Commencement Address by Nuruddin Farah: “A Fork in the Fork of the Footpath”

farahNuruddin Farah—among the foremost of contemporary African writers, author of numerous novels including the trilogies Variations on the Theme of An African Dictatorship and Blood in the Sun, and recipient of the 1998 Neustadt International Prize for Literature—delivered this year’s English Department commencement address at the Greek Theatre on May 16. You’ll find the text below the fold.

READ MORE Commencement Address by Nuruddin Farah: “A Fork in the Fork of the Footpath”

Literary Links

Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, a memoir of his earlier life in Paris, was actually pieced together after his suicide by his then-wife Mary, and as Christopher Hitchens points out in a review of the newly published “restored” version, what was eventually redacted or included presumably had a lot to do with what his final wife thought about what he had...

READ MORE Literary Links

Professor Lyn Hejinian’s “Positions of the Sun: Latitudes and Lucy Church Amiably”

Professor Lyn Hejinian recently delivered this year’s Gayley Lecture, an annual English Department event which showcases the current research of a distinguished faculty member. The text of Professor Hejinian’s lecture, which we’re delighted to reproduce below, continues her extensive body of celebrated poetic and scholarly work. Its particular style, linking poetic diction with critical analysis, might ring some bells with students who have taken one of Hejinian’s twentieth-century literature courses and encountered those writers she has most extensively studied, virtuosos in poetry and prose alike: William Carlos Williams, for one, or the subject of this lecture, Gertrude Stein.

Stein is a writer whose status as cultural icon—symbol of Parisian cosmopolitanism and open homosexuality, standard-bearer for difficult modernist writing, target of relentless parody—tends to overshadow her actual work. Hejinian admits that she doesn’t expect anyone in her audience to have read Lucy Church Amiably, the 1927 text which is the lecture’s centerpiece. In Stein’s own lifetime the situation was little different; she feared, Hejinian tells us, that her “identity,” the fixed public self that accompanied her celebrity, might overwhelm her “human mind,” the fluid, less definable self of everyday life. Yet Hejinian contends that Stein is important precisely because she is not alone in this predicament, and that Stein’s study of the relations between time and identity, labor and freedom, has much bearing on our own age. Her lecture recovers for us a bit of Stein’s human mind and offers a fine example of what literary scholarship can be.

READ MORE Professor Lyn Hejinian’s “Positions of the Sun: Latitudes and Lucy Church Amiably”

Professor Scott Saul Wins American Cultures Teaching Award

The English Department is delighted to announce that Professor Scott Saul is this year’s recipient of The American Cultures Innovation in Teaching Award. This campus-wide award, given by the American Cultures Center, “recognizes the use of pedagogical developments to enhance the students’ learning experience in the American Cultures classroom.” Professor Saul was awarded this distinction for the ENGL 166AC course he taught this past Fall, “Race and Performance in the 20th c. U.S.”

READ MORE Professor Scott Saul Wins American Cultures Teaching Award

The EUA Production of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida

In what follows, Professor Kevis Goodman — usually a silent partner in the composition of blog postings — recounts the English Undergraduate Association’s recent staging of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.

Kyle Binkowski (Class of 2009) is drawn to plays that have never or have rarely been performed. This attraction started during the Spring term of 2008, when Kyle and a number of his classmates, who had just completed a semester of the English Department’s upper-division lecture course on John Milton, decided to produce the dramatic poem Samson Agonistes—a work that Milton insisted “never was intended” for the stage. It culminated last weekend (April 24-26) with a splendid production of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, perhaps the least frequently staged of Shakespeare’s plays.

The full cast of the EUA’s production of Troilus and Cressida

READ MORE The EUA Production of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida

Literary Links

In the Guardian, Martin Amis remembers J.G. Ballard, musing on how so orderly a life could produce work so unpredictable, savage, and sinister. In the New Statesman, John Gray writes that these two sides of the author were not unrelated, that “after experiencing the sudden disappearance of conventional existence he was never able to take the pretensions of civilised humanity...

READ MORE Literary Links

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.

READ MORE Graduate Student’s Literary Journalism

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...

READ MORE Literary Links

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.”

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

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...

READ MORE Looking Back at Literature

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...

READ MORE Calling All Readers!

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...

READ MORE Graduate Exchange Student Flourishes at Berkeley

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...

READ MORE Literature Today