Department of English Newsletter: June 2012

My Lunch with Judy Oster

by William R. Siebenschuh


I’ve always known Judy Oster as a scholar, colleague, and inspirational classroom teacher. But when I had lunch with her a month or so before she left CWRU, I found there was a lot I still didn’t know.

She told me she was born Judy Link in 1933 in Bratislava in what was then Czechoslovakia. Seeing the war and the trouble coming, her family moved in 1939 first to London and then to Cleveland Heights because her father had cousins who lived here. She remembers the transatlantic voyage on the New Amsterdam, and a little playmate she met on shipboard whose family, unhappily, was not allowed to enter the U.S. (She also remembers that members of her father’s family who didn’t get out in time didn’t survive.)

Arriving in Cleveland Heights as a six year old, she went to Boulevard School, Roosevelt Junior High, and Heights High after which, from 1951—1955, she attended Mather College for Women. Elizabeth Hastings (formerly of this department) was the Dean, Libby Walker (Academic Dean of Western Reserve College for years) gave her her college interview, and one of her most memorable professors was Florence Marsh, then a newly minted Yale PhD.

While she was an undergraduate Judy worked summers as a verse writer for American Greetings. One summer she began getting rides to work with a nice young man named Joe. They got married in 1955, four days after her graduation from Mather College. From 1955—1957 she taught French and English at Monticello Junior High in Cleveland Heights. However, between 1957 and 1964 children Sandra, Deborah, Naomi, and Howard arrived, and so Judy, in her words, “missed the sixties” working only part time in those years. Then in 1970, strongly encouraged by Joe, she went back to school—to the graduate program in English at Western Reserve College.

She said she took it slowly, “one course at a time at first.” She got her MA in 1974 and said she wasn’t sure about whether she should try to go on. But Joe said, “you can’t stop now” and so she went on for the PhD, which she earned in 1979. Bob Ornstein directed her dissertation. Second and third readers were Roger Salomon and P.K. Saha. Peter Salm was the outside reader.

We wanted to hire her immediately, but her first job was a lectureship in composition and literature at the University of Akron in 1980. That was because, as promising and valuable as her work already was, it took this university more than six years of administrative fretting and hand wringing about letting us hire one of our own PhDs before they gave in. What came first was a sequence of compromise appointments (lecturer, coordinator, adjunct, etc.) Finally she became an Assistant Professor in 1987, was promoted to the rank of Associate in 1993, and Professor in 2004. The books she’s best known for followed in due course: From Reading to Writing, 1997; Toward Robert Frost, 1991; and Crossing Cultures in 2003. If you take just a cursory look at her CV, her academic history is a fairly straightforward and exemplary success story. It’s a lot more than that if you consider when it happened, how long Judy had to wait for things, and how many obstacles she had in her path.

As anyone born before 1950 will realize immediately, Judy did the nearly impossible for a woman in those years. She went to college. She got a PhD. She got married. She had a family and a demanding and rewarding job. That is, at precisely the time when the battles about where women belonged—in the home, in the office, married or single by choice–were the fiercest, Judy did it all. She did it with talent and ability, of course, but also with patience, determination, poise, and a remarkable degree of clear-sightedness and unflappability.

She still has plenty of all those qualities, too, especially unflappability. When the lunch was over and we were heading back to Guilford House, I asked wasn’t she a bit nervous going to live permanently in an international hotspot like Tel Aviv. She just smiled and said, “Oh, you get used to it.” And I guess if you’re Judy, and you’ve done everything else she’s done, that’s exactly what you do.


Interview with Eve Proper (’98)

Is faculty misconduct something that has only now come under a concerted, more public scrutiny? If so, why do you think that is?

Proper: I think three things have happened. First, some of our standards have changed. In my parents’ day, for example, faculty/student relationships were viewed with less opprobrium. Our views on relationships, sexual and not, with unequal power dynamics have shifted. Second, I think the internet has helped make us aware of more cases of faculty misconduct. A student mentions something on Facebook or a blog, and the media or interest groups can easily find it. Third, perhaps the most important, is that faculty in general are under much more scrutiny. The faculty role continues to deprofessionalize; part of that process is more external scrutiny, because we as a society no longer trust professional self-regulation. We are eager to catch tenured professors indoctrinating students, only working 20-hour weeks, or treating grad seminars like speed-dating parties.

The interview continues here.


Faculty NOTES

William Marling, Professor of English, gave a paper on “The Role of the Agent in the Translation Marketplace” on May 25 at the conference on “Translating Power, Empowering Translation” at the University of Tallinn, in Tallinn, Estonia.

Loom by Sarah Gridley has been selected as Omnidawn’s 2011 Poetry Open Book Contest Winner. The contest judge was Carl Phillips.

T. Kenny Fountain has been awarded a Glennan Fellowship for 2012-2013.

Martha Woodmansee will be teaching in a summer academy that Brunel University in London has arranged for advanced students of intellectual property (i.e., doctoral and postdoctoral students and practicing lawyers) this June.

Christopher Flint gave a paper at the annual convention of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (San Antonio, 2012), entitled “Tabula Rasa: Ewriting Author-Reader Relations in Eighteenth-Century Print Culture.”


Daniel M. Gross Delivers the Sadar Lecture

Mixed Feelings, or What Happens When Scientists Read Sense and Sensibility


On April 20th, a goodly crowd gathered to hear Daniel M. Gross (U.C. Irvine) lecture on “Mixed Feelings, or What Happens When Scientists Read Sense and Sensibility.” Gross applied cognitive, psychological, and rhetorical theories of affect to unpack emotionally-fraught literary moments, such as when (in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility) Elinor Dashwood must tell Edward Ferrars (whom she loves) that he is now free to marry Lucy Steele (whom he no longer loves) because Colonel Brandon (who loves Elinor’s sister Marianne) has offered Edward a position on his estate.The talk suggested that the complexities of emotionally fraught situations, in literature and in life, are poorly captured in current scientific theories of affect, in part because these theories ignore the useful insights provided by literature and rhetorical theory.


Interview with Audrey Lavin (’84)

You’re an academic, author of Aspects of the Novelist (1995) and numerous journal articles. How did you come to write mysteries as well?

Lavin: I was pleased with the reception of my book, and I enjoyed academic writing. I was good enough at it to have my work published in numerous journals in the U.S., plus in Spain, Chile, the Ukraine, and Russia, where my latest article was published in May of this year.

I have also been anthologized, plagiarized, and had my books stolen from the library. I had arrived.

So I did what many of us do, wondered: is this all? Can I break through the restrictions of academic writing and write something different? Other writers have had the same thought and are willing to take the same risks. I heard John Grisham interviewed. Here’s an author whose work has been translated into thirty-nine languages. He wondered if he could write anything except legal thrillers. And he recently did.

Not many people compare me with Usher, but basically I’m following his philosophy of “evolve or evaporate.”

I’m also a life-long reader of murder mysteries. Nothing relaxes me at bedtime more than reading a puzzle about a little (preferably, a lot of) blood and gore. It guarantees a good eight hours of sleep. I’ve read so many mysteries that I decided, “I can write one of these, too.” Surprise! It’s not so easy. But my mysteries have been very rewarding and well received. I continue to set the bar higher with each one. If you read my three novels, you will see that each one is more complex than the one preceding it. A good introduction to them can be found on my web page [].

The interview continues here.



Danny Anderson (’12) is now Assistant Professor of English at Emmanuel College in Georgia, teaching writing and literature classes. He also hopes to develop the campus film society.

Jamie McDaniel (’04) is now the editor of the CEA Forum.

Esti Brennan is the Social Media Intern at the University of Michigan’s Clements Library, which is a collection of American documents and artifacts from the 15th century through the early 20th century. She’s writing blog posts to highlight interesting topics or objects she finds in the collection, updating the library’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, and eventually drafting a social media policy document for the library to install.

Barbara Burgess-Van Aken (’07) presented “Barbara Torelli Benedetti: A Feminine Voice in the Pastoral Tradition” on March 23rd, at the Renaissance Society of America in Washington, D.C.


EGSA: Masquerade Ball

by Kate Dunning


“Well this is authentic,” I thought, standing in my modern kitchen, wondering how many Victorian women had lamented that their egg whites would not form stiff peaks. Of course, Victorian women probably had enough sense to know that one beats egg whites by hand with a whisk, not a fork, so the number was probably fewer than I imagined. All the same, with a dish drain piled full of freshly washed vegetables, a refrigerator and mini fridge packed full of food, and two solid days of cooking ahead of me, I felt a certain kinship to those Victorian ladies.

In spite of the ominous foreshadowing, the egg whites finally formed peaks, the cooking got done, the dining room and parlor got set up, and one by one, the guests arrived. Beforehand, I had been thrilled that friends of mine who own a vintage shop had hooked me up with two authentic Victorian dresses and a pair of incredible Victorian boots, and I thought I had a pretty good shot at the “best dressed” title. Little did I know how fabulous everyone who showed up was going to look! Between Chris Flint and Athena Vrettos with their incredible masks, all of the gentleman donning ties, and the ladies pulling out their stunning holiday attire, it was a tight race. As much as I’d like to say that my fiancé Nate Allen, in his Edwardian suit (which came complete with a pair of ladies gloves in the inside pocket!) and incredible Victorian silk top hat, easily took the cake, the truth is that the best dressed clearly would bee: Gary Stonum! (Don’t bee-lieve me? Just check out the pictures!)

Dinner was a success, with everyone seated elegantly in the dining room drinking Roman punch and eating authentic Victorian fare, including essentials like soda biscuits, two different meat pies, baked ham, roast beef, potatoes á la maitre d’hotel, peas, stuffing, and Yorkshire pudding—all of which were homemade. There was also Victorian inspired pasta salad, oysters, vegan “meat” pie, cranberry jelly, and more.

After dinner there was some light entertainment including a comic dramatic reading by Drew Banghart, a serious dramatic reading by Marcus Mitchell, a little puppet improv, and even a waltz demo, which nearly ended disastrously for my fiancé when Chris challenged Nate to a duel for dancing with Athena. Fortunately, Chris valued his wife over revenge, and waltzed her (literally) off the floor to safety. These charades led to actual charades and then a performance by Wells Addington that simply defies description.

Upon the announcement of dessert, the parlor was abandoned in favor of the dining room turned card room where everyone tucked into some Victorian dainties and played a few rousing rounds of whist with their new English Department Masquerade Ball commemorative playing cards. As the night wound down, the plates of Victorian cake, chocolate covered cherries, chocolate cameos, candied ginger, and vegan apple pie (all homemade) slowly disappeared alongside the hot tea, fresh strawberries, and bunches of grapes.

While it is true that the parlor was not wainscoted and that the Victorians did not serve oysters that came from a can, our combination of good company, good food, dancing, mild debauchery, and general merriment was about as Victorian as you get.


The Return of Tom Bishop


On April 3rd, the English Department welcomed Tom Bishop who lectured on “The Art of Playing: As You Like It.” Tom is a former CWRU faculty member and the first director of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities. He is now a Professor of English at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.


Summer Events

This Summer—Emily Rocks: The Emily Dickinson International Society. August 3rd through 5th, Cleveland, Ohio, on the Case Western Reserve University campus. Featured events and speakers: Kevin J. Dettmar, Martha Nell Smith, Gwen Mayer; a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum:


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