Student Spotlight: Jenna Guitar

Greetings!  My name is Jenna Guitar and I am a second year Ph.D. student in the English department.  I am also working on a certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies.  As I am nearing course completion, I am actively attempting to narrow the topics of my academic interest.  However, I can broadly say that my interests lie in contemporary literature, film, television, pop culture and trans* theory. 

jenna

In the past I have presented several papers at the National PCA/ACA.  Past conference papers have been “Exploring Non-Normative Desire in Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Identity as a Fluid System in Glee,” and “TheOriginals: A Pop Culture Examination of Colonialist Discourse.”  Next year I will again be attending PCA/ACA in Seattle and presenting my paper “GenX Takes the Stage: Exploring Trans* Agency in ‘90s Musicals” a paper that grew out of Professor Mandel’s ENG 590 Special Topics course on GenX Literature and Culture.  Additionally, I have published a chapter in an edited collection: Glee and New Directions for Social Change.  My chapter was entitled “Glee Goes Gaga: Queering Concepts of High School Identity Formation.”  I am the co-chair of URI’s freshly launched Professionalization Committee along with Elyse Nelmark.  The professionalization committee has been responsible for creating and curating a Sakai site that hosts a wealth of information including but not limited to: samples of exam lists and rationales, job market materials, conferences, teaching syllabi examples, etc.  The Professionalization Committee has also held two panels, one in the spring covering how to prepare for exams and summer productivity, as well as a panel this fall concerning publishing.  Both events allowed URI faculty and graduate students to have detailed and focused conversations about the ins and outs of these important career moments.

I am also the co-chair of the URI Graduate Conference for 2016 along with Serap Hidir.  The Graduate Conference Committee is currently working hard to organize an exceptional conference for the spring of 2016.  Our theme for the conference is Trans(form): New Insights and New Directions.  I look forward to providing everyone with more information as the conference grows and develops.  Last year for the Graduate Conference I served on various sub-committees as well as presented my paper: “The Monstrous Feminine: Understanding Lady Macbeth’s Body.”  I am excited to be even more closely involved with the conference planning this year.

I received my MA in English at SUNY New Paltz where I also taught Composition for 2.5 years.  Prior to that, I have two bachelor’s degrees from New Mexico State University in Theatre Arts and English.  As a native New Mexican, my time in the ocean state has been quite a new experience, water!?  In my free time, I enjoy hiking and exploring the beauty of Rhode Island with my husband Mike and enjoying as much live theatre as we can see.  I am also the proud cat Mom of two fantastic felines, Crookshanks and Moo.

 

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.

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.”

Night of Poetry at the Wickford Art Association

On December 12th, 2013, students from Professor Peter Covino’s creative writing class held a public poetry reading at the Wickford Art Association. Students delighted a packed room of listeners as they read from chapbooks they created during the semester. The nine graduate students participating in the reading (calling themselves The Thunder Room Collective) were: Jenna Morton-Aiken, Derick Ariyam, Jessica Brigges, Julie Hassett, Mark Hinkley, Charles Kell, Danielle Sanfilippo, Rhiannon Sorrell, and Hillary Trimbach.

Charles       Rhiannon

 

Kenna Barrett Explores Turing’s “Test” and Automated Essay Evaluation

Kenna's Duck
What does Alan Turing’s famous thought experiment have to do with writing essays?

On Wednesday, November 13th, 2013, Kenna Barrett, (PhD candidate, English) delivered a talk exploring the possible relationship between Alan Turing’s commonly known “Turing Test” and Automated Essay Evaluation (AEE). Throughout what Barrett named an “interdisciplinary, work-in-progress” she explored parallels between the Turing Test’s questionable ability to produce human-like responses and AEE’s controversial abilities to “score” the writing of humans.

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URI English and LearningWorks for Kids Look Toward The Future

educates parents, teachers, and children about the educational benefits of games, apps, and other new technologies
LearningWorks for Kids educates parents, teachers, and children about the educational benefits of games, apps, and other new technologies

LearningWorks for Kids — a growing web start-up based in Wakefield, Rhode Island– has been home to a number of University of Rhode Island students and graduates. LearningWorks, which educates parents, teachers, and children about the educational benefits of games, apps, and other new technologies, has put students from a variety of disciplines at URI into critical roles within its organization. Amongst these disciplines the English department at URI has been strongly represented. Students and graduates of the English department have reveled in the opportunity to gain real-world experience in a rapidly growing market and LearningWorks has provided a unique opportunity to accomplish just that.

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