Department of English Newsletter: September 2020

in this issue

Letter from the Chair/Faculty Notes/Frederik N. Smith/Book Excerpts/Alumni News/In Memoriam

Letter from the Chair

For those of you actively engaged in department activities, I want to say how much I’ve enjoyed getting to know you and working with you since July 1. For those I have not yet met, including our emeriti and alumni, I look forward to crossing paths (remotely, at least) in the coming weeks and months. Although I was trained as a musicologist, most of my career has been devoted to studying the intersections of history, literature, and the arts. My interests, coupled with your warm welcome, have made me feel very much at home in “virtual Guilford.” I have appreciated the excellence of your research and creativity; your devotion to teaching, pedagogy, and writing; and your lively spirit. I have especially appreciated the generosity of the staff, former chair Chris Flint, associate chair Jim Sheeler, and the executive committee in making my transition to interim chair a smooth one. It has been a pleasure to inherit such a well-managed department.

My first months as chair, and ours as a department, were partially devoted to the campus reentry, building mitigation, and preparations for dual-mode course delivery. Breaking from custom, chairs met regularly with the dean throughout the summer to coordinate with the college and provost’s office regarding Covid-related policies, protocols, and practices. We continue to adjust to the exigencies of the coronavirus. At present we are preparing for a special, optional January session, for which we expect to offer several English courses. By allowing the majority of students and faculty to follow a delayed spring schedule from February 1 through May 19, this plan will allow a safer, more spacious campus experience.

In a challenging and uneasy time, my first objective has been and remains to join with you in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the faculty, student body, and our English community. Please let me and each other know if you are having trouble and how we can help, and please do whatever you can to take care of yourselves. The second has been to listen, to get to know your curriculum, activities, plans, and aspirations, and to advocate for you in any way that I can. Despite the difficulties of thinking beyond the pandemic, the faculty is engaged in a conversation regarding the future of the department. All of you are invited to contribute to that conversation.

The first topic to arise has been the urgency of bringing diversity, equity, and inclusion more deeply into the department’s activities and aims. During the summer Prof. Flint appointed a Subcommittee on Black Lives Matter and Antiracism, chaired by Marilyn Mobley and John Higgins, who drafted and posted a statement on antiracism on the department website. Together with Maggie Vinter, the subcommittee has created a special colloquium series consisting of faculty-led book discussions on antiracism, along with other programming dedicated to racial issues. In addition, throughout the year the Writing Program and SAGES will focus attention on equity, inclusion, and diversity through attention to classroom and programmatic practices that enact these values. Last Friday, Writers House co-sponsored the colloquium “Black Writing in Cleveland” with readers Michelle Smith and Mary Weems. Please check our calendar for other upcoming events. I invite you to join us, and in the meantime send my best wishes for your health, safety, and wellbeing.


Georgia Cowart
Interim Chair

Faculty Notes

Mary Assad and Gusztav Demeter received COVID-19 Emergency Funds for Laboratory, Simulation, and Field Work Experiences from the Provost. These funds will support the creation of recorded TED Talk-style presentations, crafted by former CWRU international students, to incorporate into the curriculum of ESL First Seminar courses. The presentations address various aspects of the international student experience, ranging from dietary acculturation to mental health.

This story has it all: mystery, theft, a trial, devastating losses (of the bibliographic kind), and our own William Claspy as a key witness to the aftermath.

Michael Clune has a new piece in the Los Angeles Review of Books: “Socialist Freedom and Capitalist Freedom.”

Mary Grimm‘s brief memoir piece is reprinted in Creative Nonfiction‘s Sunday Shorts (it was published first in Riverteeth).

Caitlin Kelly’s essay on teaching Hamilton: An American Musical has been published by Age of Revolutions.

Dave Lucas discusses the work of his predecessor, Amit Majmudar, Ohio’s first poet laureate.

Michelle Lyons-McFarland‘s work appears in Chapter XI, The Eighteenth Century, in The Year’s Work in English Studies 2020 from Oxford University Press.

William Marling has published a second collection of photography. ESTONIA, Upside Down (Editiones Croulebarbe).

Marilyn Mobley co-authored an article in the September issue of Insight into Diversity on the topic of faculty responses to racial justice in the academy.

Judy Oster is featured in The Jerusalem Post.

Steve Pinkerton offered a remote course on Ulysses, by James Joyce, in July through Siegal Lifelong Learning.

Brad Ricca’s new book, Olive the Lionheart, was named one of the ten best books of August by the Christian Science Monitor.

Thrity Umrigar presented “An Evening with Picture Books” in August for Midwest Independent Booksellers introducing her new picture book Sugar in Milk.

Athena Vrettos gave a keynote address on “The Temporality of Emotional Traces in Victorian Fiction and Psychology” at an international conference on “Conceptualizing Trace” hosted by the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany in September.

Faculty of the Past: Frederik N. Smith

By Jane Bowman Smith & Dennis Dooley

Fred Smith, who died this past March at the age of 80, was a beloved figure around Clark Hall in his decade (1967–1976) as a member of the English Department faculty. After the Kent State shootings in 1970, with a police cavalry unit converging on University Circle, he was one of several faculty that President Morse reached out to requesting that students be asked to disperse in an effort to head off a potentially violent confrontation—which soon saw mounted officers swinging riot batons as they charged the crowd.

The growing distrust of leaders and feelings of helplessness in those years may have accounted in part for his deep fondness for the writings of Jonathan Swift and Samuel Beckett, which would provide the subjects of his three books: Language and Reality in Swift’s Tale of a Tub (Ohio State University Press, 1979); The Genres of Gulliver’s Travels (Associated University Presses, 1990); and Beckett’s 18th Century (Palgrave, 2002). Fred was close to finishing a fourth book, about the effects of modern art on Beckett’s work, particularly the “degenerate” art Hitler condemned, before the onset of the dementia that eventually ended the richly engaged life in academe that had begun with an MA and PhD at the University of Virginia.

Frederik N. Smith was born in Baltimore in 1940 to the former Henrik Schmidt and Louise Contee (nee Rose), who, as the shadow of Naziism loomed, had refused to marry poor Henrik (of Danish extraction) until he changed his name to Henry Smith. Fred’s father, worked for the Atomic Energy Commission; his mother was a former ballerina. It was perhaps as the product of such a household that Fred found himself moonlighting in the early 1970s as Cleveland Magazine’s first theater critic and put together a provocative evening-long pastiche of Shakespeare titled In a Fine Frenzy, which had premiered at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in 1977.

As one of the founding editors of bits, a nationally regarded journal devoted to the short poem, Fred tried his hand at that genre (see below) and invited his graduate students to sit in on the meetings at colleague Bob Wallace’s house where submissions—many from eminent poets—were discussed and evaluated. Fred preferred to eat lunch in the Student Union, where a large group of students invariably flocked to his table for a lively discussion of literature and the war. He was also a talented artist and continued to do watercolors, but primarily cartoons and caricatures, throughout his life.

In 1976 Fred was offered the chairmanship of the University of Akron’s English Department, where he continued to teach 18th Century British Lit and Absurdist Theater, notably Beckett’s work, before heading east with his wife, the former Jane Bowman, in 1984 to take on the same position (and full professorship) at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, where Fred became Director of Graduate Studies. (He would take early retirement in 2000, moving to Fort Mill so Jane, herself a CWRU PhD, could be closer to her job at Winthrop College.)

At UNCC Fred created two classes that proved quite popular: one on Stylistics that he’d taught at CWRU, in which students chose one work by an author, then studied it intensely all semester in terms of its style (figurative language, sentence structure, etc.). The other was “18th Century Literature and Culture,” which had students reading a selection of British work and studying the music, art, politics, etc. of the time, then researching other subjects such as architecture, gardens or fashion.

Learning of Fred’s passing, the man who stocks shelves at a local market told his widow with misty eyes: “I always looked forward to seeing him, because he had a smile that just lit me up inside, like I was very important. Not many folks do that. What I think I miss the most are the conversations Fred and I had: He was so amazingly intelligent and was interested in everything. But there was also that joyous quality and that love for other people, the sincere interest in them.”

All in all, not a bad legacy.

Jane Bowman Smith earned all three of her degrees (BA, 1971; MA, 1973; PhD, 1982) at Case. She taught advanced writing for 32 years at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where she directed the Writing Center and created a course that prepared middle and high school English teachers-to-be to teach writing effectively.

Dennis Dooley’s course on the societal dimensions of American English was one of two courses at Case, where he taught from 1969 to 1971, to be highlighted in The Underground Guide to the College of Your Choice (Signet, 1971). As Cleveland Public Radio’s first Producer for Culture and Ideas, he won 20 national and regional awards.

Book Excerpts

“What happens when we switch the perspective through which we perceive history? When we let go of a set historical narrative and begin to dig up the forgotten letters and diaries and photographs and artifacts? . . . Women’s stories emerge: stories where women challenge the stereotypes we’ve set for them. Stories where women persevere, are independent, and hold power.

When you walk into Charmian’s former home, the House of Happy Walls in Glen Ellen, California . . . you immediately encounter Charmian’s strong presence.”

–from Charmian Kittredge London: Trailblazer, Author, Adventurer by Iris Jamahl Dunkle

“I almost did not get to Estonia the first time. It was 1993. I was taken off a bus from St. Petersburg in the middle of the night and marched under klieg lights to the Russian military checkpoint.

‘Papers!’ barked comrade Svetlana.

‘I don’t need a visa to enter Estonia,’ I protested.

‘You need permit to leave Russia,’ she said looking up from under her red-starred hat, as the other passengers re-boarded. My bus drove through the 20-foot high cement walls, out of sight. ”

–from Estonia, Upside Down by William Marling

“During the past week Olive had planned, packed, unpacked, and repacked multiple times per day. At the same time, she had to give her sister constant assurances that she would be safe in the hands of her escorts in Africa, Mr. and Mrs. Talbot. She had met them only a few weeks ago, but they had already proved their helpfulness. Percy Amaury Talbot was a seasoned African explorer who had traveled with Boyd. He knew how to arrange their passage, procure provisions, and secure their all–important credentials. Given the status of colonial Africa, carved up like a cake by the great European powers, these papers would be necessary to them across the various territories and borders . . . . Their plans were to land near the mouth of the Niger, take boats up, and then switch to the march all the way to Fort Lamy, where Boyd had last been seen.”

–from Olive the Lionheart by Brad Ricca


Jason Carney (’15) taught a class in early October at the Muse Writers Center: “Destroying the Ordinary: Writing Supernatural Horror.”

Alum (’10) Iris Jamahl Dunkle‘s new book Charmian Kittredge London: Trailblazer, Author, Adventurer is officially released.

Annette Federico (’89) has an essay in the June 26 issue of the Times Literary Supplement, on slow reading Dickens. She’s a professor at James Madison in Virginia and wrote her dissertation under Bill Siebenschuh.

Marie Lathers (’15) is featured in the Rolla Daily News.

The most recent issue of Research in African Literatures (Vol. 50, No. 4) contains an essay by Leonard A. Podis (’75): “Literary Lions: Chinua Achebe and Ongoing Dialogues in Modern African Literature.”

Kristin Bryant Rajan (’00) has 3 poems in Washburn University’s Literary Journal Inscape.

Jess Slentz (’17 ) is now Managing Director of Grants and Federal Affairs at McAllister & Quinn, a consulting firm in Washington, D.C.

Nardine Taleb (’17) has been named the new prose editor at Gordon Square Review.

In Memoriam

We are saddened by the death of Roger B. Salomon, beloved former chair of our department, on Sunday, October 4. An obituary will follow in the December newsletter. (Donations)


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