Puget Sound English Department

June 30, 2009

’05 Alum Pursues Graduate Degree in Mass Communications


Heather Ryder, an English major who graduated in 2005, reports that she is half-way through a two-year Masters of Science in Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University, specifically at the university’s Brandcenter.  Heather’s emphasis is in Copy-Editing,  and this summer she has an internship at the prestigious firm, Ogilvy and Mather, in Los Angeles. After graduating from Puget Sound, Heather worked at the Children’s Museum in Tacoma as well as working in Seattle.



The Best of the Bad

It was a dark and stormy night...

It was a dark and stormy night...

This year’s Bulwer-Lytton contest winners have been announced, and the bad fiction award recipient lives right in our backyard: Federal Way. The contest is intentionally parodic and calls for opening lines to novels that will, one hopes, never be written. It tends to reward metaphorical excess, coupled with the cataclysmically quotidian.

For those of you blissfully ignorant of Bulwer-Lytton’s oeuvre, it’s perhaps enough to know that he’s the source of the deathless opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night,” among other gems.

This year’s prize-winning opener:

“Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin’ off Nantucket Sound from the nor’ east and the dogs are howlin’ for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the “Ellie May,” a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin’ and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests.”
David McKenzie
Federal Way, WA

Full list of winners and winning entries (including those in adventure, detective, and western genres, runners-up, and “dishonorable mentions”) is at the contest home page.

June 29, 2009

Tacoma Literati go Graphic

If you are in Tacoma, or within driving distance, you have the chance to participate in discussions of the Next Big Thing: the graphic novel. Our treasured local resource, King’s Books, is hosting a series of discussions on some of the finer graphic novels out there. Sadly, they have already covered Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, a huge favorite of mine and a staple of several English department syllabi.

To follow up on the previous post, one of Puget Sound’s distinguished speakers this past year was graphic artist Scott McCloud, clear evidence that your dedicated English Department remains on the cutting edge of literary trends and topics, while retaining our focus on the tried and true.

Next meeting of the Graphic Novel Discussion Club is July 6, 7 p.m., at 1022 S. J St., to discuss Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, a work that has appeared on both Professor Mahato’s and Professor Nimura’s Puget Sound syllabi.

June 28, 2009

Writers Who Have Visited the University of Puget Sound


(photo: Amiri Baraka)

Here is a list of writers who have visited the University of Puget Sound over the past–well, let’s say 30 years, to be safe, but really the vast majority have visited in the last two decades.  By “writers” in this instance I mean creative writers–producers of poetry, drama, fiction, and creative nonfiction. So I’m leaving out most of the splendid scholars, critics,  and journalists who have visited, but your humble blogger is not suggesting that such work is not creative or imaginative. It’s just we’ve more or less agreed to apply the moniker “creative” to writers of poems, stories, novels, and plays–but not exclusively, more like conveniently.  As a person who has not only written criticism and scholarly work but also reference work, such as encyclopedias, I can attest to the creativity required of such work.  In fact, bibliographies and encyclopedias require an astonishing amount of creativity, particularly of the sleuthing variety.

I may be fudging a bit with Cornell West (chiefly a philosopher), Derrick Bell (a legal scholar, but his books make use of imaginative narrative in most interesting ways), and Twyla Tharp.

One more caveat: I’ve undoubtedly overlooked (or I simply don’t know about) lots of other writers who visited, so colleagues, emeritus faculty,  and alums are invited to add to the list according to their memories.  Feel free to comment.

An asterisk (*) denotes multiple visits to campus.  Albee, Vonnegut, and Alexie visited at least twice each. The list is in random order, alas.

Rita Dove, James Baldwin, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.*, Sherman Alexie*,  Hiroshi Kashiwagi, Edward Albee*, Robert Bly (gave a great poetry reading but also got an impromptu dance going in the chapel),  David Wagoner, Richard Brautigan, Shawn Wong, Nikki Giovanni, Waler Mosley, Amiri Baraka, John Boe, Gillian Conoley (author of Some Gangster Pain: how’s that for a title of a poetry book?), Madeline DeFrees, Michael Cunningham, Derrick Bell, Cornell West, Joseph Donahue, Richard Murphy, Richard Wiley, Chuck D, Ellen Sandler (a writer for television and cinema), Twyla  Tharp (yes, chiefly a choreographer, but also an author of a book about creativity), Robert Pinsky, Sam Green, Mark Halliday, Gertrude Schnackenberg, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Laura Jensen, Rick Jones, Bruce George, Antonio Edwards, Terry Brooks, Colleen McElroy, Michael Nava, John Davies (Welsh author, fine poet), Suzanne Matson, Lex Runciman, and Bruce Patneaude.

Glancing at the list, one wants first to express gratitude: how lucky we’ve been to have hosted so many good writers representing such a wide spectrum of literature. So let a general “thank you” go forth. Second, one does of course always (and selfishly) want more: more authors, please; keep it going!  Third, it might be especially productive and educational to invite more Asian American writers, more Latino/a writers, more Canadian writers, more writers of so-called “genre” fiction (Mosley and Nava write detective novels, and Brooks writes science fiction/fantasy novels), and more international authors (Canadians don’t quite count in this category, as they are next-door-neighbors).  More persons who write for the cinema might not be a bad idea, either. Graphic novelists, too!

Among this coming year’s scheduled visitors is playwright Suzan-Lori Parks.

Thanks to all the people who had a hand in bringing these and other writers to campus. Visits by writers may seem like simple things to arrange, but they actually take a bit of work by a lot of people on campus.  And thanks to all the colleagues (staff, administration, faculty), students, and community members who provided they key ingredient: an audience.

June 27, 2009

Books on Jefferson

Filed under: Literature — O. @ 4:22 pm
Tags: , ,

monticelloAs July 4th approaches, here’s a brief list of books about Thomas Jefferson:

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, by John Ellis (Vintage 1998).

Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, by Fawn Brodie (Norton 1998).

The Portable Thomas Jefferson, by Thomas Jefferson, edited by Merrill D. Peterson (Viking/Penguin 1977).

Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power, by Garry Wills (Houghton Mifflin, 2003).

The Wolf by the Ears: Thomas Jefferson and Slavery, by John Chester Miller (Univ. of Virginia Press, 1991).

June 26, 2009

Black or White?*

Filed under: Activities off Campus,Uncategorized — ATH @ 11:36 pm

With all due respect to the King of Pop for the title above, a new entry into the rich subgenre of racial-identity memoir: Mishna Wolff has written about her unique childhood growing up White in one of Seattle’s largely African American neighborhoods with a father who chose to identify–without apparent genealogical evidence–as Black. A model, comedienne, and writer, as well as erstwhile Northwesterner, Wolff reads from I’m Down tomorrow, Saturday, June 27, at 4:30 at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle.

The appeal of memoirs that attempt to tease out the complex threads of race, culture, biography, and identity seems unabated in what many hope could be a post-racial America. The category includes entries from luminaries like Henry Louis Gates, Danzy Senna, and Barack Obama, but our culture’s continuing fascination with “what people are” is perhaps most notoriously attested to by white author Margaret Seltzer’s attempt to “pass” as a half-White, half-Native American former gang member and survivor of South Central LA in Truth or Consequences. The unanswerable questions behind this genre have to do with how we become who we are, and whether the identification of race with culture (and class) in American life is a tool for understanding, or perpetuation, of difference.

*Note: While the topic of Wolff’s book, like this post, deals primarily with issues of black/white identity, your humble blogger by no means intends to reduce the complexity of the spectrum of racial identifications, ethnic affiliations, or generic nuances along the fiction/autobiography axis.

Book-It Repertory Theater

Filed under: Activities off Campus,Theater — O. @ 10:43 pm

The Book-It Repertory Theater in Seattle stages plays based on novels.  Currently it is performing an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling‘s Jungle Book but taking the production on a tour of Pacific Northwest cities, such as Oroville and Leavenworth.  For more information about this production and about the upcoming 2009-2010 season, please visit the web site:


A History of “Motown”

mjIn 2007, the University of Illinois Press published Where Did Our Love Go? The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound, by Nelson George–with a foreword by Quincy Jones.

June 25, 2009

NEWSWEEK Prognosticates Exhibits of Art

the-whitney-museum(The Whitney Museum, New York)

The June 15, 2009, issue of Newsweek--with guest-editor Stephen Colbert–features an articled by Cathleen McGuigan on the famous and infamous “Elgin” marbles (sculpture) which were taken from Greece and are now housed in the British Museum. As one might imagine, Greece wants the marbles back, and the very name, “Elgin marbles,” is contested.

Meanwhile, as that issue unfolds slowly over the decades, the unnamed “Prognosticator” at the end of the article takes note of the following art-exhibits-to-come:

–An exhibit of Georgia O’Keefe’s abstract painting–not the famous flowers and skulls, as the Prog notes, but “undulating, sunset-hued” abstracts. When? In about 3 months. Where? The Whitney in New York.

–An exhibit called “The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire,” featuring “newly excavated material.”  The exhibit will help celebrate Mexico’s bicentennial. When? In about a year. Where? The Getty Villa in Malibu.

–An exhibit of portraits of Elvis Presley–“from the sublime (Warhol) to the saccharine (Cowan).”  When? In about 6 months, to coincide roughly with Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday, thank-you-very-much. Where? National Portrait Gallery, D.C.

The article and prognostications appear on pages 62-63 in Newsweek.

June 24, 2009

Jane Austen Site

Filed under: Literature — O. @ 6:25 pm

austenIf works by the venerable Jane Austen occupy part of your summer’s reading list, you might be interested in the “Jane Austen Information Page” online; it includes html versions of texts and links to a variety of scholarly and popular sites”


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