English Accomplishments 2019-2020

Highlighted awards, publications, and activities from our faculty, students, and alums
image of award trophies

Faculty and Staff

We are pleased to announce our new assistant professor of English, starting fall 2020: Megan Finch. Finch earned her PhD in the English Department at Brandeis University and is a visiting assistant professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. Finch's dissertation is entitled "Unreasonable Blackness: Black Women Writing Madness, 1980-Present." Welcome, Professor Finch!

The Creative Writing Program is thrilled to announce the Edelstein-Keller Writer in Residence for 2020-22: Kao Kalia Yang. Yang is the author of The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, The Song Poet, and the children’s book A Map into the World, all of which received Minnesota Book Awards. Yang is a graduate of Carleton College and received her MFA from Columbia University. The fellow will teach two courses a year, as well as advising creative writing student theses and participating in program events. Welcome Kao Kalia Yang!

Professors Peter Campion, Ray Gonzalez, Nathaniel Mills, Andrew Scheil, and Kim Todd were awarded University of Minnesota sabbaticals for next year.

A new issue of Great River Review was published last fall, thanks to Editor Peter Campion and Managing Editors Rebecca Brill (MFA candidate), Melissa Cundieff (Lecturer), and Brett Sigurdson (PhD candidate). A new online edition was published this May.

Professor Charles Baxter’s novel, The Sun Collective, will be published in November by Pantheon/Random House. Best wishes to Baxter, who retired in May after 18 years with the department as the Edelstein-Keller Professor in Creative Writing. Read our interview.

Associate Professor Peter Campion published the essay collection Radical as Reality: Form and Freedom in American Poetry (University of Chicago Press). His fourth collection of poems, One Summer Evening at the Falls, will be published by the University of Chicago Press next fall.

Assistant Professor V. V. Ganeshananthan received a 2020 University of Minnesota Community-Engaged Scholar Award from the Office for Public Engagement. She continues to co-host the popular LitHub podcast Fiction/Non/Fiction.

Professor Ray Gonzalez was selected as one of three lead artists for the third season of Art IS, a program of TPT Twin Cities PBS television. His collaboration with poet Lawrence Welsh and photographer Bruce Berman, Cutting the Wire: Poetry and Photography From the U.S.-Mexican Border (University of New Mexico Press), won a 2020 Southwest Book Award by the Border Regional Library Association and a Southwest Book of the Year Award from the Pima County Library Association.

Professor Michael Hancher published a second edition of his Tenniel Illustrations to the “Alice” Books (Ohio State University Press), revised with six additional chapters.

Assistant Professor Douglas Kearney wrote one of two librettos for Sweet Land, a new opera from The Industry that premiered February 29-March 15 in Los Angeles. It was well-reviewed in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Los Angeles Times. Kearney published the chapbook Starts Spinning with OHM Editions, a project of Rain Taxi. Kearney has served as a Loft Literary Center Mentor for nonfiction this year (joining MFA alum Jennine Capó Crucet).

Professor Josephine Lee is the editor of the new Oxford Encyclopedia of Asian American Literature and Culture, published as both a three-volume set and online under the auspices of The Oxford Research Encyclopedias: Literature, of which Professor Emerita Paula Rabinowitz is editor-in-chief. Professor Lee also contributes the essay "Yellowface Performance: Historical and Contemporary Contexts." Among the contributors are English PhD alums Jigna Desai, Na-Rae Kim, Eun Joo Kim, and Eunha Na.

Professor Ellen Messer-Davidow was elected to the Graduate School Advisory Board for a term from fall 2019 through spring 2022.

Associate Professor Nathaniel Mills was named Donald V. Hawkins Professor of English, an honor that comes with a course buyout for one course next year.

Assistant Professor Kathryn Nuernberger published the poetry collection Rue (BOA Editions). Nuernberger received a Grant-in-Aid of Research, Artistry, and Scholarship from the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Assistant Professor Christopher Pexa was selected as a recipient of a 2020-2022 University of Minnesota McKnight Land-Grant Professorship, a two-year award designed to advance the careers of exceptional junior faculty.

Professor Dan Philippon and his colleagues Charlotte Melin and Christine Marran in the Environmental Humanities Initiative 2.0: New Directions in Research and Outreach received $60,000 from CLA's Interdisciplinary Collaborative Workshop (ICW) program to support three more years of catalyzing research, fostering pedagogical innovation, and enhancing public outreach among faculty and graduate students.

Professor Katherine Scheil is the American Lead/International Champion for a new project called Everything to Everybody, which was awarded a nearly two million pound grant for a multicultural revitalization of Shakespeare. Professor Scheil edited Shakespeare and Stratford (Berghahn Books, 2019).

Assistant Professor Rachel Trocchio was appointed to the CLA Assembly for a two-year term.

In addition:

Professor Emerita Toni A. H. McNaron was awarded a Professional Development Grant for Retirees from the Office of the Vice President for Research to create a Wikipedia page for Hurricane Alice, one of the earliest feminist journals. It was co-edited by McNaron, along with Professors Emeritae Shirley Garner and Madelon Sprengnether, among others.

Professor Emeritus John S. Wright was honored with the inaugural event of the John S. Wright Luminaries Lecture Series in Africana Studies November 14. He also gave an address for the University of Minnesota digital Commencement Ceremony on May 16.

Senior Lecturer James Cihlar published a book of poems, The Shadowgraph, with the University of New Mexico Press.

Senior Lecturer Chris Kamberbeek received the department’s Ruth Christie award for undergraduate teaching, chosen by direct undergraduate vote.

A warm welcome to Evan Block, the department's new executive administrative specialist.

Longtime English Advisory Board member and alum Judith Koll Healey was selected to receive the 2020 College of Liberal Arts Dean’s Liberal Arts Champion Award. This award is part of the Civitas Awards, recognizing individuals and organizations that are strong partners of CLA.

Award-winning Twin Cities artist Seitu Ken Jones was chosen to create public art for the Pillsbury Hall environment, as part of the renovation project for English's future home (estimated opening: fall 2021).

English undergraduate advisor Judith Katz retired after years of service for English and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies.


Doctoral defenses 2019-20:

  • Amy Bolis defended the dissertation “Exporting Othello: Shakespeare, Race, and Adaptation in America (2008-2018)” on March 18. Bolis' advisor is Katherine Scheil.
  • Ashley Campbell defended the dissertation "Just Trash" on April 20. Advisor is Katherine Scheil.
  • Jenna Dreier defended the dissertation “'As you from crimes would pardoned be': Prison Shakespeare and the Practices of Empowerment" on May 15. Advisor is Katherine Scheil. Dreier has accepted a position as Postdoctoral Fellow for the Department of English.
  • Amy Fairgrieve defended the dissertation "I’ve Got a Bad, Bad Feeling: Rethinking Negative Affect in Literary Studies" on March 20. Advisor is Professor Andrew Elfenbein.
  • Marc Juberg defended the dissertation "Satirizing the Audience: Shakespeare and the Uses of Obscurity, 1594-1601" on April 10. Advisor is Katherine Scheil.
  • David Lemke defended the dissertation "A Critique From Within: The Early African American Utopian Tradition and Its Visions of a Better Society" on May 26. Advisors are Tim Brennan and Ellen Messer-Davidow.
  • Charlotte Madere defended the dissertation "Creating Indian and British Selves: Life-Writing and Colonial Relations, 1794-1826" on April 24. Advisor is Professor Brian Goldberg. Madere has accepted the offer of a teaching position for the coming academic year at King's Academy, Jordan.
  • Katelyn McCarthy defended the dissertation "Reading the Double Bind: The Death of the Good Woman in Early Modern Literature" on September 13. Advisor is John Watkins. McCarthy has accepted a position as Visiting Assistant Professor, University of New England.
  • Melissa Merte defended the dissertation “Formally Entangled: Plotting Economic and Romantic Desire in Victorian Narratives” on April 17. Advisor is Andrew Elfenbein.
  • Michael Rowe defended the dissertation "Aliens and Animals: Notes on Literary Lifeforms After Darwin and Freud" on November 15. Advisor is Lois Cucullu.
  • Yon Ji Sol defended the dissertation "To Enlist or Not, for the Empire: Citizens of the British Isles and Stories of War" on May 6. Advisor is Andrew Elfenbein.

Spring 2020 PhD graduate Jenna Dreier has been named as the inaugural Postdoctoral Lecturer in English and will be teaching for us in the 2020-2021 academic year. Dreier also won the department’s Samuel Holt Monk Memorial Prize for Published Scholarship with her article “From Apprentice to Master: Casting Men to Play Shakespeare’s Women in Prison," published in a special issue of Humanities on “Humanities in Prison” (8:3, 2019).

PhD candidate Stephen Ellis was awarded a 2020-2021 Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship (IDF), a University-wide fellowship granted by the Graduate School. Ellis' advisor is Timothy Brennan.

PhD candidate Bomi Jeon received the Graduate School's 2020-2021 Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, a University-wide fellowship. Siobhan Craig is Jeon's advisor. Jeon also received a summer 2020 Hella Mears Graduate Fellowship in European Studies for summer 2020 from the Center for German and European Studies.

PhD candidate Elizabeth Howard received a $15,000 Scholar Award from the P.E.O. Sisterhood for 2020-21.

Read more PhD student and alum news.


2019 Department of English Graduate Student Teaching Awards went to Jenna Dreier (PhD candidate) and Kathryn Savage (MFA candidate).

PhD candidate Jacqueline Patz and MFA candidate Antonia Angress were awarded the Audrey Christensen Library Acquisition prize, which provides funds to English graduate students to expand their personal libraries.

MFA in Creative Writing

MFA students who successfully defended fiction, nonfiction, and poetry theses in spring 2020: Rebecca Brill, Curtis Fincher, Eleanor Garran, Ember Johnson, Danny Kossow, May Lee-Yang, Mariela Lemus, Amanda Minoff, Dylan Reynolds, Chelli Riddiough, Kathryn Savage, and Greg Smith.

The Creative Writing Program presented a fall Brown Bag Lunch Series on "Practical Wisdom for Negotiating Post-MFA Life.” MFA students and Professor Douglas Kearney created a spring series on “Workshopping the Workshop.”

MFA candidate torrin a. greathouse won the 2020 Ballard Spahr Prize for Poetry for the manuscript Wound from the Mouth of a Wound. greathouse will receive $10,000 and publication by Milkweed Editions in December. greathouse also won Poetry magazine's J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize of $5,000 for her poem "On Confinement."

MFA candidate Ember Johnson won a 2020 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant of $10,000.

Rebecca Brill’s essay "On Gurning" was awarded an Associated Writers Program (AWP) Intro Journals Award. The essay will be published in Colorado Review.

Julian Robles won the Columbia Journal's Winter Fiction Contest with the short story "Breast Cancer and Your Arm!"

Asha Thanki won the Arkansas International Emerging Writers Prize ($1,000 and publication) with the short story "Somewhere In Bombay, A Fog Descends.”

Creative Writing Program Awards:

  • Academy of American Poets James Wright Prize: Mariela Lemus
  • Gesell Awards for Excellence in Creative Writing: Sruthi Narayanan (fiction); Rebecca Brill (literary nonfiction); and May Lee-Yang (poetry)
  • Marcella DeBourg Fellowship: Clare Boerigter
  • GRPP Award: Ron Edwards, Tess Fahlgren, Tim Reynolds
  • EDI Award: Purvai Aranya, Said Farah, Sandesh Ghimire, Julian Robles
  • Winifred Fiction Fellowship: Antonia Angress
  • Michael Dennis Browne Poetry Fellowship: Connor Simons
  • Pink Poetry Fellowship: Liana Roux
  • Scribe for Human Rights: Tarik Dobbs and Asha Thanki
  • Gesell Anderson Center summer residencies: Tess Fahlgren and Sruthi Narayanan

Read more MFA student and alum news.


A new Certificate in Editing & Publishing was approved and is available to undergraduates across the University.

English major T J Davies won a Fulbright Program English Teaching Assistantship in South Korea for next year.

English majors Miki Schumacher and Caro Silvola received 2020 President's Student Leadership and Service Awards.

Majors Geoffrey Ayers, Shayla Cook, Alexandra Dillon, Hannah Leatherbarrow, Michael McGough, Olivia Rivera, Hibaa Ibrahim Roba, and Adeline Saunders received Archie and Edith Leyasmeyer Fund internship stipends for internships at Frank Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre, Park Square Theater, and the Russian Museum of Art in 2019-2020.

Majors Sara Donlin and Adeline Saunders received 2019-2020 Paul and Lucienne Taylor Internship Awards as University of Minnesota Press interns for this academic year.

The Tower literary journal, created through a two-semester English class, received a $600 grant from the Minnesota Student Association (MSA), as well as multiple grants from Student Unions & Activities.


2020 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grants up to $10,000 went to: William Reichard (PhD), Joyce Sutphen (BA, MA, PhD), MFA alums Swati Avasthi, Anessa Ibrahim, Gao Yer Gonza Vang, Alexis Zanghi, and Jasmin Rae Ziegler, and BA alum Naomi Ko.

MFA alum Jonathan Escoffery was one of 36 writers (out of nearly 1,700 applicants) to win a 2020 NEA Literature Fellowship.

MFA alum Su Hwang and BA alum Sheila O'Connor were winners of 2020 Minnesota Book Awards for Bodega (Poetry) and Evidence of V (Fiction), respectively.

BA alum Sam Kean started a podcast called The Disappearing Spoon named after his bestselling popular science book with new stories of influential inventions and scientists.

PhD alum Anca Parvulescu, Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis, was awarded a Collaborative Research Fellowship of $60,000 from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) last year.

BA alum Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, interviewed Margaret Atwood, Joy Harjo, George Saunders, Amy Tan, Billy Collins, and Alice Walker for a new New York Times podcast, Sugar Calling.

PhD alum Jewon Woo, Associate Professor of English at Lorain County Community College in Ohio, was selected as one of the 26 national inaugural scholars for the Mellon/ACLS Community College Fellowship.

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