Widener English

The English Department at Widener University


creative writing

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Writer for the fall was Philadelphia poet Cynthia Dewi Oka, who led tutorials and gave a breathtaking reading of new, unpublished work based on her investigations into archival material related to political violence in Indonesia.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!


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!


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

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.)

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