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“Unprecedented”: A CALS Webinar Series
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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

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Recent Webinars

February 16, 2024 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 17

In her timeless Black feminist novel The Salt Eaters (1980), author, educator, and organizer Toni Cade Bambara wrote, “Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?” For Bambara and other activist-writers, the ideas of wellness and freedom are taken up as dynamic issues for both are interrelated—individual health and the health of one’s community. Over forty years later, the question of wellness remains a significant yet inconspicuous conversation among Black women. Drawn together by their extensive and impactful experiences as creatives and educators, this panel offers a public discussion about the wellness and humanity of Black women engaging in Black arts and liberation pedagogy.

Panelists

  • Shauna Morgan, Associate Professor of Creative Writing, English, and Africana Literature and Director of Equity and Inclusion Initiatives in Teaching and Learning, University of Kentucky. Author of the chapbook Fear of Dogs & Other Animals, Professor Morgan’s poetry is rooted in the ecosystems of Black life, and her scholarship examines the continuum of decoloniality and possibility in global Black art and culture. Her critical work has been published in Journal of Postcolonial Writing, South Atlantic Review, Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, and other venues. Her poetry has appeared in A Gathering Together, Interviewing the Caribbean, and a Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia, among other periodicals and anthologies. She currently serves as Editor of the CLA Journal, the official publication of the College Language Association.
  • DaMaris B. Hill, Professor of Creative Writing, English, and African American Studies, University of Kentucky. DaMaris B. Hill is a poet and creative scholar. She is the author of Breath Better Spent: Living Black Girlhood, A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing, The Fluid Boundaries of Suffrage and Jim Crow: Staking Claims in the American Heartland, \Vi-zə-bəl\   \Teks-chərs\ (Visible Textures), and other books. Her digital work includes Shut Up In My Bones,” a twenty-first century poem.  
  • Grace Hampton, Professor Emerita of Art, Art Education, Integrative Arts, and African Studies, Penn State. Professor Hampton has served as Director of the School of Visual Arts, Vice Provost, Executive Assistant to the Provost for the Development of the Arts, Head of African and African American Studies, and University-wide Senior Faculty Mentor. She has received two Senior Fulbright Awards for the development of a research collaborative between Penn State, Kwame Nkrumah University in Ghana and Ilorin University in Nigeria, and a lecture series has been named in her honor by the National Art Education Association. Dr. Hampton continues to supervise independent study courses and currently serves as a fellow in the Intergenerational Leadership Institute, where she develops intergenerational arts and cultural programs.

Moderator

  • Carmin Wong, Graduate Student, Department of English and the Program in African American and Diaspora Studies, Penn State.

Please view the webinar here.

January 19, 2024 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 16

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of All the President’s Men, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s account of their own highly influential reporting on Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. As the 2024 presidential election approaches, the leading Republican candidate—a former president, twice impeached—is facing multiple indictments related to his actions in the Oval Office, while the Democratic incumbent is navigating threats of impeachment and the political fallout of his son’s legal problems. The media breathlessly reports on these and other scandals, balancing journalistic rigor and integrity with the economic imperative to chase views, clicks, and ratings. This panel will consider the altered landscape of investigative reporting in the 21st century, as norms have shifted amid charges of “fake news” and liberal bias. Can investigative reporting still change minds (and the world), or does it simply highlight (and heighten) existing divisions?

Panelists

  • Victor Pickard, C. Edwin Baker Professor of Media Policy and Political Economy, Annenberg School of Communications, University of Pennsylvania. Victor Pickard is co-director of the Media, Inequality & Change (MIC) Center at the University of Pennsylvania. He has published six books, including the award-winning America’s Battle for Media Democracy and Democracy Without Journalism? Confronting the Misinformation Society.
  • Lindsay Gellman, Journalist and Adjunct Faculty, Arthur L. Carter School of Journalism, New York University. Lindsay Gellman is a journalist based in New York whose work focuses on uncovering patterns of harm in the health industry. Her investigations have appeared in publications including Bloomberg Businessweek, WIRED, and New York Magazine. She is an editor at The Dial, a new online magazine with a global focus. She also teaches a graduate reporting seminar at NYU.
  • Hans Schmidt, Associate Professor of Communications, Penn State Brandywine. Hans Schmidt’s research and teaching focus on journalism and media literacy, and he serves as coordinator of the Honors Programs at Penn State Brandywine. He is editor of the recently published collection of essays Issues in Contemporary American Journalism (Routledge, 2023). Prior to becoming an academic, Schmidt worked as a journalist and photographer.

Moderator

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

Please view the webinar here.

December 8, 2023 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 15

A recording of this webinar is unfortunately unavailable; please visit the CALS Twitter page here to read a summary of the panelists' remarks.

In recent months, the Writers Guild of America held a strike that, in part, protested the use of AI to replace or otherwise harmfully alter the work that screenwriters perform. Congress, too, held hearings to consider possible regulations of AI tools, including ChatGPT, in order to minimize their threat to jobs, national security, and intellectual property. Finally, universities are wrestling with “best practices” for AI in classrooms including, not least of all, writing-centered classrooms. Mindful that Penn State is the home of the “Center for Socially Responsible Artificial Intelligence,” this webinar will reflect on the ways in which AI is disrupting—for better and/or worse—the labor(s) of writing in Hollywood, the university, and the workplace at large. Is there a “socially responsible” role for AI to play in these various writing-centered labor spheres, or should AI be legislated out of existence—if such a thing is even possible—owing to the manifold threats AI poses to human “labor” in writing industries of all kinds?

Panelists

  • Michele Elam, William Robertson Coe Professor of the Humanities, Department of English, Stanford University. Michele Elam is Faculty Associate Director of the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence and former Director of African & African American Studies at Stanford University. Elam’s current book project, Race Making in the Age of AI, considers how the humanities and arts function as key crucibles through which to frame and address urgent social questions about equity and social justice in socially transformative technologies.
  • Annette Vee, Associate Professor of English, University of Pittsburgh. Annette Vee serves as Composition Director at the University of Pittsburgh and is the author of Computer Literacy: How Computer Programming is Changing Writing (MIT Press, 2017). Vee’s current book project, Automating Writing from Androids to AI, examines why and how humans have sought to automate writing across history.
  • David Kersnar, Professor of Practice in Theatre, Penn State. David Kersnar is a founding ensemble member of the Tony Award-winning Lookingglass Theatre Company (Chicago, IL) and has performed, designed, written, instructed, produced, and directed with the company since 1988. Kersnar also co-founded Shaking The Tree Interactive Productions, writing and directing filmed and live business case studies.

Moderator

  • Morgan Hamill, Graduate Student, Department of English, Penn State.
April 21, 2023 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 14

Labor disputes, body politics, racial injustice: professional and collegiate athletics are not mere fun and games, but microcosms of American sociopolitical life—rich texts well-suited for the kinds of literary and cultural analysis fostered by English departments. With the humanities under constant threat of defunding (if not total elimination), might English departments turn to the sports industry, which generates upwards of $70 billion annually in the United States alone, as an area of academic and creative study? Nearly half a million students participate in NCAA athletics, and many millions more turn out for (or tune in to) various sporting events. English departments are well-positioned to appeal to these students’ interests while encouraging deeper and more critical engagement with the politics and ethics of sport. This webinar will explore the field of sports studies and, following the example set by adjacent disciplines like media studies and history, consider how English departments might integrate sports studies to reimagine and broaden the scope of their programming.

Panelists

  • Grant Farred, Professor of Literatures in English, Cornell University. Grant Farred is the author of, most recently, The Zelensky Method (2022), Only A Black Athlete Can Save Us Now (2022), and An Essay for Ezra: Racial Terror in America (2021).
  • Michelle M. Sikes, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology, African Studies, and History, Penn State. Michelle M. Sikes is an executive committee member of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Penn State. She is the author of Kenya’s Running Women: A History (forthcoming 2023) and has coedited several volumes on African and sports history, including Sport and Apartheid South Africa: Histories of Politics, Power, and Protest (2022), The Politics of Historical Memory and Commemoration in Africa (2022), and Women’s Sport in Africa (2015). A former professional runner, Sikes represented the US at the 2007 World Track and Field Championships in the 5000 meters and won an NCAA Division I championship at the same distance.

Moderator:

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

Please view the webinar here.

February 17, 2023 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 13

Over the past decade, Twitter has offered an integral community space and online knowledge commons to humanities researchers. The relationships emerging from Twitter hashtags like #AcademicTwitter, #AltAc, and #PhDChat have produced new scholarly collaborations, crowdsourced bibliographies, collective syllabi, and more. Tweets have become a valuable source of humanities data, prompting exciting new work on the possibilities of digital storytelling, or “Twitteratures.” But the increasing use of Twitter as a research hub has also brought significant risks, only exacerbated by Elon Musk’s recent takeover of the company. What must change (and is changing) about academic Twitter communities? Is academic Twitter worth saving, or should we seek a new online forum, like Mastodon? Whatever or wherever our future virtual research community may be, how might we better ensure that we are prioritizing and protecting the sovereign knowledge(s) of Black, Indigenous, disabled, and LGBTQIA2S+ scholars, among others?

Panelists:

  • Raven Lloyd, Assistant Professor of African and African-American Studies and Film and Media Studies, Washington University in St. Louis. Raven Lloyd is the author of Reshaping Digital Black Resistance (forthcoming from University of California Press).
  • Ashley Caranto Morford, Assistant Professor of Writing and Literature, Department of Liberal Arts, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. With Jeffrey Ansloos and David Gaertner, Ashley Caranto Morford is co-editor of #NativeTwitter: Indigenous Networks of Relation and Resistance (forthcoming from Wilfrid Laurier University Press).
  • Julie Park, Paterno Family Librarian for Literature and Affiliate Professor of English, Penn State. Julie Park is the author of The Self and It (Stanford University Press, 2010) and My Dark Room (forthcoming from University of Chicago Press). Her current book project, Writing’s Maker, considers the multimedia forms of life-writing in the eighteenth century.

Moderator:

Grace King, Graduate Student, Department of English, Penn State.

Please view the webinar here.

January 20, 2023 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 12

When Adnan Syed was freed from prison recently, it sparked renewed interest in Serial, the first podcast to win a Peabody Award and the series that spawned arguably the most addictive podcast genre, true crime. Indeed, media critics have argued we’re living in a “golden age of true crime” in which a proliferation of true-crime podcasts are viewed by true-crime junkies and novices alike millions of times a day. The panelists on this webinar panel will take stock of the genre less than a decade after Serial initiated it, reflecting on pop culture’s fascination with true-crime podcasts and the genre’s past, present, and possible future(s). Following opening remarks, panelists will be joined by special guest Sarah Koenig, host and co-creator of the Serial podcast, for a question-and-answer session with the audience.

Panelists:

  • Dawn Cecil, Professor of Criminology, University of South Florida. Dawn Cecil studies media representations of crime and justice to uncover the main messages that contribute to people’s understanding of these issues. Her most recent book, Fear, Justice & Modern True Crime (2020), examines the current wave of true-crime televised series and podcasts to uncover their underlying messages about crime and justice, and to determine the role this popular genre plays in society. Cecil’s peer-reviewed work has been published in The Journal of Crime and Justice, The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, Feminist Criminology, The Journal of Criminal Justice, and The Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture.
  • Adam Golub, Professor of American Studies, California State University, Fullerton. Adam Golub writes and teaches about popular culture, literature, music, monsters, and childhood in the United States. He is co-editor of Monsters in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching What Scares Us (2017). In addition to publishing numerous essays on topics including fandom, zombies, the blues, the history of education, and 1950s film and literature, Golub was recently interviewed by Rolling Stone, The Independent, and USA Today on the topic of true crime and popular culture.
  • Matt Jordan, Department Head and Associate Professor of Film Production and Media Studies, Penn State University. Matt Jordan is director of Penn State’s News Literacy Initiative for which he hosts the podcast News Over Noise. He writes and teaches classes about how today’s media systems have been altered by digital technology and what it means for democracy. He is executive producer of the Emmy-nominated documentary series HumIn Focus and author of dozens of articles and books on popular culture in America and Europe. His latest book is Danger Sound Klaxon! The Horn that Changed History.

Special Guest:

Sarah Koenig, Executive Producer, Serial Productions. Sarah Koenig is the host and co-creator of the Serial podcast and Executive Producer of Serial Productions, which became part of the New York Times in 2020. Before that, she worked at the radio show This American Life for ten years. She was also a newspaper reporter for a decade, including a nearly three-year stint in Moscow, Russia.

Moderator:

Robert Nguyen, PhD Candidate in English and Visual Studies, Penn State.

Please view the webinar here.

December 9, 2022 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 11

While book banning is hardly a new phenomenon, the proliferation of book bans across the United States over the past two years--in response to the George Floyd protests, The 1619 Project, advances by the LGBTQ community, and other developments, including the proliferation of the “young adult literature” genre--is a singular movement for its scope and dimensions. Indeed, book bans are gaining momentum rather than showing signs of receding. Promoted and coordinated by state legislatures, political advocacy organizations, conservative parent groups, and others, bans of books whose plots, themes, and characters intersect with race, sex, gender, and other concerns are multiplying across school districts and state lines. Panelists on this webinar will remark upon the significance of the book banning phenomenon and suggest strategies for banding together to redress the harm caused by it.

Panelists:

  • Martha Hickson, Librarian, North Hunterdon High School, Annandale, New Jersey. Martha Hickson’s defense of intellectual freedom has been recognized with awards from the New Jersey Association of School Librarians, the New Jersey Library Association, the American Association of School Librarians, and the National Council of Teachers of English. In 2022, the National Coalition Against Censorship presented Hickson with the Judith Krug Outstanding Librarian Award and the American Library Association presented her with the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity in recognition of her “energy and bravery in the face of … persistent and ongoing hostility” while advocating for students’ First Amendment right to read.
  • Richard Price, Associate Professor of Political Science, Weber State University. Richard Price’s research focuses on the censorship of literature in schools and libraries over the past half century with a specific focus on attempts to censor LGTBQ inclusive material. Price is completing a book manuscript tentatively titled The Perils of Queer Literature and is the creator of the blog Adventures in Citizenship.com.
  • Jason Griffith, Assistant Professor of Education, Penn State University. Jason Griffith teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in children’s and adolescent literature. Prior to earning his PhD in English Education from Arizona State University, Griffith taught middle school and high school English in Pennsylvania public schools for twelve years, during which he was awarded the Outstanding Middle Level Educator Award by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) in 2012. Griffith has served on a number of book prize juries including the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize. Recently he participated in an educator’s pilot program for The 1619 Project’s Born on the Water children’s book and delivered a talk at TEDxPSU entitled “Rethinking How We Read.”

Moderator:

Sabrina Evans, Graduate Student, Departments of English and African American Studies, Penn State.

Please view the webinar here.

April 15, 2022 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 10

In May 2020, George Floyd was murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin in yet another instance of state violence against Black people. In response to Floyd’s murder, millions of people experiencing compounded precarity due to the COVID-19 pandemic took to the streets in protest, a mass movement that became known as the George Floyd Uprising. Anticipating the two-year anniversary of Floyd’s murder, this webinar examines the relationship between routine and unprecedented violence and the role of media during and after the George Floyd Uprising. Panelists will suggest how we might seize on that analysis to advance the fight for Black lives and to prepare for future mass rebellions.

Panelists include:

  • Joy James, Ebenezer Fitch Professor of Humanities, Williams College. Activist, author, and political philosopher Joy James advocates for political prisoners and works with the Black Internationalists Union at the Abolition Collective. She is the author of Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist Politics and Resisting State Violence: Radicalism, Gender, and Race in U.S. Culture. Her edited volumes include Imprisoned Intellectuals: America’s Political Prisoners Write on Life, Liberation and Rebellion; States of Confinement: Policing, Detention and Prisons; and The Angela Y. Davis Reader.
  • Shemon Salam, Lecturer, Social Thought and Political Economy Program, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Shemon Salam is a Fanonist and Jamesian partisan of the George Floyd Uprising who has been involved in radical movements since 9/11. He is co-author, with Arturo Castillon, of The Revolutionary Meaning of the George Floyd Uprising (Daraja Press, 2021).
  • Matt Tierney, Associate Professor of English and Director of the Digital Culture and Media Initiative, Penn State University. Matt Tierney is the author of numerous articles and two books: What Lies Between: Void Aesthetics and Postwar Post-Politics (2015) and Dismantlings: Words against Machines in the American Long Seventies (2019).

Moderator:

  • Justus Peña Berman, Graduate Student, Department of English, Penn State

Please view the webinar here.

March 18, 2022 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 9

The February 2021 issue of Harper’s Magazine, titled “Now What?”, includes a special section devoted to speculation on multiple facets of “Life After Trump.” As with commentary speculating about a COVID-19 world, characterizing the post-Trump era as an unprecedented “now” presumes temporal clarity, including a clearly demarcated present. Such characterizations thus greatly simplify our contemporary moment, framing complex forces—like Trumpist politics and pandemic repercussions—according to a simple before-and-after logic. How can we better account for the full complexity of our precarious present? Bringing together three scholars whose work surveys this terrain, this webinar considers what it means to direct critical attention to “now.”

Panelists include:

  • Theodore Martin, Associate Professor of English, University of California, Irvine. Martin is the author of Contemporary Drift: Genre, Historicism, and the Problem of the Present (Columbia University Press 2017). He is currently writing a book entitled “American Literature’s War on Crime,” an excerpt of which received honorable mention for the 2021 William Riley Parker Prize for best essay in PMLA.
  • Caren Irr, Professor of English, Brandeis University. Irr teaches in the English, Environmental Studies, and Film programs at Brandeis University. She is the author of three monographs and has edited five collections--most recently Life in Plastic: Artistic Responses to Petromodernity (University of Minnesota Press 2021) and Adorno's “Minima Moralia” in the 21st Century: Fascism, Work, and Ecology (Bloomsbury Academic 2021).
  • Ana Cooke, Assistant Professor of English, Penn State. Cooke’s research focuses on how networked media shapes public and professional discourses, particularly in collaborative online environments. Her current book project, “Collaborating in Public,” traces how the global-warming related articles in Wikipedia have changed over time, particularly in the wake of the 2007 International Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report.

Moderator:

  • Joe Glinbizzi, Graduate Student, Department of English, Penn State

Please view the webinar here.

February 18, 2022 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 8

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.
January 21, 2022 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 7

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:

  • 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 Plots; Narrative as RhetoricLiving to Tell About It; Experiencing Fiction; Reading 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

December 3, 2021 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 6

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 MELUS, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, the Journal of Ethnic American Literature, and Obsidian.
April 16, 2021 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 5

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, SUNY Cortland. Savonick's research focuses on 20th 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 MELUS, as well as The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. Savonick is currently an American Council of Learned Societies 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
March 19, 2021 | 1:00 pm
Webinar 4

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.
February 19, 2021 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 3

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)

Moderated by:

  • Eunice Toh, Graduate Student, Departments of English and African American Studies, Penn State
January 22, 2021 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 2

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, The University of Texas at Austin.
  • Stephanie LeMenager, Moore Endowed Professor of English, The University of Oregon.
  • Claire Colebrook, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, Philosophy, and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Penn State.

Moderated by:

  • Jessica Klimoff, Graduate Student, Department of English, Penn State.
December 11, 2020 | 12:00 pm
Webinar 1

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 personal protective equipment (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 “traces 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

Moderated by:

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

This webinar is part of the 2020-21 CALS “Unprecedented” 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 one-hour webinars 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.”   

For additional information, please contact Sean X. Goudie, director of the Center for American Literary Studies, at sxgoudie@psu.edu.