This Week in English | May 2-9, 2021

English Department Recognition Ceremony This Friday 

The English Department will celebrate the completion of this most unusual academic year and recognize some of the many accomplishments that resilient students and faculty members have achieved along the rocky way in a ceremony via Zoom (link by request) on Friday, May 7, starting at 4pm EDT. We’ll welcome new members of Sigma Tau Delta and Phi Beta Kappa, celebrate the recipients of various departmental honors and awards, and mingle our sighs of relief with some well-earned shouts of joy. All recipients of the Bulletin are invited to attend. Current English majors and minors are invited to participate in a super short survey in advance of the ceremony. 

On Saturday, the English Graduate Student Association (EGSA) is hosting a small outdoor gathering to celebrate current and recent graduates of the Master’s Program. For details as to time and place, please contact   

Victoria  Hood Wins Innovative Fiction Contest

External judge Vi Khi Nao has selected My Haunted Home by Victoria Hood for the 2021 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest, sponsored by the Fiction Collective 2 (FC2), whose mission is to publish “works of high quality and exceptional ambition whose styles, subject matter, or forms push the limits of American publishing and reshape our literary culture.” Here is how the author describes the manuscript:

Surrounded around the haunted, the obsessed and the grieving, My Haunted Home strives to wrangle and mangle the worlds of what can be haunted. Unpacking the way in which hauntings can be manifested in physical forms, mentally harvested and lived through. The common thread through all of these stories is a haunting, although what is haunting them may change. Much of this collection is inspired by real life events and the surreal experiences of mourning a mother. Some stories may feel a bit heavier, soggy with sadness, but to balance this some stories provide humor and levity which mimics the way in which the grieving process has manifested itself in me. My Haunted Home acts as a way in which grief is felt and harvested—the funny, the sad, the surreal, and the unmentionable.

 This collection of short stories follows shifting narrators through shifting worlds where mothers may be dead, girls are addicted to shoving peanuts inside the ears, agoraphobia is trapping people inside their houses and cats won’t eat your soup. In “The Teeth, The Way I Smile,” we are able to see how a daughter who looks like her dead mother manifests grief both in her house, but also in her own body. In “Smelly Smelly,” the main character explores the way in which she realized her boyfriend had been dead for weeks. In “You, Your Fault,” we explore the unfolding love of two women who love every part of each other—including the parts that think about arson and murder. And in “The Towns People,” the narrator lobbies against her own cat to win the love of the town she knows is under her bed. Each story is a bite size piece of haunting candy on a necklace of obsession holding them together. Dive into the surreal, the grieving and the humor that follows these different narrators into their own worlds.

Hood, who is wrapping up her Wicks Fellowship this May, notes that the manuscript was her thesis from last year and pays tribute to her advisor, Greg Howard, as “an amazing mentor throughout the writing process.” Howard in turn has this to say:

Tori is one of the most unusual and idiosyncratic writers I have encountered during my teaching career. I have a vivid memory of reading her first submission in my undergraduate Intermediate Fiction workshop. It was the single most surprising and strange work of student fiction I have ever read. I won’t go into rapturous detail about it here but suffice it to say I’m still giddy thinking about this strange story of two girls hitchhiking and the malfunctioning sales robot that picks them up. This marked the beginning of a now six-year journey working with Tori and being amazed by her wonderful, brilliant, oddball fictions. My Haunted Home is the highwater mark of Tori’s sustained inquiry into absurdity, horror, sorrow, and the limits of language. It is a brilliant, unsettling, and strangely joyous book. It’s right at home in the great lineage of FC2, whose books seek out new frontiers for literature,  and I couldn’t be prouder and more thrilled to share a press with one of the best young writers I’ve ever had the privilege to teach. 

Dylan Dryer on Disarming the Language Police

The Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse Department at DePaul University will host Dylan Dryer for a talk on Tuesday from 4:30-6pm EDT cleverly titled “Disarming the Language Police.” 

This talk engages the phenomenon of prescriptivism—efforts by institutionally or self-appointed guardians of English to constrain, discourage, or repair usages deemed broken, unseemly, or in violation of (putative) rules of English. The “unusual ferocity” aroused by such usages among prescriptivists has been often observed (Williams 1985), as has their willingness to refer, with odd strenuousness, to disgust, shame, horror, and violence in objecting to this or that word or accent or turn of phrase. Such ferocity belies a lack of meaningful consensus over which rules, if any, such usages could be said to break (and indeed whether a language could even be said to be “breakable” at all).

Contemporary investigations into prescriptivist tendencies reveal their deep influence on perceptions of ability, authority, and trustworthiness as well as how such tendencies have infiltrated widely used word-processing programs; in light of calls for linguistic justice and antiracist language teaching and assessment, the need to counter such influences is critical. Yet these investigations have struggled to advance beyond a resigned conclusion that the urge to monitor and correct others’ languaging practices is both universal and perennial. Construing language policing as natural leaves us with no strategies (apart from dismayed forbearance) for engaging nonlinguists’ often-vitriolic responses to language variation; worse, it normalizes the behavior while missing opportunities to find productive outlets for humans’ curiosity about language and language difference. To those ends, I draw together insights from applied linguistics, pragmatics, and linguistic anthropology to hypothesize the cultural mechanism that transmogrifies this curiosity into vitriol and to offer some strategies for deauthorizing and demotivating the language vigilantes among us.

The event is part of DePaul’s Writing Across Borders lecture series. Registration is available here. Erin Workman, an alum of our MA program, is now an Assistant Professor in the DePaul Department of WRD. Her recent publications are the subject of a recent post at the WRB Blog.  

Interacting with Wabanaki-Maine History

Margo Lukens calls our attention to a Wabanaki REACH interactive history event this Wednesday, May 5, 6-8pm EDT. The event is free, but participation is limited and registration is required.  

This program is an interactive experience in which we engage in a story of particular events in the history of 400 years of colonization of Wabanaki people by Europeans in this territory now called the state of Maine. This highly engaging experience requires our full participation in order to genuinely increase our understanding of colonization and what it means for current descendants and future generations, and to reflect on what story we are writing for our grandchildren.

Members of the graduate seminar Lukens taught this spring, English 542, are among those expected to participate. 

New Review by Deborah Rogers 

Deborah Rogers writes regularly for Times Higher Education. Her most recent piece is a review of Ron Lieber’s The Price You Pay For College, which begins:

New York Times financial columnist Ron Lieber focuses his critique of the American way in college admissions through the lens of money and value. Based not only on comprehensive, data-driven research but also on interviews with families, admissions officers, enrollment managers, faculty and college presidents, his boots-on-the-ground analysis is both an attack on the system and a manual on how to game it

The full review is available to THE subscribers or by request.

Nate Poole on Subjectivity and Trauma in American Journalism 

Having heard praise of his honors thesis defense from several sources, we invited graduating senior Nate Pool to share the abstract for “Speak for Yourself: Examining Subjectivity and Trauma in American Literary Journalism” and he kindly obliged:  

Due to their relevance and emotional draw for readers, stories of tragedy and suffering are a nearly inescapable aspect of journalism. However, the routine reporting and formulaic styles associated with coverage of these events has contributed to audience compassion fatigue. Studies have been done on the success of some journalists who have historically pushed the boundaries of style and deployed literary strategies to elicit emotion and subvert compassion fatigue in their reporting. However, there is more room in the scholarship on this subject for studies of the specific strategies that contemporary literary journalism writers use and how they adapt them to the nuances of their subjects. Through the application of literary analysis informed by concepts from journalism studies and literary trauma theory, this study examines popular and critically acclaimed works of contemporary American literary journalism by Dave Cullen, Dexter Filkins, and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah to understand how these writers are rhetorically putting their own experiences as witnesses in conversation with the experiences of their traumatized subjects. This study’s findings suggest that by telling these stories using subjective and reflexive narrative styles like those deployed by the three authors under examination, journalists across media may not only engage audiences more effectively, but also convey more nuanced, and perhaps more ethical, portraits of trauma.

Caroline Bicks advised Poole on the project and Greg Howard and Naomi Jacobs were among the readers.  

Reuben Dendinger in The Baffler

The Necromancer’s Driver, a five-thousand-word story by MA alum and part-time faculty member Reuben Dendinger, was published in the April 16 edition of The Baffler, which styles itself as “America’s leading voice of interesting and unexpected left-wing political criticism, cultural analysis, short stories, poems and art.” Founded in 1988 by Thomas Frank as “the journal that blunts the cutting edge,” the magazine is currently edited by Jonathon Sturgeon and headquartered in New York. Regular contributors include Barbara Ehrenreich, Susan Faludi, Evgeny Morozov, Rick Perlstein and Astra Taylor. From 1997 to 2010, Jennifer Moxley was the journal’s poetry editor. 

Dendinger earned his MA from UMaine in 2017 with a thesis, Discourses on Fantasy: A Narrative Allegory, that drew “on Medieval allegory, modern fantasy, surrealism, and Marxist philosophy in an experimental narrative that seeks to challenge longstanding orthodoxies in fantasy criticism and open up new directions for fantastic literature.” He was advised by Sarah Harlan-Haughey. His crisp bio in The Baffler reads: “Reuben Dendinger is a poet and fiction writer. He lives in Maine with his partner and their two cats.”

Katie Swacha to Speak in Health and Medical Communication Series at LTU

Katie Swacha will deliver a talk entitled “The Coping with COVID Project: Everyday Stories and Negotiations of Public Health,” on Monday May 10th at 4:30 EST as part of Louisiana Tech University’s Health and Medical Communication Series. The talk will discuss initial findings from her ongoing research, The Coping with COVID Project, which explores people’s everyday negotiations of COVID-related public health guidelines. More info, including details on how to register for this free event, can be found here

Covid Reminder

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This Week in English 104 was sent to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the department on Monday, May 3, 2021. If you would rather not receive these weekly bulletins, please reply with <unsubscribe> in your subject line. Earlier installments are archived on our website. If you’re on Facebook, please consider joining the newly formed English Department Group.

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