Department of English Newsletter: June 2021

Writing Program Awards/International Students/Faculty Notes/“Say They Name in Black English”/Book Excerpts/Alumni News

Writing Program Awards

Writing is at the heart of our shared academic enterprise. It is an essential skill and a flexible tool that generates questions, shapes knowledge, and inspires action. Let us celebrate the many successes of Case Western Reserve University writers and writing instructors.

Congratulations to the 2021 winners!

The SAGES Excellence in Writing Instruction Award recognizes outstanding commitment to and success in teaching academic writing to Case Western Reserve University undergraduates in SAGES (Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship).

SAGES Excellence in Writing Instruction Award: Mary Assad

Honorable Mention: Ronald Oldfield 

The WRC Excellence in Consulting Award is in recognition of outstanding writing instruction for students of the University and exemplary service to the Writing Resource Center during the academic year.

WRC Excellence in Consulting Award: James Stephens

Honorable Mention: Jackson Rudoff

The Jessica Melton Perry Award for Distinguished Teaching in Disciplinary & Professional Writing was established in 2009 by Edward S. Sadar, MD (ADL ’64, SOM ’68), & Melinda Sadar (FSM ’66). This award honors Melinda’s mother, Jessica Melton Perry, who worked in the Center for Documentation and Communication Research at Western Reserve University from the late 1950s into the late 1960s.

Jessica Melton Perry Award for Excellence in Disciplinary Writing Instruction: Ralph Harvey

University Teaching and Mentoring Awards

Anthony Wexler has been awarded the Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. The Carl F. Wittke Award was established in 1971 in honor of Carl Wittke, a former faculty member, dean, and vice president of Western Reserve University. The Wittke Award is presented each year to two Case Western Reserve University faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in undergraduate teaching. Wittke Award recipients are honored at the Undergraduate Studies diploma ceremony. Read the announcement here.

Gabrielle (Brie) Parkin has been awarded the J. Bruce Jackson, MD, Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring. The Jackson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring recognizes the positive impact Case Western Reserve University faculty and staff have on the lives of students. It was established by J. Bruce Jackson, Adelbert ’52, in honor of Dean Carl F. Wittke, who served as an advisor, mentor, and friend to Dr. Jackson when he was an undergraduate student at Western Reserve University. The Jackson Award celebrates faculty and staff who have guided a student in their academic and career paths; fostered the student’s long-term personal development; challenged the student to reflect, explore, and grow as an individual; and supported and/or facilitated the student’s goals and life choices. Jackson Award recipients are honored at the Undergraduate Studies diploma ceremony. Read the announcement here.

Hayley Verdi has been awarded the Graduate Dean’s Instructional Excellence Award. This award is given to graduate students who have been nominated by their departments as an individual who demonstrates outstanding achievement in instruction.

Brita Thielen has been awarded the Graduate Student Appreciation Award. This award is given to graduate students who have been nominated by university faculty, staff, or students for their contributions that improve the campus community and/or surrounding Cleveland community.

SAGES First & University Seminar Essay Prizes

The SAGES First and University Seminar Prizes highlight the best student writing produced in SAGES seminars each semester. Seminar leaders nominate student essays at the end of each course. These essays are reviewed by a committee of SAGES Teaching Fellows, graduate students, and SAGES administrators, who select several essays to recognize. The Writing Program works with the prize winners to prepare the essays for publication, and they are recognized annually at the Writing Program Awards. These essays provide a glimpse into the rich array of genres and texts that SAGES students create across many disciplines as they move through the SAGES sequence.

This booklet contains the following prize-winning essays.

SAGES First Seminar Essays (from Spring/Fall 2020)

“Music and Négritude: The Compromises of Louis Armstrong and Josephine Baker in Postcolonial France” by Weillin Feng
from FSSO 185C: Music and Cultural Anxiety in the Twentieth Century (Seminar Leader: Brian MacGilvray)

“Bicycle Shop Proposal” by Camilla Niles-Steger
from FSSO 181: Bicycles: Technology and Everyday Life (Seminar Leader: Eric Chilton)

“The Uncanny in Surrealist Art” by Madison Pugh
from FSSY 185O Encountering the Uncanny (Seminar Leader: James Newlin)

SAGES University Seminar Essays (from Academic Year 2020-2021)

“Alphabet Soup: Why Making STEM into STREAM Will Not Fix the Imbalance in Education” by Giuliana Conte
from USNA 289: The Mind’s Essential Tension (Seminar Leader: Anthony Jack)

“Fact or Fable: The Inaccurate Representation of Female Victims and Perpetrators in Auschwitz in Out of the Ashesby Annabella DeBernardo
from USSY 290G: Women and Warfare: Reality vs. Representation (Seminar Leader: Margaret Richardson)

“Cleveland: Confronting Rail Transportation Issues in a Rust Belt City” by James FitzGibbon
from USNA 287J: Transportation in American Life (Seminar Leader: Howard Maier)

 “The Image of Black Masculinity as Portrayed in ​Friday Blackby Anika Krishna
from USSY 291B: Dystopian Science Fiction (Seminar Leader: Gabrielle Parkin)

Writing with International Students

by Mary Assad

Mary has been awarded the SAGES Excellence in Writing Instruction Award.

CWRU’s international student population is vibrant and growing, and I am honored to have the opportunity to work with these students. I teach two courses designed for non-native speakers of English: FSAE 100 and FSCC 100. FSAE 100 focuses on the core skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing to prepare students for FSCC 100 and other writing-intensive courses. FSCC 100 offers students a traditional First Seminar experience with added attention to language development and cultural knowledge. Some of my recent FSCC 100 themes have included International Students’ Wellness, Defining Communities, and Graphic Memoir.

Regardless of the course or theme, I prioritize students’ voices and choices in selecting course readings, leading discussions, and choosing topics for writing tasks. One activity that has worked particularly well is the Graphic Memoir Planning Template, a Google Doc worksheet that facilitates students’ early planning of their final graphic memoir project. After reading several published graphic memoirs, students create their own visual narrative that tells a meaningful and impactful story for a specific target audience.

While the freedom to choose any personal story can be exhilarating, the process of selecting the story and curating the details can challenge students who are more familiar with writing in response to a provided, academically oriented prompt. The Google Doc worksheet breaks down the prewriting stage into smaller steps such as “brainstorming content & visual approach,” “detail curation,” “describing your story-world,” and “mapping out your plot.” All of these choices can only be made by the student, who is the expert on the topic. I try to use words like “you” and “your” in worksheets and prompts to shift power to students and invite them to feel ownership and responsibility as authors. Since students complete this task in Google Docs (by copying the template, renaming the file with their name, and sharing it in our course folder), the process becomes not only student-centered but also collaborative. Students review and discuss each other’s planning documents in small groups, and we can all leave feedback from a reader’s perspective.

These types of tasks open up avenues for peer engagement within our class cohort, but I also try to develop activities and resources for peer engagement and mentorship beyond a single cohort. For instance, I have invited former FSAE and FSCC students to offer guest lectures and lead discussions on topics related to the international student experience. In response to a student request, I have organized small group discussions led by native-speaking CWRU undergraduates who offer advice for living and studying on campus and discuss elements of American culture. When students complete my course, I hope they have made language gains, but I feel my responsibility extends beyond syllabus outcomes. I want my students to feel connected to CWRU as their home-away-from-home for the next several years, and I want them to feel comfortable accessing a network of peers and others who are enthusastically invested in supporting their success as students and as people.

In promoting these aims, I have been fortunate to work with our Coordinator of ESL Writing, Gusztav Demeter, and fellow lecturers Shaofei Lu, Ana Codita, and Wei Jiang, all of whom have created and shared innovative ways to engage non-native speaking students and facilitate cross-cultural experiences. By sharing resources as a team and consulting with offices across campus, such as International Student Services and Student Success, we have gained insights into our students’ academic and personal needs. No class or assignment is ever static, and I look forward to learning new strategies for supporting our non-native speakers in the language acquisition process while challenging and inspiring them to cultivate their writerly identities.

Faculty Notes

Cara Byrne’s article “‘I’m the One Telling It’: Resilient Children & Shadow Texts in Danticat’s Picture Books” was published in The Bloomsbury Handbook to Edwidge Danticat.

Michael Clune‘s book,,A Defense of Judgment, is now out from the University of Chicago Press.

Georgia Cowart has been elected President of the American Musicological Society for a two-year term beginning in November 2022.

Mary Grimm’s “The Space of Continuous Decline,” published in Longleaf Review, has been selected for The Best Small Fictions Anthology 2021.

Redefining Roles: The Professional, Faculty, and Graduate Consultant’s Guide to Writing Centers by Megan Swihart Jewell (Editor) and Joseph Cheatle (Editor) is available for pre-order.

Midstory talks to Dave Lucas about the ways writing and poetry provide solace, wisdom, and clarity far beyond what we (and perhaps the authors) could have imagined in Episode 4: “Comforted in the darkness of grief.”

Michelle Lyons-McFarland presented at the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies annual conference in 2021, April 7-11. The roundtable was “Being an Eighteenth-Centuryist along Diverse Humanities Career Pathways,” and her presentation was “Working in the Eighteenth Century while Teaching TechComm.”

William Marling‘s essay “What does the Gatekeeper do?” that keynoted the international conference in Germany two summers ago and was featured in the book that resulted, has now been translated into Spanish and printed in TEXTURAS out of Madrid, Spain, as “Los Guardabarreras del Libro.”

Marilyn Mobley is included in a new book, Teaching Beautiful Brilliant Black Girls, edited by Omobolade Delano-Oriaran, Marguerite W. Penick, Shemariah Arki, Ali Michael, Orinthia Swindell, and Eddie Moore, Jr. (Corwin Press, 2021). Mobley and her colleague Dr. Patricia Stewart co-authored the “Libation from the Elders” that opens the book. Mobley’s vignette is “A Black Woman’s Reflections on the Road I Made While Walking: Remarks from My Retirement Ceremony.”

James Newlin directed a seminar at the 2021 meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America on “New Directions for Shakespeare and Psychoanalytic Studies,” with James Stone of American University.

In the third implementation of Sigma Tau Delta’s Zoom Seminar Sessions, Erika Olbricht hosted a discussion on the hit show, Bridgerton.

Brie Parkin has been awarded the J. Bruce Jackson, MD, Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring at CWRU.

Brad Ricca‘s Olive the Lionheart: Lost Love, Imperial Spies, and One Woman’s Journey into the Heart of Africa is a finalist for the 2021 Ohioana Book Award in Nonfiction.

Martha Schaffer will be promoted to Senior Instructor in the Department of English as of July 1st.

Thrity Umrigar‘s Sugar in Milk, illustrated by Khoa Le, is a finalist for the 2021 Ohioana Book Award in Juvenile Literature.

Anthony Wexler has been awarded the campus-wide Carl F. Wittke Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching at CWRU.

“Say They Name in Black English”: A Lecture by Professor Vershawn Ashanti Young

Dr. vay was appointed the Hildegarde and Elbert Baker Visiting Scholar by the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities.

by Andrew Petracca

It is false advice for writers and speakers and immoral for humans to propose that there is a standard dialect of English.
––dr. vay

On April 30th, near the end of a strange, virtual semester, Professor Vershawn Ashanti Young, who goes by dr. vay, zoomed in to deliver this year’s Edward S. and Melinda Sadar Lecture in Writing in the Disciplines.  Dr. vay, Professor of Black Studies, Communication Arts, and English Language & Literature at the University of Waterloo, delivered an inspired lecture titled “Say They Name in Black English: George Floyd, Atatiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Travon Martin and the Need to Move from College Writing Instruction and Toward Black Linguistic Arts.”

In his presentation, dr. vay called for “Black linguistic justice” and espoused four principles to achieve it: 1) “The Black personal is political and academic”; 2) “get with the Black and brown program”; 3) “place Black language in the center of language and writing instruction”; 4) “say they name in Black English.”

To follow these principles, teachers of writing must encourage students to commingle the personal and the academic, must understand that Black dialects of English are not problems but that negative attitudes toward those dialects are; and must promote the integration of Black linguistic styles in the classroom.  One strategy dr. vay offered to commingle the personal and academic while appreciating and centering Black language is to cultivate a relationship between writing and speech in the composition classroom.

Dr. vay expressed that to divorce writing from speech is “false and places Black students at a disadvantage” because such a divorce inhibits Black students’ ability to code mesh.  Dr. vay coined the term code meshing to revise the inaccurate term code switching.  Dressed in a black shirt with bold white letters reading “too proud to codeswitch,” he explained that code meshing represents the blending of racial and academic discourses.  Whereas code switching implies that Black speakers must turn off one type of language to access another, code meshing implies that Black linguistic styles belong in the academy.

Dr. vay has a background in performance art, which was evident in his riveting presentation.  He concluded with a Black Body Acknowledgement, which is like the Land Acknowledgements that many professors include in their syllabi to recognize that the land on which they teach belongs originally to Indigenous Peoples. The Black Body Acknowledgement addresses dr. vay’s fourth principle for Black linguistic justice by remembering the Black bodies that have brought us to this point in social and academic history and that will bring us to a further point where talks like dr. vay’s are no longer necessary.  This is a statement committed to action, committed to social justice, committed to making the academy and the world a more safe, hospitable, and equitable place.

I only wish this talk could have been in-person.

Book Excerpts

A Defense of Judgment is a characteristically brilliant, strongly argued, intellectually accessible attempt to provide a template for rethinking the role of value judgments in teaching and writing (and thinking) about literature, and by implication the arts generally. Clune’s discussion is continually illuminating, as are the exemplary readings he offers of works by Dickinson, Brooks, and Thomas Bernhard.”

Michael Fried, Johns Hopkins University

“Thirty-two authors, consultants, and administrators from diverse centers—from large public four-year institutions to a private, online for-profit university—provide both theoretical frameworks and practical applications in eighteen chapters.”

–regarding Redefining Roles: The Professional, Faculty, and Graduate Consultant’s Guide to Writing Centers by Megan Swihart Jewell (Editor) and Joseph Cheatle (Editor)


This summer at Siegal Lifelong Learning, alum (’83) Shelley Bloomfield offers “The Spy Who Stayed Out in the Cold, American Style.”

Gerry Canavan (’02) presented “Pandemic and Utopia in the Works of Kim Stanley Robinson” at the Center for Modern Culture, Materialism, and Aesthetics in June.

Jason Ray Carney (’15) has a second blog post at Black Gate about aesthetic pleasure and sword and sorcery. Robert E. Howard, George Orwell, and Oscar Wilde have cameos.

Lisa Chiu (’93) was a featured storyteller at the Taiwanese American Cultural Festival:

Laura Juengst Dorr has officially started a position as a Wildlife Specialist at the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center, where she will be taking care of captive wildlife and doing wildlife rehab.

Alum (’10) Iris Jamahl Dunkle‘s newest poetry collection, West : Fire : Archive, was highlighted by the Academy of American Poets in “A Poetry Reading List for the 25th Anniversary of National Poetry Month.”

Nicole Emmelhainz (’14) taught a poetry workshop at Paperback Ink Bookstore in April.

For Whale Road Review‘s Summer 2021 issue, Laura Evers (’20) interviewed author Jason Schwartzman.

Miriam Goldman (’10) has recently accepted a position as a consultant at RQM+, the leading international medical device and diagnostics consultancy.

Michelle Smith Quarles (’98) offers “The Female Future: An Exploration of the Fiction of Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler” through Siegal Lifelong Learning this June.

Alum (’10) Brandy Schillace‘s new book about Dr. Robert White, Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher, is reviewed in the Sunday NYT Book Review.

Marie Vibbert (’98) offered a craft talk, “Working Class Science Fiction” through Literary Cleveland:


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

The department also has a Facebook page on which more than five 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.