Department of English Newsletter: March 2023

Letter from the Chair/What is Egypt to Me?/Dept. News/Book Buddies/Sigma Tau Delta/Linguistic Justice/Alumni News//

Letter from the Chair

The medieval rooms at the Cleveland Art Museum were empty one week in early March when a colleague from Art History took me on an introductory tour. We spent most of our time looking together at a marvelous pre-cursor to today’s automata: a fourteenth-century French “table fountain.” The water that would flow through a central tube would animate the bells held by miniature figures with the heads of beasts. It’s hard to leave the presence of something like the table fountain, the sheer extravagance of which reminded me that, in art as in writing, invention and entertainment, experiment and delight, go hand in hand.

The craft of a sentence may have as many moving parts as a Gothic miniature, at least if you are this year’s Stonum Writer-in-Residence, novelist Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You (2016) and Cleanness (2020). While in University Circle, Garth led a writing workshop on prose style with the community, held a reading and conversation in Kelvin Smith Library, made a visit to the Cleveland Orchestra to hear Emanuel Ax play Mozart and Herbert Blomstedt conduct Beethoven, and read from his third novel, Small Rain, at the Friday colloquium. He also set one of his own sentences at the New Gutenberg Annex, leaving us with a monument to a momentous week.

Not all the work of a writer appears in the finished text, of course, and the editorial process extends well beyond the page, as our students drafting and revising their midterm work for Renaissance Literature or the Intermediate Fiction Workshop know well. The complexity and the integrity of the editorial process were the topics that occupied Adrienne LaFrance, Executive Editor of The Atlantic, when she presented the Nathaniel R. Howard Memorial Lecture. Upcoming talks on poetry, translation, memoir, biography, and early modern literature will set in motion the interlocking, whirling stages of the CWRU English department.

W.H. Auden called a poem a “verbal contraption,” as complicated as a table fountain and just as captivating. Any experimental device solicits wonder at the thing made and at its making. The creative imagination has a way of “opening the eyes,” as Cadence Dangerfield, a first-year MA student in English, puts it: “This past semester and a half has already opened my eyes so much more than I imagined it would. The growth I’ve seen in myself in just over six months is immense. Literature has always been something I needed in my life, but continuing to read and study literature into adulthood reminds me of how special it is to spend every day doing something you love, around likeminded people.” That jolt of pleasure is where knowledge can begin, since, at its root, delight “lures us away” from expected answers, inherited ideas, and given facts. And, in doing so, leads us to look at the world with others, to face what they face.

Walt Hunter

What is Egypt to Me? From Perspective to Reflections and Back Again

by Marilyn S. Mobley, PhD

When I was asked whether I would serve as faculty host for a travel education trip to Egypt, my immediate response was positive. I recall thinking, what’s not to love?

Sponsored by the Case Western Reserve University Siegal Lifelong Learning Program, the trip was part of the series offered through the university for a constituency that is much like me—retirees and other individuals, regardless of their age or station in life, who seek educational travel opportunities outside the traditional classroom and around the world. Having led a study tour to Kenya years ago at another university and having joined faculty from MSASS for a study tour to Ghana just a few years ago, I was eager to serve as the faculty leader for a trip to another part of Africa. Though references to Egypt abound under a word I detest — “Egyptomania,” as a lifelong learner, I became a woman on a mission to get some of my own questions answered.

In African American literature and culture, Egypt is a recurring reference in narratives of history, heritage, and faith. On one hand, there is the narrative of enslavement, colonialism, and the rape of Africa of its people and resources. On the other hand, there is the narrative of ancient royalty, ingenuity, and influence. It’s an understatement to say Egypt is contested terrain. My visit to the Nile River and the land around it brought into view what I had learned and thought versus what the geographical location could teach me about itself. Though I brought the perspective of the faculty host, with my two lectures in tow—one on “Egypt in Africana Studies” and one on ”Egyptian Rituals of Death and Dying”—for the majority of the trip, I was a fellow traveler with a diverse group, including my sister who was my travel companion, attempting to make sense of what I had read in literature and seen in films, and what I was viewing firsthand in real time. Just as Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen, whose query “What is Africa to Me?” in his poem “Heritage,” tries to come to terms with his ancestral home, I too began with a question, “what is Egypt to me?” The answer before the trip was substantially complicated by the reality of my visit.

Even before we met our two Egyptologists, I was struck by how our tour guide from Orbridge Tours, navigated the crowded streets from the airport to downtown Cairo to our hotel. Though it was nearly midnight when we arrived, the street reminded me of New York City at night before the pandemic. People were everywhere, shopping, talking in groups, honking at one another as if making up the rules of the road at will. We learned later at one point that markings on the street to guide traffic were “just suggestions.” Based on how people were weaving in and out of traffic, that was an understatement. Nearly an hour later, we finally arrived at our hotel at Giza. Lo and behold, from our room, my sister and I could not only see the pyramids from our balcony, but they appeared to be less than two miles away. We knew from that moment that we were in for an amazing two weeks. Indeed, our first excursion was to the Great Pyramid of Giza, the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Although we were already feeling the intensity of the 105-degree heat, we were also already mesmerized by seeing the height of the pyramids, the façade of the Great Sphinx, and the matching sand that confirms all the pictures we had seen were accurate. I remember thinking I am standing on the land of my ancestors that some scholars do not even want to identify as such, let alone think about as a part of the continent of Africa. Though I had mixed emotions about the camels as a kind of “amusement ride” for us tourists, I succumbed to the moment and rode one, partly because I knew my sons have probably long forgotten the photos of my camel ride in Mombasa, Kenya, in the 1990s. I needed to prove again that I was brave! Our itinerary involved going directly down into the tombs at the pyramids and we later understood the logic. It was the most strenuous, dangerous part of the trip because the passageway was steep, narrow, dark, and low. In a near squatting posture, I made the trek, determined not to be defeated on the first day of excursions to the tombs at the pyramids I had so anxiously waited to see. Though hot, sweaty, and exhausted when I came back out into daylight, I began wondering how ancient humans long before us endured the heat long enough to build the pyramids that we modern humans come to gaze upon in amazement. I began to marvel about the work of archaeologists and found myself feeling grateful yet curious about the confluence of methodology, motivations, and money involved at the intersection of science and tourism.

From the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx, we went on a guided tour to the Egyptian Museum and to the Mosque of Sultan Hassan and to some of the Coptic churches in Cairo. As we strolled among people and vendors, I tried to take in the aromas of food, the clothing and jewelry for sale, and the sounds of Egyptians speaking to one another. Not knowing the language was unsettling but having “whispers” meant that our Egyptologist was always available to translate, inform, and explain cultural and religious nuances as we went along.

On the fifth day we went from Cairo to Luxor where we visited the Karnak Temple Complex. Between the towering structures, the hieroglyphics on the walls, and the obelisks, I was drawn to another time and space and the multiple narratives in the iconography on the walls of the tombs and temples. I was amazed to learn that much of what we were seeing had been excavated and restored. Our visit to Luxor included the visit to the tomb of Tutankhamun. Having heard about this ruler for years, I was amazed to see his dark remains, the beautiful colors of the hieroglyphics on the walls of his tomb, and the narrative of his journey into the afterlife, a popular theme in Egypt’s historical preoccupation with death.

From the highlights of seeing The Great Pyramid, the Great Sphinx, and the tomb of King Tutankhamun, we embarked on a four-day cruise on our dahabiya down the Nile River. At one point I looked at my sister and said, “I must pinch myself. We are on the Nile River, right here, right now!” We stopped at the Temple of Horus, a site we were told was “one of the best-preserved temples in Egypt.” Known as the son of Osiris and Isis, he was the god of resurrection and the avenger for the death of his father Osiris. His image seemed to be everywhere with its falcon-head, representing the power of the pharaohs, protection, and healing because his eye was restored after he lost it in a fight with his brother Set.

Giving my two lectures was a highlight because they gave me an opportunity to share my delight and misgivings about representations of Egypt. There were six of us out of the group of 20 who were African American, so it was important to share that there is one perspective on Egypt from Africana (that is, African and African American) Studies and there is the popular representation of Egypt represented in film and art under what many call “Egyptomania.” The white washing of Egypt remains a concern for African Americans that other Americans do not always share. As an ordained minister who teaches Grief Recovery Method classes and offers grief support ministry, I used my second lecture to look at rituals of death and dying in Egypt and to share research from a former student who had worked on the African Burial Project in NYC where Egyptian ankhs are part of the iconography at the site and where rituals and ceremonies from Kemet, an ancient name for Egypt meaning “Black land,” were used at the site where the bodies of enslaved Africans were memorialized.

Our trip down the Nile took us to Aswan where we stayed at the Sofitel Legend Cataract hotel, one of the most luxurious hotels I had ever been in, where Agatha Christie stayed while writing Death on the Nile, the location for the 1978 film. I have yet to watch the film, but my visit to Egypt has inspired me to see it in its entirety. I was more interested in the visit to the Nubian restaurant and the Nubian Museum. Though the museum was not on the itinerary, I was most interested in being among Egyptians who looked like me and in seeing how the museums in Nubia were different from those up north in Cairo.

Most of all, my trip inspired me to go back to reread Egypt Land by Scott Trafton, one of the books I assigned my fellow travelers, and the work of Black scholars such as Asa Hilliard, Cheikh Anta Diop, and others. I know that the scholarship is contested terrain, just as the land is, but that does not bother me. Instead, it inspires the lifelong learner in me to keep reading and to reflect on when and whether I will visit Egypt again. Regardless of whether I return, the experience of traveling to and throughout Egypt confirmed the Toni Morrison statement that “narrative is radical” in a new way that I will remember the rest of my life.

Department News

Michael Clune has a new piece in the PMLA: “The Resistance to Aesthetic Education.”

Congratulations to Leah Davydov on the successful defense of her dissertation, titled “Magnetic Realism: Mesmerism, Hypnotism, and the Victorian Novel.”

Gusztav Demeter and Martha Schaffer presented at the Conference on College Composition & Communication in Chicago on Saturday, February 18. Their title was “Implementing Directed Self-Placement for Inclusion,” and they shared their process for developing a first-year writing placement system that includes international and non-native speakers of English.

Mary Grimm is teaching a zoom class at The Lit – one of their Reader Series classes — on feminist novels of the ’60s/’70s, once a month, February through July.

John Higgins will be giving the Pre-Concert Lectures at the Cleveland Orchestra from March 30-April 1: “The Tempest Symphony.”

Conference Director Matthew Biberman talked with noted Charles Olson scholar, Josh Hoeynck about the Olson Society and their slate of panels at the 50th LCLC conference held in February. This episode is for fans of Olson as well as aficionados of contemporary American poetry and the Black Mountain School of poetry.

Walt Hunter‘s essay, “Claude McKay’s Lonely Planet: The Sonnet Sequence and the Global City,” is part of The American Sonnet just out from the University of Iowa Press.

Michelle Lyons-McFarland presented her paper “The Sexiest Silver Ever: Vice and Valuation in Defoe’s Roxana” at the 2023 American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies annual conference on March 9th.

Anthony Raffin was accepted by the Ernest Hemingway Society to speak on their panel at the upcoming ALA in Boston this May. His paper’s title is: “Secular Confession: Alcohol and Masculine Vulnerability in The Sun Also Rises.”

Robin Beth Schaer spoke on a panel about “Making Time for Writing” during the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Seattle on March 10th. Her co-panelists were DeMisty D. Bellinger, Ukamaka Olisakwe, and Miciah Bay Gault.

Meredith Steck’s third dissertation chapter “Plasticity in resource choice: a time-limited butterfly prioritizes apparency over quality” (co-authors Steck, M., Snell-Rood, E. and Zambre, A.) has been published in the journal Animal Behavior.

Lindsay Turner‘s translation of Stéphane Bouquet’s poetry book Common Life was just published by Nightboat Books.

Maggie Vinter‘s “Who’s There: Hearing Character in Hamlet has been published in ELH.

Athena Vrettos has an article, “Wandering Attention: Victorian Daydreaming, Disembodiment and the Boundaries of Consciousness,” in Life, Death, and Consciousness in the Long Nineteenth Century, edited by Lucy Cogan and Michelle O’Connell (Palgrave Macmillan, 2022).

Book Buddies: Community-Engaged Learning in the Writing Classroom

by Cara Byrne

As a full-time English lecturer, I’m always looking for new ways to engage students in the writing process and help them recognize the impact their writing can have on different audiences, especially those outside of the classroom walls. Since 2016, I have collaborated with a number of nonprofits, community organizations, and schools to help my students take our conversations out of the classroom and into public spaces. Most of my classes have a children’s picture book theme, which gives us the opportunity to explore this genre and consider its societal impact. For example, when talking about banning and restricting access to books, my students have written letters to local school boards advocating for the inclusion of books about identity, inclusion, and race in school libraries. Or, after studying the representation of health and disability in children’s picture books, students have written engaging superhero stories to accompany artwork for terminally-ill children for the Superhero Project and created their own tactile board books at think[box] for children with vision impairments.While students frequently use their course writing to engage in complex issues related to the genre of children’s picture books, one of the most popular activities is interacting with local elementary school students to learn about their perspectives on the books that we are analyzing. As part of their first-year writing course at CWRU, students work as part of a “book buddy” collaboration with Noble Elementary School, which is part of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public School district. Through this collaboration, each CWRU student is paired with several second graders to serve as their “book buddy” over the course of the semester. I work with Noble’s three second grade teachers to develop a list of picture books, which have included After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again and The Magical Yet, that we all read aloud then discuss in our respective classrooms.

After these discussions, we all use the second graders’ special “Ice Cream” paper to hand-write (and draw) letters about different themes, ideas, and questions we have about the books. The second graders learn the conventions of writing sentences and handwriting (guided by three scoops of ice cream to indicate where to position letters), while my students find ways to engage and write clearly to their young audience. We also use FlipGrid, which allows students to record and share short videos with each other. These videos have been a wonderful way for students to get to know each other and get a better sense of each other’s classrooms and schools before we meet in-person.

In addition to communicating through these letters and videos, each group visits the other’s school. In early October, CWRU students read on the lawn of Noble Elementary school (we meet outside due to COVID-19 protocols). All of the pairs read the wordless picture book Another by Christian Robinson, as well as The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez and the second graders’ Superkids primer. My students noticed how some of the second graders loved to read aloud and comment on the art on every page while others had very little interest in books. Instead of an abstract notion of what children like and who children are, they were able to learn from the children as unique individuals and compare their experiences to those of their classmates. CWRU students also learned quickly that looking for bugs in the grass or stacking pebbles was sometimes more compelling to the second graders than reading the books they brought, so the CWRU students found creative ways to engage the second graders’ interests and have conversations about the books.

Two weeks after this visit, all 64 Noble second graders and their teachers came to CWRU to read again and be “college students for the day.” In addition to reading books together in the Tinkham Veale Center, the second graders were also able to visit Kelvin Smith Library and the Writing Resource Center to learn more about research and writing. Librarians Ron Chambers and Erin Smith graciously welcomed the students, explained how University libraries help students, and answered the second graders’ questions, which included “do students sleep here?” and “can they check out comic books?” KSL also generously donated a brand new copy of Jacqueline Woodson and Raphael Lopez’s The Year We Learned to Fly to every student – which encourages readers to “use those beautiful and brilliant minds of yours.”

Writing Resource Center director Brie Parkin also helped make this day special. She assigned small groups of her students to lead interactive activities for the second graders, including building volcanos, making student IDs, and constructing small statues. Additionally, she helped acquire CWRU gear for each student and recruited Spartie to make an appearance (which the second graders loved). We also distributed over 120 books for the kids to take home thanks to the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank.

As Noble Elementary School is a Title One school that participates in the AVID program, which is a nation-wide program designed to help students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and those who are disproportionately underrepresented at 4-year universities see college as a possibility for them, this collaboration is particularly significant. It also helps CWRU students gain a deeper understanding of the books they are analyzing, practice writing to different audiences, and feel more connected to Cleveland. After our field trip, one of my students stated “My experience with my Noble Elementary school, rather than being shocking or new, felt like home.”

Sigma Tau Delta

by Charlotte Goyal and Susie Kim

Following their official Undergraduate Student Government (USG) recognition at the beginning of this semester, Sigma Tau Delta kicked off February with an exciting set of events. They began with a speaker event hosted in the Peter B. Lewis building by Dr. Brock Schroeder, Senior Director of Recruitment & Enrollment from the Weatherhead School of Management, for a seminar on future planning. Dr. Schroeder presented on potential graduate school programs at CWRU along with employment opportunities and projected job market relevance. Following this informative event, the English Honors Society held the first of their monthly writing workshop series. Hosted in Guilford House, this safe writing space was occupied by those working on creative endeavors, in addition to peer editing on more formal papers. There was also a wonderful array of refreshments including fresh homemade cookies baked by the society Vice President, Paris Mather.

Sigma Tau Delta scheduled several events for the first week back from spring break as well. In celebration of Women’s Week, Sigma Tau Delta co-hosted with The Women’s Network for a collaborative event in Thwing on Friday (3/24) where they close-read lyrics from female artists such as Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo. Then on Saturday (3/25) the monthly writer’s workshop was held in Guilford. Closing out the weekend, on Sunday (3/26) the English Honors Society presented and tabled at the Empower CWRUxUPB (Undergraduate Programing Board) Communication Carnival.

Be sure to follow @cwrusigmataudelta on Instagram for updates and more information!

April Baker-Bell and Linguistic Justice

by Cadence Dangerfield

In December 2022, the English Department welcomed Dr. April Baker-Bell, associate professor of Language, Literacy, and English Education at Michigan State University, to deliver the Edward S. and Melinda Sadar Lecture in Writing in the Disciplines. Dr. Baker-Bell is a transdisciplinary teacher-researcher-activist and national leader in conversations on Black language education. She has been touring the country giving workshops and lectures on her recently published book, Linguistic Justice: Black Language, Literacy, Identity, and Pedagogy (Routledge 2020). Case was lucky enough to host Dr. Baker-Bell for a day of open conversation, learning, and lecture.

A full room — including undergraduate and graduate students, CWRU faculty members, and colleagues from other institutions — gathered on December 2 for the public address. Dr. Baker-Bell’s scholarship is rooted in her students’ experiences in the classroom and the university at large. In response to these experiences, she highlights the ways that teachers and students can think critically about their own and others’ language choices. She asks how we can resist and reform instances of what she calls “anti-Black linguistic racism,” defined as “the linguistic violence, persecution, dehumanization, and marginalization that Black Language speakers experience in schools and in everyday life” (7). To illustrate her argument about language inequality, Baker-Bell suggests reflecting on questions such as: Who speaks “good” English? Who speaks “bad” English? What do those people look and sound like? For many of us, the answers to these questions may reveal uncomfortable biases and encourage us to seek new pedagogical approaches to language and dialect diversity.

As Baker-Bell argues, Black English is as systematic, rule-governed, and “effective” as the variety commonly privileged in schools (i.e., so-called “Standard English,” which Baker-Bell prefers to label “White Mainstream English,” emphasizing the ways that language and race are always intertwined). Black English should be respected, she argues, and the way to do this is to implement anti-racist Black language pedagogy in the classroom. During her lecture, Dr. Baker-Bell pushed us to acknowledge our own understanding of language and work harder to accept and empower linguistically marginalized students. She encouraged us all to think about “how we are socialized” in terms of language and how to flip the script to amplify diverse voices and to encourage students to see their own language backgrounds as empowering. Her presentation was aided by powerful videos: an SNL skit that mocked  African American Vernacular English (AAVE) while calling it “gen-Z language,” a clip of herself with her Detroit students, and slave ship graphics. If linguistic racism is discrimination based on the language a person uses, we must grapple with what it would mean to seek linguistic justice in the classroom.

Earlier in the day, Baker-Bell facilitated a workshop for teachers of writing to consider these practical and pedagogical activities. This workshop, “From Theory to Praxis: Implementing Linguistic Justice in the Classroom,” of about 15 people — including professors from both CWRU and JCU and students — focused on critical personal and programmatic reflection to generate liberatory pedagogies. Important questions were being circulated during this workshop such as “What are the ways we can signal linguistic equality?” and “Can we encourage students to acknowledge their own writing choices?” These questions, and many more that were approached by the participants, served to deconstruct our current work in the classroom. Baker-Bell instructed us to move beyond “respectability language pedagogies” which “perpetuates anti-Blackness as it adheres to politics of respectability, surrenders to Whiteness, and does not challenge anti-Black linguistic racism” (8) and instead to embrace her proposed approach, Anti-Black Linguistic Racism as we create space for “Linguistic Consciousness-Raising.”

Baker-Bell’s visit built on the Spring 2021 virtual visit of Dr. Vershawn Young, which was reviewed in our June 2021 newsletter.


Baker-Bell, April. “‘We Been Knowin’: Toward an Antiracist Language & Literacy Education.” Journal of Language and Literacy Education. 16.1 (Spring 2020).

Alumni News

Ali Black has new work in Gulf Coast Journal.

Jason Carney (‘14 ) has a Ted Talk about reading fiction.

Erin Clair (’99) received the 2022 Faculty Award of Excellence from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville.

Alum (‘10 ) Iris Jamahl Dunkle’s biography of writer Charmian Kittredge London and her most recent book of poems are reviewed in The New York Sun.

Miriam Goldman (’11) has achieved certification as a Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality. The CMQ/OE is the most widely recognized credential for executives across industries. Ten years of relevant job experience, five of which are in a leadership role, are required to apply for the exam.

Brennon Ham (’11 ) is now the new Director for the University of Washington’s Q Center.

Sabrina Herman (’12) has recently accepted the position of Managing Editor for CQ Magazine. Herman has been a ham for close to 13 years and is currently Managing Editor and Promotional Coordinator of Hermes Press, a small book publisher in Pennsylvania.

Amelia Horsburgh has been promoted to Professor of English at Vancouver Island University.

Ray Horton (’17), assistant professor of English at Murray State, will receive the 2023 College Teacher of the Year award from the Kentucky Council of Teachers of English (KCTE).

Jamie McDaniel (’04) is featured on the Nineteenth-Century Studies Association blog.

Alum (’05) Ehren Pflugfelder‘s new book, Geoengineering, Persuasion and the Climate Crisis: A Geologic Rhetoric, is now available through The University of Alabama Press. The book concerns the frequently deceptive practices of geoengineering discourse and explores these potentially world-altering activities through a geologic-oriented rhetorical theory.

Melissa Pompili (’19 ) has accepted a position at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation as a Grants Coordinator.

Alum (’03) Carrie Shanafelt’s book, Uncommon Sense: Jeremy Bentham, Queer Aesthetics, and the Politics of Taste, was reviewed in European Romantic Review.

Alum (‘22) Brita Thielen’s blog discusses non-academic jobs.

Alum (’10) Marie Vibbert’s novelette, “We Built This City” won the Clarkesworld Reader’s Poll for Best Novelette/Novella in 2022.

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.