Literature in Public Life
Studies in literature and creative writing improve not only communication skills but the ability to evaluate our own and others' ideas. English faculty teach students to analyze competing discourses historically and critically in order to understand their ideology, rhetoric, and impact on our lives. Faculty also model such analysis in their own creative and scholarly work. Below, our professors offer their insights and expertise in public conversations about race, gender, colonialism, the pandemic, creativity and the arts, and other essential issues of our times.
Associate Professor of English Douglas Kearney reads from his 2021 poetry collection Sho (Wave Books) and discusses his work with poet and scholar Evie Shockley. Kearney is the author of seven books of poetry and essays. A librettist, Kearney has had four operas staged, most recently Sweet Land; he recently won the inaugural Campbell Opera Librettist Prize, from OPERA America. Kearney was this spring named a McKnight Presidential Fellow, recognizing the most promising University of Minnesota faculty members granted tenure in an academic year. Presented on April 12, 2021 by English and the English EDI Graduate Workshops. Watch the recording.
Professor Brennan discusses and reads from his 2021 biography Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). He also responds to audience questions. The book was reviewed in The Financial Times, The Guardian, Harpers Magazine, The London Review of Books, The New Republic, The New Statesman, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Observer, The Spectator, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Times (UK), Times Literary Supplement, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, among other media coverage. Presented March 19, 2021 on Zoom by English and Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature. Watch the recording.
A conversation with award-winning playwrights Aleshea Harris (right, in photo) and Harrison David Rivers on Black arts, writing, activism, and performance. Harris’ play Is God Is won the 2016 Relentless Award, an Obie Award for playwriting in 2017, and the 2019 Helen Merrill Playwriting Award. What to Send Up When It Goes Down, a play-pageant-ritual response to anti-Blackness, was nominated for a Drama Desk award. Rivers’ play the bandaged place won the 2018 Relentless Award. His produced plays include When Last We Flew (GLAAD Media Award, NYFringe Excellence in Playwriting Award), Five Points, and This Bitter Earth. Moderated by Associate Professor of English Douglas Kearney. Presented March 11, 2021 on Zoom by the English EDI Graduate Workshops, Theatre Arts & Dance, and African American & African Studies. Watch the recording.
Assistant Professors of English Finch (on right in photo) and Trocchio discuss Toni Morrison's 2008 novel A Mercy in a presentation for their respective classes "African American Literature and Culture II" and "American Literatures and Cultures I." They sought to illustrate how two scholars can read a book or a passage—even a word—from different, non-exclusionary scholarly frameworks. Finch talks about Morrison's deliberate use of the "confession" within the context of historial slave narrative "confessions" written by and to white people. Trocchio situates "confession" within the language and practice of New England church membership and witchcraft at Salem. Both point out how the categories or genres of "novel" and "race" were emerging and hardening in the 1600s and 1700s, the period depicted in Morrison's novel. Presented spring semester 2021 on Zoom by the Department of English. Watch the recording.
Professor Gonzalez and Associate Professor Nuernberger discuss their recent writing practice and offer new poems. Gonzalez is the author of numerous collections of poetry, fiction, and essays, most recently Feel Puma: Poems (University of New Mexico Press). Nuernberger in 2020 published her third poetry collection, Rue (BOA Editions), and in 2021 her second collection of essays, The Witch of Eye (Sarabande). Presented by the Department of English through its "Literature in a Time of Crisis" Zoom series in summer 2020. Watch the recording.
How did Black writers in the US use literature to participate in the economic and racial political activism that characterized the Great Depression? Associate Professor Mills, author of Ragged Revolutionaries: The Lumpenproletariat and African American Marxism in Depression-Era Literature (University of Massaschusetts Press), describes the activity of the cultural networks of the Communist left and the new forms of social transformation and radical imagination the period’s leftist writers generated. Presented by the Department of English through its "Literature in a Time of Crisis" Zoom series in summer 2020. Watch the recording.
Regents Professor Schumacher and MFA alum Avasthi, both writers of young adult fiction, address why and how hurt and sorrow are an indelible part of children's literature, with reading recommendations. Author of five YA novels, Schumacher most recently published the adult novels Dear Committee Members and The Shakespeare Requirement (both Doubleday). She is the recipient of the University's Award for Outstanding Contributions to Graduate and Professional Education and the Horace T. Morse/University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education. Avasthi is the author of YA novels Chasing Shadows and Split (both Ember); she teaches in the Creative Writing Program of Hamline University. Presented by the Department of English through its "Literature in a Time of Crisis" Zoom series in summer 2020. Watch the recording.
Professor Watkins, creator of the English course "The End of the World in Literature and History," talks about parallels between our current moment and the "plague years" of novelists such as Defoe and Camus. Watkins is the author of four books, most recently After Lavinia: A Literary History of Premodern Marriage Diplomacy (Cornell University Press). He is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor and a recipient of the Horace T. Morse/University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education. Presented by the Department of English through its "Literature in a Time of Crisis" Zoom series in summer 2020. Watch the recording.
Assistant Professor Ganeshananthan, author of the novel Love Marriage (Random House), reads from and discusses her short story, about a Tamil woman whose husband has been "disappeared" during the Sri Lankan Civil War and whose trauma at the fact of her loss is likewise being silenced. The story has been selected for the 2021 Pushcart Prize anthology. Presented by the Department of English through its "Literature in a Time of Crisis" Zoom series in summer 2020. Watch the recording.