Department of English Newsletter: June 2020

in this issue

Writing Awards/Black Mountain College/Faculty Notes/What I Did for My Spring Semester/ Frederica Ward Memorial Scholarship/Alumni News

Writing Faculty and Student Awards Announced

The annual Writing Program Awards honor excellence in the teaching of writing. Our award ceremony, like all of our spring semester celebrations, has unfortunately been canceled, but our honorees are worthy of acknowledgment nonetheless. This year, each faculty recipient has shared in their own words an aspect of their philosophy or practice for fostering their students’ development as writers.

The Jessica Melton Perry Award for Distinguished Teaching in Disciplinary & Professional Writing recognizes outstanding instruction in writing in professional fields and/or disciplines other than English.

This year’s recipient, Sharona Hoffman, Edgar A. Hahn Professor of Jurisprudence in the CWRU School of Law, is lauded for providing extraordinary mentorship to law students in the area of legal scholarly writing, fostering students in their course work, and supporting their efforts to publish.

When asked to describe her approach to writing instruction, Hoffman wrote, “I love teaching my year-long paper seminar at the law school.  It is very gratifying to help students progress from struggling to find a topic to having a paper that is often of publishable quality at the end of the year. I think the best advice I give students is to pick a topic about which they are passionate.  Papers are always strongest when they are personally meaningful and when you are emotionally invested in your work.
Throughout the process, I emphasize the importance of editing and re-editing your work, focusing on wording and language, organizing your thoughts, honing your arguments, supporting your arguments, and convincing the reader that you offer a good approach to solving a problem.  One of the most helpful exercises we do is a 30-minute presentation by each writer before the final draft is due.  It includes a PowerPoint presentation and 10 minutes of Q & A.  Students always benefit greatly from explaining their arguments and recommendations to their classmates and creating a slide deck.  It helps them organize and clarify their own thoughts, and they get great input from their colleagues’ questions and comments!”

The SAGES Excellence in Writing Instruction Award recognizes outstanding commitment to and success in teaching academic writing to CWRU undergraduates in SAGES.

This year’s winner is Gabrielle Parkin, Lecturer in English, SAGES Teaching Fellow, and the now Interim Director of the Writing Resource Center. Nominated by students and colleagues, Dr. Parkin is described as being a supportive mentor and writing teacher. One student wrote, “I have seen her take pride in writing and SAGES in particular. Parkin has met with students outside the classroom and office hours. Everyone knows who Dr. Parkin is in the writing center. When students have a hard time comprehending a topic or formats, Parkin is always there to help.”

In response to receiving this recognition, Parkin reflected, “The more I’ve taught, the more I’ve come to see the composition process as an opportunity for play. Intellectual play in the writing process isn’t just about coming up with ambitious claims or fun turns of phrase; it is also mucking about with the things we built.

“Students often want to write a paper, turn it in, and move on to the next assignment. But when we play with that paper afterwards—through revision of both the arguments and the language—and when we invite others to join us in that process, we turn writing and argumentation into a communal process. The essay becomes a space where we can play with each other’s ideas and work towards not only a better essay, but also a deeper understanding of how the topic can affect an audience outside of the classroom.”

The WRC Excellence in Consulting Award recognizes outstanding writing instruction for students of the University and exemplary service to the Writing Resource Center during the academic year. This year, two consultants stood out both in their quantity of nominations as well as in the high quality of the consulting work their nominators described: Cara Byrne, Lecturer in English and SAGES Teaching Fellow, and Andrea Milne, Lecturer in History and SAGES Teaching Fellow.

Byrne wrote this about her theory of writing consultation:

“Through my work at the WRC, I’ve learned that writing is a communal act and learning about oneself as a writer is a never-ending task. Writing can also be a vulnerable and overwhelming act, so honoring where the writer is in their writing process—which involves listening to them as well as offering guidance—can make for some powerful interactions. If I can help someone feel like they leave our 30- or 60-minute session with both an improved paper and with a better understanding of themselves as a writer, it’s been a successful session. Consulting students, staff, and faculty at the WRC over the last 11 years has been a privilege and one of my favorite aspects of working at CWRU. “

While Byrne emphasizes the communal nature of consulting, Milne describes her writing consultation work as personal:

“I believe every person who crosses the threshold of Bellflower does so motivated by a desire to be understood.  My job, then, is as much about personal engagement with my clients as it is about teaching the mechanics of academic English. My sessions are full of tangential conversations, questions, and—usually—laughter.

“What the client may perceive as small talk is actually part of the process: it’s building the connection and honest rapport necessary to engage with their writing in a holistic way. The more I know about who my client is, how they’re feeling, how they think, and what they hope to achieve in their time at CWRU, the more likely I am to make a lasting impact on their writing.”

The SAGES First and University Seminar Essay Prizes recognize the best writing that students produce in their First and University Seminars. These essays are chosen from those nominated by SAGES seminar leaders each semester.

The First Seminar Awards are judged in January and recognized at the Celebration of Student Writing & Research in April each year. The winners for 2019 are

Delphine Clatanoff, for an essay titled, “Charlotte Smith’s Suffocating Romanticism
Written for FSSY185Q: Death Mourning and Immortality (Seminar Leader: John Wiehl)

Patrick Pariseau, for an essay titled, “The Solar Cycle”
Written for FSNA 165: Silicon and its Applications (Seminar Leader: Jim Stephens)

Farha Watley, for an essay titled, “Black Solidarity: Combatting Colorism in the Black Community”
Written for FSCC 110: Foundations of College Writing (Seminar Leader: Martha Schaffer)

The University Seminar Awards are judged in September and recognized at the Celebration of Student Writing & Research in December of each year. The winners for Academic Year 2018-2019 are

Shmuel Berman, for an essay titled, “Religious Coffee Drinkers: Historical Reactions to Coffee by Organized Religions and Their Implications”
Written for USSO 288T: Coffee and Civilization (Seminar Leader: Annie Pecastaings)

Rebecca Kizner, for an essay titled, “The Function of a Name”
Written for USSY 293T: Spaces of the Dead (Seminar Leader: Thomas Mira y Lopez)

Marika Meijer, for an essay titled, “Paris by Artificial Light: How Lighting Systems Ultimately Influenced Parisian Sensibilities”
Written for USSY 287X: Paris in the Arts (Seminar Leader: Annie Pecastaings)

All of these outstanding essays and information about the Essay Prizes are available online at Writing@CWRU.

Radical Education and Black Mountain Poetics

by Joshua Hoeynck

In the 1952 “BMC Prospectus for Spring Semester,” the poet Charles Olson articulated the philosophy of his pedagogy at Black Mountain College, an influential and experimental college that existed in North Carolina from 1933-1956: “There are subtle means of communication that have been lost by humankind, as our nerve ends have been cauterized by schooling. The arts, especially the performing arts, are more and more valuable in such restorations.”

Olson ran Black Mountain College during its final days, from 1951-1956, and both Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan taught there for brief periods. Creeley and Olson also edited seven issues of the Black Mountain Review during that time.  I recently finished writing an environmental study of the correspondences between Olson, Creeley, Duncan, and Denise Levertov, so naturally my next research project will take up Black Mountain College’s influences on these poets and their contemporaries. Since I am deeply invested in the legacies of these poets and in radical education, my emerging research project will outline and explore the rich history and pedagogy of Black Mountain College’s final phase under Olson.

Generally, historians classify the life of Black Mountain College in three phases: the initial phase under John Andrew Rice (1933-1939), a second phase under Josef Albers (1940-1950), and a poetic phase under Charles Olson (1951-1956). Although comprehensive histories exist, they stress visual art while only briefly touching on poetics. Hence, my project will involve detailing how the college’s radical pedagogy and practices (painting, dance, pottery, weaving, music) transformed American poetics. Black Mountain College had no grades, no administrators, total faculty control over all of the college’s affairs, a work program based around farming (which replaced sports), and the college required that students design their own curricula. While the college may have only lasted twenty-three years, it can also boast a long line of distinguished faculty and students: Josef and Anni Albers, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, John Cage, and many more. I am most excited about the scope and direction of this new project and looking forward to extending Olson’s claim that the arts, in all of their diverse manifestations, have the ability to revive human sensations of exterior reality, to open vital minds to autonomous modes of existence, and to free our “nerve ends” from their cauterization by forms of traditional schooling.

Faculty Notes

On April 30th, Mary Assad took part in the UCITE Teaching and Learning Program as a Nord Grant recipient.

Barbara Burgess-Van Aken, William Doll, and Sarah de Swart gave a workshop for students on how to prepare a video presentation on April 17th.

This year’s winners of the The Writing Resource Center Excellence in Consulting Award are Cara Byrne, Lecturer in English and SAGES Teaching Fellow, and Andrea Milne, Lecturer in History and SAGES Teaching Fellow.

Georgia Cowart has been elected to Honorary Membership in the International Society for Seventeenth-Century Music. Honorary members are chosen for “their outstanding contribution to the study and presentation of seventeenth-century music.” Professor Cowart, cited for the “virtuoso performances” of her books and articles on the intersections of music, theater, literature, and the fine arts, is one of twelve individuals so designated since the Society was founded in 1992.

Mary Grimm has a memoir piece in the new issue of Riverteeth: “My Mother, in Passing.”

Dave Lucas has a poem forthcoming in Together in a Sudden Strangeness, an anthology of poetic responses to the pandemic, edited by Alice Quinn (Knopf).

Gabrielle Parkin has been appointed Interim Director of the Writing Resource Center for AY 2020-2021.

Brad Ricca’s new book, Olive the Lionheart, will be out in August. Here is the Publisher’s Weekly review.

Martha Schaffer has a chapter published in a new collection: Stories from First-Year Composition: Pedagogies that Foster Student Agency and Writing Identity. Edited by Jo-Anne Kerr and Ann N. Amicucci.

Robert Spadoni has published “Midsommar: Thing Theory” in the Quarterly Review of Film and Video.

Maggie Vinter has an article on pregnancy and death up at Nursing Clio.

What I Did for My Spring Semester

By Martha Wilson Schaffer

Every summer of my childhood, my mother insisted that I make mental notes about our activities so that I would be prepared to write an essay titled “What I Did for My Summer Vacation” when school started in the fall. No one ever asked me to write that essay. But, to this day, I regularly make mental notes of my activities and start composing written versions of them in my head.

I’m reminded of this by students who say, “but I’m never going to have to write an essay in the real world.” Maybe so, but it isn’t just about what you write, it’s about how you do it. The “what” will change regularly, but the “how” is your writing process, your rhetorical skill, your ability to read audiences–the stuff that gives you agency and adaptability. And the best way to learn “how” is to write a lot of different “whats.”

Asked to write about my online teaching experience, I see the “what” and “how” intertwined. In transitioning to online teaching, the what didn’t change much halfway into the semester of Linguistics, but the how loomed large. How to recreate the great discussions we were having in the classroom? How to teach research writing remotely? How to be sure everyone was interested, engaged, and learning together?

Group conferences on Zoom gave me new ways to facilitate conversation; I muted myself while students shared strategies for online research. People who rarely spoke in class wrote lengthy and insightful discussion board posts. Group project members described positive experiences working together on email and Google docs. A first-year student struggling to balance our class with his STEM requirements took advantage of the asynchronicity of the course to find a routine that worked.  An international student uploaded a video of herself from her home sharing her research into the colonization of her language and how musicians code-meshed in their lyrics to create political speech.

I have these mental notes of the semester, but I am still composing them. Having to rethink how I teach reminded me of a few important things. Students are complex and resilient people. The university is a luxuriant place that provides us with internet, technology, and space, and yet we all face individual challenges to our ability to participate. We can feel lonely and isolated, even sitting in a physical classroom. I appreciate being reminded of these things because it is easy to lose sight of them when we fall into teaching routines. This opportunity to rethink how I teach gives me a chance to reconnect with what I teach.

As I prepare for a summer writing workshop and think way ahead to a hazy fall, I look forward to being back in classrooms together, and recording a voice-over of a slide presentation because it’s a better way to explain something to students, not because I have no other choice. Alone in my home office for my summer vacation this year, I will continually remind myself that remote education is neither the death of higher education nor is it the panacea that will save us all. Change is change. And it isn’t so much what we change into, but how we make the change.

The Frederica Ward Memorial Scholarship Fund

When endowed, this fund will provide financial assistance to African American undergraduate students in the College of Arts & Sciences

Frederica Ward was a beloved department assistant in the English department at CWRU for more than seventeen years. When she passed away in 2010 at the age of 48, department members, family, and friends created this memorial fund in her name to provide scholarships to African American undergraduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences—for majors in the arts, humanities, social sciences, physical and biological sciences, or math. Freddy was a life-long learner, taking classes at Case while a staff member. She was a talented writer, publishing a work of fiction in Callaloo, a journal of the literature, art, and culture of the African Diaspora. This fund aims to extend her passion for reading, writing, and learning.

Please click on this LINK to make an electronic contribution today, specifying OTHER and “Frederica Ward Memorial Scholarship Fund” in the Designation drop down menu. Alternatively, checks can be mailed to the following address (please be sure to specify the fund in the MEMO line).

Office of Development
College of Arts & Sciences, CWRU
10900 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44106-7068


Danny Anderson (’12) has a review in TRPC: Theology, Religion, and Popular Culture Review.

Gerry Canavan (’02) has a review in the latest issue of American Literature.

Iris Dunkle (’10) has a poem in Mom Egg Review: “Mother Song.”

Brennon Ham (’11) will start school at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in August 2020.

Ray Horton (’17) has a new piece in Christianity and Literature: “Is There a Context for Gilead?”

Marie Lathers (’15) has a piece on Joan of Arc and her travels in France last fall in Slow Trains Literary Journal.

Danielle Nielsen (’11) has an article in The CEA Forum: “Interdisciplinary Themes and Metacognition in the First-Year Writing Classroom.”

Gabriel A. Rieger (‘12) has been promoted to Professor of English at Concord University.

Christopher Urban (’07) has an essay on Robert Musil’s Agathe / The Man Without Qualities in the latest issue of The Threepenny Review.


If you have news you would like to share in a future newsletter, please send it to Susan Grimm (

The department also has a Facebook page on which several hundred of your classmates and profs are already sharing their news. Become a member of the community and post your own news. We want to know. The department will be posting here regularly too—news of colloquiums, readings, etc.