This past semester, under the leadership of Professor Eric Falci, the department inaugurated a graduate student publication workshop. Designed as a forum for graduate students to receive feedback on their work-in-progress as they prepare that work for eventual publication, the workshop met five times in the fall 2009 semester, and plans to meet six or seven times this spring. Each workshop this past fall focused on a single pre-circulated graduate student essay and was moderated by a different faculty member who works in the same field. The workshops have looked in detail at the specifics of each essay, in addition to discussing the larger issues that inform the particular field at hand and questions around scholarly publishing generally. The graduate students represent a number of different cohorts in the department and included Peter Goodwin, Rebecca Gaydos, Seulghee Lee, Rebecca Munson, and Spencer Coldren. Faculty participation came from everywhere in the ranks as Katie Snyder, Namwali Serpell, Abdul JanMohamed, and Dave Landreth all moderated wonderfully productive and insightful sessions throughout the last semester.
Rebecca Munson, a third-year student in the department who specializes in the Renaissance, described the multiple benefits of participating in the workshop. Not only, she said, did she receive knowledgeable and helpful feedback on her essay “Patterns of Experience in Shakespeare’s ‘Rape of Lucrece,’” but she also noted the way the workshop helped her to learn to think and act “professionally” as it schooled her in the subtle ways in which a article for publication differs from a seminar paper in things like tone and use of secondary criticism. More specifically, she said the discussion was helpful in allowing her to figure out which parts of her argument should be cut and which should stay, decisions in the face of which she had previously felt almost paralyzed. Yet, the workshop as a whole benefited her in other, more general ways. She has experienced it, she said, as kind of a “Master Class” that allowed her both to practice the difficult task of distancing herself from her work that allowed her to receive criticism with an open mind and to develop skills in giving feedback on work that was not in her area of expertise. Just as importantly, noting the few opportunities that graduate students have for reading the work of their peers, she said that the workshop has provided her with a sense of community that she hopes will extend into her more advanced years as a graduate student.
Seulghee Lee, another third-year student, also noted the way the workshop cultivated a sense of community. He says that it is easy to take for granted the intellectual resources you have in your peers in the department but that the workshop was a good reminder of the high level of work being done everywhere around you. For him, it was an extension of the generally supportive and non-competitive culture of the department’s graduate program. His essay, a highly theoretical treatment of how literary critics remember and appropriate history that he has been working on since he took a graduate course in the African-American Studies department, benefited, he said, from his peer’s insightful comments that allowed him to keep the essay from falling into trite and hackneyed theoretical formulations.
This workshop continues this spring with a new set of students and essays to review. Indeed, in addition to workshops that focus on a single graduate student paper, Professor Falci reports that there will be a couple of workshops with multiple faculty members involved that places several different papers that track similar large-scale patterns into conversation with each other. For information about the workshop, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.