Professor Utell Wins Major Teaching Award

Posted August 30, 2014 by widenerenglishadmin
Categories: News, Professoring

JU Lindback

Provost Stephen Wilhite, Professor Janine Utell, and President James T. Harris

Dr. Janine Utell, associate professor and chair of English at Widener University, is the recipient of the 2014 Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching, an honor bestowed annually to a member of Widener’s faculty. Utell recently accepted the award at the university’s opening faculty meeting from Widener University Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Stephen Wilhite.

Wilhite highlighted Utell’s efforts to revise the English 101 course at Widener and set the stage for a common student experience for all Widener undergraduates. He recognized her commitment to assessment as a way to refine and advance pedagogy and her success in making her classroom both a challenging and welcoming environment.

Before presenting her with the award, Wilhite read student reactions to Utell’s teaching: “I thought I hated this subject matter, but this course changed my mind,” one student wrote. Another student simply stated: “Best class ever. My brain is on fire.”

Dr. Mark Graybill, associate professor of English and associate dean of humanities at Widener, recommended Utell for the Lindback Award, citing her efforts to inspire faculty in addition to her students. Utell helped launch “Your Monthly Need to Know News,” a newsletter informing the Widener campus community of a handful of issues affecting higher education. She also addresses topics in higher education as a contributor to the “University of Venus” blog through Inside Higher Ed. “[She] teaches not only her students, but also her colleagues, both on campus and beyond,” Graybill said.

Last winter, Utell was named the 2013 outstanding researcher in humanities by Widener University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Utell’s research has made her an internationally recognized scholar of James Joyce and British literary modernism. Her first book, James Joyce and the Revolt of Love, was published with Palgrave Macmillan in 2010. She has since published articles on Joyce and other writers of his time in peer-reviewed journals such as James Joyce Quarterly, The Journal of Modern Literature, and College Literature, for which she is an associate editor.

Utell’s colleagues have recognized the symbiotic relationship between her scholarship and teaching. From 2005 to 2007, she oversaw the annual James Joyce exhibition at The Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia. The project was influenced by her teaching, but it also allowed her to bring to her students – particularly those in her senior seminar course on Joyce’s “Ulysses”– a mixture of theoretical and practical knowledge.

More recently, Utell has pursued an agenda concentrating on print, digital and visual narrative and narrative theory, which she applies specifically to narratives about couplehood and intimate life. Her next book, Engagements with Narrative, is under contract with Routledge and due out in 2015. She is also working on an extended study of intimate life writing in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Utell, a resident of Philadelphia, has taught at Widener since 2003. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing and French from Barnard College, Columbia University. She earned a master’s degree in English from The Catholic University of America, where she focused on 20th-Century British Literature. She then earned a Ph.D. in English from The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where her major field was British Modernism/20th-Century Studies.
The Lindback Foundation Award is endowed by the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation, a Philadelphia-based foundation that provides grants to institutions of higher education for the promotion of excellence in teaching.

Widener University is a metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener is comprised of eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences, professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate, baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral degrees. The university’s campuses in Chester, Exton and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve more than 6,300 students. Widener is proud to be a tobacco-free campus. Visit the university’s website,

Congratulations Widener English!

Posted May 17, 2014 by Janine Utell
Categories: News

Tags: , ,

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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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.


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