A Note From Our Chair / Anis Bawarshi

Anis Bawarshi
English Department Chair Anis Bawarshi

As we bring 2021 to a close, I am reminded of the feeling of community and hope I felt during and after the 3rd annual Scheingold Lecture on Poetry and Poetics the department hosted last Spring, once again coordinated by Professor Rae Paris and featuring a conversation between poets Naomi Shihab Nye and Lena Khalaf Tuffaha. While “poetry” and “poetics” are conventionally understood as being about the art form and theory of writing poetry, the lecture series has highlighted that there’s also a poetics of being in relation that poetry can help to cultivate. This being in relation is embodied in Shihab Nye’s beautiful poem “Gate A-4”, in which the poet describes being at the Albuquerque airport terminal when she hears an announcement asking anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 who understands any Arabic to go to the gate.

There, an elderly Palestinian woman, in traditional embroidered dress, was distraught because she thought her delayed flight had been cancelled and there was a medical procedure she could not miss.  What unfolds is a set of conversations in Arabic and English, phone calls and discovered relations, and mamool cookies the woman shared with others at the gate.  The poem ends with these words:

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

As we returned to in-person teaching this Fall, our staff, program directors, and faculty have worked tirelessly to solve/anticipate problems, develop teaching resources that build on what we learned last year, and make sure we are as prepared and flexible as possible.  I am reminded every day of the way they guide a department of our size and complexity in skillful, creative, and compassionate ways.

I am pleased to say that Habiba Ibrahim continues for a second year as the department Associate Chair, while our program directors continue to lead our many programs: Su Motha (MATESOL), Eva Cherniavsky (Graduate Studies), Megan Callow (Interdisciplinary Writing Program); Jesse Oak Taylor (Undergraduate Studies); and David Crouse (Creative Writing).  Stephanie Kerschbaum has begun a first term as Director of the Expository Writing Program, taking over from Candice Rai who served brilliantly and transformationally in that role for the last seven years.  Michelle Liu continues as Associate Director of Writing Programs, Colette Moore as department scheduler, Kimberlee Gillis-Bridges as director of CIC, Henry Laufenberg as English Matters editor, and Jessica Burstein as London Study Abroad program director. 

I would like to extend congratulations to Charles LaPorte for his promotion to the rank of Full Professor, to Michelle Liu for her promotion to the rank of Full Teaching Professor, and to Rush Daniel for his promotion to the rank of Associate Teaching Professor.  I also want to congratulate Shawn Wong on being appointed the prestigious Lockwood Professor in the Humanities by the College of Arts and Sciences (you can read more about faculty accomplishments in the Faculty and Staff Notes section).

We also successfully completed two faculty searches last year, and I am pleased to welcome Cristina Sánchez-Martín (TESOL, critical applied linguistics, and composition) and Anna Preus (humanities data science, modernism, poetry).  Stephanie Kerschbaum (rhetoric, composition studies, and disability studies) joined the department this Summer after her hire in 2020. Frank Macarthy (composition studies, digital rhetoric) has also joined the department as a lecturer. We feature each of our new colleagues in this issue of EM.

Space does not allow me to review all that we did last year, but highlights include: approving our new undergraduate major and new courses (now under UW review), approving an MA/PhD Rights and Responsibilities document, approving two rounds of bylaws revisions, drafting department protocols for hiring and searches, conducting a Diversity Committee-led student survey and focus groups as part of continued work on the department Diversity and Equity plan, hosting the third annual Scheingold Lecture in Poetry and Poetics, expanding the “Literature, Language, Culture” Dialogue series to include teaching resources, piloting an internship program, and supporting five Collaboration Grant projects.

This year, we are conducting a faculty search for an Assistant Professor in African American and Black Diasporic Literary Studies.  We also continue to build the infrastructure for our new undergraduate major, repurposing and proposing several new courses for the three distribution areas, and revising the website to introduce students to the major.  We will be funding collaboration groups this Winter and Spring for faculty interested in developing course sequences and pathways through the major, as well as collaboration grants to support conversations about our hiring plan.

If there is a theme to this issue of English Matters, it is that the English Department continues to adapt to economic and cultural shifts in order to make the Humanities more relevant than ever.  The issue includes a section describing the various ways the English department is involved in moving the humanities in exciting new directions even as we maintain our foundations of humanistic inquiry.

One example is the effort to connect our work to the new UW Data Science minor, which includes developing new courses such as “Introduction to Data Science in the Humanities” and “Data and Narrative.”  As more of our lives and decision making as well as important social policies are driven by algorithms and big data, such courses provide students with tools to examine how data are used, represented, interpreted, manipulated, archived, and circulated to influence our actions and interactions—modes of analysis that English department faculty are well positioned to offer.

The latest episode of the English department’s Literature, Language, Culture dialogue series features Anna Preus (Professor of English) and Geoffrey Turnovsky (Professor and Chair of French and Italian), who discuss the value of the Digital Humanities, including how instructors and students can make use of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI).  Preus and Turnovsky clarify the value of TEI as a humanistic tool, especially in the way it allows teachers and scholars to think about “how texts are engineered”: how digitized texts appear to us as such and how to become more self-aware of the decisions we make about non-digitized texts when we read them—the encoding we do that helps us categorize, demarcate, and encounter the texts we read and interpret.  Please support the department by subscribing to our YouTube channel to make sure you stay up to date on the series, or check out the series webpage for the latest episodes.

As we look ahead, it is with sadness that I report the passing of Emeritus Professor William (Bill) Matchett.  Professor Matchett was a faculty member in the English department for twenty-eight years before retiring in 1982, although he continued teaching and writing in his retirement. During his influential career as a poet and literary scholar, Professor Matchett’s books, poems, stories, articles, and other criticism have appeared in dozens of magazines, including The New Yorker, Saturday Review of Literature, Harper’s and The New Republic.  He edited Modern Language Quarterly for many years, was an associate of Carolyn Kizer during her first years as editor of Poetry Northwest, helped to establish the Roethke reading series, and was also chair of the UW faculty senate.

This issue of English Matters remembers Professor Matchett. It also introduces you to our new faculty colleagues and highlights faculty and staff accomplishments.  It overviews the various ways the English department is leading efforts to expand the humanities, introduces you to one of our students, and suggests recommended readings.

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