A Note from the Acting Chair / Anis Bawarshi

Anis Bawarshi
English Department Chair Anis Bawarshi

As I wind down my year as Acting Chair, I am reminded of a poem by Lucille Clifton that a colleague shared with me soon after my birthday: “i am running into a new year/ and the old years blow back/ like a wind/ that i catch in my hair/ like strong fingers like/ all my old promises and/ it will be hard to let go/ of what i said to myself/ about myself/ when i was sixteen and/ twenty-six and thirty-six/ even forty-six but/ i am running into a new year/ and i beg what i love and/ i leave to forgive me.”

Knowing that it is hard to let go of what we said about ourselves and the importance of begging what we love, I am all the more grateful for the work we have done over the last year and a half as a department to reflect, assess, and imagine our collective future.  We drafted a self-study for our ten-year review, completed the review site visit, received and responded to the external committee report.  Along the way we drafted a five-year strategic plan and, as I write this, are at work on a five-year hiring plan.  This work has required a tremendous amount of effort, patience, and good will from faculty, staff, members of the Executive Committee, Associate Chair, and program directors.  It has also helped us think relationally.

The spirit of this relationality was modeled for us in March, when we hosted Dr. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs for the second annual Lee Scheingold lecture in poetry and poetics, focused on the theme of poetry and social justice.  Both the lecture/conversation and workshop explored a poetics of being that highlighted the role poetry can play in helping us reimagine our relationships with one another and our environment. I am grateful to Rae Paris for her leadership in making this such a beautiful and impactful event.  In February, we also hosted our annual Praxis conference, which brings together UW and K-12 teachers, students, administrators, and other organizations to explore teaching and learning practices.  These as well as so many of our most important events are supported by or have their roots in donor gifts. 

As usual this time of year, we have many accomplishments to celebrate.  A number of our faculty have published outstanding new books, reflecting the range of work we do (see Faculty Publications).  Two faculty, Habiba Ibrahim and Gillian Harkins, were elected to MLA Executive Committees.  Gillian Harkins was awarded the Barclay Simpson Prize for Scholarship in Public for her decade of collaborative work in coalition-building among Washington State’s diverse range of prison and post-prison education programs.  One of our English majors, Elise Stefanou, was awarded the President’s medal, one of only three UW undergraduates to receive this award, perhaps the most prestigious available to undergraduates campus-wide. Two students were named to the Husky 100.  You can read more about these and other faculty and student accomplishments in the Faculty News and Student Awards sections. 

I would also like to extend a special congratulations to Nancy Bou Ayash for her tenure and promotion to Associate Professor, to Anu Taranath for her promotion to Principal Lecturer, and to Megan Callow for her promotion to Senior Lecturer.  While we celebrate these promotions, we also bid farewell, along with our deepest gratitude, to the four colleagues who are retiring this year.  Joseph Butwin has taught with us since 1970, John O’Neill since 1999, Sandra Silberstein since 1982, and Elizabeth Simmons-O’Neill since 1990. Their contributions to this university are prodigious, their impact long lasting.  For the decades of service, thousands of students they have taught, programs and community partnerships they have built, interdisciplinary links they have forged, and spirit of generosity, friendship, and kindness they brought, we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

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; about student successes and alumni achievements; and about events such as Frankenreads, which organized a series of short talks around the classic Mary Shelley novel Frankenstein.  And you will pick up a few tips for summer reading.

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