Support Beckett Letters Linked Data Project

The Samuel Beckett Letters project is 30-plus-year research endeavor to locate, transcribe and annotate all extant letters written by Irish writer Samuel Beckett. Led by project director Lois Overbeck in the Laney Graduate School, it has resulted in the publication of four volumes of selected letters (Cambridge University Press, 2009-2016). Following this publication, Overbeck’s team began collaborating with the library to create the Location Register which provides archival location and letter metadata for each item in public archives and with the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS) to develop the Linked Data website which provides an interactive index to all Beckett letters in public archives.

The Letters of Samuel Beckett has entered the final phase of its open-access Linked Data Project. This interactive index of all of Beckett’s letters in public archives supports future scholarship and research in the collections of Beckett’s letters held in archives world-wide.

Just as Beckett’s letters offer a rich context for the events of the 20th century to many fields of inquiry, so the metadata of the Linked Data Project opens the door to Beckett’s life and works for digital humanities initiatives. Emory students have played a significant role in establishing this unique resource, and have gained invaluable research skills by working with the editors of the project.

We invite your gifts to support this work toward its live reveal in April 2023. Your donation will be matched, up to $25,000. Gifts can be made online here. For more information about supporting the project, please contact Philip Brooks, Lead Director of Development at philip [dot] brooks [at] emory [dot] edu or (678) 801-5909.         

Department News


Dear students, faculty, staff, post-docs, alumni, and friends of English:

The start of a school year always brings excitement and anticipation; this year, those feelings are especially strong as most of us reassemble on campus for the first time in almost eighteen months, and many others move to campus for the first time.  But this season also brings a sad recognition that we are not quite beyond the pandemic that seemed to have been all but vanquished earlier in the summer.  We return instead to classrooms where we can’t (yet) unmask and encounter what the philosopher Levinas called “the face of the other”: that sense of individual human presence that we encounter first through the vulnerable, exposed, expressive human visage.  We’ll have to wait for that full encounter, not through Zoom, on another day.

As chair, I am grateful to be experiencing yet another emotion at the start of the year: pride for all that my colleagues and our students have accomplished since last I wrote.  What a summer it was for so many of you!  As we gear up for the first weeks of class, let’s take a moment to celebrate all the imagination, research, hard thinking, and critical attention to human experience and expression that has led to extraordinary achievements and exciting opportunities.
Undergraduate Students

It’s an easy call to start with our majors and minors, who are pushing the study of literature, writing, and creative expression into new terrain.

Two students of Prof. Patricia Cahill reported extraordinary summer experiences.   Junior Biology and English major Becca Cohen served as an intern at the American Shakespeare Center (ASC) in Staunton, Virginia, where she contributed to blogs, workshops and dramaturgy, interviewed actor-managers in the company about their performances: including how their identities related to race/gender affect their performances, how they performed gender onstage, and how intimacy choreography works at ASC.  

Senior English & Creative Writing major English major Jack Wolfram worked with Prof. Cahill as a SURE Research fellow, conducted archival research into the trailblazing Atlanta theater maker Adrienne McNeil Herndon, who at the turn of the twentieth century sought to claim access to serious drama for Georgia’s Black audiences.  You can read more about Becca and Jack’s summer work here and here.
13 of our majors and minors participated in a new internship program with Plympton Literary Studio, an innovative, cross-platform publishing company that works with animators, television studios, online and traditional publishers.  The students, led by Prof. Dan Sinykin, helped Plympton staff with an ambitious project called the Writing Atlas, which is a database of award-winning American short stories published since the 1940s.  The project has immediate use for media companies interested in developing new story lines, but it’s also tremendously valuable for scholars who want to chronicle patterns and changes in fiction’s themes, structures, and authorship.  Along the way students met with editors, agents, marketers, showrunners, and others who introduced them to the business side of publishing and adaptations.  You can read more from two participants in the project, English majors Elizabeth Hsieh and Ananya Mohanhere and here.

Speaking of publishing, several of our students are bringing new work before the public.  Laila Nashid, an English and Sociology major, secured a contract for her forthcoming young adult novel, You Truly Assumed with Inkyard Press.  The novel is told from the perspectives of three Black Muslim teens living in different parts of the country, who start a blog to fight Islamophobia and find friendship and hope as they let their voices be heard.  You can read Laila’s thoughts on what it means to be publishing her first book here, and we look forward to the book’s publication early in 2022!

Ellie McAffee, class of 2022, was accepted into a book creators program, where she worked on a creative nonfiction novel about her metal health struggles and in the context of stigmas and miseducation.  The working title is Work in Progress, and she looks forward to publication in April 2022. 

Ozzy Wagner, a rising senior in the Playwriting joint major, was shortlisted for the Alpine Fellowship Theater Prize, won the Drama Award at the Agnes Scott Writers’ Festival, and will be presenting a workshop production of a play based on Ozzzy’s honors thesis this upcoming October, directed by alum Roz Sullivan-Lovett.  Last February, Ozzy was also a semifinalist for the Garrison Award for 10-minute plays for the Northwest region of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

Sophia Bereaud, a senior majoring in English & Creative Writing and Anthropology, worked with Professor Heather Christle as a SURE Affiliate to produce a piece of creative nonfiction exploring the relationship between bipolar disorder and artistic production.  You can read more about this fascinating project here.  

Chemistry and English & Creative Writing major Matthew Buxton was awarded the Academy of American Poets Prize for Emory at the of last semester, and Matthew’s winning poem (titled “vii”) will be published on at the end of August.

Diana Kerolos, a third-year English & Creative Writing major, published a poem, “Honey and Blood,” in the newsletter “Call Me [Brackets]” in Issue #5 Call Me [Chaos].
Senior English & Creative Writing major Drew Mindell held a summer internship in the Alliance Theatre’s education department, teaching playwriting and devising to kids ranging from fourth grade to high school. He also won the Georgia Theatre Conference’s One-Act Play Competition, and will receive a staged reading of the winning play “Made Me A Match” at the conference in October.
Kaitlin Mottley, a rising junior in the English program, interned at Facebook as a Content Design intern.
Graduate Students

This spring and summer, six Emory English graduate students received their PhD’s.  All of them are going on to exciting new positions, but we won’t have to say farewell to all of them just yet!

Emily Banks and Tesla Cariani will be serving in our very own department as Visiting Assistant Professors.

Sophia Falvey has moved into a position as Senior Program Coordinator in Emory College of Arts and Sciences, where she will implement programming and events for the Mellon Humanities Pathways initiative and support advancement and alumni engagements staff in developing communications for Emory College strategic initiatives.

Michael Lehmann has begun work as a Brittain Potdoctoral Fellow at Georgia Tech.

Jessica Libow has begun a position as Lecturer in the Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania.

Palak Taneja has begun a position at Assistant Professor at College of the Atlantic, in Maine. 

Additionally, ACLS Emerging Voices post-doctoral fellow Abigail Droge has begun a new position in the Purdue Cornerstone Integrated Liberal Arts Program.  Droge has a new publication to celebrate as well: “Reading George Eliot with Victorian College Students” has been published in the latest issue of Victorian Studies

Several graduate students have terrific publication news as well.  Wiliam Tolbert’s article, “The American Oriental Society and the Growth of U.S. Empire,” will be published in South Atlantic Review’s winter 2021 issue.

Tesla Cariani’s article “Glimpsing Shadows: Affective Witnessing in Noctambules and ‘Of Ghosts and Shadows’” has been published in parallax

Finally, a trio of graduate students has seen their grant-writing idea yield a string of fascinating, results: a fully implemented ecuational program, a publication, several write-ups, and an award.  Kelly DuquetteMary Taylor Mann, and John Gulledge have been working on a Shakespeare performance-learning program for K-12 students since 2018. Some highlights of the project:Received JPE mini-grants in 2018 and in 2019 to develop and implement “The Puck Project” alongside our Atlanta community partner, Nicholas House. A digital story for the Emory Wire in 2019, which won a “Grand Gold” award in this year’s CASE III Circle of Excellence Awards.A two-day training at Emory by The Feast of Crispian in 2019. A publication entitled “The Puck Project: A Shakespeare Performance and Ethics Program for Kids” in Early Modern Culture Online (EMCO) in 2020.An honorable mention award for the inaugural, 2021 “Shakespeare Publics Award” from the Shakespeare Association of America (SAA). 

This spring, three Emory faculty members were awarded the prestigious fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation; two of them were in English!  Fiction writer Tayari Jones will be working on an eagerly awaited novel, following the extraordinary worldwide success of An American Marriage.  Polymathic literary scholar and neuroscientific investigator Laura Otis will be spending the fellowship year completing her new bookLiterary Insight into Sensory Integration: Fiction as a Guide for Neuroscientists You can read a bit more about Professors Jones and Otis in this piece.

Specialist in early modern literature Ross Knecht’s book, The Grammar Rules of Affection: Passion and Pedagogy in Sidney, Shakespeare and Jonson was published with the University of Toronto Press. A study of how the expression and management of such emotions as love and melancholy were taught, much as one might learn grammar, via literature, Knecht’s book has been hailed as “a thrilling contribution the thriving field of early modern affect studies.”
Scholar of Latinx Studies Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez has also published a new book, Archiving Mexican Masculinities in Diaspora with Duke University Press. Her book, focusing on archival records of the Bracero program, which brought more than 4.5 million Mexican men to the United States to work in temporary agricultural jobs from 1942-1964.  The book focuses on the personal correspondence of anarchist Enrique Flores Magón and the photographs of Leonard Nadel, taken to document poor treatment of Mexican Bracero workers who harvested crops in the California Valley. Through their words and images, she uncovers surprising glimpses of the emotional and physical intimacy that arose among these men – a portrait that challenges prevailing notions of machismo.

Geraldine Higgins’ landmark edited volume Seamus Heaney in Context (Cambridge University) press was published this past spring. It includes 32 chapters, including several by current and retired Emory English faculty – Deepika Bahri (“The Postcolonial”), Ron Schuchard (“Thomas Hardy”), Nathan Suhr-Sytsma (“In Print”) – and Emory English PhDs – Margaret Greaves (“Eastern Europe”), Brendan Corcoran (“Elegy”), and Simon B. Kress (“Music”).

Speaking of Deepika Bahri, her co-edited volume (with Filippo Menozzi), Teaching Anglophone South Asian Women’s Writing was published by the Modern Language Association. 
Lauren Klein has been awarded an NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grant to complete her digital project, Data by Design: An Interactive History of Data Visualization, 1788-1900. The grant will fund several Emory students (both undergraduate and graduate) from English and Computer Science to work as research assistants on the project.

Fellow digital humanities specialist and scholar of contemporary American literature Dan Sinykin and his colleague Laura McGrath launched the Post45 Data Collective, a massive repository of peer-reviewed data on post-1945 literary culture.   Recent Emory English PhD Kayla Shipp of the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship played a key role in designing the site.   Sinykin published an excerpt from his book-in-progress on the business of contemporary publishing in Post-45 and Cultural Analytics.  Sinykin’s writing has been featured several times in the Chronicle of Higher Education: including his response to Jill Lepore’s recent book on the  history of data science and his take on Netflix’s new series The Chair.  
Writing Program faculty member Melissa Yang has assumed directorship of the Emory Writing Center, a position she takes over from our colleague Mandy Suhr-Sytsma, who led this core component of Emory’s teaching mission for nearly a decade.  Suhr-Sytsma will continue teaching courses in Native American literature, children’s literature, and first-year writing. 

Novelist, filmmaker, TV writer, and all-around creative force T Cooper and Allison Glock-Cooper have been signed to develop a screenplay for a biopic on Fallon Fox, the first openly transgender MMA fighter. Cooper’s pandemic-inspired short story, “First Aid,” was published in the Georgia Review.
That very same issue of the Georgia Review contains several poems by Heather Christle, including one with the memorable title “A Shop. I Like Shops.”  And this very same Heather Christle has been a Howard Foundation Fellowship in nonfiction,

Novelist and poet Tiphanie Yanique’s story “The Living Sea” (a section of her forthcoming novel Monster in the Middle) has been awarded an O Henry Prize for short fiction, and is included in the Best Short Stories 2021 volume, edited by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie.

Writing Program faculty member Kt Leuschen, Director of First-Year Writing, has published “Stabilizing Stories: Personal Narrative and Public Memory in Recent Activist Histories” in a new volume, Ethics and Representation in Feminist Rhetorical Inquiry

The Chinese translation of Joseph Skibell’s book, Six Memos from the Last Millennium: A Novelist Reads the Talmud, has come out in a second edition. His long profile of composer Andrew York appeared in the most recent issue of Fretboard Journal. 
Just as Barbara Ladd was about to embark on her sabbatical this semester, she received news that she was the recipient of the Archie K. Davis Award for funding to travel to Wilson Library at UNC-Chapel Hill and to the Franklin Library at Fisk in Nashville to do some research in connection with Charles Chesnutt and Moses Grandy. In November, she’ll spend two weeks at Quarry Farm in Elmira, NY (Mark Twain’s summer home) working on an essay on traces of Mark Twain in the work of Edna Ferber. And she has been invited to deliver the inaugural Howry Lecture in Faulkner Studies at the University of Mississippi, which will be scheduled later in the fall semester (if Covid and its variants permit).

Writing Program faculty member, poet, critic, and master anagrammaticist (if that’s a word) Daniel Bosch and George Kalogeris have published a fascinating interview with poet David Ferry in Literary Matters. Vol. 13 no. 3. This publication came over eight years after the interview itself, a saga that Daniel will happily relate to anyone intrepid enough to ask.

Finally, no departmental newsletter would be complete without an announcement of an award for poet Jericho Brown, who has been inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.
I’ll stop now, before my keyboard catches fire. But I do want to take a moment to celebrate all the quiet acts of reading, writing, thinking, and creating that didn’t make it into this newsletter: that quietness is just as important as my brags about my wonderful colleagues and our at least equally wonderful students.  But when you have something to share, please do send it along to Eric Canosa at eric [dot] canosa [at] emory [dot] edu.
From a humbled chair,
Benjamin Reiss
Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor
Chair, Department of English
Emory University

Sophia Bereaud Undergraduate Spotlight

The Department of English is delighted to spotlight a selection of summer achievements from our amazing undergraduate students!

Sophia Bereaud
Creative Writing and Anthropology
Emory University, Class of 2022

Pronouns: She/Her

As a member of the SURE Affiliate program this summer, I worked with Professor Heather Christle to produce a piece of creative nonfiction exploring the relationship between mental illness and creativity. The premise arose from my interest in mania, a state of mind characteristic of bipolar disorder, which begins with elevated mood and energy levels and devolves into psychosis. Early manic phases can be marked by sudden overwhelming creative ambition. I was intrigued by the possibility of a linkage between these two phenomena, which would bear interestingly on the veracity of the ‘mad genius’ and ‘suffering artist’ stereotypes. I quickly found statistical evidence pointing to a far higher prevalence of the illness among artistic populations compared to general samples – about 20 percent to 1 percent, respectively. Moreover, many of the symptoms of hypomania – ebullience, grandiosity, goal-driven behavior, ‘flow’ state – strikingly resemble those of creative states of mind. So while there’s no conclusive neurological evidence, the possibility of a catalytic link between bipolar disorder and artistic production is a viable and highly contested research question.

My research, both of scientific and literary bents, frames the narration of a manic flight.  Knowing my curiosity was upheld by the scientific community, I set out to humanize the inquiry with anecdotal evidence from the experiences of artists and creatives. I read works by artists with bipolar disorder, including those who treat the subject of their own illness, in fiction, poetry, and prose. I read about the lives of some of these artists, namely Virginia Woolf and August Strindberg, hoping to understand how bipolar disorder colored their creative lives. Their stories served as contrasts and referents as I unfurled my narrative. I make use of interstitial prose to weave research, reflection, and storytelling together. The piece begins at the start of a manic episode and ends with the episode’s finale, paying visits to despair, euphoria, high school, the 19th century, and the inside of a Childish Gambino album on the way. Its narrator is sometimes lucid, sometimes patently insane. It is an exercise in navel-gazing, aspiring to writer Melissa Febos’ take on the term: “I suspect I could write something relevant and dynamic and political and beautiful and intellectual about my own navel.”

Laila Nashid Undergraduate Spotlight

The Department of English is delighted to spotlight a selection of summer achievements from our amazing undergraduate students!

Laila Nashid
English and Sociology
Emory University, Class of 2023

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Being both an author and an undergraduate student has been an incredibly rewarding experience. I fell in love with writing through reading, which was fostered through weekly trips to my local library as a child. There, I became a fan of the Angelina Ballerina series, so much so that I started writing Angelina Ballerina fanfiction at the age of five (though I did not know it was fanfiction at the time). My writing has since transformed into working on original young adult novels.

My debut is a young adult (YA) contemporary novel titled You Truly Assumed, which releases February 8, 2022 with Inkyard Press, a young adult imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. I like to think of it as the Netflix show Dear White People meets Love, Hate, & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed, and it follows three Black Muslim teens as they navigate the summer before their senior year and the world of online activism. I started writing You Truly Assumed during my junior year of high school. This was around the time when the Muslim Ban was in the news and anti-Muslim hate was really being discussed due to how it was being used in politics. Additionally, growing up in the DC area and going to school in the city meant that politics was always in the background in my daily life. I think I was also processing the results of the 2016 election, and what that meant for me as a young Black Muslim woman.

As a Black Muslim woman author in a white male dominated industry, I’ve sought out spaces and connections where I am able to be surrounded or engaged with people who share similar backgrounds. Because publishing is such a white space, I’ve found it important to be able to support and to be supported by authors of color, especially Black authors. There has been progress in the industry, which I can tell just based on the difference between the books I had growing up and all the books that are being published now. But there is still a long way to go. One valuable lesson that I’ve learned is the importance of lifting as you climb. I was really grateful to have authors who saw me and recognized the value in You Truly Assumed. They shared a lot of their time and energy with me, and that’s something that I definitely want to continue to pay forward. A lot of times in publishing, and other primarily white spaces, there’s this narrative that there’s only room for one Black person. But the reality is that there’s room for all of us, and I think lifting others up really pushes back against that narrative.

While I’m still striving to find a balance between writing and academics and adjusting to being back on campus, I’m excited that You Truly Assumed releases during the spring semester and that Emory will be a part of my debut experience.

Summer 2022 Update!

Laila Nashid has been selected as a 2022 Schomburg-Mellon Humanities Summer Institute Fellow. This six-week residential program is for rising seniors interested in pursuing a PhD in the Humanities. Students attend morning seminars with distinguished research scholars, attend discussions of assigned readings, and conduct research in the Schomburg Center.

The program invites students to explore how the past is influencing the present and how the present can shape the future.

Institute fellows explore a variety of disciplines (including history, literature, arts, religion, and cultural studies) and historical periods. The Fellows examine questions about identity, culture, arts, gender, migrations, mental health, and criminal justice, and reflect on how they will affect the future.

Drawing upon the Schomburg Center’s extensive collections the students prepare a research prospectus that could be the basis for their senior thesis or a major research paper. 

Ananya Mohan Undergraduate Spotlight

This summer, Emory partnered with Plympton, a San Francisco-based literary studio that focuses on innovation in publishing, to offer paid internships to thirteen students, most of them English majors. Plympton works across a range of practices, from story format to book cover design to library licenses to writer compensation. It is also building a database of short stories, called the Writing Atlas, which includes rich information about each story, such as plot summaries and reader annotations, to help understand why some stories have been successful and how some might also be successful as TV or film adaptations. It aspires to be the world’s most comprehensive database of short stories.

Emory student interns each read approximately one hundred and twenty short stories this summer, most from the history of the Best American Short Story series, and prepared accounts of them for the Writing Atlas. In addition, they had opportunities to meet with industry professionals. Each week, Plympton hosted figures working in a range of positions to speak with and take questions from the interns, which allowed them to explore possible careers. Finally, Plympton invited interns to share their particular passions and helped them find special projects to take on, which included working with adaptation rights from literature to film, designing ebook covers, and writing treatments of novels for Hollywood producers.

The Department of English is delighted to spotlight Ananya Mohan’s participation in the internship, read her reflections below!

Ananya Mohan
English Major
Emory University, Class of 2024

Remote internships can seem like a necessity enforced by the pandemic – complicated to execute and difficult to participate in – but my experience with the Emory-Plympton internship was anything but. The primary objective was to work on the Writing Atlas, which is a database storing information on American short stories going back several decades. By itself, this was engaging work – being exposed to the variety within the sub-genre and working with stories that overlap in interesting ways with other fields of study.

However, the best part of this internship was the extra value that it offered by way of weekly speaker sessions. These meetings allowed interns to connect with people who have been working in the publishing industry for many years, who offered advice and insight into the realities of the job. The main thing that I took away from this internship is the real-world applicability of an English major, especially since Plympton supplemented their speaker meetings by giving interns the opportunity to work on their other projects as well.

Overall, this was an experience that I really enjoyed. The environment was welcoming, the hours were more than reasonable, and even though it was remote, it felt well-connected. I hope Emory carries this forward in the coming years!

Elizabeth Hsieh Undergraduate Spotlight

This summer, Emory partnered with Plympton, a San Francisco-based literary studio that focuses on innovation in publishing, to offer paid internships to thirteen students, most of them English majors. Plympton works across a range of practices, from story format to book cover design to library licenses to writer compensation. It is also building a database of short stories, called the Writing Atlas, which includes rich information about each story, such as plot summaries and reader annotations, to help understand why some stories have been successful and how some might also be successful as TV or film adaptations. It aspires to be the world’s most comprehensive database of short stories.

Emory student interns each read approximately one hundred and twenty short stories this summer, most from the history of the Best American Short Story series, and prepared accounts of them for the Writing Atlas. In addition, they had opportunities to meet with industry professionals. Each week, Plympton hosted figures working in a range of positions to speak with and take questions from the interns, which allowed them to explore possible careers. Finally, Plympton invited interns to share their particular passions and helped them find special projects to take on, which included working with adaptation rights from literature to film, designing ebook covers, and writing treatments of novels for Hollywood producers.

The Department of English is delighted to spotlight Elizabeth Hsieh’s participation in the internship, read her reflections below!

Elizabeth Hsieh
English Major
Emory University, Class of 2023

Pronouns: She/Her

I had the pleasure of working as an Emory Fellow for Plympton Literary Studio over the summer. As part of a new program with the English department, the interns from Emory helped with the development of a database for short stories, the Writing Atlas. Going into the summer, I was not sure if any opportunities related to my English major would be available during all the craziness with COVID. I was skeptical of online internships and questioned whether they would allow me to get real experience, but working with Plympton was extremely hands-on. My favorite part was getting to explore areas in the literary world that I had never considered before. As an English major, I often get questioned about what my professional plans are following college. Many people have the idea that the only options are graduate school or working as an educator. My internship really opened my eyes to the creative, engaging, and multidisciplinary opportunities that are available to English majors. They invited leaders and businesswomen and men from multiple industries to have small zoom discussions each week. It was so fun to learn about fields that I did not even know existed, such as agencies and management companies specifically for adaptation. Plympton also supported me in exploring my personal interests in law and publishing. When I told the project managers that I was feeling a bit stuck between the two areas, they allowed me to see contracts and even explained legal concepts to help me get a better feel of that type of work.  

Another part of the internship I loved was getting to apply the knowledge and skills I have picked up in my classes. The Emory Fellows mainly focused on creating summaries for all the Best American Short Stories published since the 1940s. We also wrote tags for the stories and wrote loglines. As I read through the stories, it was so satisfying to find a story that fit into a certain literary movement or genre I had previously learned about. For example, I took a Southern Literature class with Professor Ladd, and it came in handy so many times when reading stories from southern writers. I found myself recognizing core themes and trends and being able to fit the story into a greater picture. I know that without that class, I might have blown right past some symbolic moments when writing my summaries. My classes also prepared me to deal with stories that had more sensitive themes of race, slavery, gender, or sexuality. Being informed about the context in which certain stories were written made me feel a bit more comfortable and clear-sighted. Overall, the database we worked on is meant to help others understand the gist of a story without having to read it themselves, so it was great to be able to point out core themes, motifs, and other details that went beyond the basic plot. As a student who has benefited a great deal from literary databases, I found it truly gratifying to apply my knowledge from Emory to help someone else’s research on professional projects.

Jack Wolfram Undergraduate Spotlight

The Department of English is delighted to spotlight a selection of summer achievements from our amazing undergraduate students!

Jack Wolfram
English and Creative Writing
Emory University, Class of 2022

Pronouns: He/Him/His

As a SURE research fellow, I’ve spent the past ten-weeks conducting full-time independent research under the direction of Dr. Cahill. My project, which builds upon her published work, is entitled “A Fitting Scene for Unusual Capabilities: Adrienne Herndon’s Trailblazing Black Theatrical Mobilization Across the Jim Crow South.” My work is prompted by my interest in Black theatre and the #BlackLivesMatter Movement’s unprecedented surge in 2020, which spurred the United States to acknowledge and address its deep-rooted racism. By 2021, long-overdue investigations into suppressed Black history have gained increasing attention within scholarly spheres and popular culture. The groundbreaking but tragically-short life of the Atlanta theater maker Adrienne McNeil Herndon in the early twentieth century is one such marginalized story. In the late 1800s, she cultivated a promising performance reputation in the North while earning multiple academic degrees; when racism prematurely ended these exploits, she returned south to helm the drama department at Atlanta (now Clark Atlanta) University. As the faculty’s lone African-American woman, she established unprecedented access to serious drama for Georgia’s Black communities before her untimely death in 1910, radically reclaiming Shakespearian performance as the “birthright […] of the American Negro” and using theater as a means to bring together diverse populations of Black theater makers in resistance to White supremacy.

Drawing upon Dr. Cahill’s scholarship, I set out to find out more about how Herndon mobilized Black audiences in the Jim Crow South beyond Atlanta. Working with Emory Librarian Erica Bruchko, I made a plan to research contemporary Black periodicals, university bulletins, event fliers, similar records, and secondary sources in the online and physical archives of Emory University, Clark Atlanta University, the HBCU Library Alliance, and Auburn Avenue Research Library. My uncovered findings thus far document that Herndon undertook a reading and performance tour throughout the South, including stops in Augusta and Savannah as well as in Aiken, South Carolina, and going as far north as Chattanooga, Tennessee. Not only do these findings invite further exploration, but my research may also help expand Dr. Cahill’s perspectives about Black protest – specifically, that resistance to White supremacy was carried out not only by political organizations, but also through cultural productions and pedagogy. It furthermore enables us to realize the complex politics of Shakespeare performance, given Shakespeare’s place as a longtime White status symbol as well as a medium of Black resistance.

Becca Cohen Undergraduate Spotlight

The Department of English is delighted to spotlight a selection of summer achievements from our amazing undergraduate students!

Becca Cohen
Biology and English
Emory University, Class of 2023

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

At the American Shakespeare Center (ASC) in Staunton, Virginia, audience members are part of the performance. Don’t worry, you don’t have to memorize any lines–but Merchant of Venice’s Portia may point to you while she declares her suitors unsuitable! Because the ASC replicates early modern conditions, some lucky playgoers can sit on the stage in the “Lord’s Chairs” that are part of their recreation of the Elizabethan theater known as Blackfriars. In this indoor theater, lights remain on during the show, so audiences cannot hide in the dark as they can in most modern productions. This type of performance allows for eye contact and–as research has shown– it results in an emotional reaction in participants, which of course enhances everyone’s theater experience. 

This summer I have been lucky enough to be fully immersed in the ASC experience as an educational intern. In this internship, I’ve come to rely on skills I’ve honed in English classes. I’m especially grateful for what I’ve learned in Dr. Cahill’s classes about early modern drama, intimacy choreography, and early modern historical contexts (from aristocratic hunting practices to sorcery and witchcraft) because I’ve drawn on this knowledge as I have analyzed different plays, props, and acting choices. And I’m thrilled to have opportunities to learn more from other Shakespeareans at the ASC, including my supervisor in the education department, Sarah Enloe, and Aubrey Whitlock, who co-hosts the Hurly Burly Shakespeare Podcast.

 So far, I’ve seen Macbeth in an outdoor theater space and Henry V in the Blackfriars. I have also gotten covered in stage blood at a workshop with young children; helped teach early modern rhetoric and meter to college students; attended rehearsals and later provided dramaturgical input to actors (for example, I weighed in on the current production of Henry V set in the grunge era of the 1990s and starring Brandon Carter, an extraordinary actor of color who has appeared in several Shakespeare history plays); analyzed ongoing productions in my blogs; taught administrative staff how to write blog entries; wrote play pitches for future seasons; helped graduate students find resources for their research; absorbed new information from the vast film archives of past productions; and even interviewed actors about how their BIPOC and LGBTQ+ identities affected the decisions they made on stage. It has been very cool to see how vital the skills I developed in my Emory English courses are to my intern experience.

English Department Alum’s Thesis Published in Journal

The English Department is excited to highlight our recent alum, Dylan Schellenberg (20C), whose senior thesis work, titled “A Retinal Twitch, A Misfired Nerve Cell: The Neuroscience of The Crying of Lot 49,” will be published in the Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction journal.

Initially, Schellenberg came to Emory for the great neuroscience program, but by his sophomore year, he realized he was missing his high school English classes. Moving forward, he chose to double major in English and Neuroscience and Behavior Biology (NBB) to further explore both of his interests. “The senior thesis really ended up being the perfect opportunity to realize this long-held goal of mine of independently exploring science and literature,” Schellenberg says.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the process of delving into more and more obscure/esoteric texts in the scholarly pursuit to dig up these odd moments throughout history that have been largely passed over by others,” he explained, “it makes you feel like some academic sleuth.” When asked about advice for English majors interested in writing a thesis, Schellenberg emphasized the importance of reading a lot but reading smart. He explained, “it’s fun to go exploring in your research and learn and discover new things, but you also must be smart with your time, considering this is college and you have a load of other responsibilities to fulfill on top of your thesis.”

Despite the pandemic interrupting his plans to stay in Atlanta, he has continued to explore his interests by reading and writing what he finds interesting. He looks forward to his future career whether that includes medical school to become a doctor or graduate school to become an English teacher. Either way, he plans to continue his literary pursuits by drafting an essay on Pynchon and hopes to be published again in the near future. Emory’s English Department is proud to list Schellenberg amongst our alumni and we’re sure his future will contain a great deal of success in both the literary and scientific fields. Those interested in reading his work can read his published article online.

Major Fellowships Awarded to English Department Faculty

Huge congratulations to Profs. Tayari Jones, Laura Otis, and Heather Christle, who have all been awarded major fellowships for the upcoming academic year.

Profs. Jones and Otis have both been named Fellows of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.  It is quite rare to have two fellows named from the same university in a given year – rarer still to have two from the same department!

Prof. Christle has been awarded  a Howard Foundation fellowship in Nonfiction from Brown University. 

Look for more information about the projects behind these wonderful awards in the next edition of the departmental newsletter.