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UWaterloo English alumna and instructor Carrie Snyder was a Governor General’s Literary Award finalist for The Juliet Stories, while her novel Girl Runner was shortlisted for the 2014 Rogers Writers’ Trust award. Now she is also the author of a children’s book, The Candy Conspiracy, from which the title of this blog post was taken. If you are curious to know more about Candyville’s ruling tyrant, the Juicy Jelly Worm, and just what happens with the vegetables, you can read the description below, or attend the book launch on May 30th (details on attached poster).– JLH

From OwlKids:
In Candyville, the Juicy Jelly Worm rules over a land where lollipop trees grow beside rivers of root beer and powdered sugar falls like snow. Every day, he devours his candy throne, jujube crown and cupcake castle. Day in and day out, the children of Candyville must make new ones — never getting so much as a nibble of nougat for themselves. Finally, one child comes up with an idea to outsmart the self-centered tyrant. The children plant a secret garden, hoping the fruits of their labor, which include sugar snap peas, candy cane beets, sweet potatoes, and watermelon radishes, might appeal to the Juicy Jelly Worm just enough to spark the sweetest trade ever. Deliciously free of morals or overt lessons, this book is full of playful warnings and tips (“Warning: Parents like candy, too. They’re just pretending they don’t. Search the cupboards.”). The wordplay and wicked sense of humor will appeal to kids while encouraging them to stick up for themselves.

Quill and Quire has given The Candy Conspiracy a positive review; the book is available through OwlKids, at WordsWorth bookstore in UpTown Waterloo, at Chapters, and through additional online retailers.

English PhD program thrives at 25


Waterloo Arts has written a fantastic profile of the English PhD program, now 25 years old. Read on to find out what our current and past students are up to! –JLH

Twenty-five years ago this month, the PhD program in English Language and Literature admitted its first students. Since then, the program has become the second largest PhD in the Faculty of Arts at UWaterloo, with 64 current students, and one of the largest English doctoral programs in the country. Blending literary, rhetorical, and digital media studies, the program is the only one of its kind in Canada.

Behind its growth lies the extraordinary success of its graduates over the last two and a half decades. In recent years, the career trajectories of English PhD graduates have expanded from many securing full-time academic positions to an increasing proportion who have embarked on excellent careers outside academia.

Former chair of English Gordon Slethaug spearheaded the development of the new PhD in the mid-1980s, shortly after a new BA in Rhetoric and Professional Writing and a new MA in Language and Professional Writing (now Rhetoric and Communication Design) were launched. This period of exponential growth in the department combined elements of American-style rhetoric, writing, and communication studies with the study of literature in English. Key contributors to the development of the PhD include such department members as David Goodwin (now in Drama and Speech Communication), Neil Randall, Lynne Magnusson (now at the University of Toronto), Helen Ellis, and Bill Macnaughton.

The PhD has flourished since its humble beginnings in the 1990s. “Our PhD program has seen successful graduates join us from across Canada and the world, including students from Russia, Iran, Italy, Iraq, and Nepal,” says current Chair of English, Fraser Easton. “And the PhD program is diverse in other ways, too, with student dissertations spanning medieval poetry, medical informatics, post-911 American fiction, games studies, and graphic novels, to name only a few.”

Current PhD student Elise Vist comments, “I came to Waterloo’s English department to do my PhD because there is no other English department in Canada that does it like we do. I wanted to come somewhere where I could dig into the digital humanities while maintaining a link to English literary and rhetorical studies.”

Twenty-five years on, UWaterloo English doctoral graduates teach at York, Dalhousie, Brock, Laurentian, and Ryerson universities, as well as the British Columbia Institute of Technology and the University of Winnipeg. They have also secured positions in English departments internationally, in the U.S., in China, and even in Kazakhstan. And they work full-time in academic units other than English, such as university departments of Medicine, of Interactive Arts and Sciences, of Marketing, and of Professional Communication. One noted graduate, Isabel Pedersen, is Canada Research Chair in Digital Life, Media and Culture, in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

“This degree is unique in requiring our PhD students to do course work and examinations that span literary, rhetorical, and digital dimensions,” notes Aimée Morrison, Associate Chair, Graduate Studies. “This internal interdisciplinary scope gives our doctoral graduates invaluable range and flexibility that help them gets excellent jobs inside and outside of academe.” The program’s attention to writing lies behind many a successful careers outside the academic track, whether in administration, the executive suite, or professional communication. One successful graduate, Catherine Scott, is now director of foundation relations for Heifer International in Huntington Beach, California.

What will the next twenty-five years hold? The English department looks ahead to continuing to mentor and support nimble PhD graduates ready for careers in and out of academe, graduates who will thrive in various areas of our new creative economy.

This text originally appeared on Waterloo Arts.

What makes UWaterloo English Innovative?

Typewriter with wiresIn the fall, for the twenty-third year in a row, Maclean’s magazine ranked UWaterloo as the top university for innovation in Canada. Most of the media commentary about this focused on our science-oriented faculties (Math and Computing, Engineering, etc.). And it struck me that we don’t talk enough about innovation in the arts and how we deliver our programs, and just what that might mean to different people. So I asked some of my colleagues: what makes the English Department at UWaterloo innovative? Read on to find out what they said.

Kathy Acheson, Associate Professor (English); Associate Dean, Graduate Studies
My answer to the question, what makes UW English innovative: we do. We hire people who have never seen a box they can fit inside. And the cultures of our university and our department let us try new things. It helps us succeed, but it can also help us fail — and constructive failure is as important to innovation as success.

Jay Dolmage, Associate Professor (English); Associate Chair, Undergraduate Studies
It isn’t just the the Waterloo English Department itself is innovative — because every department will tell you that. The proof is in the classroom: our students actively innovate in each of their classes, as they write poetry, make movies, build machines, solve research problems, recover forgotten stories, subvert advertisements, curate and critique social media, collaborate to build arguments and proposals and grants and performances. And when our students head out to co-op, or their other Waterloo classes, or their careers, they bring this careful and critical creativity with them.

Aimée Morrison, Associate Professor (English); Associate Chair, Graduate Studies
The PhD program in English is innovative in that the degree is structured to train all students in both literary study, and language and rhetoric. Students spread their coursework across these areas, and write one Area Exam in a literary field, and one in a language and rhetoric field. As a result, our students themselves innovate blended research methods and topics in their dissertation projects.  The MA program—well, all three MA programs!–in English is innovative for the co-op option it offers, where students blend 8 months of paid work into the course of their degree, earning both money and real world work experience even as they undertake graduate level research.

Marcel O’Gorman, Associate Professor (English); Co-Director of the Critical Media Lab, UWaterloo English
What makes UWaterloo English innovative is that our understanding of innovation is freed from the constraints of commercialization or even practicality. For us, innovation is an intellectual process that involves giving students the cognitive tools to develop new ideas, question the status quo, and communicate in new and challenging ways. A great example of this is our approach to digital media design in the XDM program. In XDM, students create digital objects-to-think-with. Some are completely useless. Some have great commercial potential. Some might end up in a gallery. But they are all intellectually innovative, wielding digital media in new ways that prompt speculation on the role of technology in our lives.

Image: Stephen Trothen, English XDM student: The Library of Beta-Memex Mindfulness

From WW1 to Iraq: Dr. Acton’s new book

Acton2On the heels of publishing A Very Private Diary: A Nurse in Wartime by Mary Morris (Wiedenfeld & Nicolson, 2014) English professor Dr. Carol Acton has yet another book coming out! Working in a World of Hurt: Trauma and Resilience in the Narratives of Medical Personnel in Warzones is co-written with Jane Potter, and due out soon. Read on for a description from the press. –JLH


Working in a world of hurt fills a significant gap in the studies of the psychological trauma wrought by war. It focuses not on soldiers, but on the men and women who fought to save them in casualty clearing stations, hospitals and prison camps. The writings by doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and other medical personnel reveal the spectrum of their responses that range from breakdown to resilience. Through a rich analysis of both published and unpublished personal documents from the First World War in the early twentieth century to Iraq in the early twenty-first, Acton and Potter put centre stage the letters, diaries, memoirs and weblogs that have chronicled physical and emotional suffering, many for the first time. Wide-ranging in scope, interdisciplinary in method, and written in a scholarly yet accessible style, Working in a world of hurt is essential reading for lecturers and students as well as the general reader.

The Irish Times‘ review of A Very Private Diary, from which the above image is taken, can be read here.

Where in the world is undergrad Taylor Imrie?

Taylor Imrie
It’s more than likely I am never going to meet Taylor Imrie; I won’t stand behind her to check out books at Porter library, or bump into her at the university bookstore, or chat with her at the DC bus stop. We will never hold a door in Hagey Hall open for one another. That’s because she is doing her English degree entirely online from Rome, where she relocated from Toronto. Read on to find out what it is like to do your degree online–and thank you to Taylor for participating in Words in Place.–JLH

JLH: What made you decide to do your English degree entirely online, and why did you choose UWaterloo over other universities?
TI: I chose to do my English degree entirely online mostly because I didn’t really have any other choice! After high school, I finished two years at York University and then dropped out to move to Rome, Italy with the plan of studying at an Italian university. When I arrived and started working and learning more about how the education system works here, I realized that working and studying would not be an option. Suddenly, three years fly by and I still have no degree, but I have been working and supporting myself. So I started researching possible online degree programs at Canadian universities and I came across UWaterloo’s website. I chose UWaterloo because it was the only university that was offering complete degree programs entirely online. The cherry on top was that the university also has a great academic reputation! I’m really happy I made the choice to study online and I have just one semester left before finishing my degree!

JLH: What are some of the rewards and challenges involved in doing your degree online?
TI: Good question! I feel like for me there are more rewards than there are challenges. I’ve always done well at school, but I’ve never liked going to school. I never learnt well sitting at a desk and being in that sort of constricted environment. I always got bored and/or distracted very quickly. Doing my classes online has been amazing because I can make my own schedule, I can decide where I want to study—I mean, nothing beats being able to attend lectures in your PJs!! Jokes aside, I also find it more rewarding in the end because I know that I passed a course because I was disciplined and was able to manage my time by myself.

Of course, there are some challenges, too. Going back to the idea of time management, I work full time as an English teacher, 6 days a week. I don’t have all day to sit around and procrastinate. If I have readings to do or assignments to do I have to wake up early, regardless of what time I start work, and study and then when I get home from work, which is usually after 9pm, I eat dinner and then start studying again. My social life is usually quite limited! But, like I said before, it has taught me so much about not only time management, but also responsibility and self-discipline. At the end of the course I feel even more satisfied knowing how hard I worked for that grade.

JLH: How easy is it to access course materials from abroad?
TI: Well, the online materials are really easy to access. The LEARN website is really easy to use and I haven’t had too many problems with it. The problem is that most professors give you a list of books you need for the course and 90% of them cannot be found as an ebook, so that means that if I need a textbook I have to not only pay for the book, but I also need to pay the international shipping costs. I’ve had a lot of problems with this. I’ve had to get my parents to scan me textbooks in order to save on shipping. It really frustrates me because the way I see it is since it is an online course, then it should be taken into consideration that some students may not be living in Canada or even in an English-speaking country and don’t have access to the same libraries and bookstores that other students do. Most professors have been pretty accommodating regarding editions of texts and whatnot, but when you have that one professor who needs you to have that 1843 edition of some obscure book and tells you to go look for it in the library in Rome, you start thinking the world has gone mad! This becomes particularly problematic when it comes to Canadian Literature because that is nearly impossible to find in this country. Before each semester I send an email to my professors asking for a list of the books needed for the course and if a specific edition is necessary. Then, I look online to see if I can find a copy as an ebook and hope for the best!

JLH: What do you wish you’d known before starting this degree path? Do you have any special advice for those contemplating doing an English degree online?
TI: Probably the only thing I wish I had known before was the problems I’ve had regarding textbooks. In the end, I’ve always figured it out in one way or another. It’s just frustrating, like I said before. The one piece of advice I’d give to someone pursuing a degree in anything entirely online is to make at least one friend in all of your classes and exchange contact information, either Facebook or phone numbers. I’ve found it really helpful to have someone who can relate to my frustrations or just someone to talk to about the course. When you go to class on campus, you usually meet people in your class who can understand you. It was great for me to have that support system, especially being so far away. It was also great because we edited each other’s essays and created study sheets before exams on Google Docs. Another piece of advice I would give is to make sure you stay on top of the course schedule at all times!! Read all news articles and engage in all discussions. Discussions have helped me so much in regards to understanding difficult concepts and also just hearing different points of view. It is a really great way to engage with your classmates.

JLH: Finally, what are you reading for fun?
TI: I’m actually a really big history nerd!! If getting a history degree provided more opportunities, I probably would’ve considered pursuing it instead! That said, I’ve been reading a book called Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant. It is a really wonderful read about the Borgia family in Renaissance Italy. It is a fiction that incorporates historical facts and takes you behind the scenes of Borgia Italy. The Borgia family was an incredibly powerful one and it is interesting to see what sacrifices the Borgia Pope’s children made in order for their family to become even more powerful. I feel like history and literature really do go hand in hand because without the written word a lot of history would be forgotten.

A Resource for Black Canadian Literature-thanks to Dr. Win Siemerling!

When I first got my hands on The Black Atlantic Reconsidered, by UWaterloo English’s Dr. Win Siemerling, I *may* have squealed a bit with excitement. I got to do it again last week when I discovered there was a website attached to the book which features resources for the study of Black Canadian literature.
Which is where I saw this amazing review of the book, from preeminent scholar of African American Literature, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:

Winfried Siemerling’s The Black Atlantic Reconsidered is the book that students of the black literary experience in the New World have been waiting for, without fully appreciating it was missing, for generations. Not only does it open our eyes to the monumental importance of black Canadian writing, from enslavement in New France to North Star escapes to the explosion in diasporic expressions from the 1960s to today; it forces us to expand our understanding of the boundaries of the African journey in the New World upward, to where they belong and always have been. Siemerling’s scholarship on Canada’s place in the wider black Atlantic should be read and taught for many years to come.” Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University

There, now you don’t just have to take my word for it! And if you missed the embedded website link above, here it is again.

UWaterloo English goes to Congress

Once again, it is the time of year when many Canadian social science and humanities academic organizations hold their annual event known as Congress. It’s a bit like a trade fair for academics, all under one roof. This year, Congress will be in the nation’s capital, and the roof will be the University of Ottawa. And UWaterloo English faculty, graduate students, and alumni will be represented at a variety of association meetings!

Notably, PhD alumni Jason Haslam is president of ACCUTE, the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English. At ACCUTE PhD candidate Phil Miletic will be presenting on “American New Sincerity and (Virtual) Community: Disembodiment and Community in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest,” while PhD candidate Doug Sikkema will speak to “The Edge of Words: Religious Language, Evolution and Marilynne Robinson.” English faculty Winfried Siemerling, Sara Humphreys (St. Jerome’s), and Shelley Hulan will also be contributing with papers on subjects such as “Critical Black Canadian Memory Culture” and “Queer Edens.” More UWaterloo English people will be spread out across other associations. For a more extensive list, see here.

Oh, as for the picture above? Whatever university is hosting always posts its glossiest outdoor summery photos to make the campus look enticing. But the reality is we’re often in windowless rooms just like the one above, and often with less comfortable seats and more bog-standard overhead lighting.