I began this academic year on research leave on the other side of the globe, away in Canberra, Australia’s capital. Each day at dusk, after I’d put the books aside and closed my laptop, I would go for long walks and marvel at the loud calls of the local birds, the clattering cockatoos, the chortling kookaburras, and, above all, the “bold, cruel and melodious” currawongs, “quarrelling, talking, crying so,” as the poet Judith Wright once put it. On New Year’s Day, 2017, I arrived back in Seattle recharged and full of enthusiasm, ready to plunge myself back into the day-to-day business of administration.
On returning, I was newly struck by just how big and diverse the Department of English is here at UW. We have more than sixty full-time faculty, and they study everything from the Crusades to South African fiction to second language acquisition. We have novelists, theater critics, pop culture specialists, rhetoricians, and linguists. I had tremendous fun over the last six months catching up with their many publications and projects. (You will find a few of these listed and described in the “Faculty Publications” section of this newsletter.)
Even as I gained a reawakened appreciation for the range and variety of what goes on in our department, I was reminded, too, that we share some fundamental values. One is a passion for writing and writing instruction. If, like me, you had an opportunity to read through our faculty’s teaching evaluations, you would be deeply impressed by the parade of praise for their ability to inspire and guide novice writers. Just this year, the English department began awarding a “minor in writing,” a way for undergraduates from around the university, no matter what their primary area of study may be, to devote themselves seriously and in an extended manner to mastering skills that will be of lifelong importance.
A second value that our faculty shares is a commitment to the public mission of the humanities. Our responsibilities do not end at the edge of campus. This issue of English Matters spotlights a few of the amazing programs and occasions when the Department of English focuses on “writing in the community.” We collaborate with teachers to teach composition in local high schools, and we partner with educators from other schools and institutions to study and promote more effective and more inclusive writing instruction.
You will also find here in English Matters news about our current students and alumni, their successes, awards, and accomplishments. You will read about first-rate teachers, prestigious grants, and good books. And our Editor, Henry Laufenberg, reveals that he is one of a number of avid surfers in the Department. One of the pleasures of being Chair of English is forever discovering more and more about this place and the people who work and study here. I may delight in occasionally traveling to the ends of the earth, but homecoming is sweeter.