Department of English Newsletter: March 2018

in this issue

Ohio Poet Laureate/Past Faculty: Frederick Lovett Taft/Faculty Notes/Ukrainian Singers/Alumni News/Alumni Spotlight

A Toast to Dave Lucas, Ohio’s New Poet Laureate

On Thursday evening, February 15th, Dave Lucas was honored as Ohio’s new Poet Laureate during an event jointly hosted by the English Department and SAGES Program at Case Western Reserve University and the English Department at John Carroll University. A longstanding citizen of Cleveland, Dave was educated at John Carroll University (BA, 2002), the University of Virginia (MFA, 2004), and the University of Michigan (PhD, 2014). His first book of poems, Weather, received the 2012 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. He frequently reviews poetry for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and is a co-founder and co-curator of the Brews + Prose reading series at Market Garden Brewery.

Held in the Secret Garden Patio at Nighttown, the festive gathering on Thursday heard brief accolades from Michael Householder (Assistant Dean and Associate Director of SAGES), Chris Flint (Chair of English at CWRU), and Debby Rosenthal (Chair of English at JCU) before a lively reminiscence and toast by George Bilgere, Dave’s mentor at JCU.

The hosts with the honoree: from left to right, Chris Flint, Debby Rosenthal, Dave Lucas, and Michael Householder.

The honoree with his wife, Amy Keating, and his mother, Barb Lucas.

Toastmaster George Bilgere.

Guests preparing to toast the new Poet Laureate.

Faculty of the Past: Frederick Lovett Taft

b. 15 August 1906, Cleveland, OH
d. 27 February 1983, Aurora, OH

Frederick Taft graduated with a BA in history from Amherst College in 1928. From there, he returned to his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, and in 1938 received his MA in English from Western Reserve University. That same year he became a lecturer of English Literature at both WRU and Case Institute of Technology, with an initial appointment on the recommendation of Karl O. Thompson. He earned his doctorate in English from WRU in 1942. Taft took a leave of absence the next year to serve with the United States Army Air Forces Air Transport Command. During his three years at the Arnold Air Force base in Tennessee, he rose to the rank of First Lieutenant, teaching young recruits Aircraft and Naval Recognition. In 1946, Taft returned to Case as an Assistant Professor of English, with a promotion to Associate Professor in 1950. He served as Secretary of the Faculty Council from 1948-1958 and as Executive Officer in charge of Language and Literature from 1951-1957. He was also President of the Graduate School Alumni Association of WRU. He became Professor of English in 1957 and occasionally taught summer graduate courses on Milton at WRU. In 1959, he became Case’s Director of Libraries. When Case and WRU merged in 1967, Taft stayed on as Associate Director of Libraries at CWRU until 1971, when he became Professor Emeritus of English. Taft belonged to numerous professional societies during his tenure. Notable among them are the Northeast Ohio College English Group, of which he was President in 1956, and the International Association of Technological University Libraries, of which he was Secretary from 1967-1970.

Taft contributed to the Yale University Press Complete Prose Works of John Milton (1953), writing the introduction for Milton’s Apology for Smectymnuus. Apart from this, Taft’s scholarship was expressed chiefly in his work as a teacher and administrator. He helped plan the curriculum for the Western Civilization course at Case, often serving as a mentor for younger instructors. He was well liked by his colleagues for his sense of humor, and the annual reports to the Faculty Council from his time as Secretary read more like the work of a stand-up comedian than an academic bureaucrat.

In his capacity as the Case Director of Libraries, Taft oversaw the consolidation and expansion of the school’s library system. The Sears Library was built in 1959, the same year Taft was named Director, and it eventually subsumed all of the school’s other libraries. Taft supervised the transition on all levels—management of the staff, transportation and arrangement of books and periodicals, and partnerships between the college and the businesses and engineering firms that used the library.

Taft’s family was politically influential. His father served as Chairman of the Cleveland Republican Committee and in 1908, was elected a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Chicago. There he helped nominate his cousin William Howard Taft for President.

In 1931 Frederick Taft married Eleanor Barnes (1907-1970), and the couple had two children. The family lived at 20849 Byron Rd. in Shaker Heights. In his spare time, Taft volunteered with the Boy Scouts, both in Troop 19 of Sussex Elementary in Shaker Heights, and in a Troop at Rainbow Children’s Hospital (where his colleague Robert Welker also assisted). He was also an expert gardener. His family liked to joke that he owned “the last farm in Shaker Heights.”

Entry by Daniel Luttrull, with additional details from Kurt Koenigsberger; from records in University Archives, CWRU, and from public documents.
Photo courtesy University Archives, CWRU.


Lucy Biederman‘s poem, “I Guess This Is What I Spent My Life Doing,” was published in Masque and Spectacle.

Michael Clune‘s essay, “Time and Aesthetics,” appears in Time and Literature (Cambridge University Press, March 2018).

Gusztav Demeter presented “Using Constructions and Corpora in Teaching Research Writing to English Language Learners” at The Constructionist Approaches to Language Pedagogy 3 Conference in Austin, Texas, in February.

Sarah Gridley received the Poetry Society of America’s 2018 Cecil Hemley Award for her poem, “The Depletions.” The award comes with a $500 cash prize, which Gridley plans to donate to the Frederica Ward Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Shun Kiang‘s essay, “Prostitution, Pawnshop, Property: Everyday Life as a Colonized Woman in Shu-Ching Shih’s City of the Queen: A Novel of Colonial Hong Kong,” will appear in the peer-reviewed journal The Global South (11, no. 1).

On January 26th, Kurt Koenigsberger and Denna Iammarino took part in a discussion about small presses at Kelvin Smith Library.

Shaofei Lu has won a 2018 CCCC Scholars for the Dream Travel Award. The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) is a constituent organization within the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Lu is one of 20 recipients of this award.

Dave Lucas has been named Ohio Poet Laureate.

William Marling‘s essay on Elmore Leonard appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books on January 18th.

Brad Ricca‘s Mrs. Sherlock Holmes is an Edgar Nominee for Best Fact Crime.

Thrity Umrigar‘s newest novel, Everybody’s Son, was recommended by Cleveland Magazine.

This Moment Was Brought to You Courtesy of the J. William Fulbright Award

by Nadia Tarnawsky (’96)

From left to right: Nadia Rozdabara, Nina Reva, Nadia Tarnawsky, Yasya Fitsa.
Photo by Oksana But
.It has been so long since I have been at my mother’s home
That the path is overgrown with blackthorn bushes.
—Ukrainian folk song from the village of KriachkivkaIn 1988, a 28-minute documentary film was made about a group of singers who lived in the village of Kriachkivka, Ukraine. In 1993, I found this video in the most non-digital of ways—in a paper catalog which featured a variety of Ukrainian items. The video, which was on a VHS tape, arrived a few weeks later. Featured in that short film were a group of friends who sang three-part harmony together in a village located 147 kilometers east of Kyiv, the capitol city of Ukraine. Nine years later, I traveled to that village. I was on my third journey to Ukraine thanks to a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship. While I was smitten with those singers after watching the video, my brief stay in the village made me fall completely in love with them and their songs.Not only has the path been overtaken by blackthorn bushes,
But wild roses have grown there as well.

I will break off the ends of the blackthorn bushes,
I will turn into a bird and fly to my mother’s house.

I returned to Ukraine in 2017, my fourth journey to the Ukrainian countryside, because I had received a Fulbright award with the goal of collecting more traditional folk songs. In my time away from Ukraine, I used the songs I had collected to teach workshops on Ukrainian folk singing to a wide variety of organizations as well as performing them in theatre and concert venues. When I returned, my first stop was the village of Kriachkivka. In the 15-year interim, I had learned their songs and maintained a long distance relationship with them, again in the most non-digital of ways—phone calls on birthdays, Christmas cards, the occasional letter. They would send me clippings of Ukrainian newspaper articles in which they talked about all the people from around the world who had come to their village to study their songs. That list always included “Nadia from America.” In 2017, that group of seven singers had been whittled down to three, with one singer in the end stages of life.

I flew to my mother’s home,
I sat on the walnut tree at the end of her garden.

I sat on the walnut tree at the end of her garden,
Will she come out in the morning to draw water from the well?

One cannot sing in three-part harmony with only two singers. In that 15-year span, I had transitioned from being their student to being one of their peers. I became one of the “friends” with whom they sang three-part harmony. “You take the middle part,” Nadia Rozdabara would say. I knew she wanted to me to take the middle because she prefers to sing the lowest part, but that could remain unsaid. “Oh, you go on and sing the top part now,” Nina Reva would tell me during another song. She was tired and the song was long, and that, too, would remain unsaid. These are moments which happen within an ensemble that intimately knows each other, and while I was not living in their village and singing with them in person every week, I was singing with them 8,000 km away in the most digital of ways—by singing along with MP3s. The Fulbright award has allowed me to further this relationship and to begin to create similar ones in other villages around Ukraine. This will be done in the most non-digital of ways, through phone calls, stories shared around a table, and songs sung sitting next to old friends.

My mother came in the morning to draw water,
But she did not get water, instead she gathered tears.


Jason Carney (’15) gave a lecture in January at Christopher Newport University: “Shadows, Shadows, Shadows: The Pulps in the Interwar Culture of Modernism.”

Alum (’10) Iris Dunkle‘s poem “Interrupted Geography” was featured in David Roderick’s column “State Lines” in the San Francisco Chronicle.

David J. Eshelman (’99) has just been promoted to Professor of Communication at Arkansas Tech University, where he is also Director of the Theatre Program.

Alum (’85) Jane Richmond‘s poem “At the Drugstore” will be performed at the Cleveland Humanities Festival staged reading, “I Will Sing for You.”

On Thursday, March 1st, Brandy Schillace (’10) presented “Rogue Scholar: Building a Madcap Career Beyond the Tenure Track” at the Happy Dog at Euclid Tavern. 4:45 to 6:00 pm.


Jennie Skerl (’66) is a Founding Board member and Past President of the Beat Studies Association. She has published William S. Burroughs (Twayne, 1985), William S. Burroughs at the Front: Critical Reception, 1959-1989 (co-edited with Robin Lydenberg, Southern Illinois U P, 1991), A Tawdry Place of Salvation: The Art of Jane Bowles (Southern Illinois University Press, 1997), Reconstructing the Beats (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), and The Transnational Beat Generation, (co-edited with Nancy M. Grace, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

Dr. Skerl edited the Winter 2000 special issue of College Literature on Teaching Beat Literature and has published invited introductions to the 25th anniversary edition of Naked Lunch (Grove, 1984), Speed by William Burroughs, Jr. (Overlook Press, 1984), William S. Burroughs: Time-Place-Word (Brown University exhibit catalog, ed. Eric Shoaf, 2000), and the foreword to Retaking the Universe: William Burroughs in the Age of Globalization (ed. Davis Shneiderman and Philip Walsh, Pluto, 2004). She was a major contributor of the Dictionary of Literary Biography volume on the Beats (edited by Ann Charters, 1983) and the Encyclopedia of Beat Literature (edited by Kurt Hemmer, 2007), and she contributed to Naked Lunch @ 50 (edited by Oliver Harris and Ian Macfadyen, 2009).

She reviews regularly for the Journal of Beat Studies and other journals. Her essay on Ed Sanders will appear in Hip Sublime: Beat Writers and the Classical Tradition (edited by Ralph M. Rosen and Sheila Murnaghan). She has published essays on William Burroughs, Paul Bowles, Jane Bowles, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, and narrative theory. She has also taught courses, delivered guest lectures, and organized conference panels on Beat writers. Current research includes the Beat Generation as a movement, New York City bohemia, and avant-garde women writers. Dr. Skerl retired as Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at West Chester University.


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