Department of English Newsletter: October 2021

Farewell to Mobley/In Memoriam/CHC: Workshops/CHC: Making the Transition/Faculty News/Alumni News//

Bidding Farewell to Marilyn Sanders Mobley

by Gary Stonum

Marilyn Sanders Mobley, who goes by “Maril,” largely began her professional academic career at CWRU and she has finished it here, but in between and also beforehand there were more than a few adventures elsewhere. At the point she entered our doctoral program in the early1980s she had already taught at Shaker Heights High School, Marygrove College, and Wayne State, after having moved to the Midwest with a BA from Barnard and an MA from New York University. Oh, and by the way, she was also a mom raising two boys.

My own fulfilling thirty-plus years advising her began when she ran a section of the American literature survey I taught. At this point in English departments the study of Black writers tended to occur in a vacuum, dominated by a handful of canonical male authors and only beginning to link up with other developments in the rapidly changing discipline. Happily,H her other mentors included the not-yet-famous Henry Louis (Skip) Gates, Jr, the first African-Americanist to draw profitably on the theory movement; and our Roger B. Salomon, who encouraged her pioneering intention to compare white and black writers as co-equal, mutually influencing channels in a distinctly American literary tradition.

Hence the dissertation she completed in 1987 and, after revision, her book, Folk Roots and Mythic Wings in Sara Orne Jewett and Toni Morrison (LSU Press,1991). After a year at Howard she moved to George Mason’s English Department, where she stayed for nineteen years. It is a truth universally acknowledged that scholars of color get called upon for a heavy burden of service—mentoring students, serving on committees, and generally being visible to various publics. So with Maril, one difference being that she was exceptionally good at the organizational, policy development, and program development side of such work. At George Mason, for example, she founded and directed the African American Studies program and served on a panoply of key committees.

For Maril this culminated in a career shift into administration. Continuing as always to maintain her faculty position she became an associate provost for academic programs, which put her on the radar of headhunters. She left George Mason to become provost of the North Carolina HBCU, Bennett College for Women, in 2007-2008 and then returned to CWRU in 2009 as Chief Diversity Officer. President Barbara Snyder had advertised the opening as a cabinet level post, a pathbreaking decision at the time for diversity officers, and so Maril became the inaugural Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity.

Gee, I used to be her graduate supervisor and upon her return to Case she outranked me by several levels. Oh, well–she still regularly called me for advice about career and profession. During her decade working in Adelbert Hall she was as busy and involved in multiple university activities as one can imagine, including developing two strategic action plans and a diversity education program. For this work she received on behalf of CWRU the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award eight years in a row.

“Diversity” has often been a code word for including black (and latterly brown) faculty, students, and staff; and it was expected if not obligatory that diversity officers would themselves, like Maril, be African-American. She parted with these expectations at several points. Her long-time faculty diversity officer was a white male. And not without some controversy two similarly identifiable English professors replaced her in chairing the Faculty Senate’s committee on minority affairs. I served in this post for the explicit, politically advantageous reason that the new strategic action plan on diversity could receive more effective advocacy from a regular professor than from any member of the administration. After I stepped down, T. Kenny Fountain became the first openly gay person to chair the committee, further acknowledgement of the widened meaning of diversity.

Maril usually taught one English Department or SAGES course a year while a Vice President, but except for her voting role on tenure and promotion cases did not much involve herself in department affairs. In this she followed the example of James Taaffe, who had likewise been a Professor of English as a university Vice President. After retiring from administration in 2019, thirty-two years after she received her PhD from CWRU, she became a full-time professor in the department as a Professor of English and African American Studies.

During the years at George Mason and afterwards, in her spare time away from teaching and service, she was primarily working on Toni Morrison’s novels and criticism. Fourteen bits and pieces of this have appeared as essays or talks over the years and the long-awaited book on Morrison is now in progress at Temple University Press. (She had been a founding member of the Toni Morrison Society, including a term as its president.)  Besides her work on Morrison, she has given many talks on such others as Malcolm X, Alice Walker, and Toni Cade Bambera.

Also in recent years Maril has become increasingly active in the church and in spiritual matters generally. Her second book, The Strawberry Room and Other Places Where a Woman Finds Herself (Westbow Press, 2016) is a memoir of her journey from personal and family trauma to spiritual recovery. First called to the ministry in 2001, she has been an ordained lay minster in the Arlington Church of God since 2009 and more recently has undertaken graduate-level seminary study at Anderson University’s School of Theology.

In Memoriam

P.K. Saha passed away on August 10th. He was a valued member of our department who started out at Case Tech before the merger.  During his tenure here, he was a legendary teacher, the first to win both the Wittke and Diekhoff awards. An obituary will follow in the December newsletter.

It is with great sorrow that we inform you that Jim Sheeler, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, award winning teacher and beloved professor in the English Department, passed away at his home at the age of 53. An obituary will follow in the December newsletter.

Cleveland Humanities Collaborative: Student Workshops

by Martha Schaffer

The Cleveland Humanities Collaborative (CHC) partners CWRU with Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C), Lakeland Community College (Lakeland CC), and Lorain County Community College (LCCC) to provide students with an opportunity to work across institutions, earn their associate’s degrees, and then apply and transfer to CWRU to complete their bachelor’s degrees in the humanities.

Transferring from one institution to another isn’t the easiest process. But the CHC leadership has developed programming to help students make the transition and welcome them to CWRU’s College of Arts and Sciences. To provide students with an opportunity to experience CWRU humanities classes before they decide to transfer here to complete their Bachelor of Arts degrees, CHC offers concurrent-enrollment. I have been fortunate enough to participate in this endeavor by providing a pre-semester workshop to the students who are concurrently enrolled at Tri-C, Lakeland CC, or LCCC, and CWRU.

The CHC students bring a wealth of knowledge to our humanities classrooms. They are motivated and self-directed learners, and they are curious and enthusiastic about our disciplinary conversations in philosophy, history, English, and classics. They want to participate actively in the critical thinking and argument that builds our knowledge. Working across campuses and institutions allows them to make comparisons about different approaches to teaching and learning, which makes them strong critical thinkers about their education and education more generally. Some of them come from non-traditional paths, and their life experiences and knowledge enhance our conversations and change our discourse community for the better. To prepare for the workshop, I ask students to write about a time when they used writing to accomplish something. Their stories are rich and meaningful, describing how writing has helped them perform work, get into school, promote political and personal interests, and engage in creative endeavors. This sets the stage for our conversations about how communities are shaped by their language practices, and, then, how we can shape the communities that we join through our own writing and speaking.

In order to honor the variety of experiences and perspectives that the students bring to CWRU, I have approached the workshops as an invitation to join our community by exploring the concept of discourse communities. A discourse community, as it is understood in writing studies, is a group of people who use certain conventions and genres of language to interact, shape their knowledge, and achieve their goals. We understand that individuals belong to multiple discourse communities, and in moving among them, some language practices transfer easily and obviously, while others are new or conflicting. Educating students about this concept can help them to navigate their movements across discourses, and to make informed choices of their own about their membership in different communities.

In CWRU’s writing-across-the-curriculum program, we use the language of “academic conversation” as described by Graff & Birkenstein in their popular first-year writing textbook, They Say/ I Say, to describe the ways in which scholars engage with each other in discussion and writing to explore ideas, responding to and building upon each other’s ideas to move knowledge and research forward in a given discipline. Our workshops explore this idea as a companion concept to discourse community to identify a specific construct of language use that shapes how we interact with each other in our classrooms and our written work, emphasizing the collaborative, social, and rhetorical nature of language. By way of example, we read Kenneth Burke’s description of the (Burkean) parlor and translate the language of the heated parlor discussion to academic writing, to see that “[w]hen you arrive, others have long preceded you” means that scholars have thought and written about most topics we explore as new students of a discipline. We consider that “you listen for a while” through reading and researching other scholars, and that catching “the tenor of the argument” is understanding the context and viewpoints around the topic.

As a metaphor for academic writing, conversation serves to illuminate these aspects of scholarly debate, but also to provide new members to our community with the moves that enable their participation. While the workshops explore these theoretical constructs, they also actualize them, providing students with a chance to consider the practical strategies that constitute our discourse in the humanities: critical reading, discussion, and writing. Together we share ways to manage time, work loads, and difficult conversations. Participants experience the interconnectedness of reading, thinking, and writing in the workshop as we engage in discussion, free writing, reflection, and critical reading together. The idea is to provide them with a brief glimpse of what the humanities classroom at CWRU will be like.

The concurrent-enrollment workshop is just one piece of a larger program that encourages CWRU’s engagement with our surrounding institutions and welcomes a variety of Cleveland area students to our humanities programs. The CHC provides its students with many people who are invested in their success, and who provide them with the intellectual, practical, and emotional support that they need to succeed. CHC Program Director, Kurt Koenigsberger, and Program Manager, Allison Morgan, who recently moved on to a new position, have devoted much time and energy to developing a network of companion administrators and faculty at the community colleges as well as at CWRU to provide the CHC students with advising, mentoring, and advocacy throughout all the phases of the transfer process. Through these collective efforts, we see the students succeed in their classes and in their larger education and professional plans, and we are all the better for their participation in our community.

Cleveland Humanities Collaborative:
Making the Transition

by April Graham

CWRU has always been a dream college for me when I was attending Cuyahoga Community College for my Associate of Arts. And, as with many dreams, it seemed quite far away and even unobtainable at times. It was a terrifying prospect to transition from a community college to CWRU since I had never been on a large campus nor had I ever stayed in a dorm. The community college experience was quite different, with our single campus building and small class sizes. Because of this, discovering the Cleveland Humanities Collaborative (CHC) was so invaluable to me. The CHC allowed me to take advantage of concurrent enrollment and I ended up taking one CWRU class per semester while still attending Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) during my last two semesters before I graduated and transferred to CWRU full-time. On days I didn’t have classes at Tri-C, my mom would drop me off at CWRU for classes on Children’s Literature or Japanese Pop Culture. The campus was new and exciting to me, and I remember how I marvelled at Guilford House and the creaky journey up the stairs to my third floor classroom, so different from the wide, tiled hallways of Tri-C, which housed all the classrooms, dining, recreation, and faculty offices in a single building. Concurrent enrollment was crucial, allowing me to grow comfortable with the CWRU campus, classes, professors, student body, and faculty. I could start my classes as a transfer student at CWRU feeling like I already belonged there.

In many ways, my time in the CHC and the transitionary period from my community college to CWRU felt similar to my experience doing college credit plus (CCP) courses while still in high school. I had been online-schooled during middle and high school, so the brick-and-mortar college experience was a daunting prospect. However, taking college courses while still in high school helped with that transition, just as concurrent classes with the CHC helped me transition to CWRU. It put a little more experience under my belt and gave me the confidence and resources I needed to comfortably traverse a new college environment, in terms of both the campus and the students and faculty. With the CHC, I was not worried about struggling to find advisors who knew my educational background or peers who shared the same educational goals. To be able to start classes at an entirely new college and have people on your side right from the beginning was extremely meaningful to me.

Additionally, the CHC is a close-knit community of like-minded individuals. Even if we all are pursuing different paths in the humanities, we all have had similar educational experiences and hopes for the future. As with all communities, each member has something valuable to offer to the others, sharing in this pool of knowledge, whether it was recommendations for particular classes to take, studying tips, scholarships to pursue, or resources on campus. And, possibly even more importantly, we offered each other a respite from college stresses, a listening ear, a good laugh, or even a music recommendation. When thinking about those books that discuss tips for ‘college survival,’ I think of the CHC and the community we have built over the years with multiple generations of college graduates. The key to college survival is communities such as the CHC, which aid your growth not only while in college, but after graduation as well.

It has constantly amazed me how many CWRU graduates who started out as CHC students have remained a part of the CHC community. Some of them have gone back to CWRU for a masters degree or certificates. Some simply have kept in touch and still provide for the CHC community by sharing their stories and inspiring the rest of us. This aspect of the CHC has always resonated with me because it is a reminder that CHC faculty, professors, and classmates are also our lifelong friends and mentors. In the future, I myself hope to pursue a masters in Library Science once I graduate from CWRU, and I am confident that I will still have the CHC and CWRU community supporting me along the way.

Faculty News

Cara Byrne and her first year students volunteered at the Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank to sort and box children’s books for distribution to organizations serving children and families in need.

On Friday, September 24th: A Symposium on Michael Clune‘s A Defense of Judgment took place at Harvard University.

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

Thom Dawkins taught at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary this summer in the new Doctor of Ministry program in Creative Writing and Public Theology.

Part 2 of Mary Grimm‘s serialized story, “Nothing Bad,” appeared at Mayday Magazine.

In June, Denna Iammarino published an article in a special issue of Explorations in Renaissance Culture on Spenser’s A View of the Present State of Ireland. This issue is an extension of a symposium Iammarino organized at CWRU in 2018 (her symposium co-organizer, Thomas Herron, edited the issue).

Michelle Lyons-McFarland‘s article in The Year’s Work in English Studies is now published.

William Marling published American, Hard-boiled and Noir: A Guide to the Fiction and Film (235 pages,

On June 23rd, Marilyn Mobley gave a presentation for the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research student leadership symposium for the Paul Ambrose Scholars Program. Her topic was “Race Matters: Rethinking the Health Professions through the Lens of Equity and Social Justice.”

Martha Schaffer has been promoted to Senior Instructor in the Department of English.

Thrity Umrigar’s children’s book Sugar in Milk has won the Ohioana Book Award for juvenile literature this year. Ohioana is the second oldest state award in the nation.

A panel honoring Martha Woodmansee‘s career took place Thursday, July 15th, at the annual meeting of the International Society for the History and Theory of Intellectual Property (ISHTIP). The week-long meeting, which was hosted by Bournemouth University in the UK, was virtual. Participants tuned in from across Europe, Canada, Australia, and the US. The program can be accessed at: Woodmansee was a founding co-director of ISHTIP.

Alumni News

Danny Anderson (’12) discusses the Netflix series Midnight Mass at PopMatters.

Jason Ray Carney (’15) is teaching a course in October and November for the CNU Lifelong Learning Society on The Literary History of Science Fiction.

Lisa Chiu (’93) helped to read, select, and edit submissions for a showcase of poems and stories from local immigrants sharing their personal experiences of coming to America and adapting to life in Northeast Ohio. It was a cover feature for Cleveland Scene Magazine.

Erin Clair (’99) was awarded the Jerry G. Gaff Faculty Award in the emerging campus leader category.

Iris Jamahl Dunkle (’10) was recently featured on the French television program INVITATION AU VOYAGE (Invitation to travel) where Jack London scholars, Tarnel Abbott, Jonah Raskin, and Dunkle are featured talking about Jack and Charmian London.

Michelle Smith Quarles (’98) presented “Extra-ordinary Light: The Poetry of Tracy K. Smith” on Friday, September 24th, at CWRU.

Alum (‘03) Brad Ricca’s book True Raiders was published on September 21st.

Alum (’17) Jack Rooney‘s essay, “‘Only a sense remains of them’: Latescence and Outwatch in Shelley’s Vigil” is forthcoming in European Romantic Review.

Carrie Shanafelt (’03) has two recent articles on Bentham and sexual nonconformity in LIT and The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation.

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