Faculty

English Faculty Receive Fellowships

Congratulations to English Department faculty members who have been awarded Fordham Faculty Fellowships! 

Parroting Art

 Fordham English Professor Christopher GoGwilt in Central Park with a pair of starlings (Photo by Tom Stoelker. This photo and the accompanying story--also by Tom Stoelker-- originally appeared in Fordham News  on January 17, 2018)

Fordham English Professor Christopher GoGwilt in Central Park with a pair of starlings (Photo by Tom Stoelker. This photo and the accompanying story--also by Tom Stoelker--originally appeared in Fordham News on January 17, 2018)

A new book of essays published by Fordham University Press titled Mocking Bird Technologies: The Poetics of Parroting, Mimicry, and Other Starling Tropes, examines the role that starlings, parrots, and other mockingbirds play in literature, both as motifs and as metaphors. Fordham Professor of English Christopher GoGwilt, Ph.D., edited the book with Melanie D. Holm, Ph.D., assistant professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Are you a bird watcher?

I wouldn’t style myself a bird-watcher, but I am fascinated—actually I’m a bit obsessed—with one particular bird: the starling.

What intrigues you about them?

They’re pretty much the common birds that you see all around the city, iridescent with speckles. But they’re not natural to the Americas. In the late nineteenth century, a man called Eugene Schieffelin took it as his project to populate the United States with all the birds in Shakespeare. In the early 1890s he released two flocks of European starlings in Central Park and now you find them all across North America. Starlings, like parrots, can be trained to talk; but in the wild they imitate whatever sounds are going on in the environment and use the bits and pieces of what they hear to make up parts of their song.

Like the sounds of the city?

You may think you’re hearing the squeaking wheel of a cab, but it might well be a starling in a tree or on a lamppost.

How did the book come about? 

Professor Holm and I put together a seminar on the topic of bird mimicry for the American Comparative Literature Association. Many of the people who have essays in this volume were part of that seminar. One of the fun discoveries for me was how deep and wide the historical scope of the pairing of parrot and starling is in literature.

Besides being a trope, how else do the parrot and starling relate to literature?

The person who has written the coda for this book, Sarah Kay (professor of French literature at New York University) focuses on medieval lyric and is an expert on troubadour poets. She’s written about two sides of troubadour poetry – the parrot’s way and the nightingale’s way. The parrot evokes parody, imitation, plagiarism, while the nightingale is associated with lyric originality. Kay argues that the troubadours made use of both mimicry and originality.

The troubadour is a rather Eurocentric figure. Is mimicry universal in art?

Our pairing of parrot and starling opens the whole question of bird mimicry to an even broader comparative and global perspective, reaching back to Sanskrit and Chinese literature. The Chinese novel, Dream of the Red Chamber(one of China’s four great original novels) features a parrot and a starling (or crested mynah). As with other traditions, birds are associated with the making of poetry, but also with the quoting of poetry, the parroting of poetry. In Sanskrit traditions, going back even further historically, you have parrots and starlings often linked together, and that’s the template for the book.

If everything is parroted, where’s the art? Is anything original?

Art usually requires both original creation and copying — like the starling, stealing bits from elsewhere.

Wouldn’t modernism represent a total break from tradition?

No, modernist art just returns to the terms of ancient questions about originality— explicitly so in the canonical American and British modernists, like Pound, Eliot, and Joyce. The break may create fragments, but they are still fragments of tradition. A collage, or mocking bird, technology.

Please consider a tax-deductible donation to the Lauer Scholarship

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In her 42 years of teaching at Fordham, Professor Kristin Lauer fostered the varied aspirations of her legions of devoted students--from dancers to those in law and law enforcement, from social workers to professional writers--by sharing her passionate belief in the great usefulness to life of writing well and studying the examples of great writers.

This scholarship will annually draw attention to a student who has embraced the major with a demonstrated sense of direction and purpose. She might have an internship where her music reviews are already appearing on-line.  He might be volunteering as a tutor of English at a local school and have begun work toward a teaching degree.  She may have written an account of her experience working in a hospital, or a lab, or aan animal preserve on her way to applying for a Fulbright or other prestigious fellowship. In putting a spotlight on examples like these (drawn from actual students), this prize will inspire majors and potential majors to connect their work in the classroom and the library with their ambitions in the world beyond.

Honoring Kris’s inspiring legacy, this scholarship looks to the future by recognizing and supporting students who see the English major as integral to a directed and meaningful life.

 

In honor of Professor Kristin O. Lauer's legacy, an anonymous donor will double all gifts, up to $100,000! For every $1 given, this generous donor will contribute $2 to the campaign! To donate,  please go to https://www.givecampus.com/schools/FordhamUniversity/kristin-o-lauer-scholarship

Remembering Frank Kerins, Longtime English Faculty Member

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Frank Kerins, GSAS ’74, ’81, a native New Yorker who earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at Fordham and then shared his talents with the community as a professor of English literature, died on Nov. 8. He was 70.

Kerins began teaching at Fordham as an adjunct instructor immediately upon graduation. In 1998, he joined the faculty full time as a clinical assistant professor, a position he held until 2009, when he became a lecturer of English. He retired in 2016.

In 2003, when he was honored with the University’s Bene Merenti award, Kerins was lauded as the “embodiment of the ideal scholar drawn in Chaucer’s Clerk (from The Canterbury Tales).”

“Frank is erudite yet modest, a master of his field reluctant to display his learning but eager to share it, a teacher whose gifts come not from a desire to press student minds into a pre-cast mold but rather from an insatiable curiosity about literature and the world it reflects,” the citation read.

“To the English department, he brought a remarkable teaching presence, the full value of which has emerged only over the years. His encyclopedic knowledge of the Renaissance and Early Modern literature has become a resource for colleagues that renders the Internet superfluous.”

Mark Caldwell, Ph.D., professor of English, who was Kerins’ doctoral mentor and longtime friend, noted that he was also stellar in his role as the English department’s liaison to students on athletic scholarships—sympathetic to the challenges they faced, yet uncompromising in demanding their best work.

Research was not a requirement of his position, said Caldwell, but he nonetheless shared his vast knowledge in papers such as “The Deification of Corley in ‘Two Gallants,’” (2009), and “'Sounding Strangely in My Ears:' Foregrounded Words and Joyce’s Revision of ‘The Sisters,’” (2008), both published in Joyce Studies Annual.

Kerins is survived by his wife Loraine Kerins, his brother, John, and his sister, Mary.

This story was originally published in Fordham News, and was written by Patrick Verel. 

Fordham English Welcomes Writer at Risk, Kanchana Ugbabe

 Kanchana Ugbabe

Kanchana Ugbabe

This fall, Fordham's English Department welcomes its first Writer at Risk in Residence, Kanchana Ugbabe of Nigeria. This one-year pilot position, in partnership with PEN America, Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), and Westbeth Artists Housing, was made possible by the efforts of the department's Creative Writing program.

With a doctorate in literature from Flinders University of South Australia and a BA and MA from India’s University of Madras, Ugbabe serves as a professor of English and African literature at the Nigeria’s University of Jos. An accomplished writer whose stories have been read over the air on the BBC World Service, Ugbabe is the author of a collection of short stories, Soulmates, published by Penguin in 2011, and participated in the Iowa International Writing Program. Additionally, Ugbabe has also edited two collections of essays on the writings of Nigerian novelist Chukwuemeka Ike, has been published in various international journals, and contributed three chapters to the Dictionary of Literary Biography on African writers. 

In the past ten years, parts of Ugbabe’s home city of Jos, Nigeria have become increasingly dangerous due to the current political crisis involving ‘indigene’ rights and political representation. Since late 2001, 3,800 individuals have been killed in the city. Today, temporary peace is enforced by imposing military and law enforcement presences. Jos has become a city of ethnic and religious fragmentation and conflict since the outbreak of this fragile political state.

  Soulmates,  Ugbabe's collection of short stories published by Penguin in 2011

Soulmates, Ugbabe's collection of short stories published by Penguin in 2011

These uncertain surroundings in Jos became a threat to Ugbabe’s safety as a writer and a South Asian woman. One of Ugbabe’s fellow university professors was kidnapped and never found in 2007; church members throughout the city have fallen victim to violence; Ugbabe’s neighbor’s home was set on fire; and Ugbabe’s colleague’s daughter was killed in a bomb explosion. Ugbabe’s community is constantly shaken by horrific incidents like these.

Ugbabe moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts with an invitation from Harvard University to serve as a Visiting Scholar with the Women and Gender Studies program to pursue her work in a safe and peaceful environment. At Harvard, Ugbabe was able to not only seek refuge from the violence of her home city, but also broaden her perspective on the risks faced by writers in conflict zones throughout Nigeria. Upon the end of her fellowship at Harvard, the English department offered Ugbabe the Writer at Risk pilot position at Fordham.

Here at Fordham, Ugbabe will be able to write and teach in a safe and welcoming academic community. Since her mid-October arrival, Ugbabe has been visiting English classes, as well as various classes in other departments such as “Women and Independence in Africa,” taught by Fawzia Mustafa, professor of African and African-American studies and English. This upcoming spring, Ugbabe will teach a writer’s workshop titled, "Creating Dangerously: Writing from Contact Zones.” In this workshop, students will be encouraged to think and write about injustice and oppression, and examine the dynamics of writing under constraint by looking at the work of Edwidge Danticat, Salman Rushdie, Wole Soyinka, Ken Saro-Wiva, Jorge Olivera, and others.

Kanchana Ugbabe will read from her work at the English department’s annual Golden Gloves creative writing awards ceremony on December 4th. The Fordham Department of English welcomes Ugbabe with warmth and excitement for the urgent and valuable perspective she brings as a new member of the Fordham community.