11/11: The Third Annual Student-Faculty Roundtable

The Third Annual Student-Faculty Roundtable will take place on Friday, November 11, 2016 at 4:00 p.m. O’Hare Special Collections, 4th floor, Walsh Library, Rose Hill Campus 

Fordham’s Graduate English Association is delighted to announce its third Student Faculty Roundtable. The Student-Faculty Roundtable has become a staple of the fall semester, fostering collaboration between graduate students and faculty members and bringing together the entire English department through the accompanying Q&A session and reception. 

This special event will highlight the recent scholarship of three faculty members: Jocelyn Wogan-Browne (Women and Multilingualism in Late Medieval England), Elisabeth Frost (Bindle), and Keri Walsh (Dubliners).

Each faculty presentation will be accompanied by a panel of English graduate students who will deliver papers of their own in dialogue with the corresponding faculty member’s scholarship.

All are welcome to attend the lecture and the reception that will follow. 

Interview with Alexis Butzner, Fordham English Ph.D Graduate

As any graduate student knows, the job hunt can be overwhelming and exhausting. Professor Alexis Butzner is one of many Fordham English Ph.D graduates who have emerged victorious from that experience. Butzner wrote her dissertation under the guidance of Eve Keller, defended in 2016, and is now a tenure-track Assistant Professor at Chemeketa Community College in Oregon. In this interview, we discuss the road that led her to Fordham, how she developed her dissertation, and her new teaching position. - Erin Coughlin

What is your educational background? 

I am a first-generation college student from a fairly rural part of Washington state; I graduated high school early and began college at the local community college, earning an Associate of Arts with a plan to transfer. From there, I went to New York and attended Eugene Lang College, the liberal arts branch of the New School, where I got a degree in Philosophy. After that I cast about a bit, taking classes in medieval studies, linguistics, and literature at the University of Washington before enrolling at Portland State University in the English Master’s program. I taught and studied there, and earned my M.A. with a focus in medieval and early modern literature. I came to Fordham as a medievalist, but found myself drawn to the work being done in early modern classes, and gradually shifted my focus.

Tell us about your dissertation: what was its topic, its argument, and its contribution? How did you become interested in the topic, and how did your thinking evolve over the course of working on it?

My dissertation, “Practice Imperfect: The Struggle for Health in Early Modern English Literature” looks at how early modern British writers use the wealth of available practical texts of spiritual and physical health in their own work. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the print marketplace saw a huge boom in texts offering “ready and easy” ways to health in body and soul. These texts offered methods and cures that tended to be over-generalized and static, a one-size-fits-all method of overcoming sickness. Early modern scholars have tended to focus on how the discourses of sickness and health resonate in or are reflected by literature, signaling a one-way relationship between practical and literary texts. My dissertation asks us to think about the relationship in a more dynamic way, by showing how literary texts (broadly conceived) complicate the idea of perfect, stable practice and fixed knowledge.

The project grew out of an interest in early printing and from a class I took with Frank Boyle and Eve Keller on the developing landscape of science in the early modern period. Because of the work we did in that class, I began exploring the range of texts on health from the period, and eventually worked my way to seeing how those practical texts interact with literary texts.

I originally proposed a project that would trace a single genre of health text (the Ars moriendi, which guided the sick to a spiritually healthy death) through literary examples – an idea that was simultaneously too broad and too narrow to actually complete. Through trial and error, and under the guidance of Eve Keller, I found my way to a project that attempts both literary criticism and intellectual history, and manages to show some of the ways that literature can matter to the world beyond the humanities.

Which professors advised you, and what kind of mentorship did they provide?

My primary mentor was Eve, and she helped me turn nebulous ideas into viable chapters, encouraged me to test out ideas to see how they would work (or fail) but also always kept me on track. No part of the process was wasted, thanks to her, and I was always moving forward, which helped my morale, kept me motivated, and meant that I finished in good time.

How do you view the relationship between your research and your teaching?

My research afforded me new archives and methods of looking at works, and as someone dedicated to teaching I have always delighted in those moments of discovery that somehow transfer to the classroom: bits of cultural or literary history to illuminate discussions, texts students may never have seen before, ways of searching, reading and researching that gave me (and can give students) new avenues and directions for their own thinking. More directly, my research interests have also inspired successful themes for classes or reading units, including a class on magic and science in sixteenth and seventeenth century literature.

How did your training at Fordham prepare you for the job market in general, and for a job at a community college specifically?

Community colleges are naturally diverse: they bring in a huge array of students of different backgrounds, ages, and goals, and the wealth of training and experience I received at Fordham helped prepare me both to craft useful courses, assignments, and lessons, and to target them to the needs and interests of students of all types. Thanks to the pedagogy seminars, I had faculty and peer support both in and out of the classroom, and was given the opportunity to teach a range of classes. Also, Fordham’s student body has a remarkable diversity across the two campuses, and having the opportunity to work with those students in the classroom helped me learn more ways to be flexible with and inclusive of individual students, while also pushing them to be better.

What was the job market process like for you?

My job market experience was overwhelming and stressful, at times, but overall it was a positive experience—a statement I can only make because of the absolutely wonderful people involved in professional development in the English department. The faculty who guided me over the course of my journey (John Bugg, Vlasta Vranjes, and Corey McEleney) were unerringly dedicated to helping students reach their career goals. They responded to every frantic question and every miniscule change in my drafts with care and attention, and ran mock interviews both before and after I had interviews of my own lined up. I had always known that I wanted to apply to community colleges as well as 4-year colleges and universities, because of my own background at one; because of this, I required an entire extra batch of materials to read and revise. Even with all the extra work, though, the DPPD (Director of Placement and Professional Development) always treated each document like it was new and important.

What advice would you give to any graduate students currently going on the market?

My advice to those going on the market is precisely the advice given to me: start as early as you can preparing drafts of materials, and run those materials by as many people as you can, as many times as you can. The DPPD can offer you the practical advice you need to tailor your work to the market, but your advisor and your colleagues can give you insight as well, especially into how well your materials reflect who you are as a teacher and scholar. And finally, don’t lose sight of that teacher and scholar: be who you are in your materials and keep that in mind as you prepare. The schools are interested in hiring a person, after all, and they will notice those people who put themselves out there in their applications.

How has your first semester at Chemeketa been going? What is your favorite thing about teaching? What were some unexpected challenges?

Chemeketa has been wonderful so far. My colleagues are warm, welcoming and supportive, and the school is full of people who love their jobs. My students are smart and dedicated, and many of them are just learning what it means to be in college, which is great to witness and be a part of.

So far, my favorite thing about teaching is watching students grow and develop—the lightbulb moments that bring quiet students out of their shells, or take them in directions they didn’t expect. As the term goes on and students settle in, we’re getting more of those, and it livens up the room every time.

As for challenges, teaching full-time is more challenging than I expected, because I teach for longer back-to-back than I ever have before, and it’s physically and mentally more taxing than one might think to be “on” for so many hours in a row. But in general, because the students want to be here, and put their all into it, and because I have a network of colleagues to fall back on if I’m struggling, even the full course load isn’t so tough.

Professor Alexis Butzner 

Professor Alexis Butzner 

Bob Dylan wins 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature

The news that Bob Dylan won this year's Nobel Prize in Literature is spreading around the literary world. Depending on your age and demographic, you may think this is a marvelous and radical choice that breaks down the boundaries between literary and popular culture; or you may take for granted that Dylan is a serious writer (whether you like him or not); or you may be puzzled because you think of Bob Dylan as the old guy in those car commercials. In any event, it's news that puts literature and music on the front page instead of politics, which has got to be a little bit refreshing, right?

One Fordham English faculty member who takes Bob Dylan seriously is Professor Stuart Sherman. To get a sense of why at least some literary scholars care about Bob Dylan, check out Sherman's review of a book about Dylan by poetry scholar Christopher Ricks, and another review of Dylan's own memoir. 

Robin Coste Lewis Announced As 2017 Reid Writer

Robin Coste Lewis is a Provost’s Fellow in Poetry and Visual Studies at the University of Southern California. In 2015 she published her stunning poetry debut, Voyage of the Sable Venus. This first collection is one of surpassing imagination, maturity, and aesthetic dazzle. It was widely praised by critics and honored with the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry—the first poetry debut to do so since 1974.

Voyage of the Sable Venus is a meditation on the black female figure through time. In the center of the collection is the title poem, “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” an amazing narrative made up entirely of titles of artworks from ancient times to the present—titles that feature or in some way comment on the black female figure in Western art. The collection presents a new understanding of biography and self and is a thrilling testament to the complexity of race—a full embrace of its pleasure and horror, in equal parts.

Lewis is a Cave Canem fellow and a fellow of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities. She received her MFA in poetry from NYU, and an MTS in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature from the Divinity School at Harvard University. A finalist for the Rita Dove Poetry Award, she has published her work in various journals and anthologies, including The Massachusetts ReviewCallalooThe Harvard Gay & Lesbian ReviewTransition: Women in Literary ArtsVIDAPhantom Limb, and Lambda Literary Review, among others. She has taught at Wheaton College, Hunter College, Hampshire College, and the NYU Low-Residency MFA in Paris. Lewis was born in Compton, California; her family is from New Orleans.

Lee Child honors Mary Higgins Clark at Inaugural Lecture

On Thursday, October 6, Lee Child presented a lecture on "The Social Value of Crime Fiction" in celebration of the Mary Higgins Clark Chair in Creative Writing. Child is a best-selling author and creator of the "Jack Reacher" series. Higgins Clark (FCLC ’79) has written 42 books which have sold 100 million copies in the United States alone.

A $2 million pledge to Fordham University by the alumna has made the endowed chair in her name possible.  The Mary Higgins Clark Chair in Creative Writing will bring distinguished authors in a variety of genres to lead workshops, seminars and master classes to upper-level undergraduates and graduate students at Fordham.

The Reverend Robert T. Grimes, S.J., Dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, and Leonard Cassuto of the English and American Studies Departments introduced Child and his work before turning the podium over to the lecturer himself.

Before beginning his lecture proper, Child shared fond memories of time shared with Higgins Clark and details of how her work has influenced him as a writer. He cited his number one reason for accepting the honor from Fordham as the opportunity to compliment Higgins Clark "without her shushing or slapping me."

"Mary Higgins Clark is a friend to any mystery writer in the New York metro area. She is a distant and glamorous figure that became my friend. She is a fountain of advice and an example."

Child situated his lecture some 200,000 years ago by asking the question "Why would humans invent storytelling?" If everything that humans did at this evolutionary stage was to enhance their chances of survival, Child reasoned that fiction must have served such a purpose and continues to do so today.

Lee posited that crime fiction and suspense are sources of encouragement that make people believe that they can face danger and survive it. "Mary's stories put an ordinary person—often a young woman—in peril, agony, doubt, fear, and 300 pages later, she has survived."

"Storytelling is all about consoling yourself, empowering yourself, getting things you don't get in real life. Very frustrating realities are worked out in the fantasy worlds of thriller and crime novels."

Following Child's Lecture, Higgins Clark briefly addressed the audience to thank Child and the University. She reflected on her relationship with Fordham and her life as a writer, saying, "The one gift that God gave me was to be a writer and it is a blessed, blessed, blessed gift."

The Reverend Joseph M. McShane, S.J., President of Fordham University, closed the night's ceremonies with reflections on the lecture and praise for Child and Higgins Clark. "I'm a huge fan. I take Jack Reacher with me on every flight I go on when I go fundraising—and now I know why. I came to this evening as a fan and I leave as a student." 


Read more about the event here: http://bit.ly/2e3jRPK


Poets Out Loud Reading: Joe Legaspi and Connie Roberts

On Monday, September 26th, Fordham students and faculty gathered in Lowenstein’s 12th Floor Lounge for the first Poets Out Loud reading of the semester. The audience, which also included a number of young participants in Poets Out Loud's high school outreach program, soon reached standing room only. 102 people in all attended: a terrific turnout for the start of a new academic year. Professor Heather Dubrow introduced the poets, Joseph Legaspi and Connie Roberts, with her usual intellect and enthusiasm, and everyone in attendance settled in to enjoy.

In her introduction, Professor Dubrow noted that Joseph Legaspi’s poetry is remarkable in part because of “how intensely it appeals to all the senses.” Legaspi began with an ode, citing an ode’s ability to “celebrate the things of this world.” This poem, “Ode to My Mother’s Hair,” showcases important recurring themes in his work: his family and his Filipino heritage. Poems such as “My Sister’s Wedding” and “Last Christmas Party at Dr. Alejandro Elementary School” feature Legaspi’s memories crystallized in beautiful language, while the prose poem, “Watermelon” retells a familiar childhood incident as creation myth. Legaspi read with warmth and humor, making the audience feel immediately at home. 

Like Legaspi, Connie Roberts also draws inspiration from her family and heritage. Her reading was peppered with information about the geography of her native Ireland and the incidents that inspired her. Drawing on Pope Francis’s Laudato Si, the summer reading assignment for all incoming first-year students, Roberts said that her work reflects a “melding of mother nature and human nature,” and how respect for one builds respect for the other. Her work is painfully honest. “I strike for balance in my poetry,” she said. “No one’s all good or all bad.” In “A Crown for Their Last Night in Ballybrittan,” Roberts conjures a horrifying scene of violence in her childhood home, while “Oasis” details the exceptional kindness of her foster mother. One of her later poems, “Mosaic” was inspired by Grace Farrell, a fellow Irish woman who froze to death in the atrium of St. Brigid’s Church. This poem, like most of her work, conveys Roberts’s intense compassion. 

After the reading, Professor Dubrow returned to the podium and eight lucky audience members won free books in a drawing. A reception followed with refreshments, and the poets were able to mingle with attendees. All in all, the event proved to be a wonderful start to a new semester. Join us for the next Poets Out Loud reading on Thursday, October 20th.

-Erin Coughlin

Apply Now: English Major with a Creative Writing Concentration

The Creative Writing Program at Fordham University is accepting applications for the English Major with a Creative Writing Concentration as of Saturday, October 1st.

Premised on the belief that the study of literature and the practice of writing are mutually enforcing, the English Major with a Creative Writing Concentration emphasizes the inter-relations among creative writing, digital media, criticism, and scholarship. As a concentration with a dual focus on literature and creative work, fully integrated within the English department, this degree offering combines literature courses, small writing workshops, and practical industry training to prepare students for advanced study or careers in writing, media, and publishing. In addition, students benefit from the resources provided by New York City, a worldwide center for literary publishing.

To learn more about the application process, course requirements, and program please visit bit.ly/cwmajor.

Applications are due Tuesday, November 1st.