Widener English

The English Department at Widener University

Undergraduate Night at State Street

Welcome back, and happy spring semester!

The new semester got off to a terrific start with Undergraduate Night at the State Street Reading Series.  This is the second year organizers Michael Cocchiarale and James Esch have featured student writers from local colleges and universities, and once again it was a great success.  Turnout at the Media Arts Council Gallery was high, and the student performers shared poetry and fiction touching on topics ranging from documentary verse on women in science to the struggles of mental illness.  The voices of the students, and the voices they brought to life on the page, were profoundly moving.

Michael Cocchiarale introduces Undergraduate Night

Featured were Marianne Donley from Villanova University, Colette Gerstmann from Swarthmore College, Francesca Malin from Cabrini University, and Jennifer Rohrbach from Widener University.

Jenn, a senior English and Creative Writing double major (and editor-in-chief of The Blue Route), read from a novella produced over the fall semester in her Longform Fiction course with Dr. Cocchiarale.  The narrative was told from the varying points of view of three characters, all of whom share a secret from their past.  After the reading, Jenn shared that her influences for the piece included Faulkner, and that she wanted to make sure that each perspective carried a unique voice.

Jenn Rohrbach reads (photo credit Michael Cocchiarale)

Mark your calendars for the next State Street Reading:  March 15 at 7pm, with Sam Gridley and Jasmine Combs.  Follow on Facebook for updates!


Widener Team of Student Editors Takes on FUSE

November 2 to November 4 saw the hosting of the annual meeting of FUSE (Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors) at Cabrini University in Radnor, PA.  The theme was “Representation and Resistance,” and Widener student editors from Widener InkThe Blue Route, and The Blue & Gold were out in force.  Nicole Gray, Jasmine Kouyate, Haley Poluchuck, Jennifer Rohrbach, Carlie Sisco, and Kira Smith attended, along with Professors Cocchiarale, Pobo, and Esch, and presented an hour-long workshop entitled “Using Documentary Theater to Craft Monologues of Resistance.”

Nicole Gray facilitates the workshop run by Widener students

We’re happy to link out to our fellow blog at The Blue Route to share the amazing comments from the students who went.  Representative are these words from Carlie Sisco, Blog Manager/Social Media Manager for The Blue Route:

We are a very tight-knit team at Widener and we’ve gotten to know each other not only as people, but also as writers. It was amazing to hear from the talented students at other universities and colleges who are brave enough to read personal or vulnerable pieces of work to a room filled with strangers that share the same passion…I’ve become so impressed and inspired by those around me. It’s a true testament to why we do what we do. As writers, we aim to inspire, move others, express a given voice, and potentially make a difference with the stories we tell. Listening to the students I’ve gotten to meet and work with over the course of three days, it’s easy to tell that we’re on that path. I’ve never felt such a part of such a talented community.

Read the whole post here!


O’Connor Scholar Daniel Moran Speaks at Widener

On October 26, Flannery O’Connor scholar Daniel Moran spoke at Widener on the subject of his book, Creating Flannery O’Connor.  His lively and engaging talk offered a tour of his monograph, looking at how reviewers, editors—even obituary writers, pop-culture mavens, and GoodReads users—have shaped our perception of this essential American writer.  Writer of the South?  Woman writer?  Catholic writer?  All of the above? 

O’Connor is many things to many people and difficult to pin down.  She resists the attempts of critics and common readers to understand her work and her beliefs in any kind of a monolithic way.  Moran’s take on reception theory and practice, as well as his modesty and humor as a reader of O’Connor, show us new ways of grappling with this complex figure.

Daniel Moran speaking on O’Connor

Moran teaches history at Monmouth University. His work on G. K. Chesterton and John Ford has been published in academic journals and he has contributed articles to a variety of teaching guides, including Poetry for StudentsShort Stories for Students, and Drama for Students. His most recent study, Creating Flannery O’Connor: Her Critics, Her Editors, Her Readers (University of Georgia Press, 2016), examines how a literary reputation—and the image of a cultural icon—have been made, not only by O’Connor herself, but also by her readers, reviewers, critics, publishers, and filmmakers.

He was brought to Widener and introduced by Professor Mark Graybill, our specialist in Flannery O’Connor who is currently teaching a course on Southern literature.

Mark Graybill introduces Daniel Moran

Dr. Utell Named Distinguished University Professor

At the annual faculty awards ceremony last night, 26 October, our esteemed department chair, Dr. Janine Utell, was named Distinguished University Professor for the College of Arts and Sciences. This distinction, among the highest at Widener University, recognizes full professors who demonstrate superlative achievement in teaching, scholarship, and leadership. The college awards the professorship every three years to two distinguished faculty members: along with the college’s other award-winner, Dr. Lori Simons, Psychology, Dr. Utell will serve a three-year term as Distinguished University Professor. In 2014 Dr. Utell earned the university’s most prestigious recognition–the Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching.

We are so proud of our amazing department chair, consider ourselves fortunate to have her, and believe she deserves to win all of the awards!

[This post will be updated when photos from the event are available.]

Ken Pobo Reads Loplop in a Red City

We are delighted to link out to the blog at The Blue Route, Widener’s national undergraduate literary magazine, to share a post about Ken Pobo’s recent reading from his new book Loplop in a Red City.  The reading from Dr. Pobo’s collection of ekphrastic poems inspired by surrealist painting was performed to a standing-room-only crowd at the Widener University Art Gallery.

As author Nicole Gray so eloquently put it, “When one person has such a passion for art, it can become contagious and that is what happened that day at the reading.”  Read the rest of the post here!

And while we’re at it…congratulations to Dr. Pobo for being recognized this fall for thirty years of teaching at Widener!

Ken Pobo honored at the September meeting of the Arts & Sciences faculty for 30 years of service

Widener Students Hear Dolores Huerta at the Ritz

On September 16, Widener students from ENGL 102/124: Nature Writing and ENVR 188/388: Urban Ecology and Sustainability took an excursion to the Ritz Five in Philadelphia to see Dolores, a new documentary about activist Dolores Huerta.

Huerta speaking during the post-screening Q & A

The documentary told the story of how Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association which became the United Farm Workers (UFW). It was Huerta who came up with the phrase “Si se puede,” which Obama translated to use for his presidential campaign (“Yes, we can!”).  The students learned that Huerta’s work often went unacknowledged because of her gender.

At the end of the film, Dolores Huerta, herself, (aged 87!) took the stage and answered questions.  She urged the audience to become politically involved and that there is “people power.”

This excursion was funded by a Widener University Performance & Lecture Mini-Grant.

l-r: Ahlam Alhumaidi (accompanied by her mother) and Shunqi (“Ines”) Ge, Jamie Smerechenski,Tamara (“Tara”) Nwaneri, Serena Turco, faculty members Ruth Cary (ENGL) and Bruce Grant (ENVR)

Shakespeare at the Free Library!

Annalisa Castaldo, our specialist in medieval and Renaissance literature, is also the Scholar-in-Residence for the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre.  This year she is giving a series of

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

lectures called “Shakespeare in the World,” on Shakespeare’s “Taboo Topics”: politics, sex, race, and religion.  All lectures are held from 6–7pm at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Vine Street (the Parkway Central Library).  Check them out!  (Link here.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 – Shakespeare & Politics
Wednesday, January 17, 2018 – Shakespeare & Sex
Wednesday, March 14, 2018 – Shakespeare & Race
Wednesday, April 11, 2018 – Shakespeare & Religion

Welcome Back!

We here at Widener English and Creative Writing are very excited to get back in the classroom—to meet new majors and minors and greet returning ones.  There are already a number of exciting activities on the horizon, and we encourage you to stay in touch and get involved.

Below you can find a run-down of everything on our events calendar.  In the meantime, seek out opportunities at our literary magazines The Blue Route and Widener Ink, our digital-first student-run media site The Blue & Gold, our theatre company Lone Brick Theatre, and our undergraduate research opportunities in digital humanities and textual scholarship.  We are here to help, with everything from courses to careers, and we look forward to seeing you on the third floor of Kapelski!

Save the dates:

  • English and Creative Writing majors and minors opening meeting:  September 6, noon, KLC 339 (pizza will be served!)
  • State Street Reading Series:  September 21, 7pm, Media Art Gallery (more info here!)
  • Fall Faculty Lecture:  Dr. Daniel Robinson on the Shelleys:  September 28, 3:30pm, UC Room F
  • Ken Pobo Poetry Reading:  October 5, 4pm, Widener Art Gallery (to be confirmed)
  • Open Mic:  October 19, 7pm, LC 1
  • Reading:  Distinguished Visiting Writer Stephanie Powell Watts:  November 15 at 4pm (learn more about her work here!)

End of Year Achievement: Humanities Awards and Student Project Day

Last week we were delighted to acknowledge the hard work and accomplishments of English and Creative Writing students and faculty at the annual Humanities Awards Ceremony and Student Project Day.

On April 27, English and Creative Writing students were recognized at the fourth annual Humanities Awards Ceremony.  This was a particularly special event for a number of reasons.  The very first Distinguished Alumnus Award was given, to Pat Manley (English, ’99).  The inaugural Susan Hastie Memorial Award was given to Evan Kramer, a double major in English and Creative Writing; this award recognizes a senior who has evinced a dedication to the study of literature and writing, a quiet seriousness, and a maturity that enhances the pursuits of the program.  The winner of the Allison Roelofs Award was Carlie Sisco, double major in English and Creative Writing; this award recognizes a freshman or sophomore who demonstrates great potential and early excellence in the major.

We were also pleased to present the first-ever Certificates in Textual Scholarship to Kimberlee Roberts and Taylor Brown.  Kim and Taylor have been working, under the direction of Dr. Daniel Robinson, on the production of scholarly editions of Romantic-period texts, have traveled to England to study original manuscripts, and have presented their work in multiple venues.  Kim will be attending graduate school for library and archival science at the University of Denver, and Taylor will be pursuing a masters degree in digital humanities at the Loyola University of Chicago.

As the winner of the first Distinguished Alumnus Award, Pat Manley spoke about the need for the humanities not only in the workforce but as a way to enrich our understanding of what it means to be human.  He was followed by Kelsey Styles, who gave remarks as a distinguished undergraduate Humanities major.  Kelsey offered a passionate and inspiring speech about the necessity of the humanities for empathy, particularly in our current moment.

Then, on April 28, the scholarship of English and Creative Writing students was featured at Student Project Day.  Taylor Brown, Emma Irving, and Christine Lombardo presented a panel on David Lynch, family dynamics, and the uncanny.  Students from Annalisa Castaldo’s course on Renaissance Literature spoke on gender and race and connections we might make to our own time.

Photos of the Humanities Awards Ceremony courtesy of Paul Goldberg

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