Widener English

The English Department at Widener University

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

Celebrating Creative Writing at Widener

The last few weeks of the spring semester are always an exciting time for Creative Writing at Widener.

On April 20, seniors Evan Kramer, Kelsey Styles, Aly Amato, and David Kelly read their original works as part of their Creative Writing Senior Seminar Presentations.  Then, April 26 saw the drop party for this year’s publication of Widener Ink, led by Editor in Chief Haley Poluchuk.

At the Senior Seminar reading, Dr. Michael Cocchiarale gave the opening remarks and explained to the audience how his students made it to this point in their creative writing careers. He said, “The Seminar is the most challenging course, requiring the completion of two major writing projects. Students handed in a 10-page, source-based aesthetic, and an introduction to their creative work that grapples with such questions as: Why do you write? What are your preoccupations as a writer? What do you hope your writing does for others?  What are the special challenges for writers in twenty-first century America?”


Aly Amato

“I’m a writer who enjoys a lot of detail,” she says, “whether it’s background information or little pieces to set the scene.” Over her time at Widener, she’s used this eye for detail to stare down some difficult subjects—body image, unplanned pregnancy, unexpected death—in her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. By her own admission, she is quiet and reserved, but she possesses a strong voice on the page that needs to be heard.

David Kelly

…is interested in God and evolution and other big ideas. Whatever his topic, he writes with great conviction, showcasing what he calls his “logic-oriented edutainment” aesthetic. A recent Student Voices reading of his play about dinosaurs in the workplace reveals that this aesthetic approach can yield laugh-out-loud results.

Kelsey Styles

…is fearlessly inquisitive about the world. She’s not afraid to tackle issues of economic inequality. She’s not afraid to untether herself from realism and drift into the fantastical realm of slipstream, a genre that, as she explains, “has grown weary of . . . worn out rules, and has learned how to circumvent them for a better reading experience.” A winner of the Lowe Prize for poetry this year, Kelsey is an equally strong fiction writer. Whether a story is realist or not, she presents interesting, complex characters in conflict with their worlds.

Evan Kramer

By his own admission, Evan has “an obsession for observing and understanding human interaction.” With an incredible, almost obsessive eye for detail, especially the disturbing or darkly comic detail), Evan wants readers to “feel my writing crawling under their skin.” Evan’s fiction—not unlike the actual world we live in—is not the faint of heart. In short, Evan is like Poe and Flannery O’Connor . . . and then some.

Dr. Cocchiarale concluded by saying what a joy it was to get to know each of his students. He said that he enjoyed watching them emerge as careful thinkers, committed writers, and wonderful human beings, and took great pleasure in sharing with them the love of the written word.

(l-r) Aly Amato, Kelsey Styles, Evan Kramer, David Kelly, Michael Cocchiarale

The publication of our print literary magazine Widener Ink is the culmination of a year’s worth of work, ably led by Haley Poluchuk.  This year’s drop party also featured an open mic, where the authors published in this year’s issue read their original work.  (Photos courtesy of Jenn Rohrbach.)

Dr. Robinson’s President’s Lecture

On Monday, April 17th, Dr. Daniel Robinson delivered the Spring President’s Lecture, “What is a Romantic Poet Anyway?:  Editing the Romantics.”  This lecture was open to the entire university community.

The Spring President’s Lecture is for the winner of the Faculty Award for Outstanding Researcher from the previous semester. This award is a University-wide award given to a faculty member, after a lengthy and rigorous peer review process, who demonstrates excellence in research and scholarship in their field, particularly if that work involves student research and scholarship.  This past Fall Dr. Robinson won this award.

Dr. Robinson devoted some of the lecture to orienting the audience to aspects of English literature about which they might not be familiar, which in this case regarded the Romantic period.  He also discussed the theory and methodology of textual scholarship, with a particular focus on Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley.  He says,

The Romantic Period is unique in literary history in that its parameters traditionally have been established by the lives, careers—indeed, the personalities—of six writers, all men, all English, all poets. For much of the twentieth century, academic study of British literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries has centered on two generations: the first generation—Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge—who lived too long, and the second generation—Byron, Shelley, Keats—who died too soon. Feminist literary studies of the 1970s and ’80s would challenge the masculine monoliths; by the end of the century Romanticists were involved in a massive recovery of writers very different from the so-called Big Six: women writers, working-class writers, and writers who lived beyond the borders of England and who wrote beyond the borders of poetry. However, now that the dust has settled, the evidence suggests that, while scholars, instructors, students of Romanticism know about many more writers than the Big Six, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats continue to be the most studied, most read, most beloved writers of the period. In this lecture, I will discuss the challenges, questions, and issues involved in my preparation of the first wholly new anthology of Romantic poetry to be produced taking into account this new landscape. I also will discuss the ways I have involved my students in conducting the textual research and in making the editorial decisions that will result in the publication of The Bloomsbury Anthology of Romantic Poetry next year.

Dr. Robinson is Homer C. Nearing Jr. Distinguished Professor of English; at Widener University he teaches courses on British Romanticism, poetry and poetic form, Milton, and the rise of the British novel. He also recently created a certificate in Textual Scholarship—the only such program for undergraduates in the country—during the completion of which students work on scholarly editions of literary works for publication. Dr. Robinson is co-editor of A Century of Sonnets: The Romantic-Era Revival, 1750–1850 (Oxford UP, 1999); Lyrical Ballads and Related Writings (Houghton Mifflin, 2001); and, most recently, The Oxford Handbook of William Wordsworth (Oxford UP, 2015). He is the textual editor of Poems, The Works of Mary Robinson (2 vols, Pickering and Chatto, 2009) and author of Myself and Some Other Being: Wordsworth and the Life Writing (U of Iowa P, 2014), William Wordsworth’s Poetry: A Reader’s Guide (Bloomsbury, 2010) and The Poetry of Mary Robinson: Form and Fame (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). He also is series editor for Engagements with Literature (Routledge) and Bloomsbury Editions (Bloomsbury). He is currently working on The Bloomsbury Anthology of Romantic Poetry, a new edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and an innovative edition of Wordsworth and Coleridge—all of which involve the work of his Textual Scholarship students.


Lowe Creative Writing Prize Winners Announced!

Congratulations to this year’s winners of the Lowe Creative Writing Prizes in poetry, fiction, and drama:

Poetry:  “Sonnet for the Modern Soul,” Kelsey Styles

Fiction:  “In Dedication To…,” Taylor Blum

Drama:  “The Evening Shift,” Taylor Blum

(No prize was given for nonfiction this year.)

Ken Pobo’s New Chapbook: Calligraphy with Ball

We are pleased to announce the publication of a new chapbook by Professor Ken Pobo:  Calligraphy with Ball.  Calligraphy with Ball, published by Encircle Publications, was a finalist in that press’s Annual Chapbook Contest.

UPDATED TO ADD: Read a brilliant review of another of Professor Pobo’s forthcoming titles, Loplop in a Red City, a collection of ekphrastic poems, here.

Congratulations, Professor Pobo!  Here’s a sample (and you can buy a copy here):


I dash back the long path
over 700 years. Would Botox
hide how dead I look? Your world

is crummier than mine despite
Emperors who kept me hopping.
Tu Fu told me he visited last year.
When you arrive, try
the tanning salon. It’s strange.

He’s never steered me wrong—
while in the bed I remember a night
I spent alone on a mountain
with the moon. Or
was I on the moon dreaming

of a mountain? I’m pretty
sure I was crocked and
in love. With everything from
a grass blade to a ripple.
Not many open areas here—

mostly drug stores, fast food
joints, and parking lots.
This tan will surprise
the ghosts back in China.
I’ll send you a poem. By

the time you get it, you’ll
be dead too. No problem.
Poems travel forever.

Distinguished Visiting Writer: Christine Butterworth-McDermott

This past Wednesday, poet Christine Butterworth-McDermott gave a reading at Widener.  Butterworth-McDermott, who teaches at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, is this spring’s Distinguished Visiting Writer.  She is the author of the collection Woods & Water, Wolves & Women, and has published a chapbook, Tales on Tales:  Sestinas.  You can read some of her poetry here.

English and Creative Writing junior Jennifer Rohrbach gave the introduction; we’ll let her take it from here:

Christine Butterworth-McDermott is a master of transformation. In her book of poetry, Woods & Water, Wolves & Women, she transforms fantastic tales into anecdotal quips that comment on the humanity in the supernatural, the extraordinary in the everyday. She reveals new sides of characters we know and love, and gives voice to characters from whom we’ve never heard: the Ogre’s wife, the Frog Prince’s secret lover, the Prince Charming of shoe-makers. Her fairy-tale characters could pass for a next-door neighbor. In the poem “Snow Speaks,” Snow White says, “Let me tell you what I’ve learned. ‘You don’t know / what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’ and all that crap / happens to be true, especially when you wind up / the housemaid for seven tiny men / whose bathroom etiquette leaves much to be desired” (1-5, p. 19).

Butterworth-McDermott’s literary charm has earned her poetry and fiction spots in many journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Bellowing Ark, Cabinet de Fees, California Quarterly, Magazine of Speculative Poetry, North Atlantic Review, Portland Review, RATTLE, and Tales of the Unanticipated. She also teaches poetry, literature, and fairy-tales as an Associate Professor of English at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. In addition, she is the poetry editor of the literary journal REAL and the founder and co-editor of the literary magazine, Gingerbread House, which publishes quality poetry and fiction with magical elements. In 2010, her chapbook Tales on Tales: Sestinas, was published by Finishing Line Press, followed by Woods & Water, Wolves & Women, published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press in 2011.

Butterworth-McDermott talks with Jenn Rohrbach

Perhaps one of the most important things about her work is that it is accessible. Her poetry, while maintaining a high literary quality, is fun. It’s exciting. It’s inviting. And yes, sometimes it’s sad. In the poem “Rose,” Briar Rose laments her inability to have children after her cursed sleep. “In this war of my own,” she says, “nothing accounts / for bleeding, some endless punishment / for stopping blood and breath with / a spindle’s prick—that hundred years / of aborted life claims this payback” (26).

Growing up as a lover of Disney movies, it never occurred to me to wonder what happens after the happily ever after. What do the prince and princess say to one another after they ride off into the sunset? What happens to those left behind? Of course, I was like 5 when those movies came out, so I wasn’t exactly thinking analytically. It seems perfect, then, that we get to read these poems, experience these tales again, as adults. It gives us the opportunity to become re-enchanted with the stories we once loved, but to bring our own realities to the myths. Christine Butterworth-McDermott is a master of transformation, not only of fairy-tales and the fantastic, but of our means of perception. And through her work, tales as old as time become new.


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