Thanks Giving

We celebrate our our award-winning faculty, students, and alumni--and also the donors who support our students across generations.

Ellen Messer-Davidow
Happy holidays! Welcome to another issue of English@Minnesota. As I celebrated Thanksgiving last month, I was thinking about the many reasons we have to give thanks to students, faculty, staff, donors, and friends of the department.

For the past three years, I have taught Introduction to Literary Theory and Literary Studies in the Modern University, a seminar required of all new PhD and MA students. Each year I have appreciated both their enthusiasm for literary studies and their creative ideas for how the department can better communicate what it offers to all of its students. In the fall 2011 seminar, a team of graduate students presented suggestions for making our website more lively and informative. I took their advice, forming a committee of faculty, graduate students, and staff that revamped several pages of the website in the following months; we've also started an online weekly interview series, 5 X Friday, to spotlight our accomplished students, alumni, and faculty.

I am thankful for our first-year fellowships, which attract the best graduate students to our literature program and provide them with the time, as one student said, to "take a few more classes, explore a few more ideas, engage in a few more conversations." Other fellowships support the students during the last year of dissertation writing, freeing them from teaching so that they can produce high-quality scholarship that can be turned into published articles and books.

This fall's English@Minnesota profiles fellowship funds, those gifted in recent years and those established many decades ago that have supported generations of graduate students. Only two of our many graduate funds, Klaeber and Ruud, produce sufficient income to provide full-year fellowships, which--with tuition, benefits, and a stipend--round out at $40,000 per student. Since our mission is to attract the "best and brightest" students to our Literature and Creative Writing Programs, we have made fundraising for graduate fellowships a priority. We'd love your help in building these funds.

I am thankful too for the comprehensive teaching opportunities that make our graduate students so attractive when they search for jobs. All new Literature and Creative Writing students attend an Orientation Program in August that includes sessions on teaching, take the one-semester Teaching Practicum in their first year, and throughout their studies attend Brown Bag lunches that focus on teaching issues. Meanwhile, they ease into more responsibility, generally starting out as Teaching Assistants for the large literature survey courses, then teaching their own courses in undergraduate writing, and finally offering "stand-alone" courses taken by undergraduates.

I celebrate as well our award-winning faculty, students, and alumni and share a few examples with you:

Last March at Britain's Cambridge University, Professor Nabil Matar was awarded the 2012 Building Bridges Award from the Association of Muslim Social Scientists for his pioneering scholarship on relations between Islamic civilization and Europe during the early modern period. Professor Matar is one of the very few scholars worldwide who can read ancient and modern Arabic texts which, as other scholars have noted, makes his work so richly insightful. Past recipients of the award include the Archbishop of Canterbury and the prime ministers of Spain, Malaysia, and Turkey.

Also in spring, Edelstein-Keller Professor of Creative Writing Charles Baxter won the 2011 Rea Award for the Short Story, given annually to a living American or Canadian writer whose published work has made a "significant contribution in the discipline of the short story as an art form." Baxter joined a list of acclaimed honorees including Alice Munro, Grace Paley, and John Updike.

This year several alums of our BA, MFA, and PhD programs received the following honors: Minnesota Book Award, American Book Award (two!), the Academy of American Poets' Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the Loft Minnesota Emerging Writers Grant (two!), the Poetry Society of America's Frost Medal, and numerous Minnesota State Arts Board Grants.

Books written by three alums--Amanda Coplin, Sam Kean, and Cheryl Strayed--catapulted onto The New York Times' bestsellers list. BA alumna Strayed's memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail topped the nonfiction list for three months and was chosen to kick off Oprah's Book Club 2.0. Write on!

Of 56 graduate and undergraduate students from all over the University who received the President's Student Leadership & Service Awards last spring, three came from English: majors Kari Eloranta and Echo Martin, and MFA student Claire Stanford.

Michael Lee, an English major, was honored as the 2011 Best Individual Poet at the national College Unions Poetry Slam.

Three graduate students, Aaron Apps, Feng Sun Chen and Katie Robison, published books this year, well before they were scheduled to graduate.

Ivory Tower, the literary arts magazine produced by undergraduate students during their two-semester magazine production course, won the Tony Diggs Innovation Award from the University's Student Activities Office. They were praised for encouraging daily doses of literature on campus by maintaining a Poet Tree and circulating writing notebooks.

Perhaps the best news in this bleak economic era, alums are winning jobs. Between 2007 and 2011, according to university data, 92% of Literature graduate students and 90% of Creative Writing graduates found employment, figures well above the rate at comparable institutions. As BA alumnus and landscape architect Bob Close says in this issue's interview, English is a "fabulous foundation" for a 21st century world of integrative problem-solving across the occupations.

In 2010-11, as many of you know, we conducted a search for an assistant professor of poetry that culminated in the hiring of Peter Campion, an award-winning writer of poetry and critical essays who was also a Guggenheim Fellow last year. This winter, we are conducting a search for two assistant professors who specialize in 18th- and/or 19th-Century British Literature and interdisciplinary topics. We look forward to the two new colleagues who will join us next fall.

I hope you enjoy the stories in this issue of English@Minnesota, and I encourage you to continue supporting our exceptional students and faculty by making a gift. Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year!

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This page contains a single entry by Teresa Sutton published on November 30, 2012 11:01 AM.

Nuruddin Farah: Staging Ground was the previous entry in this blog.

Support When It Counts: Graduate Fellowships is the next entry in this blog.

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