English dept. message on attacks on Asian American community

I am writing on behalf of the English department to express our grief and outrage at the recent shootings in and around Atlanta.  Members of the English department faculty met on the day after the attacks to reflect on the  anti-Asian racism, misogyny,  violence, gun culture, and devaluation of precarious lives that have shaken the Atlanta community and that reflect a systemic pattern of increasing violence directed toward marginalized and vulnerable communities in this country.  In the coming days and weeks, we hope to find meaningful ways to involve our students in these discussions as well.   Because we study how discourses and cultural representations shape our lived experiences (and vice versa), we can both analyze the narratives emerging around the events and work to amplify the voices of communities that are too often unheard.   

As a starter, here is a link to a thoughtful article in today’s New York Times that sets the tragedy of this week’s shootings in the context of the growth and political organizing of the Asian American community in Georgia. 

With hopes for better times ahead —

Benjamin Reiss
Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor
Chair, Department of English
Emory University
breiss [at] emory [dot] edu

English Department Poetry Initiatives

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted social lives and caused chaos at every level of society. In these uncertain times, many members of the Emory community have turned to poetry to find comfort and direction. In order to elevate the supportive role that poetry can play in hard times, the English Department launched a Pandemic Poetry Initiative sharing poems to provide inspiration and solidarity to all of us who have been affected by the pandemic.

Professor Geraldine Higgins, who began the Initiative, was inspired to take action after “thinking about how or whether words could help.” The sharing of poetry among faculty and graduate students during the early days of the pandemic inspired Dr. Higgins to offer a new course on Pandemic Poetry. Undergraduate student and English major Kate Appel curates the Pandemic Poetry newsletters, which feature the chosen poems as well as an introductory reflection from the nominator. Appel says, “I believe that literature articulates complex emotions experienced in times of difficulty, providing comfort and clarity. On the other hand, I think literature challenges us to question our own role within crises, which can be unsettling but important.”

The original Pandemic Poetry series ended right before the eruption of protests against racism and police brutality in reaction to the tragic murder of George Floyd on May 25th, 2020.  “The urgency of these protests and the demands to respond with action made me question the place of poetry in the current crisis,” Higgins writes. “But as the country began to address the nation’s history of racism including monuments, statues, flags, and names, I realized that poetry too has always understood its place as a maker of meaning.” After this realization, the department decided to launch a parallel poetry initiative focused on Black poetry in order to elevate Black perspectives during a time of significant social change.

The Black Poetry Initiative is curated by Prof. Jericho Brown and graduate student Ra’Niqua Lee. As Lee writes, “Black Poetry@Emory shares works that offer perspectives on the Black Lives Matter movement, national conversations on race, and their global connections. The point is to provide topical insight into our current moment, while also acknowledging and celebrating the diversity of Black experiences.”

These two initiatives share the purpose of emphasizing our shared experiences. As Higgins writes, “We turn to poetry in times of crisis because it offers not just consolation but complexity. Poetry is elevated language. It is also succinct. From nursery rhymes to ballads, and from epigraphs to epitaphs, poetry is written to be remembered. The language of poetry is much more than a verbal band-aid.” If you are interested in receiving the Black and Pandemic poetry newsletters, please send your name and email address to Kate Appel (kate [dot] appel [at] emory [dot] edu) or Ra’niqua Lee (ra’niqua [dot] lee [at] emory [dot] edu). Furthermore, if you have any suggestions or poetry recommendations, you can submit them here: https://forms.gle/75MbDymU5w82XPx66.

English Department Newsletter

News from the Chair

Dear Friends, Relations, and Mildly Curious Observers of the Emory English department (all others may stop reading here):

Now that flowers are beginning to bloom, trucks are carting vials of vaccine around the country, and 2020 is officially history (where’s amnesia when you need it?), it’s time to take stock of some of the accomplishments, accolades, and important ongoingness of our department.
Curriculum, Hiring, and Planning

In the month of February, we welcomed four exciting scholars in the field of Asian American, Pacific Rim, and Transnational Asian Literature and Culture to the department as part of a faculty search in that field.  The presentations and conversations have been wide-ranging and compelling: we’ve learned about the complicated histories behind turn-of-the-century Japanese dolls, the film Filthy Rich Asians, Chang-Rae Lee’s novel A Gesture Life, and Walt Whitman’s presence in Asian American novels.  We are tremendously excited to have the opportunity to welcome one of these scholars to the department next fall.

This new faculty line underscores the importance of our continuing work of re-thinking what it means to study global literatures and cultures in English at Emory, in Atlanta, and in a post-2020 world.   The department faculty is at work on crafting a curriculum that will reflect the breadth, diversity, tangled histories, and social meanings of our field today.

Our graduate program will also be seeing some exciting changes, too.  Beginning next year, we will feature a number of team-taught seminars, sometimes involving faculty members from different areas of study who find common ground through a shared theoretical or methodological approach.  Because our graduate program is small, with typically 5-6 students entering the PhD program and 2-3 4+1 BA/MA students each year, these pairings will allow students to study with a broader range of faculty members.  And team-teaching will provide a great opportunity for faculty members to learn from each other.
Faculty Accolades

Professor Valerie Babb is co-Principal Investigator of a $1 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant awarded to the University of Georgia’s Willson Center to fund partnerships with the Penn Center, one of the nation’s most important institutions of African American culture. The project, “Culture and Community at the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District” will include a range of programs: community-based artist residencies, a series of public conversations on the importance of preserving this cultural history, and in-place studies for students from UGA, Emory, and other HBCU partner institutions.  Located on St. Helena Island within the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a National Heritage Area established by the U.S. Congress to recognize the unique culture of the Gullah Geechee people (descendants of formerly enslaved West and Central Africans who have traditionally resided in the coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida), Penn Center is a nonprofit organization committed to African American education, community development, and social justice.

Director of Creative Writing Professor Jericho Brown was commissioned to write a poem, “Inaugural,” commemorating the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris by the New York Times Magazine.

Professor Lauren Klein’s book, Data Feminism (co-authored with Catherine D’Ignazio, MIT Press, 2020) has been selected  a 2021 American Association of Publishers PROSE award finalist in the Computing and Information Sciences category.

Professor Nicole Guidotti-Hernández continues to chronicle the political scene for Ms magazine.  Here’s a recent piece on the triumphs, perils, and unfinished business for feminists and women of color in the wake of the chaotic election season.  We can look forward to the publication of her book, Archiving Mexican American Masculinities in Diaspora – coming later this spring from Duke University Press!

Michelle M. Wright’s essay “1619: The Danger of a Single Origin Story,” has been published in the Winter 2020 volume of American Literary History.

Professor Tayari Jones’s novel An American Marriage was cited as one of 25 defining works of what Time magazine is calling the Black Renaissance.  Her work joins that of other major artists, including Kara Walker, Donald Glover, Claudia Rankine, Beyonce, Jordan Peele, Kendrick Lamar, Jesmyn Ward, and more.

In an online interview, Professor Laura Otis shared the story of her transition from science to literature with the editors of Youth Time magazine. This online journal, based in Prague and created by and for young people around the world, publishes stories on issues of interest to youthful readers.  You can read Otis’s two-part interview here and here.

Professor Tiphanie Yanique has published this bittersweet reflection in Harper’s Bazaar on raising children during a time of Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, and (canceled) Carnival.

Now housed at Emory University, the journal Post-45 and editor Professor Dan Sinykin continue to make news.  On March 15, a special joint issue of Post45 x Cultural Analytics will feature an essay on contemporary nonprofit publishing drawn from Sinykin’s forthcoming book, The Conglomerate Era. Also on March 15, Sinykin and collaborator Laura McGrath (Temple University) will launch the Post45 Data Collective, an initiative to peer-review and house post-1945 humanities data on an open-access website. This project will gather the work of a group of scholars who have been separately collecting data on publishers, literary agents, prizes, MFA programs,  and the race, gender, and educational background of authors.  The first dataset will feature collections of data on the Iowa Writers’ workshop.

Professors Nathan Suhr-Sytsma and Geraldine Higgins have been selected as Senior Fellows at Emory’s Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry for the academic year 2021-22.  Suhr-Sytsma will be working on his new book project, African Poetry and the Future of Literature, which examines the new media ecologies that are giving shape to vibrant 21st-century African poetry in English.  Professor Higgins will  work on her digital and book project, Seamus Heaney’s Material, which bridges the gap between purely literary approaches to Heaney’s poetry and the visual and special impact of encountering Heaney’s life and work in an exhibition setting. 

Professor Emeritus Jonathan Goldberg has a new book appearing in the spring, Come As You Are, After Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.
Graduate Student Accomplishments

Palak Taneja has accepted a faculty position in Literature and Writing at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. She is excited to join the US’s #1 Green College, where students get to design their own majors.  She will be teaching transdisciplinary courses deepening and broadening their understanding of human ecology.

Emily Banks’ book of poems, Mother Water, was published in December by Lynx House/University of Washington Press.

Jess Libow’s article, “Margaret Fuller’s Physical Education,” has been accepted for publication at Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers.

Dominick Rolle (PhD 2017) has accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Business and English at the University of the Bahamas.

Sophia Falvey has been working as Graduate Assistant for Emory College’s Humanities Pathways program, funded by a Mellon Foundation grant.  Her responsibilities have included arranging career conversations with alumni of Humanities majors through the Alumni Connections program.  In January, she arranged a conversation with distinguished Emory English majors  Cindy Okereke (12C), Andy Tompkins (99C), and Jacob Silverman (06C).  Their video biographies are here, and you can view the Zoom discussion here.
Undergraduate Accomplishments

Our majors and minors have been making news in all sorts of ways.  Here are some highlights:

An essay on Langston Hughes and Richard Blanco written by Krithika Shrinivas in Professor Walter Kalaidjian’s English 205 course has been accepted for publication in the upcoming edition of The Norton Field Guide to Writing

2020 alum Dylan Schellenberg, who graduated with Highest Honors in English (and a double major in 2020), has an article forthcoming in the peer-reviewed journal Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction. The article draws from his honors thesis (directed by Professor Laura Otis), “A Retinal Twitch, A Misfired Nerve Cell: The Neurocybernetics of The Crying of Lot 49.”  Dylan is currently working as a research assistant in a lab at Northwestern while he decides what career path he’d like to follow.

Julie Park and her Professor Ben Miller have published a proceedings paper, “Computing Narrative.”  This double-blind peer reviewed paper explores how the modeling, study, and generation of stories with computational methods gives us an opportunity to better understand both narrative, and the computational architecture upon which these models rely.  In their paper, they consider the underlying computational concepts, like finite state machines and elements in the architecture of databases, and how those actualized concepts affect generated stories and our understanding of their structures.  The paper is published as part of the upcoming Computational Humanities Research Workshop convened by a group representing The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, the University of Cambridge, the Alan Turing Institute, Wageningen University & Research, and the University of Amsterdam.  The publication is available at http://ceur-ws.org/Vol-2723/

Playwriting major Drew Mindell was recently awarded the Region IV David L. Shelton Award through the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, for his play “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare (or at least our best approximation).
English minor Erica Kahn has found a fascinating part-time job as an English Secondary Language Tutor with the tutoring service Ringle.  She is working remotely with South Korean professionals to advance their English skills and practice for the IELTS, TOEIC, and TOEFL exams. In this position, Erica’s students have included employees of Samsung, Hyundai, Luis Vuitton, and the South Korean Consulate in Houston.
English major Jack Wolfram’s essay, “Paradise Uncaged: John Milton’s Subtle Fixation with Constraints” was recently accepted for publication in Butler University’s Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research! This will be Jack’s third publication that has originated from research completed for an Emory English course over the past six months, with earlier essays appearing in Fairfield University’s Apollon Undergraduate Journal and the UK-based Spellbinder Magazine on January 1st! 
Congratulations to all, and keep the good news coming!  If you’d like to share something for the next newsletter, please contact Eric Canosa at eric [dot] canosa [at] emory [dot] edu.
Benjamin Reiss
Chair, Department of English