at the ceremony in the company of writers whose work I admire and 700 people who publish, sell, buy, and, most important, read books.  The organizers told us to prepare to speak for a couple of minutes just in case we won.  Being a very bad ad-libber, I wrote a little speech, which I lost somewhere in the crowd before the big event.  I've forgotten most of it, but one part I do remember.  Among the many people I thanked were my students, at least two of whom were in that happy crowd.  While I was teaching you to write, you were teaching me to have the courage to say what I see.  Thank you to all of you.  May you be blessed.





Bev Radaich  This past semester hasn't allowed as much time as I would like for my fabric addiction, but I did manage to stitch a few smaller items.  The two bags at left are called "fat sacks" because like reusable grocery sacks they hold a goodly amount of items.  I wanted "pretty" bags that didn't scream - grocery store, so I made these two.  I have a third planed in flowered oil cloth - think great grandma or grandma's kitchen table cloth.  The square is for a new challenge project in my color group.  I complete the center block and the four other members of my group will add border of some type that complement the center.  The acid green piece was an experiment from my February quilting retreat with a new tool.  I picked fabrics that appealed to me but are completely different from what I usually pick.  It was an interesting process and not as hard as it may look.  Finally, the black and gold floral piece will be a table runner.  It was a simple rail fence pattern that was quick and easy to complete and will be either a gift or work well on my dining room table.