The issue of “relevance” is a constant concern among Humanities departments today, especially in these troubled economic times. How do you make literature interesting and important to a population that seems to be increasingly indifferent to, or perhaps simply too busy for, it? Third-year graduate student Dimiter Kenarov has some very strong opinions about questions like this one, and, as a freelance journalist and contributing editor to the Virginia Quarterly Review, he has put his thoughts into action. He has published an article on Milosevic’s Serbia (Summer 2006) which was the co-winner of the Staige D. Blackford Prize for Nonfiction, a piece on the Roma in Bulgaria (Summer 2008), which was recently selected for the Best American Travel Writing of 2009, and an account of the double identity of Radovan Karadzic, the “Butcher of Bosnia” (Winter 2009). The blog recently sat down with Dimiter to find out more about the relationship between his academic work and his journalistic pursuits.
John Pipkin’s first novel Woodsburner brings to life an incident that Henry David Thoreau, America’s greatest transcendentalist philospher/arsonist, left out of Walden, the time he accidentally burned down 300 acres of Maine birch and pine forest and earned the enmity of the locals. As Ron Charles writes in his review: “Over the course of this momentous day, Pipkin moves back in time and across the Atlantic, describing several other characters whose lives are lit by their own fires and altered by Thoreau’s conflagration.”
Thatcher’s Britain through the eyes of the generation of 1979; Philip Hensher for The Guardian reads Durrell, Golding, Lessing, Greene, Pym, and Ballard.
Two hundred years after the birth of Edgar Allen Poe, Jill Lepore reflects on the economy [...]
“When teaching, it’s tempting to make it seem as if one’s ideas came effortlessly, and to hide the truth, which is that coming up to a blind wall is a permanent feature of everyone’s intellectual life,” writes the English Department’s latest winner of the campus-wide Distinguished Teaching Award
in his teaching philosophy
. But,” as Mitch Breitwieser reflects, “such an apparent facility on the teacher’s part can reinforce a student’s feeling that, because he or she is struggling when those around seem not to be, there must be some intrinsic personal deficiency. And feeling that way greatly reduces the chance that the intellectual problem will be solved.” He therefore tells his students, both in class and in office hours, that “academic success depends upon properly understanding that encounter with difficulty”—because failure “most often comes not from a lack of intelligence or preparation, but from a wrong choice concerning how to respond to having come up against that wall.”
I had forgotten that The Atlantic had been around long enough to have reviewed books like Great Expectations, Adam Bede, and Vanity Fair when they were freshly published but they have. A selection of “classic” book reviews are re-printed here, and they’re worth flipping through. My favorite was the blistering review of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which hopefully predicted that the book would sell badly, such that “the chief damage done will be to the author himself, who thus dishonors his own physical nature; for imperfect though the race is, it still remains so much purer than the stained and distorted reflection of its animalism in Leaves of Grass.“
As of April 16th, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style [...]
In what follows, San Francisco native Lisa Riordan Seville, a 2006 graduate from the English department, with a second major in Art Practice, talks about the importance of “reading” for her. Lisa currently lives in New York where she is finishing up an internship at the literary magazine Lapham’s Quarterly and also works as the Communication Associate at the International Justice Network, an organization involved in litigation on behalf of detainees at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. Though, she reports, she does not plan to be a lawyer or a literature professor, she finds herself returning often to an eclectic mix of her favorite writers: Joan Didion, Herman Melville, John Milton. In doing so, she opens up the question of literature’s [...]
In what follows, Assistant Professor Nadia Ellis profiles graduate student GerShun Avilez, a PhD candidate in English at the Univeristy of Pennsylvania who has spent the last year at UC Berkeley participating in the Exchange Scholar Program. The program enables a graduate student enrolled in a doctoral program in one of the participating institutions to study at one of the other graduate schools for a limited period of time so as to take advantage of particular educational opportunities not available on the home campus.
Not long after the beginning of the semester last Fall, I got a lovely, if shy, email from GerShun Avilez, asking if we might meet up. I was a new professor in the Department and GerShun was [...]
Relations between Russia and Ukraine have deteriorated in recent years, but now we know the real root cause: on the 200th anniversary of literary giant Nikolai Gogol’s birth, both countries are attempting to claim him. As Tom Parfitt reports in the London Guardian, “While the two countries sprang from a common east Slavic civilisation centred around the proto-state of Kievan Rus, Gogol’s identity is contentious because he lived in a period when Ukrainian national consciousness was awakening. Vladimir Yavorivsky, a Ukrainian novelist and MP, said that if Gogol was a tree, “the crown was in Russia but the roots were in Ukraine”.
From the London Times, the story of TS Eliot’s “snort” of rejection for George Orwell’s Animal Farm,which he turned [...]