Major Research Award for English Professor

OEDUWaterloo English professor David-Antoine Williams (St. Jerome’s) has reason to celebrate: he received a major government grant to fund his research on poetry and the Oxford English Dictionary.This includes funding opportunities for UWaterloo students and a competition for high school students. He has kindly given me permission to re-post his announcement with details. See below for more. And congratulations!–JLH


This news just released: The Life of Words is getting a major boost, in the form of a $150,00 grant from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, UWaterloo, and St Jerome’s University, to fund my research on poetry and the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Early Researcher Award provides $100,000 in funding from the Ministry (plus $40,000 to my host universities in reimbursements for indirect costs) and $25,000 apiece from UW and St Jerome’s. All the money goes to building up a research team, student training, and outreach to schools.

This is a fantastic development for The Life of Words. Over the next few years it should allow us to complete a first full tagging of Oxford English Dictionary evidence quotations for a limited number of genres (including poetry and verse drama), and develop a number of techniques for analyzing in a systematic way the interchanges between lexicography and English poetry. The plan right now sees a cohort of undergraduate RAs, a Master’s student, and a postdoc later on.

As part of the grant we will also be hosting a UWaterloo St Jerome’s Life of Words competition, open to secondary school students in Ontario. Details to follow.

Read The Life of Words blog, from which this post is excerpted.

Summer Reading: Indigenous Novels Edition

As you may have heard, on the heels of Washington NAACP official Rachel Dolezal being outed as white, University of California professor Andrea Smith, who identifies as Cherokee, has also been called out for passing, as has her sister. This is difficult terrain for scholars because Smith’s work on decolonization is important to the field of Indigenous Studies. At the same time, every time either woman gave a talk or joined a committee as a Cherokee woman, or accessed a scholarship for First Nations students, a First Nations individual did not do so. I’m responding with a list of fantastic novels by indigenous authors–no Grey Owl or Forrest Carter here. In many cases it was hard to chose just one novel; I’m sure some of my colleagues will shake their heads over the omissions and selections!

Sherman Alexie,  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Joseph Boyden, Three Day Road
Beatrice Culleton, In Search of April Raintree
Debra Magpie Earling, Perma Red
Louise Erdich, Love Medicine
Tomson Highway, Kiss of the Fur Queen
Linda Hogan, Mean Spirit
Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water
N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn
Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk, Sanaaq
Susan Power, Grass Dancer
Eden Robinson, Monkey Beach
Drew Hayden Taylor, Motorcycles and Sweetgrass
James Welch, Fools Crow
Jordan Wheeler, Brothers in Arms

For more indigenous news,  including perspectives on Andrea Smith, see Indian Country Today. For more Canadian content, see First Nations Drum. UWaterloo has an Aboriginal Education Centre which facilitates knowledge sharing and offers support services. A syllabus is available which addresses the Smith situation, titled “What Would You Teach?

Extra! Extra!

Schoolhouse Rock
Our English Department Newsletter for 2014-2015 is now live. It includes an update from Fraser Easton, who after seven years as chair ended his term just two days ago (congratulations and thanks from all). There are also updates on faculty hiring, awards, and research, along with messages from our undergrad chair Jay Dolmage, and SAGE (the graduate student’s organization). There’s also an interview with alumna Jessica Kohlsmith, who participated in a 2015 viral marketing campaign that drew international attention. For all of this and more, click here. (And yes, that is an image from Schoolhouse Rock above–if you are feeling nostalgic, you can find their grammar videos and more on youtube. If you have no idea what Schoolhouse Rock is, you have no idea what you are missing.)

Alumna Lesa Berec: Accidents, Synchronicity, and Determination

Lesa Berec-1

Alumna Lesa Berec may have just taken the cake for “the road accidentally taken” (co-op) and the road blithely not taken. You have to read her fantastic interview to find out what the latter was, and what she might be doing now if she had taken up that offer! Lesa’s interview is also full of great insight about what it means to be freelance, and how to succeed at the same.  –JLH

JLH: When you think back to your time as an undergrad at UWaterloo what stands out?
LB: I still remember various people in my life asking me why I was getting a Bachelor of Arts, why on earth I was studying English literature, and what kind of job I could possibly hope to get when I graduated! I didn’t have good answers back then. I studied English literature simply because it was what I enjoyed most.

I discovered the English Co-op program by accident. I learned about it from a young woman I chatted with in a lineup while waiting to get into a pub. Some weeks or months later, I ran into that same woman again in a cafeteria and she just happened to be on her way to apply for the program, so I tagged along and applied too! I have no idea who she was and I never saw her again.

Co-op ended up being a huge part of my experience at UWaterloo. There were some gut-wrenching hours sitting in an area we called ‘the pit’ while waiting to be summoned for Co-op interviews. During my work terms I worked as a technical writer and to my surprise, discovered that I liked working with information systems and writing technical content. It made for an interesting combination – studying English literature and working as a technical writer.

My last year was the best. By then I’d made deep and lasting friendships that endure to this day. I remember taking a course in rhetoric and getting really turned on to communication design that year. Just as I realized how deeply I was enjoying myself, it was over!

JLH: Do you think selecting UWaterloo shaped your career path? Is your education applicable to where you are now?
LB: Yes and yes. Just reading English lit taught me about history, religion, culture, and so much more. In my classes I learned to absorb and analyze material, evaluate information from a wide variety of viewpoints, make sense of ideas in different contexts, and communicate in a clear, coherent manner. By the time I graduated, I already had two years of work experience through Co-op and had lived through my first merger. I knew how to adapt to shifting employment situations and find ways to add value wherever I landed. And I had business contacts.

All that set my career in motion. Immediately after graduation, I got a technical writing job in a division of Reuters. Then I moved to a technology consulting firm and took to consulting like a fish to water. My degree had set me up with the right combination of research, critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills. Co-op had taught me to be flexible and comfortable with ambiguity and change. My company was rolling out a lot of bleeding edge technology that changed people’s jobs and that created a lot of spinoff work in the areas of instructional design and change management. I had a highly transferrable skill set and got a lot of experience in both fields.

Eventually I teamed up with another consultant to launch a boutique firm and have since expanded into organization development. I’m currently exploring the tools and practices of ‘Emergent Learning,’ which involves helping groups in complex environments learn their way through challenging or new situations. I can trace a pretty direct line from UWaterloo to here!

JLH: Can you talk a bit about what it means to own a consulting firm, versus being an employee of a corporation?
LB: It’s entirely different but here are a few thoughts that bubble to the top. Being a consultant means being a thought partner. It requires a particular mindset, skill set, and tool kit. To get work, you really, really need a solid network and a proven track record. You want clients to call you, not vice versa. Otherwise you spend all your time banging on doors. Once you have the work you have to seek out opportunities to showcase what you can do, build deep trust, and add additional value for your clients. Satisfied clients don’t always call you again but delighted clients do, so you have to find ways to delight them over and over again.

JLH: You’ve also been teaching at Schulich, at York University, and are involved with Bracelet of Hope. Are these opportunities you actively sought, or did they come to you in other ways?
LB: They came to me through my network. Early in my consulting career someone told me to touch base with every single person I knew once per month as a way to stay top of mind. I did that for years. I met people regularly for coffee or lunch and I blocked off one Sunday afternoon each month to send short, personalized emails. It worked. People remembered me and contacted me with opportunities, including the ones you mention. The Schulich opportunity came from a previous boss. The Bracelet of Hope opportunity came through a colleague I met in a professional development course and with whom I stayed in touch.

JLH: Is there anything you know now, that you wished you had known when graduating?
LB: Shortly after I graduated I got a call from a UWaterloo friend who’d moved to Seattle to work for a technology firm. I’d never heard of it before but it was called Microsoft. (This was before Windows.) My friend had lined up an interview for me but I said I wasn’t interested because I was having a great time at Reuters. Today I comfort myself with the notion that in a parallel universe, I went to work for Microsoft and retired at age 30.

JLH: Finally, what are you reading for fun?
LB: I used to be a fiction addict but somewhere along the line I started gravitating to nonfiction. Right now I’m reading Collapse by Jared Diamond, about factors that contributed to the collapse of various civilizations. I bought it in 2008 to read the chapter on Easter Island before I travelled there and I’m just getting to the other chapters now! I’ll admit it’s a little doomy and gloomy. For comic relief I’m also reading a book by Jessica Grant called Come, Thou Tortoise. It’s playful and some of the chapters are narrated by a pet tortoise that reads Shakespeare. Cheers me right up!

You can learn more about Lesa’s freelance business, Userproof, here. Thanks to Lesa for participating!

Free Books

If you live in certain parts of North America, you’ve probably seen the Little Libraries popping up in front yards. Originating in Wisconsin in 2009, they are now a global phenomena. I pass several on my commute every day; someone has even mapped Waterloo’s, though more have appeared since. After a while, you start to figure out which one is more likely to have children’s books, which is chock full of romances, and which street has been working its way through past Giller Prize nominees. Well, now the English Department has joined the pack with its own (admittedly less charming) shelf of free books, pictured below:

IMG_4099[1]Unlike the Little Libraries, you aren’t expected to replace the book you take–we don’t have an honour system! (Well, still no plagiarism.) Feel free to drop books off or scan the shelves and load up. Unless you are that man who keeps coming to my office and asking for books to sell online. Also, there’s a great NPR piece about Little Libraries, if you are interested.

Charleston, Ferguson, Dolezal: 25 Novels to Read

If my Facebook feed is any indication, many people are frustrated with much of the reporting about Charleston, Ferguson, and Rachel Dolezal, and are actively seeking insightful commentary. Academics have responded by curating extensive resources for teaching and talking about both events: there is Marcia Chatelain’s Ferguson Syllabus, which also includes materials suitable for children, and Chad William’s Charleston Syllabus, with a strong emphasis upon historical materials. But what about fiction? And what does one do with Dolezal, a distraction from other matters, but perhaps a gateway to discussions about constructions of race more broadly? I’ve gone through the suggested fiction readings from both resources, editing and adding (notably including works by white authors, such as Madison Jones). The result is an incomplete but interesting list of novels by both black and white U.S. authors which speak either directly or indirectly to recent events.

  • James Baldwin, Go Tell it on the Mountain (1953)
  • Wesley Brown, Darktown Strutters (1994)
  • Octavia E. Butler, Kindred (1979)
  • George Washington Cable, The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life (1880)
  • Bebe Moore Campbell, Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine (1992)
  • Lorene Cary, If Sons, Then Heirs (2011)
  • Charles W. Chestnutt, The House Behind the Cedars (1900)
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  • Ralph Ellison, Juneteenth (1999)
  • Percival Everett, Erasure (2001)
  • Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying (1993)
  • Ernest J. Gaines, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971)
  • James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912)
  • Gayle Jones, Corregidora (1975)
  • Edward P. Jones, The Known World (2003)
  • Madison Jones, A Cry of Absence (1971)
  • Nella Larson, Passing (1929)
  • Kekla Magoon, How It Went Down (2014)
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
  • Toni Morrison, Paradise (1997)
  • Valerie Martin, Property (2003)
  • Danzy Senna, Caucasia (1998)
  • John Edgar Wideman, Philadelphia Fire (1990)
  • Shirley Anne Williams, Dessa Rose (1986)
  • Richard Wright, Native Son (1940)

Alumna Cassie Lachance

CassieCassie Lachance is a very recent graduate–so recent, she’s still surprised to have weekends off! I love how she celebrated her graduation by returning to favorite books. I’m obviously not the only one who comfort reads! Read on to find out about Cassie’s favorite courses, books, and post-graduation life.–JLH

JLH: What made you decide on UWaterloo English?
CL: I decided on UWaterloo because it has a co-op program for Arts. Of specific interest to me was that the Arts co-op program included English, even listing examples of jobs previous students had secured during the program as well as after graduation. I admit I was dubious about my ability to find a job with an Arts degree as caution was all I ever heard when “Arts—specifically English” was my answer to the seemingly ad nauseam question, “And what are you doing?”

Following much consideration, prayer, and yes, tears, I decided to pursue a major in English Literature but realized that the co-op program was not for me. I chose English in the end because ENGL 101A and 190 were by far the two courses I enjoyed—and struggled with—the most in my first year. I have always loved books and even more the reading itself. I keep all my favourites and re-read them often and each time it is like meeting up with an old friend. To my great delight the rigours of school did not take away from my love of reading—although there are now books in the world I utterly despise.

JLH: How did you end up with a specialization in Literature in a Global Context? Were those courses very different?
CL: Through much planning, scheduling, email ‘battles’ and compromise. There are not many English courses that qualify as Global Context and, as I learned the hard way, they are not taught every term or even every year. I believe it is a fairly new specialization so maybe there was not enough demand for the courses. Despite all that, the Global Context courses were some of my favourite courses! I took and can now recommend 290, 318, 322 and 345.

I had a fairly international upbringing and that also influenced this choice. One of my High School English teachers –who was also the school’s librarian –was Australian and she brought, along with a passion for literature, many novels from her country to our few shelves. Upon returning to Canada, I found that the libraries I had access to here did not carry nor had heard of the books I so wanted to read again to remind me of my old home and school. My hope for this specialization was that it would bring these books and their like into my reach again. The world has many literary gifts to offer and I figured the best way of sampling such a wide variety would be best accomplished through a major in English Literature with a Global Context Specialization.

JLH: You received the Andrew James Dugan Prize in Rhetoric and Professional Writing in your final year. Can you talk a bit about your project?
CL: I actually received the Andrew James Dugan Prize in Literature. :)

This is a story of shock and surprise. At the time I was merely writing one of many end-of-term essays and praying God would give me the strength to complete them all with half a brain intact. It was my last term and the course was ENGL 330A: Sixteenth Century Verse. Towards the end of the term we studied some of Isabel Whitney’s poetry and I clicked with it. So I mapped out “The Manner of Her Will” with a handful of colour pencils and wrote the essay arguing that in a poem so preoccupied with the liberty of material surplus and the constraints of material lack, the latter of which Whitney complains is her lot, she finds a way to transcend these strict boundaries by turning her experience of lack into plenty. Whitney turns her observations of London into a poem, a material item which is published, printed, and makes its mark in the material world. Something is created from nothing, a lesson Phoebe Gilman taught me a long time ago.

I usually dislike my work by the time I hand it in so when I got the essay back and read that Professor Kenneth Graham not only enjoyed it but wanted to nominate it for an English Department award, well, I can’t describe my shock! I actually sat there and re-read the whole essay to make sure his comments were for my essay and realized it wasn’t as awful as I’d thought. So I sent it in and then proceeded to graduate, move home, and find employment. By the time March rolled around again I’ll admit I’d forgotten it was the end of term and award season. I actually didn’t find out I’d been awarded the Andrew James Dugan Prize in Literature until after the award ceremony—let that be a lesson to you recent alumni: check and read your UW emails so you don’t forget that whole world exists!

JLH: You’re a *very* recent graduate: how has it been transitioning from school to employment?
CL: As with most transitions in life, it was and continues to be challenging, exhilarating, and full-out fun with a sizable dose of oddity and awkwardness. The promise of a fully-assured stride is there too. It took me a long time to realize that every evening and every weekend were free—no homework, no assignments, no readings with deadlines, and no studying. For me University was a full-time job that never ended. My current job is what you might call the nine to five and that is it. I’m finding my stride and enjoying the working world immensely!

JLH: Finally, what are you reading for fun now that no one is assigning you books?
CL: I was quite burnt out by the time I graduated and it took a whole summer of revisiting my childhood literary friends and haunts to remind me that I do find joy in reading—something my acquired skills in critiquing and analyzing have not diminished but maybe even enhanced. I started by re-reading O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, Mitchell’s The Silver Brumby, L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and some Harry Potter novels. I then branched out to whatever I pulled off the shelf—Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind—or whatever someone recommended—a few Jack London reads—or whatever I’d heard about but hadn’t read yet—Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I enjoy the variety in reading Dekker and Bright’s A Man Called Blessed, followed by Atwood’s The Penelopiad, and then Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, all the while steeping in a few pages of the Bible at a time.