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Winter 2015 News

Julie Schumacher wins the Thurber Prize. Dan Philippon takes students to Germany, and more!
December 10, 2015

Professor Julie Schumacher, and cat

A funny thing happened to Julie Schumacher on the way to writing her latest book. Starting out to see if one could build a novel solely from letters of recommendation, she ended up writing Dear Committee Members, which in September won the coveted Thurber Prize for American Humor.

"I don't think of myself as a comic writer," says Schumacher, a professor of English at the University of Minnesota. "To me, it's a novel." Nevertheless, "it was a total thrill, because a woman had never won a Thurber Prize." She picked up the award at its announcement ceremony, in Caroline's Comedy Club, New York City. Read more.

Munich for Thanksgiving

Professor Philippon with his students in Munich
Professor Philippon with his students in Munich

This fall Associate Professor Dan Philippon is team-teaching a graduate course on "Transatlantic Environmental Humanities" with Charlotte Melin (Department of German, Scandinavian, and Dutch), along with two colleagues from the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich. (Professor Philippon spent a semester at the Carson Center as a Senior Fellow in 2011.) Students in the course have been in regular contact with students and faculty at LMU through common texts, invited speakers, and video chats. In addition, four LMU students visited campus November 9-13, and nine students traveled with Professor Philippon to Munich November 23-27. (The students helped prepare a meal for Syrian refugees on Thanksgiving.)

"The class has been an invaluable opportunity for students to be exposed to cutting-edge scholarship on the environment, from the perspective of the humanities, as well as to network with some of the leading scholars working on these issues in Europe and the US," says Professor Philippon. "Being able to host German students in Minneapolis, and travel to Munich ourselves, has also built global understanding in a very visceral way."

Through the class, students and faculty are investigating how the humanities can help interpret and address environmental problems. Philippon and Melin received funding to bring to campus several internationally known speakers on food and climate change to talk to students and give public talks, including Fabio Parasecoli (author of Al Dente: A History of Food in Italy) and Stephanie LeMenager (author of Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century). The interdisciplinary course attracted students from across CLA.

"My perspective has been shaped immensely working alongside peers in art history, rhetoric, media studies, etc.," notes MFA graduate student Erica Berry, who is writing a creative nonfiction piece for her final project. "And visiting the Rachel Carson Center in Munich really opened my eyes to the boundary-pushing collaborations that are happening internationally in this field."

Alums Win Literary Prizes

Cover of Beautiful Zero

Last winter Jennifer Willoughby (MFA 2006) celebrated with pizza and champagne after she heard she'd won the Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, a $10,000 award meant to recognize and encourage Upper Midwest poets. This winter, she celebrates the publication of that prize-winning collection with Milkweed Editions, which partners with the law firm Lindquist & Vennum on the award. Willoughby talks about this debut collection, Beautiful Zero—and her day job as a copywriter, here.

On December 4, alumna Wendy Fernstrum (MFA 2003) was announced as the winner of this year's Minnesota Book Artist Award for her book One Is the Holiest Number (#2), a codex exploring the theme of the individual. Open Book in Minneapolis will exhibit her work February 19 to April 11, and she'll be honored at the Minnesota Book Awards gala in April. Fernstrum is a content strategist at Medtronic.

In addition, the following alums won 2015 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative grants of $7,500 to $10,000: Brian Laidlaw (MFA 2011), Michael Lee (BA 2015), Michelle M. Matthees (MFA 2001), Alison R. McGhee (MA 1993), and Sheila M. O'Connor (BA 1982). (Three current MFA students also recieved these substantial awards: Mike Alberti, Kendra Atleework, and Emily Strasser.)

Congratulations to all!