“Tomorrow to fresh woods, and pastures new”: this final line from Milton’s poem “Lycidas” echoes in my ears as I sit down to write what will be, I report with mixed emotions, my final Note from the Chair for English Matters. In July I will be taking on a new administrative role, the UW Divisional Dean of the Humanities.
I do not see this change as a departure or break. I may be moving across the road from Padelford and taking up residence in a new location, the Arts and Sciences Deans Office, but I will continue representing, and advocating for, the English Department and its faculty, students, and staff. Now, though, I will be empowered to do so on a larger and more public stage.
The study of literature, language, and culture matters more than ever. I hope to be an ambassador for eloquence and clarity, in an era sorely in need of both qualities, and a voice for the wisdom of the poets. “For,” as Shelley says, true writers not only behold “intensely the present as it is, and discover those laws according to which present things ought to be ordered,” but they behold “the future in the present,” and their “thoughts are the germs of the flower and the fruit of latest time.”
The Department of English will be in good hands. Anis Bawarshi will be serving as Acting Chair in 2018-2019, and Maya Sonenberg will be our Associate Chair. I cannot imagine a more skilled and visionary pair of leaders to steward our community through a period of transition.
I did not expect or plan to be stepping down as Chair so soon. I thought I had at least another year to bring assorted projects to completion, to see all the horses back into their stables for a rub-down and feed. But we have accomplished so much over the last four years, so much to be proud of. In February, for instance, we hosted the inaugural Lee Scheingold Lecture in Poetics, which was delivered by the dynamic amazing poet and critic Stephanie Burt, and in April the Pulitizer-and-Macarthur-winning US Poet Laureate Charles Simic visited campus as our Roethke Reader.
Other comings and goings are underway. In January, Rae Paris joined our creative writing program as an assistant professor. (Check out her first-rate new book A Forgetting Tree: A Rememory, which mixes prose and poetry, family stories and national history.) Three retirements become official in June. Carolyn Allen has taught here since 1972, Mona Modiano since 1973, and Leroy Searle since 1977. Their collective contributions to this university are prodigious, and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude for their decades of service.
This issue of English Matters will catch you up on the latest news from our department more generally. You will hear about what our faculty have been doing (and publishing); about student successes and alumni achievements; and about events such as the marvelous JaneFest, celebrating the life and works of the novelist Jane Austen. You will learn about our study abroad programs in London and in the Balkans, and you will pick up a few tips for summer reading. And you will find tributes to two of our faculty who left this world too soon, Robert Shulman and John Coldeway. I dedicate this Spring 2018 issue of our newsletter to their memory.