Puget Sound English Department

January 30, 2010

Notable Passings

The intellectual world lost two great thinkers this week, and while we mourn them, we also take a moment to celebrate their contributions to our culture.

J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author who died this week at age 91, was, of course, the author of every teenager’s favorite novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Published in 1951, the story of Holden Caulfield’s struggles against the phoniness, superficiality, and banality of (adult) America resonates with today’s youth no less than with earlier generations, and articulates a profound and powerful alienation. The novel seems to me a literary equivalent of the musical acts of defiance that galvanized and characterized whole eras–Elvis’s hip swivels, John Lennon’s (misinterpreted) “We’re more popular than Jesus” remark, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”–but with a much longer shelf-life. And the novel’s staying power is extraordinary: most of us remember our first reading of the novel, and the extraordinary feeling it produced that we were not, in fact, utterly alone in making our way through the meaningless void of American consumer culture. Holden spoke to and for the American yearning not to grow up, and to our desire to preserve the passion of youth in a world that seemed so intent on suffocating it. Like a sophisticated, disenchanted Peter Pan, Holden articulates his rage against the machine of an uncaring society, and perpetually reminds us not only that we were once young, but that as long as we resist, we still are.

Like Holden, historian Howard Zinn spoke to and for the underdog. His People’s History of the United States (1980)* is less a conventional “history” than a corrective polemic on behalf of the “slaughtered and mutilated.” Zinn’s goal was never an objective revision of the American narrative; instead, he worked to reassert those voices of democracy that are too messy, contentious, and diffuse to fit tidily into that story and, thereby, to celebrate and inspire the acts of ordinary citizens. Like Holden Caulfield, Zinn raged against the forces of suppression and authority. His greatest success is not that he got the story of America “right,” but that he insisted our story was infinitely more nuanced, complex, and conflicted, and therefore far richer, than what had been taught in our high school history classes. In its emphasis on the sacrifices and achievements of ordinary people, he carved out space for new histories that told the tales of more than just the “winners,” and reminded us that like Holden, we can stand up to the forces of governmental and cultural “phoniness.” And that when we do, we sometimes win.

*Link is for information purposes; please support your local bookseller!

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January 26, 2010

Library Doings

From Jane Carlin, exciting information about what’s shaking at our library:
1. Collins Memorial Library hosts local author Erica Bauermeister as part of Pierce County Reads.

Ms. Bauermeister holds a PhD from the University of Washington and is the author of 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide and Let’s Hear it for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14; she has also taught writing and English at the University of Washington. The School of Essential Ingredients is her first work of fiction, and has already been published in 19 countries. She describes the book: “It’s about food and people and the relationships between them – about taking those “unimportant” bits of life and making them beautiful..” The book has received an abundance of critical acclaim: Publisher’s Weekly described it as a remarkable debut. We are so fortunate to have this talented local writer with us on Thursday evening January 28th from 7 to 8 in room 020 Collins Memorial Library. Light refreshments will be served.
Please bring a non perishable food item to the event.

Learn more about Erica here.

2. The Library has lots of new ways to connect with students, including two blogs: Collins Unbound offers news and updates about services, books, and reading.
Library Logged features student comments.
Our tech-savvy Library also offers a YouTube site, Facebook and Twitter feeds. Find links to all of these new tools on the main library site.

January 22, 2010

Full Moon at Noontide Featured in Today’s Seattle Times; Reading Tonight

Professor Ann Putnam’s memoir, Full Moon at Noontide receives a glowing review in today’s edition of the Seattle Times, which you can read here. Don’t forget that she will read from her work tonight, Friday, January 22, at Elliott Bay Books in Seattle. Congratulations to Ann!

January 21, 2010

Upcoming events

Professor Geoff Proehl, Theater, forwards the following information on three upcoming events of great interest to the campus community, especially as we approach Black History Mont:

1. A Dialogue about August Wilson’s Plays Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and The Piano Lesson

Exploring History, Culture, Politics and Race: The 1920’s and 1930’s Through the Eyes of August Wilson

Rehearsal Hall

Sunday, January 24, 2010 from 2pm to 4pm

Tickets: FREE Community Event

This dialogue will be facilitated by Dr. Dexter Gordon, Professor of African American Studies at the University of Puget Sound and C. Rosalind Bell, Playwright and Director of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle IV: The Piano Lesson and other plays in the August Wilson Series. Both presenters are also co-founders of Tacoma’s The Conversation, an ongoing dialogue and race and social justice group. Complimentary snacks and beverages will be provided for dialogue participants.

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2. August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle IV: The Piano Lesson
Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 3:00 p.m.
Washington State History Museum
Tickets: $14

August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning fourth installment, The Piano Lesson is an appropriate reminder of the importance of heritage during Black History Month. Set in the 1930s Great Depression, the story follows a family divided by the fate of their heirloom piano. Boy Willie, a sharecropper from the South, wants to sell the piano so he can purchase more land. His sister, Bernice, insists on keeping it as their great-grandfather carved onto it the faces of his wife and son-who were sold into slavery in exchange for the piano.

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3. from Hans Ostrom: “A Musical Evening With Langston Hughes,” featuring soloist Awilda Verdejo, who will be accompanied by a pianist and cellist—Feb. 19, 7:30, in Schneebeck. It is part of the Jacobsen Series but is also in honor of Black History Month.

The Adelphians will also perform, and Rosalind Bell and I will read a few of Hughes’s poems. All the compositions are based on his poetry or were co-written by him. Sponsors are Af. Am. Studies, School of Music, the BSU, Race and Pedagogy, Chief Diversity Officer, and the Dolliver Professorship.

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January 19, 2010

Sad News; or, the End of an Era

Filed under: General,Literature — ATH @ 7:34 pm
Tags: , ,

The Great Man Himself


Our very own literary biologist, Professor Mark Martin, sends us the sad news that for the first time in 50 years, the mysterious “Poe Toaster” has failed to celebrate the author’s birthday by leaving a tribute–roses and cognac–at EAP’s grave. The tradition was begun January 19, 1949; perhaps the Poe Toaster now inhabits his/her own sepulchre? Link to the Baltimore Sun article is here.

Happy birthday, Edgar. And a fond farewell to an appropriately macabre, yet beautiful, tradition.

January 16, 2010

Local Readings by our Talented Faculty!

The semester’s about to begin, bringing with it multiple opportunities to hear readings by our gifted colleagues in the Department.

First off, Professor Ann Putnam offers several chances this month to hear her read from her exquisite memoir, Full Moon at Noontide: A Daughter’s Last Goodbye (SMU Press, $22.50). The book is wise and touching, and in it, Ann addresses the full range of human experience with her characteristic stylistic precision and grace.
Ann will read at Seattle’s famed Elliott Bay Bookstore on Friday, January 22, 7 p.m. Check her website (linked above) or Elliott Bay’s for more information and an excerpt.

If you can’t get to Elliott Bay, you can catch Ann reading at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, on Tuesday, January 26, also at 7 p.m..

And to keep in mind, Professor Dolen Perkins-Valdez is currently touring in support of her debut novel, Wench (Amistad, $24.99), and will be rejoining us on the left coast in March for readings and a workshop on campus. Wench has already garnered some exceptional reviews, and I’m looking forward to getting a signed copy from its gifted author. Professor Laurie Frankel also has a debut novel in press; more information as it becomes available. The department is planning a campus celebration of our gifted and prolific Creative Writing faculty later this semester…We’ll keep you posted.