Monthly Archives: October 2015

Feature: Literary Treasure Waiting To Be Discovered

Graduate students long to find a treasure of original writings that may inspire a topic for a research paper, a thesis or a publication.  I was recently blessed to experience three treasures just miles away from the University of Rhode Island: the North Kingstown Free Library, Susan Aylward, and the David Plante Collection.

The North Kingstown Free Library (NKFL) is nestled just miles away from URI and kingstown libraryprovides a beautiful, scenic location for students to study and utilize numerous resources including the David Plante Collection.  A student may easily obtain a library card and have access to the incredible collection by making an appointment with the library by calling 401-294-3306 For more information about the library, please visit their web site at http://www.nklibrary.org/

Susan Aylward is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island where she completed her Ph.D. in English and wrote her doctoral dissertation on David Plante.  Susan retired after 35 years of devoted service as a Librarian and Administrator at the North Kingstown Free Library.  Due to her friendship with David Plante, he donated a collection of his aylwardwritings and books to the library.  Susan believes that this important collection “would be of interest to scholars and students focusing their research on Rhode Island Fiction Writers, French Canadian Writers, Writers with an artistic influence, LGBT Writers and Library Science.”  She is willing to share her expertise with students interested in conducting research about this important writer.  She may be reached by email at slaylward@cox.net

Susan Aylward provided personal and professional insight about David Plante’s life and writings.  She believes that David Plante, “is one of our most important contemporary American writers and has not had the critical attention he deserves.  He deals with darkness in his writings but there is hope.  His work is complicated but it deals with humanity.”  Susan shared that, “David Plante was born in Providence, Rhode Islaplantend and his writings are informed by his French-Canadian, Catholic upbringing in the working class landscape of Providence.  Seven of his fifteen novels are semi-autobiographical in nature and are largely set in and around the Providence parish where he was raised.  His writings include novels, short stories, essays, biographical profiles, memoirs, poetry, and plays.  The themes of his writings are the power of love, death, grief, longing, despair, faith, and imagination.  His life partner was Nikos Stangos, a Greek writer who influenced the artistic side of Plante’s writings.  They were known for their achievements but also for their commitment to each other as partners.”

As part of the interview with Susan Aylward, I had the honor to see the entire David Plante Collection and was completely in awe of its size and beauty.  The Collection is comprised of Part One which is housed in the South County Room at the NKFL and consisfamily plantets of his manuscripts and papers which are meticulously organized into 70 boxes containing 389 folders.  Part two is housed in the library’s Conference Room and consists of 146 books that include 21 books by David Plante, 2 books about Plante, 7 books written/edited by Nikos Stangos, 100 books from Plante’s personal library and numerous other books that influenced his writings.  Susan Aylward’s organization of this collection is literally a treasure for scholars and students.  She expressed that it is a unique opportunity for graduate students to review published materials, unpublished materials, original manuscripts,  revisions, artistic images and signed book dedications.  She passionately states, “it is an amazing and varied collection of manuscripts, notes, some correspondence and books from the shelves in his New York apartment when he was teaching in the Writing Division of the School of the Arts at Columbia.  Some of the books he wrote, some he used to research his novels, many are signed editions from friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.  As a whole, the collection represents the life of the mind of this particular writer. In parts, it is a scholar’s treasure trove.”

Sexual Agent or Victim: URI PhD candidate Michele Meek Discusses Conflicting Narratives Centered around Amy Fisher

 

As the latest installment of the URI Department of English’s Graduate Student Colloquium Series, on Thursday, October 1st, 2015, URI PhD candidate Michele Meek presented a riveting talk to an attentive audience titled “A Dangerous Girl or a Girl in Danger?: Shifting Sexual Agency in Narratives about the ‘Long Island Lolita.'”

Additional chairs were ushered in minutes before the talk to accommodate the eager crowd, and Professor Naomi Mandel’s introduction served to prepare the audience with descriptors of Meek’s work as “edgy” as it focuses on topics such as rape, pornography, and sexuality. Drawing on her keen interest in film and images, Meek opened her presentation with a series of images from the television movie, The Amy Fisher Story (1993), starring Drew Barrymore. After walking the disquieted audience through the narrative of events between Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco, Meek proceeded to present a counter narrative as seen in an alternate television movie, Amy Fisher: My Story (1992). Rounding out the possibilities of their affair, Meek then presented a third possible narrative as she showed her audience images from Casualties of Love: The “Long Island Lolita” Story (1993).

Meek then revealed her main point of interest surrounding the Amy Fisher narrative, as it relates to her dissertation, in which she examines specific narrative moments that depict “consent puzzles,” or ethically and aesthetically ambiguous depictions of sexual situations, where as readers or watchers, we may feel a sense of discomfort, and as scholars, we find no simple answers.

Further investigating the media frenzy surrounding the trial of Amy Fisher, Meek examined how the tabloid media shaped not only the general public’s opinion of the affair, but the extent to which the prosecuting and defense attorneys involved in the case were influenced by and responding to sharply drawn victim/perpetrator portrayals with Buttafuoco and Fisher exchanging roles at various points in order to further either the prosecution’s or defense’s agenda.

Drawing on her research conducted at the Library of Congress media archives, Meek analyzed the role of multiple Hard Copy and A Current Affair exposés, as well as the three made-for-television movies mentioned above and the true crime novels written from various perspectives.

Meek focused on specifics such as how the emergence of Fisher’s work as an escort, her sexual abuse as a child, her rape as a twelve-year-old by a workman at the house were used as effective rhetorical strategies for either Fisher’s defense or prosecution.

Drawing on the work of gender theorist, Judith Butler, Meek problematized the victim/perpetrator dichotomy rife throughout the media spectacle surrounding Fisher’s trial, in order to suggest that to access a girl’s sexual agency, we might need to allow for some more ambiguity by allowing the ‘consent puzzle’ to exist.

Meek then fielded a wide range of questions from the diverse audience. Within this dialogue, Meek and the audience addressed the Anita Hill case, revictimization within the field of psychology, and concerns about Long Island ethnic identity further expanding and demonstrating the importance of Meek’s work.