Department of English: September 2016

in this issue

Letter from the Chair/Faculty Notes/Writers House/Past Faculty: Eleanor Thomas/Summer Project: Wiehl/Alumni News/Rare Book School/Project Narrative

Letter from the Chair

Dear Friends of English,

We have been busy. 2015-16 turned out to be a period of significant transition for the English Department. The one-million-dollar renovation of Guilford House is perhaps the most visible symbol of these changes.  But we also created or reinforced various programmatic elements. We overhauled requirements and developed new curriculum for the undergraduate major, strengthening its coverage and rigor. We similarly improved the graduate program admissions process, and instituted a new graduate creative writing concentration. Our Colloquium continued to grow, attracting record audiences for distinguished speakers such as poet Terrance Hayes and scholar Kenneth Warren. Our literature, film, and creative writing programs, which all saw increased enrollment, are on excellent footing. The pool of English majors increased by roughly 20% and the number of declared minors now stands at a historic high. New policies on the voting rights of graduate student and lecturer representation have also been introduced. Participation of our lecturers in SAGES, Engineering, and English as a Second Language becomes more and more crucial every year. Writers House, our recent initiative to construct a university-wide hub centered on the act of writing in all of its rich permutations—is now anchored in Bellflower Hall, home also to the Writing Resource Center (which addresses the compositional needs of over 1000 students).

All of these are integrated parts of the collective enterprise we call the English Department. Building on these and other successes, the Department is looking forward to completing a five-year strategic plan (due in January) to address the continuing challenges that we face: increasing the number of majors; diversifying course offerings; contributing meaningfully to the general education, future success, and happiness of our undergraduates; placing our graduate students in rewarding professions; justifying the value of the humanities to a sometimes skeptical nation; and inspiring the apt (and ethical) crafting of words. I anticipate that the new year will see a similar period of activity as the one past, and I invite you to help us realize the goals we have set.

Christopher Flint

Photo courtesy Eric Richardson



Mary Assad reviews Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You and What This Says About You in the CEA Forum.

Cara Byrne presented a paper titled “Radical Body Politics in bell hooks and Alice Walker’s Picture Books” at the Children’s Literature Association Annual Conference (themed “Animation”) in June.

Eric Chilton received the WRC Excellence in Consulting Award which recognizes outstanding writing instruction for students of the university and exemplary service to the Writing Resource Center.

Michael Clune‘s essay “How Poems Know What It’s Like to Die” has been published in ELH.

Joe DeLong‘s poem “Aliens” is out in issue 20 of Redactions.

Gusztav Demeter presented “Multimodal Fictive Apology Constructions” at the 3rd Fictive Interaction Workshop, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China.

Philip Derbesy presented “‘What Kind of Folks Have You Got Here?’: Audience as Congregation in Faulkner’s Sanctuary” at the American Literature Association’s annual conference in San Francisco.

Sarah Gridley‘s Loom is reviewed on Prick of the Spindle.

Ray Horton conducted his Dean’s Fellow research in the Mark Twain Papers at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library this summer.
Hee-Seung Kang received the SAGES Excellence in Writing Instruction Award which recognizes outstanding commitment to and success in teaching academic writing to Case Western Reserve University undergraduates in SAGES..

Dave Lucas is Writer-in-Residence at Cuyahoga County Public Library’s Skirball Writers’ Center at the library’s South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch.

Michelle Lyons-McFarland has been elected co-chair of the American Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS) Graduate Student Council for the 2016-17 academic year.

Brad Ricca was on a panel at Comic-Con this summer: “The Twisted Roots of Comics: Pulp Magazines and the Birth of the Modern Comic Book.”

As part of the centennial commemoration of the Pulitzer Prizes, Jim Sheeler joined Pulitzer-winning colleagues from his former newspaper, The Rocky Mountain News, on the campus of the University of Northern Colorado in September.

Jess Slentz‘s article “Habits of Interaction: Touchscreen Technology and the Rhetorical Experience of Co-Curation at the Cleveland Museum of Art” was published in Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture.

Thrity Umrigar read at Brews & Prose Fourth Anniversary in July.

Martha Woodmansee, who is a founding co-director of the International Society for the History and Theory of Intellectual Property (ISHTIP), contributed in several capacities at its 8th annual workshop, July 6-8 at the University of Glasgow.

Writers House:  An Introduction

(This is the first of a series of articles that will follow the development of Writers House, as it moves from a preliminary concept to an integral part of the English Department’s teaching, research, and scholarship.)

In 2015, the University received a generous endowment gift from author Dixon Long, a former CWRU dean and professor in the Department of Political Science. The endowment was created to support the Writing Resource Center, as well as to establish a broader mechanism regarding development of multiple dimensions of writing across disciplines and genre at CWRU.

Early in 2016, the University formally designated the first and second floors of Bellflower Hall—11427 Bellflower Road—for exclusive use by the English Department.

The original proposal for a writers house grew out of Megan Jewell’s vision statement for the Writing Resource Center and was developed by a group of department faculty, namely Kim Emmons, Kenny Fountain, Mary Grimm, Kurt Koenigsberger, and Erika Olbricht, building upon the history of the Center for the Study of Writing, that had been shaped under the guidance of Martha Woodmansee.
Writers House (the initiative) will solidify the department’s pedagogical and scholarly leadership in writing at the University, while at the same time establishing Writers House (the building) as a physical symbol of the collaborative, creative, and community engagement that characterizes our department. To wit: Writers House makes the fact of English visible from a distance, even to undergraduate tour leaders, campus visitors, and strategic planners.

John Orlock—the Samuel B. and Virginia C. Knight Professor of Humanities—was selected as the inaugural director of Writers House, beginning with the fall 2016 semester.  Orlock—a playwright and screenwriter, currently a member of the English faculty, and former chair of the Department of Theater & Dance—recently served four years as the Interim Director of the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities. He’ll bring to Writers House not only creative leadership and administrative expertise, but also an extensive background in programming and fund raising.

An advisory panel, comprised of four English Department faculty, will work with the director, to shape and guide Writers House development on both a practical and conceptual level.

Fall semester 2016 will be a period of initial assessment and preliminary planning: a time of soliciting input from faculty and students—both graduate and undergraduate—regarding how Writers House might enhance the work and mission of the department and how its physical plant—its teaching/learning environment—could be improved.

The first Writers House event programming will take the stage in Spring Semester 2016.

In the words of department chair, Chris Flint:

“To my mind, Writers House is a compelling initiative that CWRU’s English Department instituted this year to address the needs not only of the campus but of the general community as well. Harnessing our expertise in creative writing, scholarly discourse, journalism, visual and digital rhetoric, and professional writing, the aim of this initiative is to create a university hub centered on writing in all of its rich permutations.”

And in the decades-old words of copywriters for outdoor billboards, as they anticipated embarking on a new publicity campaign:


Writers House: Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood.

Faculty of the Past: Eleanor Walter Thomas

b. 11 September 1880, Charlotte, North Carolina
d. 13 July 1969, Hanna House of University Hospitals, Cleveland, Ohio

Eleanor Thomas graduated from The College for Women, (Columbia SC), with an AB in 1900. She taught at St. Mary’s School and Junior College (Raleigh NC) between 1900 and 1917 where she also held the position of Principal of Students. Thomas held a concurrent teaching position at the Greenville College for Women (SC, 1904-05). In 1912 Thomas earned a BS from Columbia University in New York. She earned an MA from Columbia in 1918 and was appointed Associate Professor of English at Lake Erie College (Painesville OH) the same year. Thomas accepted an appointment as English faculty at Western Reserve University in 1919 (successively instructor, assistant professor, associate professor). She earned her PhD in 1930 at Columbia College (New York NY) with a dissertation on the Victorian poet, Christina Georgina Rossetti (published by Columbia University Press, 1931).

From 1944 until her retirement in 1949, Thomas served as Chairperson of the Mather English department. In 1947 she was appointed Woods Professor of English Literature. She offered a number of courses in Victorian English Literature, Shakespeare, Modern English drama and poetry, and composition. Thomas held various administrative positions during her tenure at Flora Stone Mather College. On the occasion of Mather College’s 75th anniversary (1963), Thomas was presented an honorary Doctor of Letters degree and a fund was established in her name.

Thomas resided in Shaker Heights at 2809 Van Aken Boulevard S.E. with her long-time friend and companion, Professor Katherine H. Porter, also of Mather College.

Entry by Ryan Pretzer, from records in University Archives, CWRU, and from public documents
Photo courtesy University Archives, CWRU

Summer Project: the Rise of the English Novel

by John Wiehl

This summer I attended “Postsecular Studies and the Rise of the English Novel, 1719-1897,” a National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminar in Iowa City. Led by Lori Branch and Mark Knight, the seminar spanned four weeks in late summer Iowa heat. The directors, fifteen other participants, the administrative assistant, and I discussed the way secularly-oriented criticism of the past fifty years has extricated the role of religion from our understanding of modernity and its literary avatar, the novel. While the weather was less than perfect, everything else about the experience was.

Our discussions covered topics from nebulous understandings of form to granular considerations of Protestant theology in literary criticism. We met for three hours at least three times a week and were responsible for a herculean reading list. We encountered works like Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe that seem to define “the novel” and others like George MacDonald’s Phantastes that trouble its very definition. Our interdisciplinary discussions began in literary studies, with ideas by Ian Watt and Michael McKeon, and travelled outward to philosophy, anthropology, and theology. I was able to expand my understanding of works like Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and the relevant criticism, so that I can better teach it and write about it.

Visiting faculty like Regina Schwarz, Colin Jager, Misty Anderson, and Deidre Lynch came to lead one of our sessions. I had the opportunity to have dinner with many of these people and discuss our work and our mutual interests informally. In addition, I had an hour (or more) with Colin Jager, Mark Knight, and Lori Branch where they individually discussed my monograph proposal extensively and provided suggestions for further research, clarification, and engagement. My book, Marrying Differently, which will examine the novel’s marriage plot of religious difference and its implication in the multiconfessional modern state, is a much stronger project thanks to their engagement and efforts. The best part of the experience was meeting these senior faculty members and the other participants, who came from as far afield as California and Connecticut to read, discuss, and share their research projects. Some faculty had recently completed books while others were transitioning earlier projects into monographs or were working on articles. It was like summer camp for academics, but better. Conviviality reigned. We consumed a lot of wine.


Alum (’73) Anne Carlisle‘s latest novel has been published—the first in a new series: Birdwoman: Memoirs of a Lovesick Siren (Diaries of a Siren, Book One). It was featured at the Mystery Writers Key West Fest earlier this year.

Jennifer Swartz-Levine (’02), interim Dean of the School of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Lake Erie College, won the Victor J. Emmett Memorial Prize for her article “Staking Salvation: The Reclamation of the Monstrous Female in Dracula,” published in the July edition of The Midwest Quarterly. She presented the Emmett Memorial Lecture at Pittsburg State in Pittsburg, Kansas: “The Golden Lasso of Truthiness: The Complicated History of Women in/and Comics.”

Rowan Emily Wixted (’14) is an editorial assistant at Oxford University Press.

Collation Boot Camp: My Time at the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School

by Michelle Lyons-McFarland

This summer, I was privileged to attend a course at the Rare Book School. RBS is an independent institute housed at the University of Virginia supporting the study of book history and printing. I’d previously been awarded a scholarship to RBS, but was unable to attend until this summer. The course I took was “G-10: Introduction to the Principles of Descriptive Bibliography” taught by David Whitesell, which was held in July in Charlottesville, Virginia.

G-10, known as “boot camp” by RBS faculty and alumni, is considered one of the foundational courses in RBS. Based in the methodology of Fredson Bowers, the class takes a hands-on approach to descriptive bibliography and collation, with extensive homework each night. Students learn to examine a book to determine how it was constructed and write a collation formula based on that examination, including flaws or errors found in a given copy of a book.  For example, a book in folio format with four gatherings, where every two leaves are from one large sheet of paper folded in half, would be noted in a basic collation formula as “2°: A-D2.”

I stayed on “the Lawn,” the original dorms designed by Thomas Jefferson, which I referred to as “eighteenth-century camping,” as there was no air conditioning and the bathrooms were outside around a corner. We spent most of the time in the air-conditioned library, however, getting comfortable with format, signatures, and pagination. My fellow students were book collectors and booksellers, special collections librarians, and other academics focusing on book history and printing. Some of them were first-timers like me, while others were alumni of other RBS courses.

We started every morning at 8 am, with a light breakfast, followed by a lecture and lab, then lunch, and then a “museum” in which we closely examined themed groups of items from the University of Virginia’s special collection, including type, printing demonstrations, papers, and bindings. One of my favorite sessions was for paper, where we looked at a series of printed texts using vellum and parchment of different weights, then paper made from different types of materials (rag and wood pulp among others), and then both woven and laid types of paper to get a sense of how they were made.

We then adjourned for homework, where depending on our “legion” and “cohort,” we were assigned six books to collate for the next day’s examination in lab. If that sounds like a lot, it was. The course I took has more homework than any other course RBS offers, though perhaps less up-front reading prior to the course. That said, it was thrilling to get to handle early books so closely and unravel them to get at their secrets. I even found a misplaced signature in a well-examined volume of Bell’s British Theater that no one had noticed before, earning the honor of a notation to the formula for that book with my name attached for future G-10 classes.

I am not sure what I expected from RBS, but what I got was a fantastic experience. The connections I made and the knowledge I got from the course will serve me well as I continue my research, and the experience re-energized me and gave me new enthusiasm for my projects. I understand now why so many RBS students return for other courses. RBS now definitely figures among my future summer plans, and I’d encourage anyone with an abiding interest in book history or print culture to plan to attend.

Project Narrative

by Evan Chaloupka

In what way is narrative central to the endeavor of medicine?  How do illness and disability disrupt narrative convention and theory? How can partnerships between the humanities and medicine be fostered? These questions were at the core of this year’s Project Narrative Summer Institute on narrative medicine at The Ohio State University.

The strength of the institute was the diversity of its participants—doctors, graduate students, and professors who hailed from Ohio to Belgium—and the collective perspective of the group offered an encouraging reminder that the practices of English studies are, in fact, called upon in medical practice. Conversations with my peers made the biggest impressions:

You want to teach narrative theory to 19- and 20-year-old pre-meds? That doesn’t seem to be too bad. You could be trying to build narrative competencies with medical residents over the course of four hour-long workshops spread throughout the year. That’s a real tough task. College sophomores, after all, haven’t been steeped in three years of medical school training. Over thirty class sessions with them in one semester? That’s the dream.

So I learned from Kathy Davidson, Chief of Palliative Care at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. These types of conversations were typical, albeit less streamlined, during my time at the Project Narrative Summer Institute. An eclectic set of texts grounded discussion. Judith Vanistendael’s moody water colors in When David Lost His Voice, for example, were followed by Ian McEwan’s cerebral story of Henry Perowne in Saturday. Primary works were balanced by traditional narrative theory. A week and a half of reading culminated with a lecture and workshop delivered by Rita Charon, one of the field’s luminaries and the Director of the Narrative Medicine Program at Columbia University.

I admire Rita as a writer, and Narrative Medicine seemed all the more cogent after my peers and I worked through useful, but demanding, selections from Genette’s Narrative Discourse. But I was most impressed by her ability to situate narrative study in the center of general and pre-med undergraduate curriculum. During the workshop, we simulated an activity Rita frequently did in her own classes. The theme of the activity was retelling: specifically, what it’s like to hear your own story retold.

Working in pairs, one individual told a personal illness story, and the other listened. Then, the listener wrote his or her own version of this story, and allowed the teller to read it. The activity is a useful one for medical students, practitioners, and yes, English scholars because of the way it not only illuminates the structural decisions of retelling, but also the ethics behind these choices. How do we honor stories of illness and disability? How does one listen knowing that he or she will soon be narrating? Can the reteller illuminate some feature of the illness or disability narrative that the original speaker might appreciate? As anyone familiar with Charon’s work will recognize, this is an activity centered on bridging divides. But as the group quickly realized, there was just as much to learn about how co-produced stories of illness could create and develop a mutual understanding of sickness and health.

On the final day, after participant presentations had wrapped up, one of my peers asked Jim Phelan, director of the institute, how to introduce the field to newcomers, specifically administrators who might approve or deny undergraduate courses. Jim replied, “Tell them you’re getting undergraduates to”—he paused— “ya know, think about this stuff.”  We laughed. Two weeks had left us a little weary, and no one expected an exceptionally detailed answer. But his comment was apt. “This stuff”— narrative along with its practical, ethical, and aesthetic dimensions—emerges in all genres and professional contexts, and without the help of narrative medicine, the humanist and doctor remain blissfully unaware of essential features of illness and care-taking. Teaching students in ways that allow them to be able to better see and think about “this stuff” is an endeavor worth making.

Photo courtesy Eric Richardson

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