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“Unprecedented”: A CALS Webinar Series

"Unprecedented" is a word employed frequently by media, government officials, and lay persons alike to describe the phenomena surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. Inspired by recent events and the rhetoric used to account for them, the "Unprecedented" series of 1-hour webinars will feature presentations and discussion by leading scholars, writers, and activists focused on better and less well known developments in American literature and culture (and American literary and cultural studies) that might be, and in some cases have been, described as "unprecedented." 

 

Upcoming Webinars

Sizing Up The Chair

Webinar 8: Friday, February 18, 2022, 12:00-1:00 PM

In the opening episode of Netflix’s recently launched series The Chair, Ji-Yoon Kim, played by Sandra Oh, delivers her first speech to her colleagues as the first woman, and first woman of color, to serve as Chair of the Department of English at Pembroke University: “I’m not gonna sugarcoat this. We are in a dire crisis. In these unprecedented times, we have to prove that what we do in the classroom . . . is more important than ever and has value to the public good.”  Hailed by The Atlantic as “Netflix’s Best Drama in Years,” The Chair has elicited much discussion from viewers and critics, and academics and non-academics, about its treatment of a range of issues including the crisis in the humanities, freedom of speech, departmental politics and culture, and matters related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The panelists on this webinar tell us what the series gets right and wrong and share what they perceive to be the series’ achievements and contributions.  

Panelists include:

  • Dorothy Wang, Professor and Chair of the American Studies Program, Williams College. Wang is the author of Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry (Stanford University Press, 2013), which won the Association for Asian American Studies Award for Best Book in Literary Criticism. Her areas of expertise include twentieth-and twenty-first century Asian American literature, poetry and poetics, including experimental minority poetry.

  • Rebecca L. Walkowitz, Dean of Humanities and Distinguished Professor of English, Rutgers University. A former Chair of the English Department at Rutgers University, Walkowitz writes and teaches courses about modernism, the contemporary anglophone novel, and world literature. The author and editor of many volumes, Walkowitz’s current book project, Future Reading, shows how a new generation of migrant novelists, essayists, and nonfiction fabulists are changing the way we encounter world languages. Ultimately the study calls for rethinking how we organize, publish, review, honor, and teach the literary works circulating today.  

  • Cynthia A. Young, Associate Professor of African American Studies, English, and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Penn State. Young is the author of Soul Power: Culture, Radicalism and the Making of a U.S. Third World Left (Duke University Press, 2006), which looks at the influence of Third World anticolonialism on activists, writers and filmmakers of color in the 1960s and 1970s. Her current manuscript, Terror Wars-Culture Wars: Race, Popular Culture and the Civil Rights Legacy After 9/11, considers the contours of popular culture and contemporary discourse in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Of particular interest are questions of black citizenship and immigrant exclusion. 

Moderator:

  • Leland Tabares, Visiting Assistant Professor of English, Loyola University New Orleans. Tabares’ work centers on literature, labor, and racialization in twentieth- and twenty-first-century American culture. His first book project, Professionalizing Asian America: Race and Labor in the Twenty-First Century, traces the ways that Asian Americans’ increasing representation in a diverse range of contemporary industry professions—from the university and the modern restaurant industry to the Silicon Valley tech industry and digital media platforms like YouTube—enculturates new meanings of race, generationality, and belonging. 

Please register for the webinar here:

https://psu.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_K-tboEe3Tv-t_b6iC8ve9A


Recent Webinars

The Role of the Humanities in Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy

Webinar 7: Friday, January 21, 2022, 12:00-1:00 PM

A Zoom screenshot of James Phelan, Dennis Yi Tenen, and Janet Lyon moderated by Jess Rafalko.COVID-19 remains an ongoing public health threat in the United States, despite widespread availability of effective vaccines. The anti-vaccination movement has been characterized as a disingenuous partisan ploy underwritten by far-right politicians and media outlets, but those who refuse vaccination are not all willfully ignorant or dangerously misinformed—that is, the causes of vaccine hesitancy are multifarious and complex. Beginning from the premise that the humanities are uniquely equipped to confront such complicated social, political, and ethical matters, this webinar will explore the causes of, and potential solutions to, vaccine hesitancy from a variety of disciplinary (and interdisciplinary) perspectives.

Panelists include:

  • James Phelan, Distinguished University Professor of English and Director of Project Narrative, The Ohio State University. Phelan has devoted his research to thinking through the consequences of conceiving of narrative as rhetoric, an effort that has recently taken him to the emerging subfield of narrative medicine. Among his many books are Reading People, Reading PlotsNarrative as RhetoricLiving to Tell About ItExperiencing FictionReading the American Novel, 1920-2010; and Somebody Telling Somebody Else. Since 1992, Phelan has been the editor of Narrative, the journal of the International Society for the Study of Narrative. In 2021, the Society named him the recipient of its Wayne C. Booth Lifetime Achievement Award.

  • Dennis Yi Tenen, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University. Tenen’s research and teaching focus on various topics including literary theory, the sociology of literature, media history, and computation narratology. The author of Plain Text: The Poetics of Computation (Stanford University Press, 2017), he is currently writing a book on the creative limits of artificial intelligence. Tenen serves as Project Lead for “Increasing COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence,” an initiative funded by a grant from Columbia World Projects.

  • Janet Lyon, Director of Graduate Studies and Associate Professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Penn State. Lyon is an affiliate of the Rock Ethics Institute and director of Penn State’s Disability Studies Minor. She publishes on modernism and disability, focusing especially on the emergence of “disability” as a category in the modernist period. Lyon is a former registered nurse.

Moderator:

  • Jess Rafalko, Graduate Student, Department of English, Penn State

Please view the webinar here:

https://psu.mediaspace.kaltura.com/media/The+Role+of+the+Humanities+in+Addressing+Vaccine+Hesitancy/1_9gigj2nr


"Grown Deep Like the Rivers": The Black Lives Matter Movement(s) from Langston Hughes to the Present

Webinar 6: Friday, December 3, 2021, 12:00-1:00 PMPicture of a Zoom meeting with Tony Bolden, Autumn Womack, Aldon Lynn Nielsen, Laura Vrana

2021 marks the centennial anniversary of Langston Hughes publishing one of his best known poems, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” The poem was a signature poem of the Harlem Renaissance and written by a teenage Hughes as he was crossing the Mississippi River on his way to see his father in Mexico. It was Hughes’ first poem to be published in The Crisis, the NAACP’s official magazine edited by W. E. B. Du Bois. Like the magazine it was published in, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” has been a touchstone for generations owing to its themes of race pride, historic and diasporic consciousness, and eloquent dignity in the face of centuries-old patterns of slavery and racial violence. Panelists will remark upon the importance of Hughes and his poem and suggest how we might connect both to artistic and literary productions shaping, and shaped by, the Black Lives Matter movement(s) in our own time, all the while pointing out how one or the other movement may (or may not) be unprecedented after all.

Panelists include:

  • Tony Bolden, Professor of African and African-American Studies, University of Kansas. Bolden’s published works include Afro-Blue: Improvisations in African American Poetry and Culture (University of Illinois Press, 2004) and Groove Theory: The Blues Foundation of Funk (University Press of Mississippi, 2020). Bolden serves as Editor of The Langston Hughes Review.
  • Autumn Womack, Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies, Princeton University. Womack is the author of The Matter of Black Living: The Aesthetic Experiment of Racial Data, 1880-1930 (forthcoming from The University of Chicago Press, 2022). Her research and teaching interests are located at the intersection of African American literature, visual studies, and print culture.
  • Aldon Lynn Nielsen, The George and Barbara Kelly Professor of American Literature, Penn State. Nielsen is the author most recently of Back Pages: Selected Poems of A.L. Nielsen (BlazeVox Books, 2021) and The Inside Songs of Amiri Baraka (Palgrave MacMillan, 2021). Nielsen has won numerous awards for his poetry, edited volumes, and critical scholarship including a Larry Neal Award for Poetry, the Josephine Miles Award, two Gertrude Stein Prizes, the SAMLA Studies Prize, a Darwin Turner Award, and an American Book Award.

Moderator:

  • Laura Vrana, Assistant Professor of English, University of South Alabama. Vrana’s teaching and research focus on African American literature. Her recent scholarship includes several articles focused on Black women poets including Thylias Moss, Robin Coste Lewis, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Evie Shockley published in various journals including MELUSTulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, the Journal of Ethnic American Literature, and Obsidian.

Please view the webinar here:

https://psu.mediaspace.kaltura.com/media/%22Grown+Deep+Like+the+Rivers%22A+The+Black+Lives+Matter+Movement%28s%29+from+Langston+Hughes+to+the+Present/1_fxrw18ld


American Literary Studies Beyond the Brink

Webinar 5: Friday, April 16, 2021, 12:00-1:00 PM Group photo of Priscilla Wald, Danica Savonick, Jeffery T Nealon with Moderator Dillon Rockrohr

The Chronicle Review introduced their recent collection “Endgame: Can literary studies survive?” with the bold statement, “The academic study of literature is no longer on the verge of field collapse. It’s in the midst of it.” The sentiments here expressed seem far less bold and more obvious in the midst of the unfolding effects COVID-19 is having on employment and funding in academia generally and American literary studies in particular. Various interrelated forces could be and have been identified as having contributed to this moment, such as changes in university funding sources, privatization of research, externalization of revenue, the increasing debt burden for students, threats to academic freedom, the shifting demands of professionalization, and the decreasing public valuation of humanistic study. This webinar approaches the demise of the profession by considering again what it means to continue in this work now, as well as the whys and hows of studying American literature and culture at this moment. What shape might American literary and cultural studies take in order to contest developments that have left the discipline on the brink of collapse?

Panelists include:

  • Priscilla Wald, R. Florence Brinkley Distinguished Professor of English, Duke University. Focused on the intersections between the law, literature, science, and narrative, Wald’s published works include Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative (Duke UP, 2008) and she is currently completing a study entitled Human Being After Genocide. Former Director of the Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke, Wald serves as Co-Editor of the journal American Literature and is Co-Director of CALS’ First Book Institute.
  • Danica Savonick, Assistant Professor of English, State University of New York, Cortland. Savonick’s research focuses on twentieth-century and contemporary U.S. literature, pedagogy, and social justice. Her first book manuscript is tentatively entitled Insurgent Knowledge: The Poetics and Pedagogy of Toni Cade Bambara, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, and Adrienne Rich in the Era of Open Admissions. Her work has appeared in American Literature, Modern Fiction Studies, and Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the U.S. (MELUS), as well as The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. Savonick is currently an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) Fellow.

  • Jeffrey T. Nealon, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English and Philosophy, Penn State. Nealon has published widely on contemporary American literature and culture, literary theory, and the state of the profession. Recent titles include Plant Theory: Biopower and Vegetable Life (Stanford UP, 2016); I’m Not Like Everybody Else: Biopolitics, Neoliberalism, and American Popular Music (U of Nebraska P, 2018), and Fates of the Performative: From the Linguistic Turn to the New Materialism (U of Minnesota P, 2021).

Moderator:

  • Dillon Rockrohr, Graduate Student, Department of English, Penn State

Please view the webinar here:

https://psu.zoom.us/rec/share/A4ia2K38lzjBQ-ZGymAc_WaxqfXTVLYWddm2H6maJYI7kwUh-tDKAWVaSHXCLcmm.gnt-ZJllhN8QaGAL


Getting Personal: American Women Poets and the Autobiographical Lyric

Webinar 4: Friday, March 19, 2021, 12:00-1:00 PM

Zoom Screenshot of Natalie Diaz, Diana Khoi Nguyen, Shara McCallum, Tyler Mills When it was announced that Jewish-American poet Louise Gluck had been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature, Gluck became the first woman poet from the United States to win the prestigious honor. Using this “unprecedented” announcement as a launch point, this webinar features three women poets whose work, like Gluck’s own, has alternately been described as “confessional” and “personal.” The “confessional” school of poetry originated in the United States in the mid-twentieth-century, and important poets such as Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, and Anne Sexton have been associated with that school. Yet Gluck and her readers have argued that her lyrics are more than merely “confessional” in mode, though they are undeniably personal and autobiographical. Likewise, the three women poets serving on this webinar panel are renowned for their personal lyrics that are more than merely confessional. Each panelist will address the significance of Gluck’s being named the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and share their approaches to the “confessional,” “personal,” and/or autobiographical school of poetry.

Panelists include:

  • Natalie Diaz is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. Her first poetry collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, was published by Copper Canyon Press, and her second book, Postcolonial Love Poem, was published by Graywolf Press in March 2020 and was named a finalist for the National Book Award. She is a MacArthur Fellow, a Lannan Literary Fellow, a United States Artists Ford Fellow, and a Native Arts Council Foundation Artist Fellow. Diaz is Director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands and is the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University.
  • Diana Khoi Nguyen, a poet and multimedia artist, is the author of Ghost Of (Omnidawn 2018), and recipient of a 2021 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In addition to winning the 92Y "Discovery" / Boston Review Poetry Contest, 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and Colorado Book Award, she was also a finalist for the National Book Award and L.A. Times Book Prize. A Kundiman fellow, she is core faculty in the Randolph College Low-Residency MFA and an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
  • Shara McCallum is the author of six books of poetry, published in the US and UK, including No Ruined Stone (forthcoming in 2021) and Madwoman (winner of the 2018 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Poetry). McCallum’s work has appeared widely in the US, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe, and has been translated into Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, Dutch, and Turkish. McCallum is the recipient of a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the US Library of Congress and a Poetry Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, among other awards. From Jamaica, McCallum is Liberal Arts Professor of English at Penn State.

Moderator:

  • Tyler Mills, a poet and essayist, is the author of The City Scattered (winner of the Snowbound Chapbook Award, Tupelo Press 2022), Hawk Parable (winner of the Akron Poetry Prize, University of Akron Press 2019) and Tongue Lyre (winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, Southern Illinois University Press 2013). With Kendra DeColo, Mills is co-author of Low Budget Movie (winner of the Diode Editions Chapbook Prize and forthcoming in 2021) and she is finishing a nonfiction memoir-in-essays manuscript titled The Bomb Cloud.

Please view the webinar here:

https://psu.zoom.us/rec/share/MIooV42Gd0Gr34gKvUEZ_rae6Xi7JK0Q-SuPjnhkzO5LjiX5lqpLuts7CNjM2r2d.KDAYWbGPBHVXq3NA


Politics, Performance, and Pseudoscience

Webinar 3: Friday, February 19, 2021, 12:00-1:00 PM

Politics, Performance, and Pseudoscience Zoom Screenshot of People attending For the first time in its publication history, The New England Journal of Medicine endorsed a candidate during the recent U.S. presidential election. While the journal's editorial was heralded as an unprecedented move, the politicization of science has always been a concerted point of inquiry in American health and medicine, not least of all during the nineteenth century. Drawing on the (bio)politics of science in our contemporary moment, this webinar takes a historical approach to explore how the politicization of science is intertwined with performance, plasticity, and pseudoism. Crucially, this webinar invites us to ask: What are the afterlives of these methods in current theories of health? Who are the usual "patients" of such techniques? And most importantly, how might literary analysis help us imagine different possibilities for the politics of science?

Panelists include:

  • Sari Altschuler, Associate Professor of English, Northeastern University, and author of The Medical Imagination: Literature and Health in the Early United States (Penn Press, 2018)
  • Christine (Xine) Yao, Lecturer, University College London, and author of Disaffected: The Cultural Politics of Unfeeling in Nineteenth-Century America (under contract with Duke UP)
  • Christopher Willoughby, Visiting Fellow, Center for Humanities and Information, Penn State, and author of Masters of Health: Racial Science and Slavery in American Medical Schools (under contract with UNC Press)

Moderator:

  • Eunice Toh, Graduate Student, Departments of English and African American Studies, Penn State

Please view the webinar here:

https://psu.zoom.us/rec/share/lyuXcveohZtnYFOQss5phaXeh56AhF5OB5JL7Xunl9HVJjNkWolcl1n0h24NeMlT.84a36nFUwpb34HiT


Expecting the Unprecedented: Speculative Fiction and the Climate Events of the Future

Webinar 2: Friday, January 22, 2021, 12:00-1:00 PM

Zoom Screenshot of Jessica Kilmoff, Heather Houser, Stephanie LeMenager, and Claire Colebrook

Speculative fiction has recently marked a turn in American literature to imagine not just the past of "unprecedented" climate crises, but also their future. It has been well-established that speculative fiction can assist societies in imagining the future of climate crises. However, it remains to be discussed what the limits of these imaginative possibilities are. Further, what is gained and lost by referring to major climate events as "unprecedented"? Mindful of the limits of speculative fiction's potential to imagine the futures of climate change, this webinar focuses on how speculative fiction might nonetheless help make the "unprecedented" feel apprehensible for readers.

Panelists include:

  • Heather Houser, Associate Professor of English, University of Texas at Austin. Houser is the author of Ecosickness in Contemporary U. S. Fiction: Environment and Affect (Columbia UP, 2014) and Infowhelm: Environmental Art and Literature in an Age of Data (Columbia UP, 2020).
  • Stephanie LeMenager, Moore Endowed Professor of English, University of Oregon. LeMenager is the author of Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century (Oxford UP, 2014) and co-editor, with Shane Hall and Stephen Siperstein, of Teaching Climate Change in the Humanities (Routledge, 2016).
  • Claire Colebrook, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, Philosophy, and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Penn State. Colebrook serves as co-editor, with Tom Cohen, of the book series Critical Climate Change for Open Humanities Press and has authored two volumes in the series, including The Death of the Posthuman (2014) and Sex After Life (2014).

Moderator:

  • Jessica Klimoff, Graduate Student, Department of English, Penn State

Please view the webinar here:

https://psu.zoom.us/rec/share/GfW3U8GPKvW7hK9YPHvTrDmyrfT6524K6PGWvM5hTXn5EoYt9zqDCDUvDjTwON5Q.XfiDDEcXHVlzQ44t?startTime=1611334814000


Sewing the Seeds of Activism in an Age of COVID: the "Auntie Sewing Squad"

Webinar 1: Friday, December 11, 2020, 12:00-1:00 PM

Antie Sewing Squad In March 2020, performance artist and comedian Kristina Wong initiated an effort with friends to sew masks for essential workers in response to the Federal Government's failure to provide adequate supplies of PPE. "The Auntie Sewing Squad" rapidly grew into a national team of mask-makers—mostly women of color—who sew masks for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, including women's shelters, Native American citizens living on reservations, undocumented workers, and poor communities of color. Comprised of college professors, actors, teachers, filmmakers, labor organizers and many others, the Auntie Sewing Squad proudly "trace the lineage of this sewing to our mothers and grandmothers, immigrant and refugee communities in America, and underpaid women of color garment workers globally." This webinar features several members of the Auntie Sewing Squad who will remark upon the group's genesis, its place in the history of activism by, and on behalf of, communities of color, and their contributions to We Go Down Sewing, a volume focused on the activities and significance of the Auntie Sewing Squad to be published by the University of California Press in 2021.

Panelists include:

  • Kristina Wong, Performance Artist, Comedian, and Founding Member of the Auntie Sewing Squad
  • Mai-Linh Hong, Assistant Professor of Literature, University of California, Merced
  • Grace Yoo, Professor of Asian American Studies, San Francisco State University

Moderator:

  • Tina Chen, Associate Professor of English and Asian American Studies, Penn State

Please view the webinar here:

https://psu.zoom.us/rec/share/fRhYWD9dTRXVH_HaHDsM9BLPCR5ZMpHP6pmSGps9aEZYaHeBMIYz-YFrHCR6wYo.ufKjGJgx58trqDrj