Graduate Student’s Literary Journalism

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.

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Literary Links

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...

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Professor Mitch Breitwieser wins Campus’s Highest Teaching Honor, the 2009 Distinguished Teaching Award

“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.”

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Looking Back at Literature

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...

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Calling All Readers!

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...

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Graduate Exchange Student Flourishes at Berkeley

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...

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Literature Today

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...

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Conversations with Distinguished Alumna Young Jean Lee, Wed April 1, 5 PM

Young Jean Lee, Photo by Gene Pittman courtesy Walker Art Center On April 1, the English Department will be having its second event in its new series, “Conversations with Distinguished Alumni/ae.” Professors Catherine Gallagher and Scott Saul will be talking with playwright Young Jean Lee, who received her BA, with highest honors, in 1996. Young Jean went on to spend...

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Literary Notes

The first volume of The Letters of Samuel Beckett has been published, and it was no small accomplishment. As Nicholas Lezard at the Guardian notes, “the breadth of allusion, and the allusive and elusive wordplay you might have expected between intimate and highly educated correspondents (“‘nastorquemada nyles’ has not been identified with certainty,” say the editors, and I can’t say...

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Professor Robert Hass’s “Green Fire, the Still Point, and an Oak Grove: Some Reflections on the Humanities and the Environment.”

On Thursday, March 12, 2009, Professor Robert Hass gave the first of this year’s Faculty Research Lectures, the full text of which follows here. AN OAK GROVE Thank you. It is an honor and a bit daunting to be here today. Since I don’t actually do research so much as read around to try to put my thoughts in order,...

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Professor Eric Falci and the Science of the Lyric

This past fall sophomore English major Sarah Watson enrolled in Professor Eric Falci‘s ENGL 180L: Lyric Verse. Reading the semester’s course descriptions, she had been intrigued by the course’s claim that much of the semester would be spent “sorting out what the title of this course means.” When it went on to mention an exceedingly diverse list of poets —...

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A bard by another portrait…

Everyone is excited that we have a new picture of the Bard. And isn’t he a looker! As reported in the NYT: “His face is open and alive, with a rosy, rather sweet expression, perhaps suggestive of modesty…There is nothing superior or haughty in the subject, which one might well expect to find in a face set off by such...

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Teaching at San Quentin, Installment 3

This week we present a third-installment of graduate student Annie McClanahan’s account of teaching at San Quentin correctional facility with the Prison University Project. Annie has contributed two previous posts on this topic, in which she addresses, first, the nature of the program in general and a short account of the class she most recently taught and, second, the nature...

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Literature on the Web: “a good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit…”

In a TLS review, Jonathan Bate suggests that Milton has been a mirror which each era’s biographers have used to reflect their professional self-image. “For Masson,” he writes “it was sufficient to be clubbable around the Athenaeum. For William Empson in the following century, the professor of literature could be the naughty schoolboy throwing paper darts from the back row...

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