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A favorite poem written by Richard Lovelace has this memorable line: "Stone walls do not a prison make / nor iron bars a cage." Indeed--it's around about this time of the semester that some of us may start to wonder if these classes we're taking aren't starting to feel just a little bit like Lovelace's prisonhouse...
Yet we English Majors know that to study literature is to always have a built-in escape plan. To pursue a life in books is the surest way to open new doors into one's deepest soul, while all the while leading us down paths that take us further into the wider world of ideas and people and places and ways of knowing. Just as Lovelace's Muse taught him that "in my soule [I] am free," the work we do is joyous, is freeing, is liberating-even if those term papers are weighing down on you like a ton of bricks right about now.
So, even as we all must turn our full attention to completing our fall coursework, this issue of English Matters is dedicated to all the learning that goes on outside class. Whether it's our Senior Seminar members immersing themselves in the archives, or students and faculty gathering for an intimate conversation with working writers, it will take more than the four walls of a classroom to contain our English majors.
So read on, and enjoy!
Prof. Jean Mills' Senior Seminar's inquiry into the literature of World War I has lead them from Broadway to the archives of Virginia Woolf (That's one of her manuscripts in the banner this month!).
Authors and Students in Conversation
Guest Correspondent Troy Bundrant, a junior English major, reports on John Jay's Latino/a Literature series.
Department Chair Allison Pease discusses some important changes that will make our Major more flexible for students.
- Honors Degree Timeline: Students maintaining a GPA of 3.5 within the major may elect to pursue an Honors in Literature or in Literature and the Law by taking both the required Senior Seminar and an Independent Study (LIT 489) that includes a research project. If you are a senior thinking about pursuing an honors degree, you should make an appointment asap with Professor Caroline Reitz to see if you meet the criteria. By now you should be speaking with the faculty member with whom you wish to conduct your independent study and registering for LIT 489. Remember, this path isn't for everyone: Most senior seminars require a relatively long research paper and they tend to be small courses. Researching and writing a 25-30 page paper in addition to applying for jobs, graduate schools and fulfilling remaining departmental and college requirements is a significant undertaking. If you are passionate about pursuing advanced research, though, now is the time to act.
- John Jay's Third Biennial Literature and Law Conference will take place on Friday, March 30th 2012 in our college's new conference facilities. The keynote speech by Professor Amartya Sen--the 1998 Nobel Prize winner in Economics-- will take place on the previous evening (Thursday, March 29th). The Conference's theme, The Idea of Justice, derives from Professor Sen's book of the same name. We are planning to include in this conference a panel composed of John Jay students, who will be selected based on an essay competition to be announced in the near future. All English majors and minors are encouraged to participate in the essay contest and to mark their calendars and attend the conference if they can. Check with your professors to see if attending can qualify for extra credit. If you would like to help out with the conference contact Professor Andrew Majeske . More information about the conference is available at http://litandlawjjay.blogspot.com/
In the Archives and on Broadway, Seniors Making Literature Personal
The stories that we learn to tell about literature are only partly to be found between the covers of the books we're assigned. Just ask the members of this semester's LIT 400 senior seminar, under the direction of Prof. Jean Mills, who have been conducting research into the literature of World War I. While reading essential texts by authors like Virginia Woolf, T. S. Elliot, and Ernest Hemmingway, their inquiry has led them far from the confines of the classroom. They recently attended a performance of the Tony-award-winning Broadway play War Horse, as well as explored first-hand the Modernist archival materials held in the New York Public Library.
As a scholar of Virginia Woolf, Prof. Mills is well acquainted with the extraordinary trove of archival materials held in the NYPL's Berg Collection. Being able to Virginia Woolf's diary, the original manuscript of Jacob's Room, a ms. draft of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land annotated by Ezra Pound, and the first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses, among other Modernist highlights, was an opportunity too good for her students to pass up, she says. It enabled them "to see many of the texts they had read in the original, to familiarize themselves with the process of archival research, and to alert them to the possibilities of discovery that an archive has to offer."
"Plus, I got to see some cool stuff on Woolf, as well!"
For the seniors, the rare book visit was a transformative experience. "Seeing and being literally an inch away from these first editions takes your breath away," Derya Suyabatmaz said. "Many of us circled around the pieces in silence just trying to take everything in." Sardia Anderson agreed: "To see and touch Claude Mckay, Virgina Woolf, Gertrude Stein and T.S Eliot's unpublished scripts, journals and photographs" was, she said, "surreal."
"As readers we always get the final product of every work we explore, without realizing how even the greatest writers struggled to express their thoughts," explained Suyabatmaz. It was "reassuring," she said, to see that great writers "had to learn to re-write."
Also empowered by this archival experience was C. C Reilly, who said that she has been so inspired by what she's learned about the period, that she has begun researching her own family's connection to the Paris nightclub scene in Montmarte, the "Harlem of Paris," where African-Americans forged "found families in the middle of the post-war/looming war chaos" as a refuge from the racism and lack of economic opportunity waiting for them back at home.
Forging personal connections with the literature and culture of Modernism was the whole purpose for the visit to the Berg collection, as well as for the group outing to see War Horse. While the second world war seems to be "more clearly defined in the forefront of students' imaginations," Prof. Mills says, "I have found that the history and politics around WWI, which are helpful in teaching 1920's literature, are much more complex and difficult to grasp without support from a number of outside sources."
The Broadway production presented a unique opportunity to bring the story of the war home to the students and "give them accessible context for WWI." With the generous support of John Jay's newly created Office of Undergraduate Research, Prof. Mills was able to bring her class to a recent performance.
Telling the story of a young boy's horse that is shipped off to the battlefields of France, the owner goes undertakes a treacherous mission to reclaim his equine companion and recover a piece of home that had been surrendered to the conflict. "The play was good at showing the students the sharp contrast between the peaceful life of a community and the horrors of war, especially the particular brand of war begun in 1914 in Europe," Prof. Mills said.
Students who attended the performance concurred. "The play War Horse was spectacular," raved Sardia Anderson, who was struck by the puppetry special effects. "While watching the play the horses seemed so alive."
Annie Lazala agreed: "Seeing War Horse made the seminar class come to life. We have spent the whole semester reading Eliot, Woolf, and Hemingway, to name a few, and each writer gave us a glance of their experience with WWI. However, seeing the play brought us back to the real topic at hand: WWI."
For Reilly, the play reminded her that "there is no way for any of us to escape the presence and discussion of war."
Latina Literature in Conversation: Author Lyn Di Iorio Speaks with Students, Faculty
By Troy Bundrant
Haaren Hall's new conference room boasted with activity late Tuesday evening as Outside the Bones author Lyn Di Iorio answered questions and read passages from her new novel during a group interview led by Professors Richard Perez and Belinda Rincon, and observed by several dozen students.
Di Iorio began with a brief overview, introducing Fina, the novel's lead character, "who uses magic on men to attract love, but ends up on a collision course with a ghost." As a last resort, Fina requests the aid of her spiritual mentor, Victor, who grants her a skull, sizzling to the touch, and draws her into the world of "palo monte," a type of magic known for its Afro-Caribbean heritage and its usage of alchemy. Like Palo itself, which mixes ingredients inside a cauldron to create something new, Di Iorio's novel blends the setting of modern day Spanish Harlem with the mystery of ancient magical rites to create an experience like no other.
During the questioning, Di Iorio, an Associate Professor of English at City College, CUNY, stated that her life experiences helped develop ideas for two short stories, one of unrequited love, and another about death. She would later merge the two stories to create her finished product, Outside the Bones, much like the mixtures in the novel itself.
After hearing the author read for her work and speak about her creative process, students remained astonished and eager to get their hands on a copy of the book, which were sold and signed by the author after her talk. "It seems interesting," said Liza Khan, a Language and Literature major. "From the excerpts, I get a great amount of imagery and details. Sounds raw, and explicit; I will like it." The novel's strongpoint, its blatant and humorous language, remains constant from start to finish.
"I went through something similar to Fina," said Estrella Cruz, a Public Administration major and aspiring novelist who has read the book. "I recommend it to anyone looking for an enjoyable read. It's funny too."
Indeed, John Jay students and faculty aren't the only ones praising the book--Outside the Bones has been receiving strong reviews in the press and in the writing community. Named Latinidad's number one debut novel of 2011, it is a magnificent addition to the Latin literature library.
Prof. Richard Perez would agree. Citing the work's "expressive" exploration of afro-religion and its deft prose, he commented that "her work functions as an allegory for Puerto Rican-American identity, exploring the tensions involved in her race, gender and the violent bifurcation (between Puerto Rico and the U.S.) of her experience by colonial history."
With Haaren Hall's new building entering its second month, Di Iorio's book reading and signing was a remarkable way to contribute to its inauguration. John Jay students can look forward to The Sound of Falling Darkness, Di Iorio's next novel, which is currently in development. Additionally, the next event in the John Jay Latino/a Literature Series will take place in February (Dominican Heritage Month), with the Dominican-American Poet Rhina Espaillat.
Troy D. Bundrant is an upper junior English major who is also working on a minor in Journalism.
Dear English Majors,
We have expanded the electives section of the English Major to include not just all LIT courses above the 200 level, but all ENG courses above the 200 level (excluding ENG 201, of course) too. What this means is that English majors can take any combination of writing and literature courses they want to fulfill the four-course electives requirement of the B.A. For those of you on financial aid, this also means that if you take an ENG course, say journalism or playwriting, the state of New York will recognize these courses as part of our major and your TAP status will not be jeopardized. This is great news for everybody and I hope you will take advantage of your expanded freedom as English majors to dabble in all of our rich offerings.
Link to course descriptions of spring ENG courses.
Link to course descriptions of spring LIT courses.
ENGLISH MATTERS 4.3 is a more-or-less regular publication of the John Jay English Department for the instruction and delight of students in our major and minor programs. Questions? Comments? Complaints? Want to get involved? Contact the editors, Professor Al Coppola and Professor Olivera Jokic
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