Department of English Newsletter: June 2024

Graduation Day/Letter from the Chair/Writing Program Faculty Awards/Students to Progressive Field/Making the Colloquium Happen/Department News/Promotions & New Appointments/Recalling Lee K. Abbott/Alumni News/In Memoriam/Send Me Your News

Graduation Day, May 2024

Graduation selfie with (back row) Hayley Verdi, Isabelle Toler, Cadence Dangerfield, Kurt Koenigsberger, and (front) Kim Emmons.

Letter from the Acting Chair

My Aunt Dottie is the family archivist – her garage is bursting with documents, magazines, furniture (“for someone’s first apartment”), and memorabilia from her travels. Recently, she sent me a packet of newspaper clippings dating from the Moon Landing through the inauguration of Barack Obama. Leafing through the surprisingly intact newsprint (it has, after all, spent decades in a Los Angeles garage), I was reminded of something my mother once said to me, when I was grumbling about a high school history assignment. “You only really appreciate history,” she said, “once you have lived a little while.” Now that I have, I hope I find time to appreciate the value of looking back, even as I look ahead.

This time of year in academe means that anticipation and nostalgia arrive together, with cheers and with tissues. This spring, we celebrated the accomplishments of our many undergraduate students, applauding the 20 who earned the degree of Bachelor of Arts, 12 of whom achieved Honors in English, and 15 additional minors in English, Creative Writing, and Film. We applauded the outstanding work of the authors of 15 English Capstone projects, as well as the Sigma Tau Delta (English Honor Society) members, and the writers and editors at The Observer and The Case Reserve Review.  We also recognized our graduate students for their determination and excellence, especially those earning the degrees of Master of Arts (Cadence Dangerfield, Hannah Potantus, Ellard Stoltz, and Alyssa Viscounte) and Doctor of Philosophy (Hayley Verdi).  And, finally, we cheered for the department’s many award winners, including outstanding student writers and excellent teachers.

We are excited to welcome new students and faculty to our department this fall. While fuller profiles will appear in this newsletter in future editions, please join me in happy anticipation of the arrival of: Caren Beilin (Assistant Professor of Creative Writing/Fiction), Chiyuma Elliott (Professor of English/African-American Poetry & Poetics), Steven Justice (Distinguished Visiting Professor of Medieval Studies), and Ben Mauk (Associate Professor of English & Shirley Wormser Professor of Journalism and Media Writing). We will also be welcoming new Writing Program Lecturers, once those searches have concluded this summer. I look forward to the fall, when the halls of Guilford House and Bellflower Hall will once again be filled with bustle and creativity.

In Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day,” written in honor of President Obama’s inauguration, the poet describes quotidian acts (“the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables”) and the presence of history (“our ancestors on our tongues”) as precursors of possibility. “In today’s sharp sparkle…” the poem sings, “any thing can be made, any sentence begun.” To all of our graduates: I look forward to learning what sentences you will begin next. To those of us returning to campus next fall, I look forward to the collaborative compositions we will author together.  Happy Summer!

–Kim Emmons (June 2024)

Writing Program Faculty Awards Announced

The Writing Program is pleased to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of student writers and writing faculty at CWRU. Writing is fundamental to the work of the university: our words enable the development and circulation of knowledge, create and sustain our communities, and advocate for social and community action.

Congratulations to the faculty and student writing consultants whose expertise and dedication have supported our writers at all stages of their careers.

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 winners are:

Dr. Elina Gertsman, Distinguished University Professor, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Art History. As a graduate instructor, Dr. Gertsman is recognized for her thoughtful approach to her PhD students’ writing development. She provides many writing assignments with useful feedback, and she shares her own writing process as a scholar. As one student eloquently described, “Prof. Gertsman teaches us how to critically approach the authors of our field and learn a spectrum of writing qualities in our vibrant class discussions. She lets us voice all the aspects we enjoyed as well as our critiques, and then she gently guides our views and suggests further insights. She also gives us frequent writing assignments during the semester in every class. Her critical feedback on these assignments allows us to improve incrementally and map our own progress.” Dr. Gertsman’s writing instruction is a model for all faculty who work with graduate students as they endeavor to be scholarly writers.

Dr. Suet Kam Lam, Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. One of Dr. Lam’s medical students explained, “I would describe her teaching philosophy as one that allows the student freedom to try on their own with frequent follow up and discussion for improvements.” This philosophy clearly informs Dr. Lam’s mentoring and support of medical students at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. Dr. Lam supports her students with instruction on organization and explanation, emphasizing the importance of situating one’s work in a larger body of research. She provides future doctors with a firm foundation in scientific writing.

The AIQS Innovative Teaching Award recognizes transformative teaching methods and approaches that enhance the experience of our first-year students in Academic Inquiry Seminars. This year’s winner is Cara Byrne, Lecturer in English. Dr. Byrne is notorious for her accolades as a teacher, mentor, and writing consultant throughout the university. She is a passionate advocate for students, children, and innovative teaching. In her AIQS course on children’s literature, she enables her students to write academic essays, to think critically, and to consider their own and others’ values and perspectives–just as an AIQS should do. But Dr. Byrne goes beyond that, lugging lots of children’s picture books across campus for students to see and feel, partnering her class with a local group of second graders in order to experience reading through their eyes, and engaging students in multimodal communications with visuals, materials, and recordings. Students rave about her course and about her. Dr. Byrne, always humble, writes, “All in all, I am passionate about my work as an AIQS instructor. Even though I have taught first year writing for many years, I’m constantly seeking ways to improve and help my students develop as critical thinkers, writers, and ethical decision makers. I’m deeply grateful that I get to do this work.” The Writing Program is grateful to have her.

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 were recognized for the high quality of their consulting work:

Narcisz Fejes, Lecturer in English. Dr. Fejes received numerous nominations from the students with whom she consults in the Writing Resource Center. She is highly regarded for her supportive and helpful practices as a consultant. As one student explained her experience with Dr, Fejes, “Talking through my thesis and my claims, and answering Professor Fejes’ questions helped me to make my points more clear and more concise – increasing the overall quality of my writing. Ever since I booked appointments with Professor Fejes before every major writing assignment I had to turn in, and I’m planning on continuing this habit in the upcoming semesters. I’m really grateful for Professor Fejes’ kind and encouraging coaching, and for her highly professional yet clearly understandable advice.” Another student captured all of Dr. Fejes’s nominations with this short but sincere sentiment: “She’s amazing.”

Sarah Secrest, Undergraduate Peer Writing Fellow. As a Peer Writing Fellow, Sarah offers meaningful opportunities for undergraduates to consult with another student about their writing. Described by several nominations as patient and helpful, Sarah provides useful advice in her consultations with the larger and more profound effect of boosting writers’ confidence. And Sarah makes her consultations fun, with some of her peers reporting they enjoy talking to her about their writing.

* The Jessica Melton Perry Award was established in 2009 by Edward S. Sadar, M.D. (ADL ’64, SOM ’68), & Melinda Sadar (FSM ’66) in honor of Melinda’s mother, who worked in the Center for Documentation and Communication Research at Western Reserve University from the late 1950s into the late 1960s.

–Martha Schaffer

Students Take an Early-Season Trip to Progressive Field

Students from English 307/307C, the Magazine and Sports Feature Writing class, attended a Cleveland Guardians game along with journalism instructor Denise Polverine. The trip was part of the class’s final project in which students were assigned to write a feature story from the game. During the outing, students were asked to observe and research all that goes into the experience of a Guardians game.

They interviewed Vice President, Communications and Community Impact, Curtis Danburg, during a press box tour. Several students also conducted interviews with fans attending the game. It was a chilly night at the Guardians game, but the students had seats in the press box and worked alongside professional sports journalists from a wide range of media outlets. A professional sports writer may not always be assigned to covering the hits, runs, and errors, but instead may be assigned to covering the unique and unpredictable experiences of a specific game. The students put into practice the skills they have been honing all semester such as turning their curiosity on a topic into a viable feature story, observation, research, fact-checking, storytelling, and more.

The students also needed to integrate multimedia storytelling into the final article by using photos and/or video and social media as it made sense, in addition to a written article.

–Denise Polverine

Making the Colloquium Happen

Charlie Goyal and Tychicus McClendon making the colloquium happen.

Department News

Next year’s common reading selection is Daisy Hernández’s The Kissing Bug.

Elysia Balavage has a short piece, titled “Rebellious Space and Radical Movement: The Dil Pickle Club of Tooker Alley,” published in Genealogies of Modernity.

Kwame Alexander spoke to three sections of Cara Byrne‘s AIQS 100: Children’s Picture Books. Alexander shared that he was a premed biochemistry major at Virginia Tech until sophomore year Organic Chemistry encouraged a switch to an English degree.

Michael Clune‘s “Anatomy of Panic” has been selected for inclusion in The Best American Essays 2024, forthcoming in October.

Mary Grimm has a memoir piece in The New Yorker: “Swimming with My Daughters.”

Walt Hunter has an essay on “Lowell and War” in Robert Lowell in Context.

Denna Iammarino‘s class, AIQS 100: What is a Book?: Art, Function, Form, visited the Morgan Conservatory for a papermaking session. Andrew Mancuso and Dani Fish from KSL led the session.

English major Hannah Jackson discusses her spring break abroad with The Daily.

Megan Jewell‘s essay “First Feminism” in Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s Drafts: ‘Draft 49’ as Counter Archive” will appear in Thinking with the Poem: Essays on the Poetry and Poetics of Rachel Blau DuPlessis from the University of New Mexico Press in 2024.

Kristine Kelly delivered a paper titled “Disappearing Points and Practices of Mobility in Teju Cole’s Everyday is for the Thief at the British Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies annual conference in February.

English major Malachi Levy received second place in The Guthrie Public Speaking Prizes which are awarded each spring for excellence in public speaking by undergraduates at Case Western Reserve University. His speech was titled “Ignorance and Wisdom: Lessons to Be Learned from Hip-Hop.”

William Marling
‘s photo “Said’s Book Shop,” from his book Killers in Tutus (2017), plays a role in the documentary “Chanting of the Dunes” directed by Mokhless Al-Ha

Michelle Lyons-McFarland presented a paper titled “The Travels of Memoirs of the Duke of Sully” at the American Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies 2024 annual meeting in Toronto on April 5th. The panel was sponsored by the Bibliographical Society of America and called “Bibliography by the Numbers: Meta-Bibliography and the Study of Eighteenth-Century Book Culture.”

Elizabeth Miller received the Fulbright-Hays Scholarship to study Russian language in Latvia this summer with the University of Georgia! She is a third year student, double majoring in English and International Studies, and double minoring in Russian and Political Science.

Marilyn Mobley presented a paper on her forthcoming book at the Toni Morrison Society panel at the American Literature Association meeting in Chicago on Saturday, May 25th. Her co-presenter was Dr. Herman Beavers, professor at University of Pennsylvania (in the middle), and their respondent was Dr. Robert T. Tally, Jr., professor at Texas State University and editor of several series in geocriticism (sitting at the end). Also in the photo is the session chair, Dr. Carolyn Denard, founder of the Toni Morrison Society. Mobley’s paper was “Two Scholars, Same Neighborhood, Divergent Rereadings: Rereading Toni Morrison through Spatial Literary Studies.”

Jimmy Newlin presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association of America. He appeared on a panel dedicated to his collection of essays, co-edited with James W. Stone, titled New Psychoanalytic Readings of Shakespeare: Cool Reason and Seething Brains.

On Saturday, March 23, two sections of Stephanie Redekop‘s AIQS seminar “13 Ways of Looking at Taylor Swift” visited the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. One of the curators led them on a private tour, and the visit informed and inspired students as they created their own mini museum exhibits for the course.

Camila Ring‘s blackout poem, “Tidal Song: A Dirge for Earth” was published in Gordon Square Review’s Solar Eclipse special issue.

The Spanish translation of Robin Beth Schaer‘s poetry collection Shipbreaking will be published next month by Komorebi Ediciones in Chile. The book was translated by Agustina Pardini and Eleonora González Capria

Lindsay Turner‘s poem “Forms of Displeasure” is on Poetry Daily.

Thrity Umrigar‘s novel, The Space Between Us, is featured in this scholarly work.

Congratulations to Hayley Verdi on her successful dissertation defense: “Bodies That Feel and Tellers Who Report: The Work of Illness Narratives in the 19th Century.”

Lucas Yang presented at the Pop Culture Association Conference in March.

Promotions and New Appointments

Gusztav Demeter (promotion to Senior Instructor)

Walt Hunter (promotion to Professor)

Lindsay Turner (promotion to Associate Professor with tenure)

Caren Beilin (appointment at the rank of Assistant Professor)

Chiyuma Elliott (appointment as Professor)

Steven Justice (appointment as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Medieval Studies)

Ben Mauk (appointment at the rank of Associate Professor with tenure and the position of Shirley Wormser Professor of Journalism and Media Writing)

All of these promotions/appointments will take effect July 1, 2024.

Recalling Lee K. Abbott

by Lee Morgan (’87)

In 2012, I was chosen to be a field veterinarian for the Annual Iditarod Sled Dog Race held every March in Alaska. It is a 1049-mile journey from Anchorage to Nome, and takes competitors through some of Alaska’s most challenging conditions. Dogs and humans pit themselves against steep mountain passes, bitter cold, fierce winds, and traverse the frozen Norton Sound. I was thrilled to be part of the adventure. My job, along with an army of veterinary volunteers, was to make sure that the dogs were healthy enough to compete. Stationed at any one of 26 checkpoints, we examined each and every husky-dog. Injured, ill, or tired dogs were removed from the race, cared for by the veterinary staff, and flown back via bush plane to Anchorage to await reunion with their team after the race. That first Iditarod was an amazing experience for me. I relished the opportunity to be in the Alaskan wilderness so much I have been a trail veterinarian for almost every Iditarod since then.

I kept a journal. After several years and several notebooks full of accounts, I decided to write a book about my adventures. In one sense writing Four Thousand Paws: Caring for the Dogs of the Iditarod: A Veterinarian’s Story took me twelve years, as I began writing during that first experience, and then adding to it each year. In another sense, it took a year for me to formulate each individual story into a sensible narrative.  Creating a book from pages of journal entries is not an easy endeavor. However, the task was manageable because of the lessons I learned from my creative writing teacher, Lee K. Abbott.

During my senior year at CWRU, I took Creative Writing 101 under Lee K. Abbott. As a biology major with a chemistry minor, I hadn’t had the opportunity to study some of the more interesting electives. However, Fate deigned that I would be 1 credit short of graduation, and the powers that decide such things dictated that I would provide them with that 1 credit, or no diploma.

I had written all my life, although not as a serious undertaking.  I wrote mainly for myself; small stories, humorous anecdotes, lots and lots of travel journals. But nothing with structure or discipline.

The first day I walked into Lee Abbott’s class, I was intimidated. Everyone seated looked the part of a serious writer. They exuded the aura of confidence which the naturally artistic radiate. I exuded only a nervous sweat.

Two weeks into my freshman year, I had suffered that same feeling. I didn’t belong here at CWRU. The people were too smart, the classes were too hard, and I was too unprepared. I needed to transfer and soon, perhaps to a small community college. I crept into Coach Bill Sudeck’s office to announce my plan. “Thanks for the opportunity to run for you, Coach, but I am drowning here.”

He took the measure of me, and in the voice and phraseology that coaches everywhere have been born with, replied, “Ah, Morgan (those that have ever played for, run for, worked for a coach know that athletes only have last names), you have it here,” he said, pointing to his legs.” And you have it here,” this time pointing to his head, “Ya need to have it here,” now pointing to his heart. Typical coach-speak, minimizing life’s tougher choices. It was all he said and it was all I really needed to hear.

So I slid into the middle row of Mr. Abbott’s classroom, the perfect place for the mediocre to hide; in the middle. Mr. Abbott introduced himself. He was young looking, as though he had only recently graduated himself. His first words to the class were, “I want to dissuade as many of you as possible from becoming professional writers.”  Whether this was tongue-in-cheek, or he was being quite sincere, I still haven’t figured out. I took this as a good omen; I had no intention of becoming a professional writer.

Mr.  Abbott believed strongly in the maxim that writers write. “Don’t tell, show” was one of those dictums. “Avoid stereotypes and cliches, both in character formation and description” was another. And of course, “Write, always.”

With each lecture we were expected to submit short passages of our own, based on the material presented. For instance, if we discussed “Character Development”, we were expected to bring in a short composition incorporating that subject. However, most of one’s grade would be based on the quality of a short story we had to present. The remainder of the year would be devoted to a classroom discussion of each short story.

Since the beginning of that class, I had been contemplating a theme. Once, a few years before, our family had attended a concert of Glenn Miller music. The Airmen of Note, his big band, performed at the Air Force Museum in Dayton. The band set up right there among the aircraft on display. I enjoyed Glenn Miller, and for my parents, this was the music of their youth. My mother and father began swing dancing. And as the music continued, my mother danced deeper and deeper into total oblivion. She was a young girl now, listening to the popular tunes of her time. She danced with complete abandon, transported to a time and place where having a family was as far removed from her as was the war then raging in Europe and the Pacific.

As I watched my mother swing around the room, moving with so much grace, executing moves that would leave any disco dancer floored with envy, I was struck by the fact she had lived her own youth.  I had always seen her role as “My Mother,” a needed extra in my own story where I was the central character. Seeing my mother completely absorbed in the music, unaware of us kids, I realized she had once lived an entire existence long before I was even the most remote idea in her mind.

I chose this as a basis for a short story I crafted about a young boy who finds out that his grandfather had once done something of note, and he has the same realization. One of the peculiarities of Mr. Abbott’s class was that you were allowed to make changes to your short story, even if you had already handed it in. Thus, after an hour of listening to criticisms of other stories, I would identify passages in my own where I had made similar errors. I would race back to the fraternity house, make the changes, and race back with the revised copy.

I liked the final form of my short story and felt I had crafted it to the best of my ability. Still, I was anxious as Mr. Abbott seated himself.

“Well, what do we think?”

The class got busy critiquing my writing. Generally, it was very positive. Halfway through, though, Mr. Abbott stopped the discussion, something he had never done before. He got up from his chair and leaned against his desk. He began describing an experience he had as a child. He recounted how once he and his brother had been driving around with their father, running errands. It was something he said, they enjoyed doing every weekend, just time for the men to spend together. As they sat in the back of their family’s Oldsmobile, they noticed that their father had a bouquet of flowers sitting next to him. They drove outside their New Mexico town to a neighboring area which neither brother had visited before. Soon, their car pulled up to a small cemetery. Their father stopped and picked up the flowers as Lee and his brother exchanged quizzical glances. He slowly walked up to a headstone and gently placed the flowers at its base. He then returned to the car, not saying a word.

“Who was that?” Lee asked for both brothers.

“My first wife” was his father’s reply.

No further words were exchanged as they drove the remainder of the trip in silence.

Mr. Abbott explained that this was the first time he too had come to the realization that his parents had a life far removed from his own. He then turned and asked me to comment on my own story. He said he was making an exception for the author to speak about their work because he felt personally moved by it. He then added that my story was “tied for third best story” he read that year. For me, this was (and still is really) the biggest compliment I had ever received from a professor. At the end of the course, I asked him to inscribe my copy of his work, Strangers in Paradise. He wrote “To Lee- who’s set the high mark for himself”. It sits on my shelf now, beside a copy of my own book.

One of the main reasons I wrote my book Four Thousand Paws, was that I wanted my son Spencer to have a record of some of my life’s most meaningful experiences. I wished for him to see that his parents had a life, full of dreams and adventures that stood on their own. For him to have the same realization I made about my mother, and Mr. Abbott made about his father all those years ago.

Lee K. Abbott served on the faculty of the English department of Case Western Reserve University from 1976 to 1989, during which period he won one of his two O. Henry Awards and all three of his Pushcart Prizes. Lee was awarded the Cleveland Arts Prize for Literature in 1982. His collection, The Heart Never Fits Its Wanting, won the 1980 St. Lawrence Award for Fiction; he has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction; and his stories have been included in The Best American Short Stories and other anthologies.

Alum (’87) Lee Morgan practices veterinary medicine at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital in Washington, D.C. He has been a field veterinarian for the Iditarod for the last twelve years. His first book, Four Thousand Paws: Caring for the Dogs of the Iditarod: A Veterinarian’s Story, was published by Liveright/W.W. Norton and Company.

Alumni News

Ali Black‘s debut full length poetry collection, We Look Better Alive, will be published by Trio House Press.

Assistant film/TV writer/alum (’16) Julia Bianco‘s fantasy novel Broken Coven will be published by St. Martin’s.

Cadence Dangerfield (’24) will be teaching at Hathaway Brown this coming academic year.

Alum (‘10) Iris Jamahl Dunkle’s biography Riding Like the Wind: The Life of Sanora Babb is being published by the University of California Press.

Miriam Goldman (’10) has recently been promoted to Principal Consultant at RQM+.

Beginning in Fall 2024, Jamie L. McDaniel (’04) will begin a three-year appointment as Director of Women’s and Gender Studies. He is a Professor in the Department of English at Radford University.

In Memoriam

Zita McShane LeFevre (1939-2024) received an MA in English from Cleveland State University in 1975. She went on to the doctoral program at Case Western Reserve University where she was a student of Gary Stonum. She earned her PhD in 1983. Her dissertation was titled “Functions of the Grotesque in Twentieth-Century American Fiction.” She taught technical writing at CWRU for several years, went on to Rensselaer Polytechnic in Troy, New York, and then to Frostburg State University in Maryland from which she retired around 2010 as Professor Emerita. She died in Texas on January 12th.

Send Me Your News

If you have news you would like to share in a future newsletter, please send it to managing editor Susan Grimm ( If you wish to be added to our mailing list, just let us know. 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. We tweet @CWRUEnglish. We are cwruenglish on Instagram.