Puget Sound English Department

December 26, 2008

Poet Will Read at Inauguration

Filed under: Activities off Campus,Creative Writing,Literature — O. @ 3:12 am

Poet Elizabeth Alexander has been selected to write a poem and read it at the inauguration of President Obama. As the Washington Post and other publications note, Alexander’s only the fourth poet to read at an inauguration. The first was Robert Frost–at JFK’s inaugural celebration. Frost had written the poem “Dedication” for the event and tried to read it, but sunlight bouncing off ice in D.C. created such a ferocious glare on the page that Frost, then in his eighties, couldn’t the page, so he improvised by reciting “The Gift Outright” from memory. It may have been one of the great ad-libs under pressure in American history.

Maya Angelou and Miller Williams read at President Clinton’s first and second inaugurations, respectively.

Alexander (pictured below) is the author of American Sublime, among other works, and she teaches at Harvard.

A link to the Washington Post article:

alexander http://voices.washingtonpost.com/inauguration-watch/2008/12/inaugural_poet_selected_elizab.html

December 23, 2008

A Christmas Carol

Filed under: Literature,Uncategorized — O. @ 3:22 am


In case you were wondering, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, was first published in 1843, in book form and under the title A Christmas Carol: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. It as illustrated by John Leech and published by Chapman and Hall. Common wisdom has it that many of the Anglo-American customs of Christmas may be traced back to this novella, so that to some degree, Dickens “invented” Christmas as a family-gathering, a domestic feast (about which geese are probably not amused), and a day or two of “good cheer.”

Good cheer all around, regardless of what spiritual tradition, if any, you associate with Winter.

December 18, 2008

Cool New Collins Library Links

Filed under: Uncategorized — O. @ 1:05 am

Librarian Jane Carlin informs us that the online inter-library-loan system, SUMMIT, as some great new features. She writes, (in an email today),

“Summit has been upgraded and improved beginning December 1, 2008. If you appreciate being able to choose from such a huge regional library collection, brace yourself for even more. You can now access over 107 million items from libraries around the world—with one easy search.”

Of special importance to the English Department is the addition of a database called Literature Criticism Online.  Okay, so maybe you already finished your research-papers for this term; there’s always next term.


December 15, 2008

Graduate School and English Majors

mortar_degree1‘Tis the season not only for a variety of holidays, for snow and ice (even in Tacoma), for crowded airports and malls, and for final-exams and long essays, but also for writing letters of recommendation for graduate school. 

 Most of these letters are due in December or January, so precisely when professors are reading lots of stories, poems, essays, and exams, they also need to carve out time to write these letters and fill out the forms. C’est la vie.

But just what are the graduate-school options for English majors? They’re several; you might even say they’re abundant.

The big-commitment option is to pursue a Ph.D. in English–although “English” these days can mean the study of literature & criticism, of rhetoric & composition, and even of creative writing, although the equivlaent degree in creative writing is a D.A., usually–a doctor of arts.

The commitment’s big because getting a Ph.D. usually takes about 7 years, sometimes longer. There are courses and preliminary exams to take, then more courses, then foreign-language exams, then qualifying exams, and finally a dissertation–and a dissertation-defense.  Meanwhile, you will have started teaching–first-year composition, for example. Once you have a Ph.D. in hand, then you try to find a teaching job, and that usually means being willing to move almost anywhere in the U.S. And the competition is stiff. Tenure-line openings usually attract hundreds of applications.

On the M.A. and/or M.F.A. side of things, the commitment is usually two years, although you can earn an M.A.T. in about a year, and this degree will set you up to teach at the secondary level.

An M.F.A. in creative writing is considered a “terminal” degree in the sense that it represents a level of achievement in writing that is roughly equivalent to the achievement represented by a dissertation. Consequently, an M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts) is considered more worthy than an M.A. in creative writing.

It is not uncommon now to earn an M.F.A. in creative writing and then pursue a Ph.D. in literature. It is by no means the usual route, but it’s a viable one, and it makes the person a more versatile job-candidate, particularly for jobs than stress teaching as much as or more than research.

But there are also all kinds of Masters programs in journalism, publishing, and editing.  Some of our graduates have also earned M.A.’s in non-for-profit management, public relations, and curatorial work (the kind of work that goes on at museums and auction houses, for instance).

Qualifications for graduate work vary, but the higher your G.P.A. (in general and in English), the better.  Many programs require applicants to take the GRE, the graduate equivalent of the SAT.  Most if not all M.F.A. programs require you to submit a portfolio of work. And almost all graduate programs require three letters of recommendation. The recommendation-process has become a little more streamlined insofar as about 3/4 of the programs now use electronic recommendations.

There’s really no easy way to decide which school to apply to once you’ve decided to go to graduate school.  Counterintuitively, perhaps, many of the best M.F.A. programs are not at the same institutions that offer highly regarded Ph.D.’s in English. For example, Eastern Washington University and the University of Montana have well regarded M.F.A. programs. Stanford University is highly regarded in both areas.

But basically, you just have to do your homework and patiently educate yourself about different programs, how competitive they are, what the faculty is like, what  fellowships & scholarships (and teaching-assistantships) are available, and what the region is like. If you’re going to earn a Ph.D., after all, you’ll be living in that city or town for the better part of a decade.

One tip that’s probably still very helpful is that if you’re aiming to earn a Ph.D. in literature, work on developing your ability to read one or more foreign languages, and do this sooner rather than later.   The quicker you can get the foreign-language exams out of the way, the better, and you don’t have to spend time taking basic language classes while in graduate school.  Most programs still require one or two foreign languages, such as Latin, Greek, Spanish, German, or French.

And do try to give your recommenders plenty of lead-time to write the letters–more than a month, for example.  However, don’t be shy about reminding your recommenders of deadlines once they’ve agreed to write.

If you’re not headed to graduate school immediately after earning your B.A. in English, don’t worry; you’re part of a vast majority. Most students wait at least a year to pursue graduate work (if indeed they choose this path),  and in most cases, this choice makes a great deal of sense. Of those who go immediately to graduate school, most pursue the Masters in Teaching and intend to teach high schoolmortar_degree.

December 11, 2008

Winter Reading: A Few Recommendations

Filed under: Literature — O. @ 6:32 pm

readerAssume that a miracle occurs and that you find the time to read a novel during the semester-break.  After establising this premise, I asked a few colleagues in English and one in Political Science to recommend one novel, and here is the list of recommendations so far:

Richard Russo, Bridge of Sighs, recommended by Beverly Conner

Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials (Trilogy), recommended by George Erving

Helena Viramontes, Their Dogs Come With Them, recommended by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Penelope Fitzgerald, Human Voices, recommended by Hans Ostrom

Philip Roth, Indignation, recommended by Michael Curley

Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction, recommended by Bill Haltom

If you haven’t read these books already but want to see what you might be in for, you may of course poke around on the Puget Sound library’s website and elsewhere on the internet and find synopses and reviews.  Also, feel free to offer your own recommendation via a comment on this post.

December 9, 2008

CROSSCURRENTS party + open microphone

morestarsThe Fall 2008 issue of Puget Sound’s venerable literary magazine, Crosscurrents, will make its debut this evening at 5:30 in Wheelock Student Center. The festivities include an open-microphone reading, so bring a poem to read to the assembled crowd.

Professor Putnam’s Book to be Published Next Fall

Filed under: Creative Writing,General,Publishing — O. @ 4:54 am

annputnam1The English Department’s own Ann Putnam, who teaches classes in Honors, writing and rhetoric, Hemingway, and creative writing (short fiction), among other subjects, has completed a memoir, Full Moon at Noon Tide: A Daughter’s Last Goodbye. The book will be published in the Fall of 2009 by the Southern Methodist University Press. Warmest congratulations to Ann!

December 8, 2008

Writing-Contests on Campus

Filed under: Creative Writing,Events on Campus,Literature — O. @ 11:45 pm

The annual Writing Excellence contests are now accepting submissions–through the Center for Writing and Learning. You may submit papers written for classes in the Humanities (including English classes), or in Social Sciences, or in Science.  If you took a Writing and Rhetoric Seminar or a Scholarly and Creative Inquiry course this term and wrote a good essay for the class, then you’ll want to consider the category for first-year seminars. The deadline for sumitting (in any or all categories) is January 29, and more specifications appear on posters in Wyatt Hall and at the Writing Center.

Spring also brings the contests sponsored by the English Department but open to any student at Puget Sound: the Esther Wagner Prize for short fiction and the Nixeon Civille Handy Prize for poetry.  The prizes are described on the English website, and posters, etc.,  should go up in February or March, but it’s never too early to start revising those poems and stories. The deadline is for submitting something to these contests is usually late March or early April.

Good luck.

December 5, 2008

Publishing Your Poetry and Short Fiction

Filed under: Creative Writing,Publishing — O. @ 11:06 pm

If you aren’t already sending out your poems and stories for publication and would like to get started, then you might be interested in a few basic tips.  Two of the best sources about where and how to send manuscripts are Poet’s Market and Novelist and Short Story Writer’s Market. Both are published annually by Writer’s Digest Books, and they’re available online, at Barnes & Noble, and at Border’s. The books list and describe magazines that publish poetry and short fiction.  It’s best to work with the most recent editions of these books.

S0me things to consider as you peruse the listings: Has the magazine been around a while? (If it was established in 2007, in may already be out of business.) How open is the magazine to work by writers relatively new to the “business”?  What kind of work does the magazine publish?  For instance, if a magazine specializes in highly experimental work and your story or poem is more mainstream, then your getting rejected by the magazine would have almost nothing to do with the quality of your work, and you’d simply want to avoid sending it there.  Finally, look at the “reporting time”–how quickly the magazine usually gets back to writers submitting work.

Most “little magazines” (as literary magazines are sometimes called) pay writers only in copies of the issue in which the work appears.  Others pay a few dollars, and still others run contests.  But you will want to avoid contests (especially online) that charge a fee, although it is now customary for chapbook-contests and book-contests to charge a reading fee.  Nonetheless, watch out for scams.

If your work gets rejected, don’t take it personally. Most magazines receive far more good submissions than they can publish. All magazines require a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the return of your work (also known as an SASE).

The sources from Writer’s Digest Books provide many more details about the particulars of publication and getting your work out there. Also, there are many more legitimate online magazines now.

Typically, magazines will want to read one short story (if you’re a fiction writer) and between 3 and 5 poems (if you’re a poet).

One other good source is The International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses.

Using desk-top publishing, you can also produce your own chapbook (a small collection) of poetry, distribute it to family and friends, and maybe sell a few copies.

December 3, 2008

Professor Kupinse Featured in City Arts Magazine

Filed under: Activities off Campus,Creative Writing,General — O. @ 10:49 pm

kupinseCity Arts Magazine in Tacoma recently published an article on the department’s own Professor William Kupinse. The article discussed Bill’s organizing-work as the Poet Laureate of Tacoma, as well as his poetry. The author, Tom Llewellyn, writes, “Tacoma’s new poet laureate, William Kupinse, a James Spader look-alike, lights a fire under the poetry scene and rallies audiences Seattle poets would kill for.” City Arts Magazine is widely available around town and on campus, and it also has its own web site. Congratulations to Professor Kupinse!

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