Puget Sound English Department

August 31, 2010

Mark your calendars: Professor Kupinse Reads in Gig Harbor

Professor Bill Kupinse, former Poet Laureate of Tacoma, will be giving a poetry reading Thursday, September 30 at 7 p.m. at the Gig Harbor Library (4423 Point Fosdick Dr NW, Gig Harbor, 253-851-3793) as part of the Peninsula Library Poetry Series. The reading will include older poems from his book Fallow, and some of his new work from an in-process verse reinterpretation of The Tower Treasure, the first book in the Hardy Boys series. Professor Kupinse writes: “As anyone who has read the 1927 adventure book knows, The Tower Treasure really is a poem trapped in novel form; my goal is to let it out. Yes, I have my fingers crossed that I’ll attract an eventual lawsuit from Hardy Boys publishers Grosset and Dunlap, now a subsidiary of Pearson; it’s always nice to be noticed.”

We hope to see many of you there–

August 27, 2010

A “heavenly” opportunity

Filed under: courses,Events on Campus — ATH @ 4:01 pm
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The course on The Bible and Literary Traditions (English 473) this fall semester will focus at the outset on comparing God-stories and hero-stories of the Hebrew Bible with those of other cultures in the ancient Near East. So the readings will start with the Hymns and Songs in praise of Inanna, the moon-goddess and goddess of fertility for the ancient Sumerians, then the Epic of Gilgamesh and excerpts from the Babylonian Creation epic. Later the course will trace the way the biblical materials were put together by the Hebrew scribes; the relationships among the different texts within the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament; and the many ways that the Bible has influenced English literature to the present day.

We rarely get the opportunity to offer a course on these materials. There are still two or three places open. If you are interested in joining the class, get in touch ASAP with Professor Sandler (fsandler@pugetsound.edu; Ext. 3431). The class meets at 9.30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

August 24, 2010

Glamourous Grammar

Filed under: Lectures/Presentations/Debates,Uncategorized — ATH @ 7:16 am

Etymologists and Classicists may well be aware that the word “glamour” has its origins in “grammar” (from Greece, by way of Scotland) and that erudition and enchantment are closely related, at least historically. Today at noon, Seattle NPR affiliate KUOW’s program The Conversation features Roy Peter Clark, author of The Glamour of Grammar (Little, Brown, & Co., $19.99), available here.

You can tune in at FM 94.9, or download the podcast from The Conversation’s site, above. Learn how to dazzle with a semi-colon, or woo with (effectively) invented words. We confess, we like the revised image of the grammarian as enthralling (enthrall, from the Old Norse, for “slave or servant,” by way of the Old English for “bondman or serf”).

August 20, 2010

Future and Past

Filed under: Uncategorized — ATH @ 3:39 pm
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Welcome to Puget Sound’s Class of (gulp) 2014! We’re delighted to welcome you to our campus, and hope to see many of you in our classes and up on Wyatt 3. We’re known as an “open-door” department, which means that faculty are generally around and delighted to find out about your interests and tell you more about our programs. You can check in with our indispensable Administrative Assistant, Terri Gonzalez, in Wy 335, or our Chair, Professor Priti Joshi, in Wy 338. But you can also stop by during any faculty member’s office hours, or just look for an open door.

Some unrelated overdue business: we blame summer and the inevitable cerebral slump it brings for our failure to mention the fact that our talented and accomplished graduate, Olivia Margoshes (’10) is a regular blogger for Seattle City Insights Examiner. Olivia’s witty and eminently readable columns examine Seattle’s food, arts, music, tourist, and other attractions from her own local perspective, and offer both locals and visitors a wealth of ideas for where to go, what to see, and what to eat, drink, and read. We applaud Olivia’s work, and apologize for our tardiness at providing her with the appropriate enthusiasm. You can find an index of her pieces at the link above.

More on The Atlas of Love

A Seattle Times review.

Plans are in the works for a reading/conversation on the Puget Sound campus with Professor Frankel. The tentative date is September 23, and there will be copies of her book available for purchase. More as the plans coalesce.

August 19, 2010

Thinking about grad school? Read this…

Every once in a while, The Chronicle of Higher Education takes a break from forecasting the demise of the Humanities, the corporatization of higher education, the evisceration of tenure, and the dire state of the academic job market (all of which are well worth bemoaning, of course), and offers something more tangibly useful. This time it’s offering a compendium of wisdom, entitled An Open Letter to New Graduate Students. As several commenters protest, and as the author(s) acknowledge, it’s a letter and set of advice tailored particularly towards those entering a full-time, conventional, PhD program, and is far less relevant to those undertaking professional degrees, terminal MAs, or non-traditional programs. But it’s pretty comprehensive and, based on my own rapidly receding experience, relatively accurate.

My off-the cuff (and, admittedly, somewhat tongue-in-cheek) responses to some of the items on their list follow [NOTE: this post does not reflect the official opinion of the English Department, or even very many of the members thereof. It’s offered merely in the spirit of dialogue. If you are seriously considering applying to graduate school in the humanities, please consult with faculty advisers you know and trust].

1. Don’t overdo the “networking” thing, especially in a traditional humanities field and especially when you are brand new at the game. Or, better, do make those connections to senior scholars and intellectual rockstars, but make them sincerely and sparingly, based on your real interests, reading, and scholarship. If you must be obvious that you are “playing the game,” do so with a dose of irony and a world-weary shrug: those of us committed enough to our discipline to pursue a degree that can take 9 years with only the slimmest chance of a viable career find such naked careerism annoying–especially when it’s unsupported by any proven excellence in research and/or teaching. We chose, all common sense to the contrary, to forsake the world of headhunters, year-end bonuses, and office Christmas parties, and we don’t want you turning our hallowed academic halls into some debased scholarly version of “The Apprentice.”

2. Internships? What’s that? The best preparation for a traditional academic career in the Humanities is traditional academic success: conference papers, publications (good ones), and proven teaching effectiveness or, more often, excellence. This is not to discourage you from creating your own path, or to suggest that for every faculty member who stuck to the straight and narrow there aren’t umpteen less direct, conventional routes. But if we’re talking basic Humanities faculty positions, there’s unlikely to be an “internship.” Two exceptions: first, the “preparing future faculty” program at most universities that allows grad students to teach at other institutions–even if you KNOW you are R-1 material, some Community College experience might be the best thing that ever happened to your pedagogy, or your career path. Second, an internship so intriguing that you can’t pass it up. No matter what it is. It might not help your academic job search, but it might save your soul, or identify a better route to a more viable career.

3. Keeping up with blogs and other contemporary media to the extent that these authors suggest is a sure way NOT to finish your dissertation. Yes, some of the most valuable and useful advice out there–and lots of community and support–is happening in the blogosphere. Inside Higher Ed has a set of terrific academic blogs and some great advice columns–especially for those about to go on the market. But there is invariably an inverse relationship between an ABD’s presence online (usually in lengthy responses to other bloggers) and his/her completed dissertation. Blogs and other online resources can be terrific, but use them like antibiotics: only by prescription, under professional supervision, and in recommended amounts. (Here the exception would be if your program/degree focuses on the nature or substance of electronic communication. At that point, it’s all data: Have at it!)

What makes a good teacher?

Filed under: General,Uncategorized — ATH @ 6:12 am
Tags: ,

The LA Times is running a series of articles that takes up this question, and uses a trendy “value-added” approach to rating individual teachers, whose names and scores it intends to publish. Unsurprisingly, teachers and teachers’ unions are objecting, some vehemently, to such individualized scrutiny, and to what they feel is a reductive approach to a complex art (to be fair, in the report I heard, one of the series’ lead reporters repeated multiple times that this is not by any means the only or best way to measure teaching effectiveness, nor is improvement in standardized test scores the full measure of any teacher).

Despite the facts–what we do at the college level is fundamentally dependent on what is happening in K-12 education; many of our alums pursue advanced degrees and careers in the field–one can generally spend much of one’s professorial life largely ignoring what goes on in public education in this country, with the exception of cocktail-party chatter about the declining state of our schools. (Of course, as with all generalizations, this generic truth doesn’t apply to certain programs, especially on a campus with a popular and effective MAT program.)

The series is fascinating (there’s also an NPR story about its methods), and raises difficult questions that are no less relevant to a discussion of university education: what makes a good teacher “good”? How much variation will we accept in effective teaching? To what extent can we isolate the teacher’s role in what is, by almost any account, a clunky, inequitable, massive, and often ineffective system, with huge variations in funding? Does an approach like the “value-added” metric (which, effectively, attributes test-score improvement or decline from a pre-established base rating to the teacher) reduce the interpersonal art of teaching to a kind of balky production line model? Is it fair to hold individual teachers solely accountable when their “raw materials” and facilities vary so widely by race, class, culture, opportunity, funding, and all the other factors that affect academic achievement? On the other hand, with the stakes so high, why not hold teachers to higher standards? Why protect weak or ineffective teachers at the students’ expense?

At the core, though, the question boils down to this: is teaching a “science,” an “art,” or some combination thereof?

August 17, 2010

Assigned Reading, and a Reading

Just a reminder that today is the “official” release date for Professor Laurie Frankel’s The Atlas of Love.

The lovely and talented Professor Frankel will also read from and discuss her novel this Saturday, August 21, at the new Elliott Bay Book Company (in its new Capitol Hill location: 1521 10th Ave., Seattle 98122). The reading takes place at 4 p.m., and you can purchase your copy on site and have it signed. (My own pre-ordered copy is in transit, I am assured.) What better way to celebrate the end of summer and ease into the impending school year than by attending an event that features a faculty member as a source of reading for pleasure?

Updated to add: there’s a brief interview with Laurie Frankel about what she’s reading here. And if you can’t make it to Elliott Bay Books this Saturday, she’ll be discussing her book on the Puget Sound campus in September…more on that later.

August 16, 2010

David Foster Wallace: Intro to Lit

Filed under: Pedagogy — ATH @ 8:00 am
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Just in case you’ve wondered what it would be like to take an “ordinary” course from an “extraordinary” celebrity writer*, a former student of David Foster Wallace has posted a syllabus from an introductory literature course she took with him in 2005 [Her site has a link to a PDF of the entire thing, but including it here exceeds my technological expertise. You can view it one page at a time from her blog post]. The syllabus is fascinating, especially at a moment when all Puget Sound faculty are creating, revising, tweaking, refining, and otherwise preparing their own syllabi. Much of what he says on this syllabus is, despite his reputation as a literary iconoclast, utterly predictable: the workaday details of attendance, paper format, student responsibility (mandatory attendance, extensions negotiated in advance). His attempts to demystify his own professorial authority, too, are familiar in substance if not in rhetoric: one grading criterium is “presentation,” which he describes as “care, adult competence in written English, […] compassion for your reader.” Elsewhere he reminds students that without their participation, the class will devolve into a 90 minute “half-assed ad lib lecture” and explains that he expects them to read “every iota” of the assigned work.

His description of the course goals, too, reflect on current discussions about what makes an “English department” a coherent entity. As more programs divide themselves into discrete “tracks”–creative writing, literature, rhetoric, culture studies, film, media studies, creative non-fiction–they raise the question of what, exactly, holds those fields together. DFW offers an elegant description of the central task of his course: developing a “critical appreciation of literary art,” which he glosses as “having smart, sophisticated reasons for liking whatever literature you like, and being able to articulate those reasons for other people, especially in writing.” Such appreciation, he notes, must be grounded in “interpretation”; that is, “a cogent, interesting account of what a piece of lit means, what it’s trying to do for the reader, what technical choices the author’s made in order to try to achieve the effects she wants…”

The reading list for the course he describes as “boot camp” is remarkably familiar, featuring such works as Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.,” Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” Ann Beattie’s “Janus,” O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and Carver’s “Cathedral” alongside lessons in things like “point of view,” “setting,” “theme.” The syllabus is a fascinating snapshot of the state of introductory literature courses in the early 21st century, and reflects an underlying coherence to the larger discipline of literary studies that perhaps resonates with the larger question of what it means to “study” English now.

*Of course, here at Puget Sound, one could describe virtually every course in this way…right?

August 10, 2010

More on what to do with an English major

Filed under: Publishing,Uncategorized — ATH @ 8:07 am
Tags: ,

Sharpie

A recent story on NPR offers one option: freelance copy editor. Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson embarked on a cross-country quest to seek out and correct the most glaring and irksome of typos on public signage, a journey depicted in their book (The Great Typo Hunt, Crown, $23.99). Part travelogue and part light-hearted grammar lesson, the book tells their adventures with the most frequent, baffling, and egregious errors they encounter all across the nation–and of their efforts, often rewarded, occasionally thwarted, to correct them. The adventures of TEAL (Typo Eradication Advancement League) owe a certain debt, it’s true, to the comic-heroic example of Don Quixote, but as with any reflections on grammar and “correctness,” the light-hearted narrative inevitably demands, and provides, further consideration of the serious issues of educational access, literacy, and the class and social barriers policed along grammatical lines.

When good grammar and a yen for public service meet, who can stand in their way?

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