The scholars and creative writers of Minnesota’s English faculty publish books that kickstart conversations and shift paradigms. Championed by leading presses, their work expands and enhances their fields.
Elaine Auyoung, When Fiction Feels Real: Representation and the Reading Mind (Oxford University Press, 2018)
Since their first publication, nineteenth-century realist novels like Pride and Prejudice and Anna Karenina have inspired readers to describe literary experience as gaining access to vibrant fictional worlds and becoming friends with fictional characters. While this effect continues to be central to the experience of reading realist fiction, the capacity for novels to evoke persons and places in a reader's mind has often been taken for granted.
“When Fiction Feels Real focuses on an almost dangerously fundamental literary question: how does fictional representation actually work? How are novel readers led to see words as worlds? Elaine Auyoung pursues this question at the intersection of author and reader, aesthetic technique and cognitive psychology. By keeping such a steady eye on the how of literary realism—rather than on its causes or its implications—Auyoung has carved out a new and inviting field of scholarly inquiry.” — Alex Woloch, Professor, Stanford University
Peter Campion, editor, John Berryman: Centenary Essays (Peter Lang, 2017)
Drawing on the proceedings of two conferences organized to celebrate the centenary of John Berryman's birth in 2014, John Berryman: Centenary Essays provides new perspectives on a major US American poet's work by critics from Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. In addition to new readings of important aspects of Berryman's development—including his creative and scholarly encounters with Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, and W. B. Yeats—the book gives fresh accounts of his engagements with contemporaries such as Delmore Schwartz and Randall Jarrell.
It also includes essays that explore Berryman's poetic responses to Mozart and his influence on the contemporary Irish poet Paul Muldoon. Making extensive use of unpublished archival sources, personal reflections by friends and former students of the poet are accompanied by meditations on Berryman's importance for writers today by award-winning poets Paula Meehan and Henri Cole.
Andrew Elfenbein, The Gist of Reading (Stanford University Press, 2018)
What happens to books as they live in our long-term memory? And how does literary influence work on writers in different ways? Grounded in the findings of empirical psychology, this book amends classic reader-response theory and attends to neglected aspects of reading that cannot be explained by traditional literary criticism. Andrew Elfenbein not only explains how we read today, but also uses current knowledge about reading to consider readers of past centuries, arguing that understanding gist is central to interpreting the social, psychological, and political impact of literary works. The result is the first major revisionary account of reading practices in literary criticism since the 1970s.
"Deftly combining research from cognitive psychology with historical insight and careful literary criticism, Andrew Elfenbein convincingly argues that everyday reading practices are more complex than most literary scholars have imagined and that literary reading is not particularly a special case of reading practices. The Gist of Reading promises to help set a new standard for integrative scholarship." — G. Gabrielle Starr, Pomona College President
Ray Gonzalez, with Lawrence Welsh and Bruce Berman, Cutting the Wire: Photographs and Poetry from the US-Mexico Border (University of New Mexico Press, 2018)
A masterful collaboration offers us a way to look again, to really look, at the border between Mexico and the United States. Berman, who has photographed and lived in El Paso for decades, is a documentarian who uses his camera to record what's in front of him rather than for, as he puts it, "mere self-expression." Berman's visual investigations of the everyday realities of the border—detention centers, smeltertown cemeteries, kids playing along a river levee, descanso crosses on telephone poles for the disappeared—are exactly the stuff the poetry of Gonzalez and Welsh is made of. The multilayered histories of the border landscape provide an inexhaustible supply of rich and fertile raw material for both Gonzalez and Welsh. But their poetic visions allow them to capture elements of a personal and collective past that historians have often failed to record.
Patricia Hampl, The Art of the Wasted Day (Viking, 2018)
The Art of the Wasted Day is a picaresque travelogue of leisure written from a lifelong enchantment with solitude. Patricia Hampl visits the homes of historic exemplars of ease who made repose a goal, even an art form. Hampl's own life winds through these pilgrimages, from childhood days lazing under a neighbor's beechnut tree, to a fascination with monastic life, and then to love--and the loss of that love which forms this book's silver thread of inquiry. Finally, a remembered journey down the Mississippi near home in an old cabin cruiser with her husband turns out, after all her international quests, to be the great adventure of her life.
"Imagine a book that celebrates daydreaming, that sees it not as a moral failing, but as an activity to be valued as an end in itself. Hampl is intrigued by the kind of instinctual, floaty, aimless daydreaming that many of us—if we were lucky—indulged in for hours and hours as children. As adults, of course, we feel like we need to have something to show for our time: achievements, chores, to-do list items crossed off. Hampl wonders about what we miss when we no longer allow ourselves to simply get lost in thought. Her sharp and unconventional book—a swirl of memoir, travelogue and biography of some of history's champion day-dreamers—is its very own Exhibit A, making the case for the profound value of letting the mind wander. . . . Like most of the rest of this odd and haunting book, it's impossible to do justice to the cumulative power of Hampl's dream-weaver writing style by just quoting a few lines. You have to go on the whole voyage with her." — NPR
Rebecca Krug, Margery Kempe and the Lonely Reader (Cornell University Press, 2017)
Since its rediscovery in 1934, the fifteenth-century Book of Margery Kempe has become a canonical text for students of medieval Christian mysticism and spirituality. . . . An unlikely candidate for authorship in the late medieval period given her gender and lack of formal education, Kempe wrote her Book as a revisionary act. Krug shows how the Book reinterprets concepts from late medieval devotional writing (comfort, despair, shame, fear, and loneliness) in its search to create a spiritual community that reaches out to and includes Kempe, her friends, family, advisers, and potential readers.
"Rebecca Krug has written a deeply learned and humane book that situates Margery Kempe in the larger world of late medieval pious works of consolation. . . . Kempe's writing and revision process gives her community access to her own process of self-discovery and intense spiritual engagement. For medievalists interested in the world of late medieval piety, Margery Kempe and the Lonely Reader is an important and compelling reinterpretation of a challenging and often puzzling text." — Katherine L. French, Professor, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor
Nabil Matar, editor, The United States Through Arab Eyes (Edinburgh University Press, 2018)
The first Arab immigrants to New York or Alaska or San Francisco were "small" men and women, preoccupied with eking a living at the same time as confronting the challenges of settling in a new country. They had to come to terms with new race communities such as Indians, Chinese, and Blacks, the changing role of women, and the Americanisation of their identity.
Their writings about these experiences—from travellers and emigrants, rich and poor, men and women—took the form of travelogues and newspaper essays, daily diaries and adventure narratives, autobiographies and histories, full-length books published in the Ottoman Press in Lebanon and journal articles in Arabic newspapers printed in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. Together they show the transnational perspective of immigrants as they reflected on and described the United States for the very first time.
Nathaniel Mills, Ragged Revolutionaries: The Lumpenproletariat and African American Marxism in Depression-Era Literature (University of Massachusetts Press, 2017)
In Marxism, the concept of the lumpenproletariat refers to the masses in rags, outsiders on the edge of society, drifters and criminals, of little or no use politically. . . . By analyzing multiple published and unpublished works from the period, Mills shows how Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and Margaret Walker used the lumpenproletariat to imagine new forms of revolutionary knowledge and agency. In their writings, hobos riding the rails, criminals hustling to make ends meet, heroic black folk-outlaws, and individuals who fall out of the proletariat into the social margins all furnish material for thinking through resistance to the exploitations of capitalism, patriarchy, and Jim Crow.
"Mills' focus on the lumpenproletariat is timely, as it intersects with and helps to inform scholarship on a number of emergent topics in American cultural studies. The recuperation of unpublished manuscripts by Ellison and Walker is also a significant contribution in and of itself." — Chris Vials, Professor, University of Connecticut
Katherine Scheil, Imagining Shakespeare's Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway (University of Cambridge Press, 2018)
What has been the appeal of Anne Hathaway, both globally and temporally, over the past four hundred years? Why does she continue to be reinterpreted and reshaped? Imagining Shakespeare's Wife examines representations of Hathaway, from the earliest depictions and details in the eighteenth century, to contemporary portrayals in theatre, biographies, and novels. Residing in the nexus between Shakespeare's life and works, Hathaway has been constructed to explain the women in the plays but also composed from the material in the plays. Presenting the very first cultural history of Hathaway, Katherine Scheil offers a richly original study that uncovers how the material circumstances of history affect the later reconstruction of lives.
"[It is to] Scheil's credit that while she presents and discusses these myriad Annes, she always keeps the reader aware of the true Anne, the one who we cannot know, who is impossible to know, but who deserves to be acknowledged simply because she is human. Highly recommend." — The Fish Shelf
Julie Schumacher, Doodling for Academics (University of Chicago Press, 2017)
With the help of hilarious illustrations by Lauren Nassef, Schumacher infuses the world of campus greens and university quads with cutting wit, immersing you deep into the weirdly creative challenges of university life. Offering a satirical interactive experience for scholars, the combination of humor and activities in this book will bring academia into entertaining relief, making it the perfect gift for your colleagues, advisors, or newly minted graduates.
"The book portrays a typical day in the life of a researcher. It begins with a '4 am fantasy' that involves the invisible protagonist publishing a best-selling book and being showered with money. One page invites readers to colour in administrative red tape while another includes five 'helicopter parents' to cut, colour, and hang for a game of darts. Academics are also invited to colour in the humanities building—a shabby block with visible cracks—and the science lab—a shiny, glass-plated tower with trees on the roof." — Times Higher Education
Julie Schumacher, The Shakespeare Requirement (Doubleday, 2018)
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune keep hitting beleaguered English professor Jason Fitger right between the eyes in the sequel to the cult classic of anhedonic academe, the Thurber Prize-winning Dear Committee Members. Fitger, newly appointed chair of the English Department of Payne University, takes arms against a sea of troubles. The lavishly funded Econ Department keeps siphoning off English's meager resources and has taken aim at its remaining office space. And Fitger's attempt to get an antediluvian Shakespeare scholar to retire backfires spectacularly when the press concludes that the Bard is being kicked to the curricular curb.
"A straight narrative delivered with acrid wit. Fitger is delightfully acerbic and self-destructive in these pages. Anyone who's taught will recognize these characters, tightly bound in their arcane knowledge and rancid grievances. . . . A wry commentary on the plight of the arts in our mercantile era. Enrollment is now open. Don’t skip this class." — The Washington Post
John Watkins, After Lavinia: A Literary History of Premodern Marriage Diplomacy (Cornell University Press, 2017)
In medieval and early modern Europe, marriage treaties were a perennial feature of the diplomatic landscape. In After Lavinia, John Watkins traces the history of the practice, focusing on the unusually close relationship between diplomacy and literary production in Western Europe from antiquity through the seventeenth century, when marriage began to lose its effectiveness and prestige as a tool of diplomacy.
"John Watkins' topic is a massive one but one virtually never studied in this way. . . . This book makes contributions to a whole raft of academic fields—comparative literature, diplomatic history, political history, cultural history, gender studies, medieval studies, English studies, French studies, Renaissance studies, even classics. It should find a broad readership; I predict that it will garner much praise as a major contribution to our understanding of the intersection of gender, political history, and literature. The fascinating climax to After Lavinia is a set of original and persuasive readings of historical tragedies by the major European dramatists of the period—Shakespeare, Corneille, and Racine—in which Watkins shows with exciting clarity and detail the shifts in emphasis and affective power that accompany the changing role of the queen as political actor—and spell her demise as a figure of diplomatic agency." — Timothy Hampton, Professor, University of California, Berkeley
Amit Yahav, Feeling Time: Duration, the Novel, and Eighteenth-Century Sensibility (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018)
Literary historians have tended to associate the 18th century with the rise of the tyranny of the clock—the notion of time as ruled by mechanical chronometry. The transition to standardized scheduling and time-discipline, the often-told story goes, inevitably results in modernity's time-keeper societies and the characterization of modern experience as qualitatively diminished. In Feeling Time, Amit Yahav challenges this narrative of the triumph of chronometry and the consequent impoverishment of individual experience. She explores the fascination 18th-century writers had with the mental and affective processes through which human beings come not only to know that time has passed but also to feel the durations they inhabit. Feeling Time highlights the temporal underpinnings of the 18th century's culture of sensibility, arguing that novelists have often drawn on the logic of musical composition to make their writing an especially effective tool for exploring time and for shaping durational experience.
"In this innovative and ambitious book, Amit S. Yahav challenges some overly entrenched critical commonplaces about the Enlightenment roots of modernity while simultaneously elaborating new and compelling analyses of novels and aesthetic treatises that are the well-established mainstays of eighteenth-century literary studies." — Deidre Lynch, Professor, Harvard University