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J's Fellowship App

Jessie,

This is a beautiful description of your dissertation. I think it will strike the review committee, as it struck me, as thorough, sophisticated, and, for the most part, accessible and clear to the non-specialist. The prose is elegant and richly textured, and the tone is appealing and persuasive. The project definitely sounds interesting and important. Its background and purpose develop smoothly within and between paragraphs. My suggestions for specifying and/or expanding on ideas fall into two categories: (1) additions the review committee might expect, given the instructions, and (2) questions I have as an "academic" reader.

(1) I do think that more specifics on your goals, and on the larger significance of the specific issues in English studies to which your project responds, are in order. At the end of the first full paragraph on pg. 3, you mention that, once you have obtained a faculty position, you "can contribute to these conversations, which are shaping the face of education and the role of the university in contemporary America in crucial ways." I think the review committee will (as it should) assume that you will meet your goal of becoming a professor. Thus, they may want to know how, exactly, you'll contribute, as a professor. For example, you suggest, at the end of para 2 on pg. 1, that your study situates you to "look to new models of curricular reform in literary studies." When a professor, will you develop and implement new pedagogical models? What might your future classroom and curriculum look like, then? How would it compare to your classroom and curriculum now?

It might help to make your experience and goals more concrete by relaying an example (an anecdote from your classroom?) of when/how the current curriculum has proven inadequate. You also might explain more fully the ways in which the research you cite has revealed the inadequacies of the curriculum. For example, what does/would it mean for lit studies to "ground its critique of unequal social relations," mentioned in the same para? Why/How is "'multiculturalization' of the canon" seen, by the scholars footnoted, here, as "an inadequate model of progressive curricular reform"? What's wrong with multiculturalism?, the committee might ask. How does it threaten English?

I think emphasizing and elaborating on your argument, also in this para, that this "mode of curricular reform not only constrains the ways that students can understand authors and texts, but also oversimplifies the complexities of identity formation and representation," is in order. This is so beautifully put. However, I may get what you mean by this more than the committee will, and I think arguing more forcefully and specifically the real damage that you think "multiculturalism," as defined in the university today, does, would help to clarify your politics and the urgency of your project. And you might use a more detailed explanation of how you would define and teach "multiculturalism," identity, authors, and texts differently than is en vogue at present, to not only help define and address the current and future crises and challenges English faces but also elaborate on your own professional goals.

Other places in your text where you might address this: in first para on p. 2, what's at stake "as English departments attempt to modernize and retain their institutional salience in the changing contemporary university"? And what's driving this change (what makes it a kind of 'modernizing')? Who/what is English trying to be salient to? You might, here, briefly introduce a general reader to such terms/events as the "canon wars" or "culture wars" (actually, I've never been sure what the latter phrase means, exactly), or even, if possible, (perhaps in a footnote) E.D. Hirsch's "conservative" idea of "Cultural Literacy" and the reactions to it (do you think that's relevant?), and, most importantly, explain your politics and goals in relation to these.

A key explanation of the state of the field and your place in it comes up in the last para of Part II, pg. 3: "While 'diversity' and 'multiculturalism' have become buzzwords in most educational institutions, it is imperative that educators keep these concepts from losing real meaning by maintaining a critical pedagogical focus on how they play out in curricula." This is wonderfully put. But I wonder if, again (or earlier), you might give a concrete example of "how they play out in curricula." Also, bc this strikes me as such a key claim in your argument, you might move it up to pg. 1.

Finally, in reading your proposal, I wondered if the committee might wonder why you've picked the turn of the 20th c to compare to the turn of the 21st c. I think you touch on your reason for this when you suggest that the former period witnessed "the creation of middle-class reading practices." Can you make this "creation," and any explanations for it, more explicit? Also, I think you've said outside this proposal that the turn of the 20th c saw an unprecedented explosion of autobiographical texts. Is this correct? If so, can you emphasize it more, here? How does the latest autobiographical rise compare to the earlier one? Is it, as you suggest, here, but might clarify, that the latest one is in the university (is it in the popular book press too?) while the earlier was only in the publishing market?

(2) Questions I have that I'm not sure will concern the reviewers are: Do the middle-class readers you study have a particular racial or ethnic identity? Do you argue that these readers' race/ethnicity was constructed by and/or against that represented in autobiographies written "from cultural locations outside of their middle-class readership," as you put so beautifully in para. 3, pg. 2? I get, from this para, that your study looks at "ethnic" writers, but do you also, or not, research "ethnic" readers? On this note, perhaps saying more about "passing," as you ask at the end of the first para, would help to clarify and expand on how your project approaches race and ethnicity.

That's all for me in writing. I look forward to talking about this proposal in person tomorrow. Again, I think you've done a fantastic job of articulating your project. The above questions and comments are simply meant to help add specificity and "newness of you-ness" to this proposal-- which I struggle a great deal with in my own.

Lauren

Comments

Thanks so much for your comments here and at our meeting--your feedback was hugely useful and gave me a lot to work with. Our discussion got me feeling excited again, which is good, since I need to REALLY write now, and I felt like these fellowship applications were sucking the life out of my project.

Also, I just noticed the comments on XCM from Lauren that Chris' response to my prospectus provoked--this is a huge and hugely fascinating issue. Like we talked about last week, it's so often that marginalized writers are *confined to* the autobiographical (i.e. fictional texts read as autobiography--this seems clearly linked to, for instance, the history of the kind of reading practices surrounding slave narratives--i.e. the only value in a text can be its indexical relationship to reality--certainly not its literariness); while obviously politically useful, this also puts writers in an impossible relationship to truth telling (hence the skepticism toward slave narratives and, in a present day context, Rigoberta Menchu's testimonio, for example--these issues are still alive and well!). It's an incredible double-bind, and Lauren's framing of the issue in terms of "speculation" is super-interesting.

I agree with Lauren that this is a very well-written proposal which does an excellent job of conveying the importance and range of your project. I was particularly impressed by the force and clarity of your statements explaining the connections you are making in your diss. Overall I found this a strong, convincing application.

It seems that the more vague the instructions and the more unclear the type of audience, the more important it is to not leave any questions unanswered. I applied for a fellowship in craft studies and when I got the rejection letter with comments I learned that people in non-English Departments don’t necessarily make the same assumptions or fill in the same blanks that we do. So in my reading of this I tried to be nitpicky in regards to questions your readers might potentially ask about your proposal. These may are may not be useful for you.

Some general comments:

As Lauren said, some readers might wonder why you are using early 20th c. texts to examine issues that you describe taking place in contemporary universities. I really like this connection, but it may be confusing for some without additional explanation of why you are focusing your study on these texts rather than on recent autobiographies.

I wondered if a brief description of your methodology would enhance your argument here. Folks not in English departments might think ‘a focused consideration of the apparatus of multicultural literary education’ indicates a statistical or ethnographic approach that an education scholar might take. Perhaps saying that you will be conducting in-depth research, performing close analyses of texts, and drawing on archival materials (or whatever it is that you will actually be doing) would help make sure there is no uncertainty about this.

I was curious if you were including issues of gender/sexuality in your study. The ‘women scholars’ aspect of the fellowship, as well as your minor in Feminist Studies, made me ask if this might be something that could be emphasized. If it’s not a part of your project, though, it’s probably best to not go down that road.

Some more specific comments:

Page 1
-- Per your note in the first paragraph, I think this is fine as it stands without mentioning the fake autobiographies, but at the same time I really missed hearing about this part of your project. If you have room to explain how this connects to your overall goals it might be nice to include, as it would add a layer of complexity and might also help elaborate why you are focusing on early 20th c. texts.
--In the second paragraph, I wondered, like Lauren, if your readers might be confused about your definition and critique of multiculturalism. First, I think it would be useful to describe more specifically ‘the contemporary era of multiculturalism.’ Are you talking about the word ‘multicultural,’ or are you referring to the development and proliferation of women and ethnic studies departments 30+ years ago, or are you only talking about literature departments and canons? Or all of these things? Second, in the second sentence of this paragraph, I wasn’t sure exactly what you meant by the ‘broader context.’ And third, I think it’s important to acknowledge, before your critique of multiculturalism, the important efforts this movement has made to include those underrepresented in literary canons. I guess I was unclear from your statements whether you were critiquing the initial struggles to make the canon more inclusive, or if this was a critique of what the term ‘multiculturalism’ has come to mean in today’s universities.
--I’m not sure it’s necessary to include footnotes. I tend to not include them in these sorts of things, though I know plenty of people do. I just figure committees are reading quickly and skip right over them. If the references are absolutely crucial to what I’m saying I’ll mention them in the body of the proposal. But otherwise footnotes seem to take up page space where I could be writing more about my project. This is a personal preference, however.

Page 2
--In the third paragraph on this page, I found the sentence beginning ‘Popular writers who narrated . . .’ to be a bit lengthy and vague. Maybe break up into two sentences?

Page 3
--In the first full paragraph, the word ‘crucial’ appears several times.
--In the last paragraph, I wondered if taking out the ‘allow me to take time off from teaching’ bit was necessary to say. Instead you could just say that you’re going to focus entirely on research and writing.

Good luck, I hope you get this fellowship!!!

Becky