Widener English

The English Department at Widener University


Janine Utell

Distinguished University Professor and Chair of English, Widener University (Pennsylvania, USA). Author, James Joyce and the Revolt of Love (Palgrave, 2010); Engagements with Narrative (Routledge, 2015). Due to Bloomsbury in 2018: Literary Couples and 20th Century Life Writing: Narrative and Intimacy. Editor, The Space Between: Literature and Culture 1914-1945.

Happy End of the Semester: Looking Back, Looking Forward

It has been our pleasure to keep the Widener English blog for quite a few years to share and to celebrate the work of our students and faculty.  We’ll be taking some time in the spring to reboot and redesign a brand-new site for Widener English and Creative Writing—an exciting online space that will reflect our mission, vision, and plans for the future.

Before we go, take a look at some of the incredible things that happened for us this past fall!

  • The semester began with a kick-off welcome for English and Creative Writing majors and minors, featuring a visit from Career Services helping us answer the perennial question, “What can you do with an English and Creative Writing major?” (the answer being, of course, lots).
  • We were delighted to welcome back English and Creative Writing alums for two amazing events.  First, Professor Nicole Cirone, an instructor of English and Creative Writing, facilitated a writing workshop for students and alumni.  Then, our Homecoming Weekend Open Mic drew a great crowd and featured students and alumni reading original work.
  • Lone Brick Theatre put on a shattering performance of Tracy Letts’s Bug, turning the mainstage of Alumni Auditorium into an intimate black box for one of the final performances to be held in that space before a much-needed renovation.
  • As part of our First-Year Common Experience, Nancy Ayllón-Ramírez, an attorney for Justice at Work in Philadelphia, gave a lecture on how students can think about using their voices for social justice and advocacy, especially on labor issues and workers’ rights.  Professor Ruth Cary played an integral role in bringing Ayllón-Ramírez to campus as part of her teaching of writing, sustainability, and food justice.
Nancy Ayllón-Ramírez from Justice at Work speaks in the Webb Room
  • FACULTY PUBLICATIONS!  Professors Michael Cocchiarale and Kenneth Pobo each saw new work out in the world this fall.  Michael Cocchiarale had a new collection of short stories published, Here is Ware, and Kenneth Pobo had a new chapbook of micropoems published, Threads.  Professor Pobo also kicked off the semester with new work in Toasted Cheese.
  • Our Distinguished Visiting Writer for the fall was Philadelphia poet Cynthia Dewi Oka, who led tutorials and gave a breathtaking reading of new, unpublished work based on her investigations into archival material related to political violence in Indonesia.  Check out this inspiring look at the powerful impact Oka had on our campus by senior Carlie Sisco, along with an in-depth interview, published on the blog for The Blue Route.  (We are still talking about this visit!)
  • Once again our students rocked the annual meeting for the Forum for Undergraduate Student Editors, this year at Susquehanna University.  Kelly Bachich, Carlie Sisco, Rohan Suriyage, and Sarah De Kok were all in attendance for a roundtable on our two literary magazines, Widener Ink and The Blue Route, as well as a poetry reading and workshop led by Martín Espada.
Widener Ink Editor Kelly Bachich and The Blue Route Editor Carlie Sisco speak at FUSE along with faculty advisor Professor James Esch
  • SENIOR SEMINAR!  Professor Mark Graybill ushered in senior seminar season earlier this fall with the Fall Faculty Lecture, entitled “Nostalgia, Race, and Authoritarianism in O’Connor’s Fiction and Trump’s America.”  Looking at several less-frequently studied Flannery O’Connor stories, particularly “The Displaced Person,” Professor Graybill argued for the profound relevance of the author’s work for our time.  And we end our action-packed fall semester, as always, with stellar senior seminar presentations, led by Professor Graybill:  ten seniors sharing original scholarship on the work of Flannery O’Connor, on topics ranging from Southern literature and the grotesque, to intertextuality and Biblical allusions in O’Connor’s work, to considerations of O’Connor’s form and characters.

We wish everyone a happy end of the semester and a restful break—and we look forward to seeing you in the spring!

English and Creative Writing Majors Celebrated at Humanities Awards Night

The end of the semester at Widener University brings one of the highlights of our academic year:  the Humanities Awards Ceremony.  Of particular note for us are the special honors bestowed upon English and Creative Writing majors.  This year’s Valedictorian and senior English major Emma Irving was singled out for particular recognition:  named Distinguished Graduating Senior, she offered remarks on the value of the humanities and the transformative power of studying expressions of the human condition.

This year, two students were awarded the Certificate in Textual Scholarship:  seniors Victoria Giansante and Emma Irving.  Victoria and Emma have each completed four semesters in our signature program for undergraduate research.

The recipient of this year’s Allison Roelofs Award is sophomore English and Creative Writing double major Jasmine Kouyate.  The Roelofs Award recognizes a student who demonstrates early-career excellence in our program.

This year’s Susan Hastie Memorial Award went to Taylor Blum, an English and Creative Writing senior.  The Hastie Award is given to a senior who demonstrates quiet excellence and a commitment to the community of the English and Creative Writing Department.

We are so proud of all of these students!


Creative Writing Senior Seminar Reading: Students Perform Accomplished Original Fiction

On April 18, Widener senior Creative Writing majors gave a public reading of their original fiction, produced as part of the senior seminar capstone experience.  The three students, all double majors in English and Creative Writing—Taylor Blum, Haley Poluchuk, and Jennifer Rohrbach—are among our most accomplished students, and gave outstanding readings as well as responded to in-depth questions about their aesthetics and processes as writers.

In an introduction detailing the work of these writers, and praising their leadership and accomplishments, Professor Michael Cocchiarale noted their “tremendously positive impact at Widener and beyond.”  Taylor Blum’s work is marked by “distinct characterization and snappy dialogue”; Haley Poluchuk’s fiction offers “razor-sharp details,” and she has seen her own work develop over the course of the semester, its “growth connected to an understanding of moving beyond convention”; Jennifer Rohrbach was described as “a gifted storyteller.”  The “theme,” as Professor Cocchiarale said, is that “each is really, really good at what they do.”

The achievements of these seniors are not limited to their work on their senior portfolios, and, as Professor Cocchiarale noted, their impact goes beyond Widener’s campus community.  Earlier this month the three ran a pop-up writing workshop and open mic at the Nebula Art Gallery in Chester, where a show of local art, “Art is Home,” was held to support the Chester Housing Authority.  Pieces were donated to families moving into properties, and about half of the pieces were created by students at the Chester Charter School for the Arts.  Read more about this event, and the participation of Widener Creative Writing students and faculty, here.

Honors Week with Widener English & Creative Writing

Honors Week is always an exciting time for Widener English & Creative Writing as we celebrate the accomplishments of our students. The week begins every year with the induction of new members into our honor society, Sigma Tau Delta.  (Photos credited to Michael Cocchiarale.)

The Sigma Tau Delta leadership: seniors Emma Irving and Jennifer Rohrbach
Thomas Rathburn receives his certificate from Ilene Lieberman, Director of the Honors Program in General Education











Then, on Thursday night, members of this year’s Creative Writing Senior Seminar—Jennifer Rohrbach, Haley Poluchuk, and Taylor Blum—organized one of our most successful open mics ever.  Taylor Blum emceed, and the evening included readings from several Widener English & Creative Writing alums.  It was standing-room only for poetry, fiction, and music.  (Most of the photos credited to Michael Cocchiarale.)


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

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)

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