Widener English

The English Department at Widener University

English and Creative Writing Celebrate Honors Week

This week is Honors Week at Widener—our annual celebration of academic excellence.  Every year, we kick off the festivities with the induction of new members into Sigma Tau Delta.  This year, six new members were inducted:  Michael Brant, Dana Schweizer, Carlie Sisco, Taylor Blum, Nicholas Demkin, and Haley Poluchuk.

The keynote was delivered by Chapter Vice President Taylor Brown.  Her remarks were a stirring call to action for students in English and Creative Writing, and the humanities more broadly.  She said that those who love literature have found “the code for honest, loving, fulfilled lives,” and that we have a responsibility to show the value of what we know and love about literature, to be “warriors” for the humanities.

The induction was followed in the evening by the Honors Week open mic, hosted by Kelsey Styles (Creative Writing and Communication Studies, ’17) and Evan Kramer (English and Creative Writing, ’17).  Students and faculty read original work, as well as pieces by others that have inspired them.


Here’s the full text of Taylor’s remarks:

Four years. Four years to catch it, read it, learn it, bring it inside of you, and spit out something new. Four years is enough time to change the world—for better or for worse. Four years is enough time to meet yourself hundreds of times over. Four years is all it takes to become a completely new person, watching the world open up around you. The truth is, four years is an eternity and a second, and what you do with it is completely up to you.

The Humanities are going to see some impacts within the next four years, and I fear that it will become our responsibility as students of literature, history, language, and art to stay focused and resolved against those who feel our knowledge is not valuable. It isn’t news to many of you sitting before me that a degree in English is not exactly considered fool proof by the American public, but in my eyes I can’t see a better way to spend four years. I have gained access into every point of view imaginable, every consciousness, every culture, every family, every life, and it is all thanks to my education in English. I think humans have unlocked the code for an honest, loving, infallible life and we’ve hidden it away in books. When you make a habit of reading, you make a habit of knowing how it feels to be something or someone else. Willingly leaving yourself behind to experience the life of another—a state of true imaginative empathy. This is something the world needs more of, and I hate to tell you guys, but it’s kind of up to you to remind everyone what we’re here for. In the meantime, take these four years and turn them into greatness. Become the best version of yourself so that others can learn from your example. Most of all, spend this four years surrounding yourself with people that know your mission and see the impact a life of books can have on the soul because these are the warriors and they will know the fight when they see it.

Undergraduate Night at the State Street Reading Series

The second half of the 2016–2017 State Street Reading Series season opened with our first Undergraduate Night.  Writers from Cabrini, Swarthmore, Villanova, and Widener shared their fiction and poetry to a packed house.

Michael Cocchiarale introduces Undergraduate Night

Widener was represented by two seniors:  Kelsey Styles (Creative Writing/Communication Studies) and Evan Kramer (Creative Writing/English).  Each read original works of fiction.


  • The next State Street Reading will take place on March 16 at 7pm, featuring Carla Spataro and Rahul Mehta.
  • Undergraduate writers from around the region will convene at Widener on April 1 at 2pm for a Reading for Unity.  Students will read inspiring works on the theme of social justice.  Open to all in the Webb Room of the University Center.


Ulysses: Senior Seminar Fall 2016

This past Fall, senior English and Creative Writing majors closed the semester on a high note as they presented their Senior Seminar Thesis’. This year’s Senior Seminar was led by Professor Janine Utell, with a focus on James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Junior English major Emma Irving introduced the evening, providing background on Joyce’s work with a comic twist. Students then presented the results of a semester’s worth of research and writing on the modernist novel which takes on an unbelievable process of thinking. The eight episodes show a stream of consciousness that is carefully constructed will immense characteristics and humor. The group decided to switch things up this time and present in pairs in the form of a discussion with questions for one another. This made the atmosphere more relaxed, but yet still professional.

Joyce’s work through the minds of these scholars presented the audience of faculty, family, and friends with important themes of perception, transcendence, aesthetics, theory, intertextuality and more. We’d like to congratulate them on their hard work, and wish them a successful last semester as they prepare for graduation!

Here is the full program:

Kimberlee Roberts: “As Others See Us”: A Phenomenological Reading of Dismemberment and Perception in James Joyce’s Ulysses

Taylor Brown: “All are washed in the blood of the sun”: Pursuing Reconciliation and Transcendence in Joyce’s Ulysses

* * *

Tyler Goodwin: What If She Can’t Say Yes:  Consent, the Male Gaze, and Perceptions of Women in Ulysses

Dana Schweizer: Aesthetic Judgment and Theory: Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom as Artists

* * *

Evan Kramer: Ulysses, Privacy, and Surviving the Awkward

Nicholas Demkin: Anti-Semitism, Violence, and Nation-Building in James Joyce’s Ulysses

* * *

Ashley DiRienzo: From “My Son Leopold” to “Mayor of Bloomusalem”: Using Cognitive Theory to Explore Family as a Social Unit in Ulysses

Jeannie McGuire: “Like Another Ulysses”: Shakespearean Intertextuality in Ulysses

* * *

Amanda Joseph: Joyce, Coleridge, and Wordsworth and the Romantic Themes In Ulysses

Joshua Schneider: Analyzing Video Game Narrative Through Modernism and Ulysses



Widener English at HuffPo

English major Victoria Giansante has published a new essay at The Huffington Post. The essay, “Why You Should Never Pretend that You’re Okay,” was originally published on the website Unwritten back in November but has been picked up by the news and culture website, which posted the piece today. Congratulations to Victoria for having such an impact and reaching thousands of new readers!

Read “Why You Should Never Pretend that You’re Okay” at The Huffington Post

Thoughts on Flannery and Trump(ism)

Editor’s Note:  This is a guest post by Mark Graybill, Professor of English

So, Donald Trump is now officially president. Rarely do I address politics directly in class, but here, I’ll just say it: I think “Trumpism”—“a brew of nationalist, populist, anti-establishment, anti-‘expert,’ anti-globalist, protectionist, ‘us versus them,’ and most of all, anti-immigrant sentiment”—is dangerous in historic proportions. And I’m especially worried that it’s going to be devastating for the status of art, history, language, and literature in American culture. Indeed, the budget he plans to propose reportedly eliminates both the NEA and the NEH.

How did we get here? The Humanities, especially literature, can help answer that question (which might explain in part why Trump wants to starve them). I suspect that classics such as 1984, Brave New World, and The Handmaid’s Tale are going to enjoy new lives in the coming days. But the less obviously political fiction of Flannery O’Connor, published in the 1950s and ‘60s, also sheds considerable light on our current situation. (I’m not alone in thinking so: David Griffith published a compelling piece on “The Displaced Person” and the Syrian refugee debate over a year ago.) Specifically, O’Connor’s stories expose the seductiveness and destructiveness of nostalgia and authoritarianism—two pillars of Trumpism.

trump“Make America Great Again.” Sounds, well, great, doesn’t it? But, here’s the thing: nostalgia is fundamentally illusory and amnesiac. It distorts things, leaves things out, leads us away from reality. O’Connor is frequently lauded for her skepticism toward progress, especially the notion that technology and science (natural, social, and otherwise) can solve all of humanity’s problems. But she is equally suspicious of the tendency to place faith in a misremembered, ill defined past. When her characters do so, things go wrong.

When shifty Tom Shiftlet, in “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” spies a car he wants in a flannerywidow’s barn, he uses nostalgia to appeal to her unspoken but clear conviction that the present has wronged her: “Nothing is like it used to be, lady . . . The world is almost rotten.” “That’s right,“ she responds—and before she knows it, he has taken the car and humiliated both her and her disabled daughter in the process. In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” nostalgia is lethal. The Grandmother (unnamed to underscore her universality) dooms her family and herself by insisting they take a detour from their vacation and visit a plantation she went to as a child. Her memory is false, though: the plantation, if it ever truly existed, sits in another state. Her mistake delivers them all to their eventual murderer, the Misfit, a criminal she’s been fretting about since the story’s opening line.

A subtle but important aspect of the Grandmother’s nostalgia is racism. In her mind, the plantation isn’t a symbol of slavery, but of the romantic Old South. She lectures her grandchildren about how people treated each other respectfully in the past, and then gleefully calls an African American boy standing on the roadside a “cute little pickaninny!” The Grandmother’s acceptance of racial stereotypes (as seen in this example from the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University) puts her in company with the new president and some of his supporters: one survey suggests that “those who hold . . . dehumanizing views of black people are disproportionately likely to support Donald Trump.” (Here’s another with similar findings.)

But political scientists have identified something larger than racism at work in the American electorate right now: authoritarianism. “Authoritarians prioritize social order and hierarchies, which bring a sense of control to a chaotic world,” writes Amanda Taub. “Challenges to that order—diversity, influx of outsiders, breakdown of the old order—are experienced as personally threatening because they risk upending the status quo order they equate with basic security.”

O’Connor captures this mentality vividly in “The Displaced Person.” After World War II, a global conflagration sparked by authoritarianism, Mrs. McIntyre initially welcomes a family of Polish refugees to her farm because they outwork her current employees. But when Mr. Guizac approaches one of her black farmhands about marrying his white cousin, confined for three years in a refugee camp back in Europe, Mrs. McIntyre explodes: “You would bring this poor innocent child over here and try to marry her to a half-witted thieving black stinking nigger! What kind of monster are you?” The outsider has challenged the social order, and she cannot abide it. Incapable of dealing with the situation, she passively lets another employee, the white, racist, big-talking Mr. Shortley, handle it violently, but with the kind of plausible deniability the authoritarian strongman treasures. Disaster ensues: the Pole dies, the farm closes, and its owner lies bedridden, decimated physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Will the two-headed monster of nostalgia and authoritarianism also incapacitate the American body politic? The fact that I can entertain such a question without immediately dismissing it as melodrama is downright depressing. But then I recall Toni Morrison’s words, cited by pop star Katy Perry post-election: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” If it is time for “artists [to] go to work,” to “do language,” it is time for readers to do the same. As every English major knows, wisdom about the present is often found in the art of the past.


Smart Barker Holiday Single

Please enjoy our new holiday single, “Los Pantalones de Navidad,” inspired by the heartwarming traditional tale of the Christmas pants. Check it out at iTunes—only 99¢! Also available for download at Amazon—same low price!

via Smart Barker Holiday Single — Daniel Armstrong Robinson

Widener Students Take On FUSE

Every year, students from our English and Creative Writing program attend the national conference for the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors (FUSE).  Regular readers may recall that last year Widener had the privilege of hosting the annual gathering.

This year, Kelsey Styles, Emma Irving, and Jennifer Rohrbach headed out to Bowling Green with Professor Michael Cocchiarale to share their work on our campus publications—Widener InkThe Blue RouteChester Magazine, and The Blue & Gold—and participate in discussions focused on the conference theme of literary citizenship.

We’re happy to link out to The Blue Route and share their reflections on this meaningful event.  Here’s a preview from Jennifer Rohrbach:

It was inspiring to realize that there is a community of writers and editors out there in the world who are as enthusiastic about literature as I am, and who are dedicated to instilling that enthusiasm within others to further cultivate literary citizenship.

Want to read more?  Head over to The Blue Route.

New Publication from Faculty Member and Local Author Melissa Mowday

We are pleased to announce a new book from Widener English faculty member and local 9781467123822author, Melissa Mowday.  West Chester, in Arcadia Publishing‘s Images of Modern America series, is a photographic tour of this historic town; Mowday co-authored the book with her father, Bruce Mowday.

Melissa will be signing books at the Devon Barnes & Noble on December 18th at noon—stop by and congratulate her!

Senior Seminar 2016: James Joyce’s Ulysses

The subject of this year’s Senior Seminar, directed by Professor Janine Utell, is James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses. In accordance with our tradition, Professor Utell, on September 29, presented the annual Fall Faculty Lecture on “James Joyce and Divorce Law,” which is related to her essay “Criminal Conversation: Marriage, Adultery, and the Law in Joyce’s Work,” forthcoming in an edited collection on James Joyce and the law later this year from University of Florida Press. Professor Utell’s lecture addressed late 19th- and early 20th-century adultery laws in relation to not only Joyce’s Ulysses but also his posthumously published Giacomo Joyce and his story “A Painful Case,” from Dubliners.

Professor Utell speaking on divorce in Joyce’s work.

On October 14, the seniors had the opportunity to visit the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, where they viewed pages from Joyce’s manuscript of Ulysses, issues of the serial publication and a first edition. Librarian Elizabeth Fuller discussed with the students the composition and publication history of Ulysses and provided some anecdotes about the Rosenbach brothers who founded the institution. Professor Utell has a longstanding relationship with the Rosenbach, having coordinated the annual Bloomsday event from 2005 to 2007.

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, the English Department will host Temple University English literature Ph.D. candidate Ted Howell for a public lecture on how scientific discourse informs cultural production and expression in literary works.

Howell is also working on a dissertation about modernist fiction, early ecology and vitalist philosophy, which features a chapter on Joyce developed from material presented at three James Joyce conferences. He currently teaches in the Department of Writing Arts at Rowan University and leads a reading group on Ulysses at the Rosenbach. His course at Temple University on climate fiction, or “cli-fi,” has been featured in The New York Times, The Atlantic and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Ashley DiRienzo and Elizabeth Fuller at the Rosenbach

The Nov. 2 lecture by Howell will take place in Room A of the University Center from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. All are welcome.

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