Congratulations Widener English!

Posted May 17, 2014 by Janine Utell
Categories: News

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Today is undergraduate Commencement at Widener University.  Congratulations to all our seniors in English and Creative Writing!  And thank you to the Widener English faculty for all their hard work this past year (and always).  Have a restful and fruitful summer!

Experiential Learning in English: Textual Scholarship

Posted May 1, 2014 by Janine Utell
Categories: Course Information, News, Professoring

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On Student Project Day last Friday, students in Professor Daniel Robinson’s Textual Scholarship course gave a presentation on work they have been doing all semester:  learning the principles of scholarly editing, and assisting in the production of a new edition of the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge (a project of Professor Robinson’s, forthcoming from Bloomsbury).

Maria Klecko, Jillian Benedict, Josh Meo work on Wordsworth

Maria Klecko, Jillian Benedict, Josh Meo work on Wordsworth

Jillian Benedict, Maria Klecko, and Josh Meo have had a unique opportunity in experiential learning through their work in this brand-new course, one that complements and enhances their study as English majors.  During Student Project Day, they spoke about the ways in which working as editors deepened their knowledge and appreciation of the authors they worked on, gave them insight into publishing for both scholarly and general audiences, and offered a chance to practice analytical skills in a whole new way.  They even shared some informed thoughts on where scholarly editing might go in the digital age.

Opportunities such as this, for experiential learning and undergraduate research, are one of the things we are proud of in English, and at Widener, and we’re excited about our ability to offer further opportunities next year.

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“We are lucky in a way that other majors are not”

Posted April 30, 2014 by Janine Utell
Categories: Ruminations

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We are pleased to publish the full text of remarks given by Jillian Benedict, senior English and Creative Writing major and the featured speaker at the first annual Humanities Awards.

 

“It is a convenient truth,” says Damon Horowitz, Google’s Official Director of Engineering and In-House Philosopher. “You go into the humanities to pursue your intellectual passion; and it just so happens, as a by-product, that you emerge as a desired commodity for industry.” To me, these are the joys and rewards that come from being a student in the Humanities.

But it’s not easy being a humanities student. For most people, like my best friend, my choice to major in one of the humanities was like choosing diet over regular soda. The idea that I would rather spend my college years and parent’s money voluntarily studying the written word is mind-boggling to my friend. While I have met people who believe that the humanities are important, I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that there were and still are a lot of people who found my choice less than impressive. This friend harassed me up until my junior year, concerned I wasn’t living up to my full potential studying English and creative writing. He thought I had hopped on the fast track to being a high school English teacher. Even though I have appreciated the concern from friends and family, worried about my financial future, I do not regret committing four years of my life to words. Naturally, I am concerned about earning money, but the thought of majoring in something like engineering or business or nursing just for the sake of financial stability never crossed my mind. Besides, from what I understand, money comes and goes and is always moving. I realized a few years ago that I couldn’t stand looking at myself in the mirror if I had spent four years and forty-thousand dollars doing something I hated.

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RenFest!

Posted April 29, 2014 by Janine Utell
Categories: English Club Cool Stuff, News

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Widener English and Lone Brick Theater hosted the first ever RenFest over the last weekend in April.  Food and frivolity were had by all in celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday — and the event closed out a successful inaugural season for Lone Brick!

First Annual Humanities Awards

Posted April 25, 2014 by Janine Utell
Categories: News

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On Thursday, April 24, the first annual Humanities Awards were held, honoring students in the humanities majors (English, Creative Writing, Modern Languages, Fine Arts) with the highest GPAs.  Jillian Benedict, senior English/Creative Writing major, was the featured speaker.  Her comments focused on the necessity of the study of English and writing, and of the humanities more broadly — “as necessary as breathing,” in her words.

The evening also saw the presentation of the inaugural Allison Roelofs Award.  Allison Roelofs is an alumna of the Widener English department who exemplifies collegiality, excellence in academics, and post-graduate success.  This award in her name recognizes an English major who demonstrates early-career excellence.

The award was given to Kimberlee Roberts, a freshman.  The department was delighted that Allison, who made the award possible, was able to attend the ceremony.

Allison Roelofs, Jillian Benedict, Kimberlee Roberts

Allison Roelofs, Jillian Benedict, Kimberlee Roberts

WWI @ Widener: Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin

Posted April 17, 2014 by Janine Utell
Categories: English Club Cool Stuff, News, Professoring, Upcoming Events

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Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin will be performed at Widener on April 26th.  We are pleased to feature the program note as part of our ongoing series of posts commemorating the centenary of the First World War.  Thanks to Professor Mara Parker for sharing!  You can learn more about the chamber music program at Widener here.  And check out Ravel’s piece here:

Maurice Ravel, Le Tombeau de Couperin

By Professor Mara Parker, Chair of Fine Arts and Director of String Performance

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was devastated by the events of World War I.  Although exempted from military service years earlier, he was determined to get involved.  So in 1914, at age 39, he enlisted. He was sent to the front and experienced, first-hand, the terror.  Writing to his friend, Jean Marnold, Ravel described what he saw: “… a hallucinating thing: a nightmarish city, horribly deserted and mute.  It isn’t the fracas from above, or the small balloons of white smoke which line the very pure sky; it’s not this formidable and invisible struggle which is anguishing, but rather to feel alone in the center of this city which rests in a sinister sleep, under the brilliant light of a beautiful summer day.  Undoubtedly I will see things which will be more frightful and repugnant; I don’t believe I will ever experience a more profound and stranger emotion than this sort of mute terror.”[1]

The war brought other problems.  Ravel’s health deteriorated.  He suffered from frequent insomnia and ate little.  Following an operation for dysentery in 1916, he arrived home just in time to see his mother die.  He returned to the hospital, depressed and alone.  He was released, then hospitalized again soon after, this time for frostbite.

The entire period was musically unproductive.  Ravel composed almost nothing.  He did, however, finish his six-movement piano suite Le Tombeau de Couperin (1914-1917) that he had started before the war.  It is a tragic work although the sound is disguised under a deceptively objective surface.  Each movement (Prelude, Fugue, Forlane, Rigaudon, Menuet, and Toccata) was dedicated to a friend who had died in the war.  Fittingly, Marguerite Long, widow of the final movement’s dedicatee, premiered the work on April 11, 1919. Long had an emotionally difficult time playing this piece due to its connection with her husband and subsequently ceased public performance for two years.  Ravel felt no one else was capable of interpreting the piano suite and refused to give the score to anyone else.  He did, however, orchestrate four of the movements in June of 1919, omitting both the fugue and toccata.  Tombeau, in its “new” version, was first performed in February of 1920.

The word “Tombeau” means “tomb.”  During the musical Baroque Era (1600-1750), composers used the term to denote a piece written as an elegy for a particular person.  Unfortunately, we do not know to whom Ravel was referring in the title.  All he would say was that he was making a tribute to the music of eighteenth-century France and to the French composer Couperin.  Beneath the seemingly pleasant music is a series of painful laments for both those killed in the war and for Ravel’s own mother.

The piece to be performed on April 26th, the Menuet, is an arrangement for piano trio (piano, violin, cello).  With its transparent texture and classical simplicity, it mimics the refined sound and intimacy of Ravel’s composition in its original form.  Laid out in a clear, three-part structure, we hear the haunting melody first in the violin, then in the cello.  The middle trio section, harmonically more dissonant than the opening, merges the three instruments in a series of chord progressions, beginning almost inaudibly and building continuously to a thunderous peak.  A return to the placid chordal section concludes the trio and heralds the reappearance of the minuet.

[1] Written on a postcard, dated April 4, 1916; housed in the Music Division of the Bibliothèque Nationale.

Widener Prof Tara Friedman Blogs about Humor

Posted April 15, 2014 by Janine Utell
Categories: News, Professoring, Recommended (Internet) Reading

Tags: , , , , ,

We’ve just learned that Professor Tara Friedman of Widener English has joined the blog Humor in America as a contributing writer.  Here she is talking a bit about her research, writing, and teaching:

While now a focal point of my academic interests, humor was relatively unknown to me until I was first introduced to Sherman Alexie in grad school through a Native American lit seminar, where I immediately fell in love with his combative comedy. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered the extensive work and field of Humor Studies, but was encouraged to steer clear of it due to its perceived lack of academic rigor.

In his review of Walter Blair’s book Native American Humor (1800-1900), Kenneth B. Murdock addressed this concern: “One of the most absurd of the many absurd academic superstitions is that the study of humorous literary material is somehow less respectable than the study of writings, however unimportant, which can amuse no one” (644). For those who doubt the rigor of Humor Studies, Blair’s book, his extensive research methodology and clear prose, as Murdock argues, should be a starting point for quieting their cries.

I now incorporate Alexie, Blair, and many other authors, commentators, and critics in Humor Studies into my scholarship and my classroom. At Widener, I teach a literary genres course and a short fiction course dedicated to the study of humorous works, and I am currently revising a forthcoming article focusing on Alexie’s brand of humor in his short fiction. If anyone has interest in the field, I encourage them to email me, stop by my office for a chat, and/or visit the HA! Blog at humorinamerica.wordpress.com.

The taking on of this role provides Professor Friedman with a lively outlet and wider audience for her scholarly interests, and we look forward to reading her posts!


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