University of Minnesota
Department of English
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Department of English

Winter 2011 Newsletter

From the Chair

Bedazzled

As the holiday season approaches and the Twin Cities strings up its lights, English has plenty of dazzle to contribute to the festivities.

Image of Ellen Messer-Davidow, English department chair
In August, when Governor Mark Dayton announced Minnesota's second Poet Laureate, an individual who would succeed the distinguished Robert Bly, we were thrilled to hear him pronounce a very familiar name: Joyce Sutphen. A poet and professor at Gustavus Adolphus College, she has three degrees from the Department of English. After graduating summa cum laude in 1982, she returned to the University earning an MA in English and Creative Writing (1992) and then a doctorate (1996), subsequently winning a Minnesota Book Award in Poetry for her third collection, Naming the Stars (Holy Cow! Press, 2004).

"Joyce Sutphen is a talented writer and teacher," proclaimed Governor Dayton, "who will be a great voice for poetry in Minnesota." Indeed, Sutphen, interviewed here by one of our MFA students, exemplifies the qualities of our students, alumni, and faculty who are award-winning scholars and writers, inventive thinkers, inspirational teachers, and agents for change in the world. Want other examples?

Among undergraduate students are these three: English and Political Science major Eric Murphy, the Opinions Editor for the Minnesota Daily, brings readers to voices that need to be heard; this year he holds the department's Donald V. Hawkins Scholarship. Jennifer Snider, the department's Jessie M. Comstock Scholarship winner, is a busy English major with a Social Justice minor who volunteers in our community service learning program. Christopher White, the recipient of an Anna August Von Helmholtz Phelan Scholarship, has for three years tutored local elementary school children as part of the University's America Reads program; he's enrolled in the DirecTrack to Teaching Program, which offers guaranteed admission to the College of Education and Human Development's initial licensure program.

English alumni are editors, teachers, community activists, lawyers, and business people. This fall Monica Nassif (English BA 1982) was named the 2011 University of Minnesota Entrepreneur of the Year by the Carlson School of Management. Nassif is the founder of Caldrea, a luxury cleaning products line, and its offshoot the Mrs. Meyers' Clean Day brand. Before starting Caldrea in 1999, she worked as a brand-builder for prominent retailers and consumer product firms and operated her own marketing communications business. Her business career began with a Dayton-Hudson internship that English adviser Beverly Atkinson helped her acquire.

Andrew Nath (English BA 1991), Executive Vice President of Premier Bank in Maplewood, manages a portfolio of $180 million. "English classes teach you to read, assess, critique, analyze, and report," he wrote in an email. "The most rewarding part of my job experience is the interaction with people to determine the issues that need resolution and working within a creative environment to solve those issues."

Our faculty also make their marks on the world. Professor Nabil Matar, an internationally known pioneer in the study of early modern relationships between Europe and the Islamic World, joined the department in 2007 as a Presidential Professor in the President's Interdisciplinary Initiative on Arts and Humanities. Last February, he coordinated the international conference "Shared Cultural Spaces: Islam and the West in the Arts and Sciences," which explored historical influences between Muslim and Western literature, science, art, and architecture--an event funded by a prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities grant. Receiving a well-deserved Scholar of the College award from the College of Liberal Arts, Matar has seven books in print or forthcoming. When his children suggest he retire, he laughs. He's on a mission, he says, to change the way people think about Islamic-Western relations.

This fall, English professor Michael Hancher and Writing Studies professor Laura Gurak launched an innovative project called Digital Humanities 2.0 supported by the Institute for Advanced Study. Their goal is to advance artistic creation and humanities research by leaping ahead of the ongoing digitization and envisioning the next versions. In October, Regents Professor Patricia Hampl co-organized a one-day international conference on the personal voice in writings on genocide, torture, and oppression. "My Letter to the World: Narrating Human Rights" was topped off by New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch who delivered the Esther Freier Endowed Lecture.

Our faculty do get around! In Berlin last spring, Professor Timothy Brennan held the prominent Mercator Professorship awarded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the National Science Foundation of Germany. Also in spring, Professor Paula Rabinowitz held the Distinguished Fulbright Lectureship in American Literature in the People's Republic of China and taught at East China Normal University in Shanghai. This year, Professor Dan Philippon splits his time between Italy, where he is a Fulbright Core Research/Teaching Fellow at the University of Turin, and Germany, where he is a Senior Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich.

Just as our faculty travel widely, so too does our reputation. In September, Poets & Writers ranked our Creative Writing Program as number 10 in the Top Fifty MFA Programs in the United States. This national magazine bases its annual rankings on such measures as selective admissions, student funding, and student teaching load, as well as a poll of MFA program applicants. The reputation of Creative Writing will no doubt be burnished by its new assistant professor. Joining us this fall was Peter Campion, a nationally distinguished poet who received a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship to add to an already impressive list of awards including the Pushcart Prize and the Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

This year we host three international visitors. Last spring, Dr. Rosemary Moyana, associate professor of English and acting dean of Education at the University of Zimbabwe, shared her expertise in the African novel. We are fortunate to have arriving this fall Ji-Soo Kang, professor of English and vice dean of Academic Affairs at Inha University in Incheon, Korea. She is a medievalist specializing in women writers and gendered language. We are also hosting Humin Liu, an associate professor at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in China and a China-US Education Trust American Studies Fellow. She is working on a comparative study of war-induced trauma in British World War I and American Vietnam War fiction.

Our entering graduate students hold the promise of distinction. Professor Katherine Scheil, director of Graduate Studies, reports that the literature students come with an assortment of BA, MA, and law degrees from such institutions as Barnard, Brigham Young, Chicago, Duke, Harvard, Michigan, Ohio State, and SUNY Binghamton. Professor Julie Schumacher, director of Creative Writing, notes that the MFA class includes a beekeeper, a Fulbright Fellow, a songwriter, a McKnight Artist Fellow, and a translator of contemporary Scandinavian poetry; many of these new students have already been published in literary journals and magazines.

Doctoral candidate Elissa Hansen came to the department to study medieval contemplative writers with Professor Rebecca Krug, author of the ground-breaking Reading Families: Women's Literate Practice in Late Medieval England. Now writing a dissertation titled "Signs of the Time: Temporality in Fourteenth-Century English Contemplative Writing," she holds a Graduate School Dissertation Fellowship. Next spring, an essay written by Hansen will be published in Reading Memory and Identity in the Texts of Medieval European Holy Women (Palgrave-MacMillan), edited by Margaret Cotter-Lynch and Bradley Herzog.

This is what English does. We teach our students to read and analyze literatures; to write in scholarly, creative, and public ways; and to put their knowledge and skills to work for the benefit of many communities. We provide them with examples of excellence through our own faculty and visitors from abroad. We use endowed lectures, in-house presentation series, and faculty-student research groups to create a yeasty environment where innovation and enthusiasm can ferment.

I hope you enjoy the stories in this fall's English@Minnesota, and I encourage you to continue supporting our exceptional students and faculty by making a gift at http://english.umn.edu/giving. Wishing you a dazzling holiday and a brilliant 2012!

December 6th, 2011