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!


English Professors talk Sony Playstation

sony playstationThe Games Institute invites you to a talk by Colin Milburn, Professor of English, Science and Technology Studies, and Cinema and Technocultural Studies, University of California- Davis, in DC Room 1304 on Thursday, Oct. 16, 1:30-2:30pm. After the talk, we will be heading back to the Games Institute situated at EC1 (formerly known as Blackberry1) for refreshments where you can converse with Colin who is also a part of the IMMERSe network. We ask that you kindly register on the Eventbrite page.

Here is a short description about the talk: Launched in 2006, the Sony PlayStation Network (PSN) is an online network platform that connects millions of videogame consoles, handheld devices, and media servers around the world. This talk will examine the various gamer narratives that spontaneously emerged to make sense of the network outage in 2011. This was when the PSN became a battleground between corporate IP policies and the global hacker community, resulting in a massive hacker attack on the Sony databases that compromised the personal data of many millions of PSN users. It also rendered the PSN inoperative for a month, triggering a surge of anger, anxiety, distress, and woe among gamers worldwide. For more information, please go to the GI website.

Thank you to The Games Institute for the above text. Photo credit: Etsy.

New Issue of The Canadian Journal of Disability Studies

TTC in wheelchairWhat TTC looks like in a wheelchair.

Another new Issue of The Canadian Journal of Disability Studies , housed at the University of Waterloo, and edited by English professor Jay Dolmage, is now live.

Please read, download, share widely, and respond!

The CJDS is an Open Access, accessible journal.  We have now reached 20,897 readers.

Vol 3, No 3 (September 2014) Features:

Living and Working Precariously with an Episodic Disability: Barriers in the Canadian Context
Andrea Vick

“Swept to the sidelines and forgotten”: Cultural Exclusion, Blind Persons’ Participation, and International Film Festivals
Isabel Pedersen and Kristen Aspevig

Disability and Social Work Education in the United Kingdom
MacDonald Judy, Irene Carter, Roy Hanes, Suzanne McMurphy, and Stephanie Skinner

Access to traumatic spinal cord injury care in Saskatchewan, Canada: A qualitative study on community healthcare provider perspectives
Katherine Knox, Noelle Rohatinsky, Marla Rogers,         Donna Goodridge, and Gary Linassi

Resisting Disability, Claiming HIV: Introducing the Ability Contract and Conceptualizations of Liberal Citizenship
Ally Day

Review of Facing Eugenics by Erika Dyck
Jen Rinaldi

Review of Becoming Women by Carla Rice
Kaley Roosen

Review of Disability Incarcerated
Bonnie Burstow

Image credit

Twenty Chapter Book Series with Interesting Heroines for Early Readers, 6-8

Anna HibiscusFollowing the blog post “Fifty Children’s Picture Books with Interesting Heroines,” I was asked about doing a similar post on chapter books. The category of children’s “chapter books” is a relatively recent invention. Aimed at early readers, they feature short chapters with lots of illustrations, and are usually conceived of as part of a series. As parents know, they aren’t always particularly riveting—in fact, they can be quite annoying. (A surprising number of those penned for young girls appear to be junior versions of Mean Girls.) The following chapter books had to meet several criteria: suitable for six to eight year olds; an interesting female lead or co-protagonist; positive reviews from critics and parents; and stories that I anticipate won’t drive me up the wall if I do end up having to read them aloud.

Anna Hibiscus (Atinuke)
Set in Africa, these beautifully illustrated books have earned rave reviews. A fun note: Anna’s mother is from Canada.

Ruby and the Booker Boys (Derrick Barnes)
An African American girl with three older brothers navigates school life, trying to forge her own way.

Violet MViolet Mackerel (Anna Bradford)
A charming and funny series from Australia featuring a thoughtful heroine who lives with her mother and two siblings. They don’t have a lot of money, but the close-knit family compensates in other ways.

The Magic School Bus (Joanna Cole)
A well-known series which teaches children about science.

Heidi Hecklebeck (Wanda Coven)
The heroine tackles the usual schoolyard problems of a girl her age–but with magic.

Daisy (Kes Gray)
A humorous British series about a determined young girl who gets into scrapes. The first book, Eat Your Peas, won a major British award.

Ruby Lu (Lenore Look)
An entertaining series featuring a Chinese-American heroine who has the best of intentions, even if they go awry.

Gooney Bird (Lois Lowry)
A series by an award-winning American author featuring an energetic heroine whose stories turn out to be not quite as outlandish as they initially seem.

quillWendy Quill (Wendy Meddour)
I knocked Stella Batts off of the list after discovering Wendy Quill’s riotous adventures. Fun fact: the author’s pre-teen daughter illustrates the series.

Marty McGuire (Kate Messner)
A spirited tomboy and her adventures are at the centre of this amusing series. Marty is reminiscent of Beverley Cleary’s Ramona.

Magic Tree House (Mary Pope Osborne)
Two children travel through time to different periods in history.

Amelia Bedelia (Herman Parish)
The chapter books feature a contemporary school-age Amelia and her friends. Readers who like jokes will appreciate the literal-minded Amelia.

The Kingdom of Wrenly (Jordan Quinn)
A prince and the daughter of a seamstress go adventuring, and meet all the usual magical creatures: trolls, mermaids, giants, etc.

Cobble Street Cousins (Cynthia Rylant)
The girls live with their aunt while their parents travel with a ballet company. This is a gentle, happy series. Rylant’s Lighthouse Family series is also worth a look: the lighthouse keeper is a female cat who rescues other animals.

cowgirlCowgirl Kate and Cocoa (Erica Silverman)
An amusing series, set on a ranch. Cocoa the horse is a bit of a shirker.

Young Precious Ramotswe (Alexander McCall Smith)
A well-written mystery series, set in Botswana.

Harriet Bean (Alexander McCall Smith)
Another mystery series, nicely plotted, with lots of humour. Harriet lives with her father, the classic absent-minded inventor.

Mimi and Maty (Brooke Smith)
A mystery series about two friends who rescue animals.

Iggy and Me (Jenny Valentine)
A British series in which the heroine recounts the antics of her irrepressible little sister, Iggy.

Daisy Dawson (Steve Voake)
An absolutely lovely series about a little girl who can talk to animals—and they talk back. Parents love this series.

Canadian Flyer Adventures (Frieda Wishinsky)
Children travel in time to experience Canadian history.

There are obvious absences here: many people like Ivy & Bean, Junie B. Jones, Clementine, Judy Moody, Just Grace, Sophie the Awesome, Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew, etc.; others find the behaviors of some characters a bit too much and/or not appropriate to the age range. (Since these are people who seem to like Ramona Quimby, they clearly aren’t opposed to spunky girls). It is worth reading reviews on sites like Amazon to decide what might be appropriate for your reader. As always, feel free to add suggestions in the comments. For additional multicultural titles see here.

Thank you to all the absolutely amazing people who sent suggestions!—JLH