Category Archives: Events

Wendy Walters Lecture: A Quickly Approaching Horizon

Wwaltersendy Walters’ writing is a gift to multiple communities all at once: hopeful writers and students, literature fans, environmental activists, and anyone attentive to the state of human rights in our world.  By this measure, this is writing that should concern just about everyone on Earth.  She is widely published as a poet, but her selections at this lecture leaned towards prosody.  Her style remained unmistakably poetic, however.  This literary design allows her to blend scientific facts with metaphor and storytelling, which brings a beauty and relatable quality to what would normally be dry historic data.  She begins with an ear-catching specific, then moves towards more general truths.  By giving a melodic energy to factual evidence, she manages to convey vital messages without ever being dull.  This is not only admirable but essential in this age of short attention spans, self-interest, and instant gratification, where capturing the attention of the upcoming generations seems to be simultaneously more difficult and more crucially needed.

Her first reading came from her essay “When the Sea Comes for Us” and focused on the delicate balance of coastal communities and the surrounding ocean levels.  Specifically, it centered around her home in New York City not far from the famous New York Harbor.  She explored marine areas geographically, listing particular areas by name and then detailing their historical role in the human-ocean relationship.  This highlighted how dependent the human race has always been on the sea, and how we have always come for it, usually to use it to our advantage.  She spoke of our building upward as an “impulse to climb” that had a clear double-meaning, representing our physical topography of taller and taller buildings that was designed by an “economy of space,” but also of our apparently inextinguishable desire to accumulate wealth and prestige both individually and collectively (Walters).  She compared skyscrapers to masts, something I have personally never considered, and this could be argued to exemplify the enduring nature of humanity’s false idea that we can claim or tame anything by merely building upon it, raising ourselves above it.  A sentiment from this piece that effectively introduced her next reading was that “true sea change” will leave no territory unaffected (Walters).  It’s not just about New York, it’s not just about America; this is an issue that concerns the entire planet.  All of the major civilizations in our history have depended on the various benefits of the ocean.  We have come for the sea, unwilling to admit to ourselves that the sea could, in turn, come for us.

walters 3     The next piece she read from was “You Are Pip.”  This was a much longer essay, which she hesitated to call an essay as it seems to bridge the spaces between poem, essay, and monologue.  Several in the audience said that they felt it was a performance piece after the reading, and I believe this came from the repetition of several lines such as the ever-present reminder that “you are Pip” as well as the subtle urgency of the writing.  This piece still deals with the unbreakable yet dangerous bond human beings have with the sea, but it is more deeply focused on human-to-human interaction, specifically interaction modified by racism.  Pip is a seemingly minor character of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a young African-American boy who works under the notorious Captain Ahab.  However, Walters shows that he holds an importance far greater than it first appears.  His character’s initial purpose seems to be comic relief, but that is cut short by his untimely drowning later in the novel.  This indicates a purposeful earnestness expressed by Melville when penning his unexpected demise.  Pip can, and perhaps should, be totally removed from the context of his tale and represent a bigger issue in our society, past and present.  Walters seems to think this is necessary, that we are all Pip: nervous yet in awe, humorous yet serious, corporeal yet fleeting.  Regardless of skin color, the work demonstrates that the tumultuous range of human emotion and the unpredictability of human experience are universal factors in our lives.

As the reading began to wind down, it became clear that another interpretation could be drawn: Pip could also be the sea.  Some lines that triggered this association were “you have died, not we have killed you”, “fears born from uncertainty”, and “may you never sacrifice yourself to progress (Walters).”  These thoughts can all be easily related to our relationship with the ocean.  Many people refuse to admit their part in the destruction of the marine ecosystem, certainly much of the population has fears of the ocean based on a lack of knowledge or uncertainty, and those who care about the sea of course wish that it walters 2would not become sacrificed to progress.  Now, if we are Pip, and Pip is the ocean, WE are the ocean.  Our tie to water is scientific, unavoidable, and unique.  The ocean sustains us, heals us, transports us, and amuses us.  Therefore, why should we not protect it as one of our own?  We are not just saving a remarkable, ancient world, but ourselves as well.  As Walters so eloquently put, the world will end just as it always was going to; what changes and what matters is the speed of that demise.

 

Looking at Faulkner Through Doorways with Amy Foley

Last week, as a part of the URI Department of English Graduate Student Colloquium Series, Amy Foley, a Ph.D. candidate in English, gave a fascinating talk entitled “’That Strange Threshold’: Faulkner’s Doorways to Being.” Her talk focused on the research she has done as part of her fulfillment of the fellowship she received by the Center for the Humanities.

amy 3

Amy’s admiring undergraduate and fellow graduate students, proud faculty, and loving family listened in anticipation as Professor Barber, in his usual compassionate manner, introduced his esteemed advisee Amy.

The first time I met Amy she was presenting at the 2014 URI Graduate Student Conference. I thought I could listen to her for days. Seeing her share her insights about Faulkner’s philosophy of built environments at the colloquium, I was again struck by the same welcoming tone, confidence, and melodious voice that makes her presentations enjoyably unique. When it was time to take questions from the audience, even the most mundane questions became compelling with her careful engagement and appreciation

amy 2Her equally accommodating work synthesizes eclectic philosophers, such as Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Gaston Bachelard, into a unifying theme of ontological existence and their relation to the doorways and thresholds within Faulkner’s writings. She questions the fine line between the door as the sanctuary, as well as the ostensibly sharp oppositions between the interior and exterior, culture and nature through the architectural structures.

Overall, Amy’s presentation and her fine work reveals her wisdom: she has the unique ability to listen to others—philosophers, writers, peers, and professors—taking their work and insights and expanding the conversation, applying her own critical view to create something truly captivating. We wish her the best as she continues to work on the rest of her dissertation and look forward to hearing more from her exciting project.

Spring 2016 Welcome Back!

Welcome back! We hope everyone is excited for a new year and a new semester! As always, URI’s English Department has some amazing events, both official and through our amazing student-led groups, that are happening in the next few months. From professionalization meetings to get you ready for your next grant proposal or job interview, to bowling and beer tasting, to the amazing speakers that present their work, here’s just a glimpse of some of the things happening in the first half of 2016. Now let’s just all hope that the weather is a bit more cooperative than last year.

From the Professionalization Committee:

We will be collaborating with Jean Walton’s 511 course on a Job Market Event where a mix of successful alumni, recent hires, and faculty with hiring committee experience will all speak to the various facets of the job market. There will also be a discussion of Job Materials and search strategies. This will be Monday April 11th at 7pm in the Hoffmann Room. In mid-March we will also be holding an interdisciplinary panel on getting funding as a grad student, with a focus on outside funding sources and why that is important. It will be open to all grad-students at URI, though will be humanities-centered. Several experienced grant writers and fellowship winners will be speaking at this workshop.

From the Social Committee:

The social committee has a lot of great events coming up this semester. Our first event will be at Lang’s Bowlarama on February 19th at 5pm for an evening of bowling, craft beers, and catching up after winter break. The rest of the semester you will see a craft brewery tour, a happy hour, and an end of semester nature hike. Details of each event will be finalized approximately two weeks before each event occurs. Keep a look out for informational flyers around Swan Hall and posts on the English Party People Facebook. Our goal is to provide English department graduate students with one event per month this Spring to encourage camaraderie, relaxation, and fun!

Department Events:

February

17th 5:00pm Hoffman Room – Graduate Student Colloquium: Amy Foley

18th 2:00pm Hoffman Room – Rumowicz Lecture Series: “You are Pip” by Wendy S. Walters

24th 5:00pm Hoffman Room –  Guest Speaker: Grant Farred

March

8th 5:00pm Hoffman Room – Read/Write: Talvikki Ansel

18th – Essay in Public Conference, CCE

April

7th 5:00pm Hoffman Room – Graduate Student Colloquium: Brittany Hirth

11th 5:00pm Hoffman Room – Guest Speaker: Marta Werner

20th 5:00pm Hoffman Room – Read/Write: Lynn Emanuel

28th 2:00pm Gender and Sexuality Center – Annual Rumowicz Awards Ceremony

More info about all these events can be found here: http://events.uri.edu/search/events?search=english+department+of

If You Write, You’re a Writer: An Evening of Poetry

In a small library near the Bay Campus, the poets of the URI graduate program shared their work of the last semester on Wednesday, Dec. 9. As I settled in to my child-sized chair, I was just glad that I had gotten a seat, because other attendees were left to find seating between book shelves and mill around counters. The Willet Free library was packed with both books and people and the cozy atmosphere was just right for this reading organized by Alyssa Taft and Laura Marciano, featuring the nine students of Peter Covino’s seminar this fall.

After Peter thanked all the attendees for coming, the reading got started with Alyssa Taft, who gave a short presentation. Rather than sharing poetry, Alyssa, who worked on a seminar paper for the course, introduced us to how poetry and children intersect, and in particular the benefits of poetry in education. Poetry, besides increasing reading fluency and encouraging reluctant readers, creates mindfulness in children. It gives readers silence and space in which to interpret and allows them to read into others and the world, promoting a “wide awake-ness.”

Though Alyssa was talking about the benefits for children, the eight poets who shared their work after her certainly encouraged this feeling of being awake to the world for the audience. The array of poetry was vast, even within one poet’s reading. Julie Hassett started with “Forest,” which was connected to local food banks, and ended with a poem that attempted to capture the feeling of numbness after being told her sister had died, and in between were poems written in response to art, such as “Procrastination Has Already Been Sold.” Elizabeth Folke wanted to focus on the intersection of humanity and technology, how science and invention has changed our lives. Her poems, which sometimes included a bit of a science fiction flair, asked us to probe our own lives. Others, like “Creature” which considered the situation of the burn victim who was recently the first recipient of a full-face transplant, asked us to inhabit others’. We were also asked just to listen. Francesca Borrione read two of her poems in the Italian they were originally written in, sharing the translations of more. In the Italian, I could catch a word here or there, but beautiful in both languages was her line, “I inhabited the cartography of my imagination.”

After a short break, Andrew Merecicky declared that his chapbook was entitled “Pornography of Light and Flood,” and that was “all the explanation I’m doing.” With a forceful reading voice, Andrew let the poetry linger, keeping true to his opening declaration. Susan Munson offered more context, happily as her first poem was about Bob Leuci, who once asked her “Are you a writer?” Susan used her reading style to emphasize the content of another poem “Hypervent” which was about OCD and social anxiety. Alex Trubia’s poetry included sly humor in lines such as “I’ll keep it for the sequel, something holy part II,” along with more haunting lines such as “when the winters at their frigid worst draw moisture from the timber.” Laura Marciano followed with poems that had a bitingly smart feminist viewpoint, asking the important questions like “If I sleep with myself, will I be famous?” The reading ended with Luisa Murillo, who addressed domestic violence in Bolivia in her opening poem “She Never Took Back the Night.” Luisa also included more personal poems, such as about moving to Queens from Bolivia, and poems which mixed myth with reality, putting a finishing touch on the night.

The readers also shared their experiences in the class and preparing for the reading, some at the reading and others with me afterwards. Julie Hassett gave an anecdote during her reading about wanting a heart from Alyssa on her paper during critique, apparently these hearts were a hot commodity. Alyssa saw her presentation as a “mini-conference paper” and later told me that she was glad that the audience connected to her research and understood her ideas. Susan shared that poetry has made her who she is, and that the semester was more about taking herself seriously as a poet. For her, preparing included getting ready for her “Lady Gaga moment,” as Peter calls it, by singing along to the radio on her way to the reading. Elizabeth thought about reading as a different skill than writing, and tried to consider the rhythm and inflection she would use. She shared that the class had given her space to access her creativity. Andrew, of course after the reading, told me that Peter emphasized performative reading this semester and that practice had helped him, as well as a glass of wine and some deep breaths. I think the others would agree with Andrew on this as well, “the fact that a few dozen or so people showed up to listen to poetry is always a special experience,” which this reading definitely was.

Spivak at RISD

Being part of the URI community means having access to all of the amazing speakers hosted by not only our department but by all of the various foundations and schools throughout the university. In addition to this, our unique location also positions us to take advantage of a community of other universities in the Northeast who host their own speaker events. Thanks to the diligence of the English department, we are kept up to date on these various events that might hold particular interest for those of us in the humanities. It was through one of these emails that I learned that Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak would be speaking at RISD, a short drive from URI’s campus.

I had never been to the Rhode Island School of Design (otherwise kno20151119_010302982_iOSwn as RISD), but found it easily enough (after missing the first exit I was supposed to take – Providence roads still confound me). The talk was held in their auditorium and it quickly filled. Initially, I found it curious that Spivak, a postcolonial literary theorist perhaps best known for her essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” and her introduction and translation of Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology, would be speaking at a school of art and design. However, my confusion only demonstrated my own limited view of the humanities and perhaps a too rigid view of departmental borders. Spivak’s talk was part of the Global Forum Series at RISD which seeks to address the global, interconnected world in which RISD graduates’ contributions will  “shape the cultural, social and environmental innovations of future generations” (http://gpp.risd.edu/descriptiongoals/). Spivak’s own academic work in postcolonialism as well as her “philanthropic” work speaks directly to these concerns.

Spivak’s talk focused on epistemological concerns posing an intellectual challenge: is it possible to learn from epistemological machines that have been damaged? From there she raised the distinction between play in the world vs. play of the world utilizing two competing or at least divergent definitions of design—to plan or sketch something artistically and to scheme or contrive—embodied by Jean-Luc Nancy’s recent book The Pleasure in Drawing and a recent post from the Harvard Business School, respectively. Both, she claims, ignore the play of the world. From here she spoke briefly of Derrida’s reading of Rousseau’s critique of supplement that color, as supplement, somehow corrupts design. Rousseau, Spivak highlights, never makes explicit the lack that necessitates supplementation in the first place.

Constrained by time, Spivak was forced to skip over a more detailed discussion of her previous points and ended with a call to the humanities, saying that what we have to ask ourselves is how to people know themselves. She reiterated that often the plan of what one (or a government) seeks to achieve is marked by the absence of questions of what is truly needed and so, while you may accomplish something, it is rarely what you initially intended. For this reason, we must expand the circle of people who can learn from literature.

The faculty question and answer session that accompanied Spivak’s talk was, for me, the most enjoyable part of the forum. Spivak touched on a range of issues, from the concept of teaching from below (accompanied by an extremely entertaining anecdote about an elephant that was terrorizing an African village where she had gone to guest teach an English class to young children) and how to engage with and work with various groups of people, to the advent of artificial intelligence. What resonated most with me was her discussion of her work in rural India. In discussing her work with various charities, she criticizes calling this philanthropy, instead viewing it as a repayment of the historical denial of intellectual resources that, while she herself is not actively engaging in, has occurred for millennia and from which she has benefited.

Attending this event was a wonderful experience. Because of our department’s tireless efforts to make sure we are kept up to date on all of the various resources that exist, not only at URI, I was able to see speak in person a woman whose work I have always found inspiring.

Paranoid Reading: Barber’s Exploration of Psyche and Politics in Woolf and Sedgwick

There wasn’t an inch of space left as Associate Professor Stephen Barber walked into the Hoffmann room in Swan Hall Thursday, November 5, 2015. Sharing salutations with old friends, faculty, and students, Barber received spectators with open arms. As part of the English Department’s Faculty Speaker Series, spectators eagerly awaited the talk “Psyche and Politics: Virginia Woolf’s Final Writings.”

Developing the history of Barber’s pedagogy and interpersonal relationships with students and individuals in general, Ph.D candidate Amy Foley informed the crowd that “no one knows Virginia Woolf like Stephen.” Influenced by the work of Woolf,  Gayatri Spivak, Eve Sedgwick, and Michel Foucault among others, Barber has inspired scholars for over twenty years, writing on these authors with a particular interest in their later works.

Barber revealed that he lived under the same roof as Sedgwick as she composed some of her critical works.  Her essay, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, Or, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You,” he reveals, was dedicated to colleagues of Sedgwick, including himself. In the tradition of genuine scholarship, Barber noted the challenge of reading Sedwick’s late works, in comparison to Woolf’s own struggle reading Freud. Woolf, according to Barber, did not claim to start reading Freud until 1939. Although she “never becomes a Freudian” for Barber, Woolf began to “forge a radical psychology, and gives herself fully to thinking about political agency.”

Political agency was an issue of concern for both Woolf and Sedgwick according to his work; however, Sedgwick’s interest in political agency revolved around paranoia. For Sedgwick, according to Barber, paranoia involves bad news that is always already known. Sedgwick’s notion of paranoia also included the mantra, “anything that you can do to me, I can do worse.”

The paranoid reading became more intense in the late 60s as particular American events such as the Watergate scandal prompted the agenda of conspiracy theories. Barber suggests that when Sedwick encountered D.A. Miller’s “The Novel and The Police” (1989) she had trouble finding connections with the novel through the paranoid mode of reading. The barrier that arose in the encounter with Miller’s work inspired Sedgwick to revisit the hermeneutics of suspicion— the mode of theory that had been dominant prior to her propositions for paranoid and reparative readings.

Cheered by the presence of students, cherished colleagues, and visitors, Barber concludes with the notion that criticism for Sedgwick is still an invasive form of social interpretation. Opening the conversation to a friendly question and answer session, Barber reveals, “Nothing about the book (he is currently completing) is autobiographical.” His interest in Sedgwick, Foucault, and Spivak contributes to his reading of the final work of Woolf, Between the Acts (1941) a text which he believes Woolf uses as a medium to theorize her own reading of Freud. Woolf would not necessarily follow Freud, especially in the boiling down of individual’s affective states (love and hate according to Freud) but this tour de force work established the last prodigious testimony of the author’s philosophical and psychological explorations.

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.

Constructing Femininity: Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Material Culture, and the OED

clip_art_library_books89143630_stdHave you ever looked up a word in the OED, and come across a first-use quotation from your favorite author? Well, if your favorite author happens to be Victorian writer Mary Elizabeth Braddon, you would experience this feeling of surprise quite frequently.

In her March 25, 2015 talk entitled “Constructing Femininity: Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Material Culture, and the OED,” PhD candidate Anna Brecke spoke about Braddon’s lasting mark on the English language. Although most widely known as the author of Lady Audley’s Secret, Braddon was a prolific writer of sensation in the 1860s, penning more than 150 novels and short stories, nine plays, and countless poems and other scholarly writings over the span of her forty-year career, becoming the sixth most cited female author in the OED at present. Brecke’s talk drew examples from three of Braddon’s lesser-known novels, Asphodel, Mount Royal, and Vixen, where words abound that Braddon herself either coined or utilized in a new way. These words run the gamut from abstruse anachronisms to commonplace contemporary terms. Words currently in disuse like “horsiness” and “dogginess” were used by Braddon in describing the habits of female characters as liking the outdoors or enjoying hunting. Braddon in fact refers to the “horsiness” of her own activities in her diaries, which, Brecke interestingly points out, focus more on horses and riding than they do on people. Braddon’s novels utilize these and similar terms as a way to distinguish her “natural heroines” from the commodified girl culture that was often pressed in social circles and popular culture. It is here in her connection to material culture that Braddon’s mark on the English language can best be seen.

Drawing on her work in the Mary Elizabeth Braddon Archive held at the International Center for Victorian Women Writers (ICVWW) in Canterbury Christ Church University, England, Brecke spoke to the apparent preoccupation with issues of appearance and social expectations of dress voiced in Braddon’s works. Brecke recognized a theme of materiality in Braddon’s terms, pointing to the abundance of words that relate to material culture, specifically fashion, fabric, or clothing, that make up the over 1,400 OED entries in which Braddon is cited. The novel Vixen is cited for the first use of the word “fashion magazine” in print, while the term “chic” cites Mount Royal as an instance of first use for its meaning. The third text Brecke discussed, Asphodel, boasts “aglitter,” “fad,” and among its contributions to the English language. The female characters of Braddon’s texts use this specialized fashion vocabulary as a way to consume girl culture being broadcasted in the very magazines Braddon names. Brecke’s talk included pictures of Victorian fashion plates, or drawings of the most popular clothing styles of the time, similar to those that characters in a Braddon may have themselves looked upon.

Although Braddon’s project may not have been to propagate and encourage girl culture, her contributions to the world of material culture—particularly fashion—are astonishing. As Brecke pointed out in her question and answer session, there is certainly a doubleness to Braddon’s use of the terms, where successful heroines find moderation between consumer culture and anti-consumerism tendencies. Brecke’s talk served to highlight this lesser-known author whose contributions to the English language are impressive and astonishing, and whose influence stretches beyond the literary page.

Swamp Things: Professor Branka Arsić Lectures on Disease and Decay in the Writings of Henry David Thoreau

On March 30th, 2015 Branka Arsić presented a captivating section from Bird Relics: Grief and treeVitalism in Thoreau (forthcoming from Harvard University Press in 2015). The audience was noticeably engrossed in her meticulously researched findings in her talk titled, “Swamps, Leaves, Galls: Thoreau on Disease and Decay”: the latest installment of the URI Department of English Read/Write Series.

Branka Arsić is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. Currently a Visiting Professor at Brown University, Arsić is an authority of American Literature with previous published books including On Leaving: A Reading in Emerson and Passive Constitutions or 7½ Times Bartleby. Arsić opened her discussion with an overview of her subject: Henry David Thoreau. Her specific interest is Thoreau’s view on life that first developed while he attended at Harvard — a philosopher in his own right with a keen interest in science.

Arsić advocates for a literal reading of Thoreau’s writings involving nature. She focuses on his elevation of swamps as generators of life; epicenters of where “cunning mixtures” of life are enacted that spark transformations of lifeforms. For Thoreau, swamps embody incessant continuity of mutation and, therefore, exist as sites of immortality. This view of swamps subverts popular conceptions of these environments as centers of repugnance.

Arsić elaborated on how Thoreau’s interest in swamps intensified after the death of his brother. Decaying fungi preoccupied Thoreau as much as budding flowers. These served as natural glimpses into the operation of life, revealing life’s temporality: one that is not linear as the Aristotelian model would suggest, but exists in overlap between growth and decay.

The discussion developed further with Thoreau’s fixation on leaves and galls, which are the equivalent of tumor-like growths that develop on the foliage. Arsić attests to Thoreau’s understanding that leaves remain alive despite falling, “like the breath of the tree.” In lieu of this notion, traditional views of the seasons as representative of living (spring) and dying (fall) are subverted. Vegetation exists in constant states of life and death. Observations that would typically be viewed as signifying death such as a leaf’s change in color actually serve as reminders to this fact that, according to Thoreau, “All the seasons are spring.”

Arsić’s argument culminates in the assertion that the Aristotelian, linear view of life established values of privileging “healthy” life. Ideals of perfection were normalized and irregularity was devalued and christened the “abnormal.” Arsić posits that Thoreau’s view of disease is not as a series of constant attacks on life, but as a natural aspect of it. There is nothing that does not rot as it buds, and all of nature can be likened to the imperfections of galls that form upon leaves.

Branka Arsić admitted that “Swamps, Leaves, Galls: Thoreau on Disease and Decay” was only a small aspect of a much more complex framework that develops in the chapters of her book. However, the presentation prompted a series of stimulating questions regarding the nature of Thoreau’s authorial perspective and academic tendencies to aestheticize literature to conform to the demands of the reader and drift away from its unadulterated value that can be gained from reading a text on its own terms.

Big Names Visit A Small State

June 19-21 marked the 8th annual Ocean State Summer Writing Conference. Annually, the University of Rhode Island’s Department of English brings together writers from across the spectrum of place and profession for three electric days of learning, networking and practice. From Harvard to UPenn, from RIC to Brown, from California to Florida, from Providence to Bristol, writers of all walks of life enjoy workshops, craft sessions and readings.

Besides the tremendously popular keynotes at this year’s gathering, from Alison Bechdel, Charles Bernstein and Percival Everett, certain events stood out as participant favorites.

Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar returned to the conference (after being a keynote speaker at the 2013 conference) and was met with great enthusiasm. One of his events was a conversation with Guggenheim Fellow and Professor Mary Cappello, where they addressed the “turning points” of their careers, their drive and their practice–to a standing room-only group of attendees. Of his former professor from his time as an undergraduate at SUNY/Buffalo, Akhtar has said that Cappello played a key role in shaping him as a writer.

Elaine Sexton and Kristin Prevallet also made a tremendous impact on their attendees. A conversation between the two during the penultimate time slot of the conference addressed a subject on the mind of anyone who has attended a conference before: “What now?” Sexton and Prevallet conversed on subjects like community building, networking, getting published, being employed–important questions, especially to poets. Their insight impacted the group as they both have worked extensively in a variety of fields.

National Book Award nominee and Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, Jody Lisberger had one of the most well-attended events. Her craft session, “Writing or Wanting to Write a Novel or Book-Length Memoir–Strategies for Success” was held in the Agnes G. Doody Auditorium to a group of more than 70.

There were many talented and accomplished writers at the conference in June, and whether they were familiar with the conference from previous years or new to the University of Rhode Island, they contributed to a terrific experience for many of Rhode Island’s writers.