The Best Place on Earth: A Reading by Ayelet Tsabari

AyeletTsabariPhotoByElsinDavidiTomorrow, Thursday, 30 October, Ayelet Tsabari will be reading at 4:30 pm in STJ 3027as part of St. Jerome’s Writing the Self / The Self Writing reading series.   Ayelet Tsabari is the author of the short story collection The Best Place on Earth (HarperCollins), which was nominated for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Her nonfiction has won a National Magazine Award and a Western Magazine Award and she is a two-time winner of Event’s Creative Non-Fiction Contest. A graduate of the MFA program at Guelph, Ayelet has taught creative writing through the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph. She was named as one of ten Canadian writers to watch by CBC.

For more information about the Reading Series, please visit

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $157 million to bring the arts to Canadians throughout the country. Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien. L’an dernier, le Conseil a investi 157 millions de dollars pour mettre de l’art dans la vie des Canadiennes et des Canadiens de tout le pays.

Hear about Hackerlab Sites

CMLPlease join us for our first Critical Media Lab Salon at the Department of English Language and Literature’s new English@Gaukel space (44 Gaukel, downtown Kitchener). The salon will feature a lecture and discussion with Prof. Jeremy Hunsinger (WLU), on Tuesday Nov. 4, 4pm.  All are welcome.

“Pragmatic politics of dis/engagement in Hacklabs and Hackerspace websites”   Prof. Jeremy Hunsinger, Wilfrid Laurier University

This paper presents and analysis of the discourses of knowledge production and critical technical practices generated from 50+ hacklab and hackerspace public websites.  As part of a research project on hackerspaces begun in 2009, these public websites were archived, analyzed, and coded as a corpus in relation to questions of production and distribution of knowledge, expertise, and innovation, with an eye to understanding any ideological or theoretical perspective the websites might entail. By specifically analyzing these texts and signs in light of actions and context, this paper shows that the websites represent communities that produce and disseminate knowledge communally, contrary to individualistic or socialistic models of hackers.

Rudy Wiebe reads from his new acclaimed novel

rudy wiebeOn Wednesday, October 29th, two-time Governor General’s Award winner Rudy Wiebe will read from his newly released novel Come Back. Wiebe’s powerful new book follows Hal Wiens—a character first introduced as a teenager in Wiebe’s 1962 novel Peace Shall Destroy Many, now a retired professor in Edmonton—as he grapples with the ongoing legacy of his son’s suicide.

Wiebe appears as part of  “Mennonite/s Writing 2014-2015,” a seven session reading series showcasing new work by some of the most prominent authors in the field, including: Rudy Wiebe, Jeff Gundy, Miriam Toews, Patrick Friesen, Di Brandt, David Bergen, and Carrie Snyder. The series will be hosted by Robert Zacharias, Assistant Editor of The Journal of Mennonite Studies and Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the English Department at the University of Waterloo.

Location: Conrad Grebel University Chapel 140 Westmount Road North Waterloo, ON N2L 3G6 Canada

Image credit. Text from Mennonite/s Writing.

Alumnus Evan Munday nominated for Silver Birch Award

MundayAlumnus Evan Munday’s novel Dial M for Morna (ECW Press) has been nominated by Ontario Library Association for the Silver Birch Award for children’s fiction. Dial M for Morna is the second in the The Dead Kid Detective Agency series, which features episodes from Canadian history. (Munday has previously been interviewed in Words in Place.) Congratulations to Evan!

Novel Synopsis:
October Schwartz and her five deadest friends are back. The holiday season has descended upon the town of Sticksville like an eggnog rainstorm, but October has no time for candy canes or mistletoe. She’s busy dealing with an oddly pleasant new history teacher, her living friends’ new roles as high-school radio DJs, and two (!) new mysteries that need solving before the new year. October and her ghost friends are hot on the trail of the person (or persons) responsible for Morna MacIsaac’s death in 1914 — or as hot as one can be on a 100-year-old trail — when October’s friend Yumi finds herself the target of anti-Asian harassment at school. Solving two mysteries at once won’t be easy, but our intrepid heroine in black eyeliner loves a challenge. Follow October, Cyril, Tabetha, Morna, Kirby, and Derek as they sleuth their way through a blizzard of suffragettes, iceskating disasters, mystical telephones, and boats named Titanic, all set against a backdrop of yuletide pandemonium.

Alumnus Paul Stuewe: An Amazing Career

Paul SThis is one of the alumni interviews that definitely made me smile–thank you to alumnus Paul Stuewe (PhD 2000) for participating in Words in Place. –JLH

JLH: You’ve had a fascinating career, including time as the editor of Books in Canada. Could you map that out for us?
PS: My first published work consisted of music, book, and movie reviews written for the Chevron, at the time the University of Waterloo’s student newspaper, where I somehow ended up as Advertising Manager in the early 1970s. You’ve probably heard the jokes about those who remember the ‘60s and ‘70s not really being there, and that’s pretty much how it was at the Chevron, where we had a rollicking good time while intermittently publishing an organ occasionally related to campus events. Since writing reviews was a great way to get free copies of books and records that I wanted, I wrote tons of them and developed an all too facile facility at the rapid churning out of acceptable copy.

In 1974 I moved to Toronto to open a second-hand bookstore near the U of T, and gradually expanded the scope of my writing to include feature articles and interviews as well as reviews. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing editor at Books in Canada, Doug Marshall, and in retrospect much of what I know about editing I learned from Doug. As I became more knowledgeable about the Canadian literary scene I was struck by the degree to which the thematic critics descended from Frye and Atwood had lowered the level of literary discourse, resulting in my 1984 rant Clearing the Ground, which caused a small – and brief – sensation among the nation’s literati; Frye and Atwood seemed to survive my attack well enough, however. I was then asked to contribute a monograph on Hugh Garner to ECW Press’s “Canadian Writers and Their Works” series, and it is here that my work began to take an academic turn, as I went on to contribute to journals such as Essays on Canadian Writing, Queen’s Quarterly, and Canadian Fiction Magazine while writing a popular biography of Hugh Garner (The Storms Below, 1988) and completing his unfinished mystery novel (Don’t Deal Five Deuces, 1992).

This bifurcated career continued through my 1990-95 tenure as editor of Books in Canada. A key event was meeting Stan Fogel in 1991, who asked me to lecture on crime fiction in his U of W class, which went so well that I decided to acquire an M.A. at the University of Toronto so as to be able to teach as an adjunct. Completing this in 1993, I taught two summer courses in crime fiction at Waterloo and found that I felt both challenged and rewarded in ways that I had not previously experienced.

JLH: What made you decide to return to school for a Ph.D., and why Waterloo?
PS: During my time at Books in Canada it became clear to me that literary journalism did not satisfy my need to engage with serious writing in a deeper and more profound way. I had an epiphanic moment at a book launch when one of my colleagues said, apparently without irony, that if I continued on this journalistic path I might well become book-review editor of either the Globe & Mail or the Toronto Star. Although this should have excited me, I found it sobering, not to say depressing, and my previously vague thoughts about going on to the Ph.D. began to take sharper form.

Throughout this period I spent many an hour discussing the pros and cons of returning to graduate school with Stan Fogel, and the prospect of having him as an advisor and thesis supervisor was the primary reason why I decided to apply to Waterloo.

JLH: How soon after your graduation in 2000 did you secure a full-time position, and what was the job search like?
PS: It took me two years to secure such a position, during which I replied to over 200 job postings. Initially I limited my search to Canadian institutions, but it quickly became apparent that there were too many qualified applicants chasing too few openings. When I expanded the range of my search to the U.S., I eventually received three offers of employment, and in 2002 chose Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont as the best fit.

JLH: After teaching in the U.S. for several years, what, in hindsight, stands out about your education here?
PS: I was fortunate in being able to teach twelve classes as an independent instructor at Waterloo, including the standard British and American surveys as well as crime-fiction, science-fiction, and introduction to literature courses. Since I ended up at a small (700 students) liberal-arts college with a four-person English department, the ability to teach across the curriculum was crucial. It was also possible to make areas for which one had no particular preparation one’s own, and so I ended up being the departmental specialist in the history of the English language and advanced critical theory. This would have been unlikely to happen at Canada’s typically much larger universities, and so I’m grateful that Waterloo gave me such a wide variety of teaching experiences.

Waterloo also provided me with several excellent role models. In addition to Stan Fogel’s guidance through the Ph.D. process, Dave Goodwin and Murray McArthur exemplified the kind of scrupulously informed teaching that was also sensitive to student needs. This was also true of Lynne Magnusson, who made such good use of the “Issue Card”—a method of eliciting classroom responses that minimized student anxiety – that I appropriated it for almost all my Green Mountain College courses.

JLH: Finally, now that you are retired, are you reading and/or researching for any future projects?
PS: Having by now made some progress in lowering the pile of books I want to – but don’t have to! – read, I am contemplating a memoir with the working title “Small Pond, Small Frog: Confessions of a CanLit Outlier.” Thank you for the opportunity to crystallize some of my thoughts on this topic!


Urban Exploration: there is an app for that, but what does it mean?

Balaisis poster - final

When the English Department Reads for Fun…

all-my-puny-sorrowsI asked a few faculty and graduate students about the best non-work related book they read this summer. The results are great fun. –JLH

Bruce Dadey, Lecturer
This summer I read—yes, for fun—The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman, a classic book on how designers of objects meet or fail to meet the needs of their users. The fun thing about the book is that Norman writes for the most part about very mundane, everyday things, like doorknobs or telephones, and because all of us have at one time or another pulled when we should have pushed a door or cursed while trying to figure out the numberless features of our office phone, it’s very easy to understand and appreciate the points he makes. The book is older (1988), but the faults Norman points out are as relevant and common today as they were then (Hello Windows 8!). Also, I can’t look at anything now without wondering how I might design it to work better or more intuitively.

Andrew Deman, Lecturer
My pick:  Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection by Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf.  As someone who has studied the (often terrible) portrayal of women in  comics, I found it really refreshing to see comics’ foremost female  scribe beautifully tackle an iconic superheroine, and create a  portrayal that is compelling yet relatably human at the same time.

Michael Hancock, PhD Candidate
My favorite book this summer was Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy. I think the book is best described as H. P. Lovecraft meets the Russian film Stalker; the plot is that a small expedition of women have been sent to investigate a strange, new area of the United States where the laws of physics and causality no longer hold sway. Like Lovecraft and Stalker, the core concept of the book is interrogating the fragility of our notions of rationality and scientific understanding, but with a more nuanced consideration of gender and the individual.

Alysia Kolentsis, Assistant Professor
My favourite book from Summer 2014 was Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows. Why? Well, perhaps unexpectedly for a book about grief, loss, and the maddening tangles of family life, it is grimly hilarious, and beautifully observed. It has so many devastating sentences — astonishing needle-pricks of truth — that cause you to look up from the page and think, yes. Also, the characters of Yoli, Elfrieda, and (most of all) their mother, stayed with me for a long time after I finished reading.

Murray McArthur, Associate Professor
This summer I read One Three One:  A Time-Shifting Gnostic Hooligan Road Novel by Julian Cope, once frontman of the post-punk The Teardrop Explodes (I have no idea who they were) and the author of The Megalithic Europeans.  Set in Sardinia around the central 131 Highway (hence road), the novel explores intersections between revenge for the English disasters on Sardinia during World Cup or Italia 90 (hence hooligan) and the networks of neolithic or megalithic  stone portals (hence gnostic and time-shifting).  Can’t really recommend it, but it was fun

Virginia Shay, PhD candidate
My favourite leisure book this summer was Americanah by Chimamanda  Ngozie Adichie. It’s a novel about Ifemelu, a woman from Lagos,  Nigeria who moves to America to complete her university education, and  starts a blog about her experiences being a non-American black woman  in the United States. It’s a really insightful and humorous book, and  features many of her blog posts, with titles like “Why Dark-Skinned  Black Women–Both American and Non-American–Love Barack Obama” and “A  Michelle Obama Shout-Out, Plus Hair as Race Metaphor.” Absolutely  loved reading it!