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The English Department at Widener University

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Ruminations

Ruminations on various topics by members of the English Club and faculty of the department.

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.

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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.

 

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.

Wordsworth and the Lake District: Spring Break Scholarship for Widener English Students

During spring break a few weeks ago, a group of Widener English students had the opportunity to travel to the Lake District in England.  Sponsored by Professor Daniel Robinson, these students have been studying Romantic-period poetry, and some of them have been deeply involved in undergraduate research as part of our Textual Scholarship program, led by Professor Robinson.  (We’d like to acknowledge that this outstanding experience for our students is made possible by the Homer C. Nearing, Jr. Distinguished Professorship, held by Professor Robinson.)

While in England they spent several days at the Jerwood Centre, home to William Wordsworth’s archive, and under the expert guidance of Jeff Cowton, Curator, they studied the poet’s manuscripts, learned about papermaking and printing, and explored the landscape that formed Wordsworth’s imagination.  In a post for our national online undergraduate literary magazine, The Blue Route, Emma Irving talks about this transformative experience.  I’ll let her take it from here:

I cannot stop gushing about my trip; it was life-changing in so many respects, and I’ll take as much time out of my day as you want to show you my pictures and tell you my stories. But one of the greatest things I got out of this trip as an English major was the opportunity to truly connect with an author, to really get to know William Wordsworth as a human being who wrote poetry.

Hop over to The Blue Route to read the whole post, and check out this gallery of photos, courtesy of Professor Robinson.

Job and Internship Roundup!

 

Turk’s Head Review and the Chester Writers’ House are still looking for interns.  Not sure if you should apply?  Read this post by guest blogger Kirbee Veroneau, a student at Millersville University.  She did an internship with Turk’s Head Review and was kind enough to share her thoughts:

 

No matter what your major is, chances are you’ll probably want to have an internship under your belt before you graduate college. For English and Creative Writing majors especially, I can tell you first-hand how vital it is to have that experience.

At Millersville University, I’m an English Education major with a concentration in Writing Studies. While my internship is basically planned for me (student teaching), it was still up to me to meet the requirement for a “co-op experience” for my Writing Studies concentration. When I first saw that I had to not only complete an internship, but go out and find one on my own with barely any help, I was a little overwhelmed and, admittedly, a little annoyed. Completing an internship was not something I felt I had the time or energy to do, especially with schoolwork and the various organizations I’m a part of taking up all my time.

After a couple months of looking around, I was able to find an internship opportunity with James Esch’s Spruce Alley Press. I immediately was so excited. Writing and publishing were two things that I really wanted to do. Yes, I want to teach, but publishing had always been something that intrigued me and I was so excited to finally have the opportunity to see the behind-the-scenes of how that works and be able to write outside of the school’s constraints of mainly formal essays.

For me, personally, I had an extremely positive experience with my internship. It helped me in ways I never even thought it could. For example, I’ve become much better at time management. That’s a skill you need for the rest of your life, not just until your required “however-many-hours” comes to an end. I’ve learned about the kind of writer I am and had the opportunity to develop my written voice and become much more comfortable with that voice.

Experience, whether it be positive or negative (yep, negative experiences are helpful in the learning process too) is something you’ll want. If you’re sitting there rolling your eyes, I don’t blame you. A few months ago, that’s how I felt too. Yes, you can gain experience on your own from writing for yourself and developing your own stories and voices through blogging or writing poetry or whatever; however, there is so much to be learned from working with people who are experienced in your field. For English and Creative Writing majors, getting someone to look over your work and provide constructive criticism is an extremely beneficial experience. Not only do you learn how to become a better writer, but you learn to become a deeper thinker and become much more knowledgeable about your craft through the process of working with others. Not to mention, when applying for jobs, they’re going to be looking at the experience you’ve had just as much as the credits you’ve completed.

That’s why, even though you may want to run away and hide at the idea of finding and completing an internship, it’s an experience you’ll be so thankful you had. So, good luck and keep writing!

 

Read more about our internships at Turk’s Head Review and Chester Writers’ House, and get in touch with Dr. Utell if you want to apply.  Plus:  we’ve had a few job opportunities come our way over the last few days.  Check them out:

Assistant Editor at Springer Science and Business Media

Online Content Editor at Healio.com

Congratulations to Sigma Tau Delta Inductees!

Monday, March 16, saw the induction of new members to the Widener University chapter of Sigma Tau Delta.  Chapter President Autumn Heisler (’15) offered some remarks, which she was generous enough to share here:

I am a psychology major. Wait. Yes. I am a psychology major. I’m seventeen years old, and I’ve been told by everyone and their mothers that I need to pick my major for college so that I can plan out the rest of my life. I pick psychology, because I am

Chapter President Autumn Heisler shares her remarks; photo courtesy of Professor Mark Graybill
Chapter President Autumn Heisler shares her remarks; photo courtesy of Professor Mark Graybill

told I would be good at it. I’m seventeen years old. I have no idea what I want to do with the rest of my life. I do know it isn’t psychology, though, but I choose it anyways. I have no real clue what else I want.

Okay. I have a clue. Actually, I know the only clue: I want to write. And at seventeen, I don’t know how to tell people that. So I hide away my stories, each world closeted for only me to know. Until, one day, when I leave four pages, single spaced lying on my bed, and my father stumbles upon them, thinking it’s an essay. He reads them. He calls me to him, and I am mortified, (encounters like this mortify seventeen year olds), and he asks me, “Why aren’t you pursuing this?”

I’m telling everyone here this particular story, because I wouldn’t be standing in front of you if it hadn’t happened this way. Or maybe I would. I do believe in fate, and I believe that writing has always been mine. But it did happen this way, and though I’ve never told my father this, I am eternally grateful for his “snooping.”

Every time I recall this story, I always get this passionate surge of responsibility to tell people to follow their dreams. It’s a cliché, I know, but it’s one that I think is so important for people to hear. Follow your dreams. You should never have to sacrifice your own happiness, because you are afraid of what others might be saying or thinking. In the end, it’s your life; not theirs. I wish that I had had the confidence to tell my family and friends on my own, but I needed that push. I was introverted, and I carried that with me into college. Being at Widener has brought me out of my shell.

Sigma Tau Delta, for me, is a community of book nerds who love giving the gift of English to everyone they meet.

Widener has given me more opportunities than I can even count. Because of English and creative writing, I’ve gained experience in writing, critical reading, editing, and more. I’ve worked as a student editor for three years in University Relations. I’ve been on the staff of our literary journal for four years and am now editor-in-chief of Widener Ink. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to go to Seattle and soon Minneapolis to attend the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. I was a part of the pilot team in creating the Blue&Gold, bringing news to students. I’ve been published in the numerous magazines and online. I love writing so much, I added a professional writing minor during my sophomore year in order to learn as many styles of writing as I could. I was inducted into Sigma Tau Delta last spring and have acted as president for the past school year.

Sigma Tau Delta is an organization that strives to support high standards of academic excellence by fostering learning through literature, language, and writing, both within our community and in the larger society. In continuation of this serving our community, our chapter has donated books to Chester City Hall to be used by the Youth Aid Panel and the GED training group. Widener’s chapter has also donated books in order to support children’s literacy to an English immersion elementary school on  Zamorano University’s campus in Honduras, as well as to an orphanage close to Zamorano. Sigma Tau Delta is a celebration of people who know the importance of the written word.

l-r: Dean Don Devilbiss, Ellen Madison, Emily DeFreitas, Maria Klecko, Christian Scittina, Kimberlee Roberts, Veronica Vasquez, Autumn Heisler, Dean Sharon Meagher; photo courtesy of Professor Mark Graybill
l-r: Dean Don Devilbiss, Ellen Madison, Emily DeFreitas, Maria Klecko, Christian Scittina, Kimberlee Roberts, Veronica Vasquez, Autumn Heisler, Dean Sharon Meagher; photo courtesy of Professor Mark Graybill

I want the new inductees to know that they are joining something with a very important meaning. Sigma Tau Delta, for me, is a community of book nerds who love giving the gift of English to everyone they meet. I started out scared and quiet. Now, I am a creative writing and English dual major. I am twenty-one years old. I am following my dream, and though I am a rather quiet person, I tell everyone why I am where I am today, because I’m happy here, being me.

Career Advice from Widener English Alums

“Be flexible.  Be versatile.”

“Just say yes.”

“Get involved.”

“Know that there are lots of different paths:  ask yourself, where do I see myself?”

These pieces of advice, and so much more, were on offer from two Widener English alums:  Ashley Babcock, Director of the Writing Center at Montgomery College, and Emma Ricciardi, a final-year grad student in Library Science at Rutgers and a former intern at the Library Company of Philadelphia.  Ashley and Emma took time from their busy schedules to visit campus last week and share stories about and strategies for building a career with an English major.

What skills from that English major did these successful alums highlight?  They include:

  • editing
  • critical thinking and analytical skills
  • independent thinking
  • managing information
  • being able to read people and situations
  • writing
  • being able to defend ideas
  • listening well to others

Ashley began by tracing her path from English and Creative Writing major to full-time faculty member at the Art Institute in Washington, DC, to a doctorate in Higher Education Leadership, to a position combining faculty work and administration.  A major theme that emerged from her story was the importance of saying yes to opportunities that allow for the demonstration of flexibility, initiative, and drive.  She also highlighted the need to balance setting clear goals with being willing to change course and follow the unexpected.  Her current work in qualitative education research allows her to draw on her background as an English major especially in the use of narrative inquiry, and she is envisioning developing a new phase of her career publishing that research and teaching courses in higher ed leadership.

Emma described knowing from early on what she wanted to do:  develop a career as an archivist by gathering up as much different experience in the field as possible.  Key ideas from Emma’s story included being versatile, and seeking out experiences and opportunities that let you develop that versatility.  She suggests using every chance you can to train yourself to do and make new things, to show that you are both trainable and that you don’t need to be trained.  Emma made the excellent point that employers don’t want you to be able to do just one thing, and being able to learn new things quickly is the best quality a new member of the career force can have.

Both women highlighted the necessity of knowing all kinds of technology and tools:  social media, blogging, Excel (ESPECIALLY Excel!).  Both women stressed the importance of extracurricular involvement, even in interests outside the major:  these activities provide the chance to develop “soft skills” and expose you to a wide range of other enriching experiences that make you interesting and can lead to unforeseen opportunities.  They also give you a chance to be a leader.

And both women said majoring in English was invaluable for finding a job:  it is basically the universal sign to any employer that you can write, read, and think.  All in all, it was wonderful to see the success these alums have found after graduation, and we were grateful to them for sharing their wisdom.

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