Author Archives: jharris124

Dr. Vinh Nguyen wins Polanyi Prize!

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Do you know someone formally designated an “exceptional researcher”? UWaterloo English’s Dr. Vinh Nguyen (Renison) has been, with the receipt of a 2017 Polanyi Prize. One of just five to be honoured, he is the only English professor on this list, as well as the sole UWaterloo faculty member. I asked Dr. Nguyen if he might share a few sentences about this research–here’s what he wrote:

“My project investigates how and why former refugees advocate for, stand in solidarity with, and come to the aid of, those who seek asylum in Canada and the United States. The project is driven by the following set of research questions: How do moments of solidarity and support between refugees enable us to reconsider our understanding of humanitarianism? What narratives arise when we recount North American immigration history through relational and coalitional experiences across different refugee groups? What does the work of social activism by former refugees tell us about the concept of refuge?”

Congratulations!

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Weird Fiction from Dr. Sarah Tolmie

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Looking for new–and perhaps unconventional–reading? Volume 4 of the Year’s Best Weird Fiction (Undertow Publications) will soon be available in bookstores, and includes a story from Dr. Sarah Tolmie of UWaterloo English.

Music and the Road with faculty and grad students

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The UWaterloo Bookstore has a shelf dedicated to faculty authors: eight of the twenty-four books currently on display are by English faculty. If they want to give us a full third of the display (!), they might order in Dr. Gordon E. Slethaug‘s Music and The Road: Essays on the Interplay of Music and Popular Culture of the American Road (Bloomsbury, 2017). Dr. Slethaug is both editor and contributor. Other UWaterloo English contributors include Dr. Chad Wriglesworth and PhD students Virginia Shay and Evelyn DeShane.

Emily Dickinson’s Fruitcake: A Recipe

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This is a literary post of sorts, one inspired by a conversation with my graduate students, who felt this was exactly what they wanted to see on the blog as the weather cooled, and the December break neared. Many don’t know that Emily Dickinson liked to bake–famously she would lower cakes out of her window to eager children below. In honour of the season, I decided to share her black fruitcake recipe. My thanks to Margery K. Eagan of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., who updated the instructions, ingredients, and measurements to suit a contemporary kitchen.

Instructions

Have a bottle of brandy on hand—you’ll need 1/2 c. to pour over fruit plus approx. 1 cup more for cake-soaking syrup. Two large cardboard cake boards will be helpful if you are making a large cake.

The day before baking the cake, if possible, prepare brandy syrup: In a 2 qt. saucepan over medium heat, mix 3 c. sugar with 2 c. water until sugar dissolves. Let cool and add brandy (approx. 1 cup) or to taste. The brandy can be a Cognac-type by itself, or a combination of flavors including amaretto or hazelnut liqueur. Your taste buds can guide you here. (See notes about storing any leftover syrup.)

1 3/4 lbs. raisins
8 oz. currants
8 oz. dried apricots, cut in 1/2″ pieces (size of raisins)
8 oz. pitted prunes, cut in 1/2″ pieces
2 oz. dried pears, cut in 1/2″ pieces
4 oz. pitted dates cut in 1/2″ pieces

In a large bowl, toss fruit with 1/2 c. brandy. Let stand overnight, preferably, or an hour, or just while you get the other ingredients together.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Butter a 13″ X 18″ X 2 1/2″ pan and line with wax paper or parchment: butter paper or parchment. (See notes about using different pans–you don’t have to make just one cake.)

1 1/2 lbs. soft butter (salted or unsalted: if salted, don’t add salt to dry ingredients)
1 1/2 lbs. granulated sugar
13 eggs at room temperature
3/4 c. molasses
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Sift together:
1 1/2 lbs. unbleached flour
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt (or none if using salted butter)
1 1/4 tsp. each cinnamon, cloves & mace
1 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cardamom
1/4 tsp. ginger

In a very large bowl, cream the butter and gradually add the sugar, keeping mixture light. Add eggs 3 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping sides of bowl several times to keep mixture uniform. Add vanilla. With mixer going, pour in molasses. Mixture might look broken, but that’s ok. On low speed, gradually add sifted dry ingredients, mixing just until flour is incorporated. Place fruit on top of batter, leaving any liquid at the bottom of fruit in the bowl. (Save the liquid and add to the brandy syrup.) Fold fruit into batter, taking care not to overmix. (Note: with this much batter, make sure your spatula is sturdy; otherwise, your hands are your best folding tools.)

Turn batter into pan, smooth the top, and bake for at least one hour, or until the middle top of cake is firm to the touch. The cake will be very dark on top and slightly sunken.

Let cake cool in pan. (Note: if you want to present the cake with a smooth top, level the top of the cake with a serrated knife. It will be inverted later, making the bottom the top.) Invert cake onto large wax paper-covered board and back again onto another board. The paper should prevent the top of the cake from sticking to the board. With a skewer, poke several holes through the cake at 1″ intervals. Begin brushing/tapping the brandy-sugar syrup evenly over the cake, allowing a few minutes for the syrup to soak in before brushing on more. If the cake seems moist enough, it may not be necessary to use all the syrup.

Wrap cake well in plastic wrap (or slide it into a large clean plastic bag) and allow to stand for at least 1 hour—or, preferably, a day or two, in a cool place. Slide cake carefully onto a large serving platter. (Or, for a smooth top: invert onto platter.) Keep the cake covered until presentation time. Fresh greens and flowers around the cake add a festive touch.

Notes This recipe makes about 20 cups of batter. Since an average loaf pan uses between 4 and 5 cups of batter, this recipe would make about 4 large loaf cakes. In 9″ round pans: probably 5 or 6 layers. Or, in a 12 x 2″ round, perhaps 2 layers. You get the idea, though: you can bake the batter in any size and shape. Butter and paper the pans, and fill them about 2/3 full for proper baking.

If freezing cakes: Remove cooled cakes from pans and wrap well. After thawing, and at least 1 hour before serving, brush/soak with brandy syrup.

Leftover syrup: Tightly-covered, the syrup will keep, refrigerated, for several weeks. If you’ve made small cakes and have frozen them, use the syrup as you need it.

Are you following Academic Ableism?

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You may recall an earlier post, announcing Dr. Jay Dolmage’s new book, Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education. It is coming out in a few short weeks, and if the wait is just t0o much, you might want to read this interview with Dr. Dolmage on the press’s website. A preview:

I am always searching for visual and spatial metaphors to try and explain things to myself and to others. The contrast between ramps and steps on college campuses is one of those metaphors…When you walk around campuses, the steps really are steep and they are wide, and they are everywhere—and they aren’t really about mobility, they are architectural statements on the most important buildings. So they send a message…[of] schooling as a place to sort society, to decide who gets to go up to which step and who does not. Is this really how we want to think of education—as a place that solidifies and reinforces unequal privilege and unequal access?

 

Honour for Dr. Vershawn Young

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Did you know that Dr. Vershawn Young, cross-appointed to English at UWaterloo, is the newly elected Assistant Chair for the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), an international organization dedicated to research and teaching in the fields of writing and communication theory? I can’t emphasize enough how significant this–as those in the field know, this is both a notable honour and a tremendous opportunity, and comes with significant responsibility.

“I’ve been given an opportunity to bring my signature to the next four years,” explains Prof. Young, of his CCCC election. “There have been articles written that ask what happened to the 4th C, communication. I want to see communication and composition come back together and help to re-articulate what that relationship looks like.”

For more, see the article on UWaterloo Arts.

An Alumnus’s book on the Stratford Festival

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You may UWaterloo English alumnus Shawn DeSouza-Coelho (MA 2015) from a previous Words in Place post, part of our “Week in the Life of a Graduate Student” series. Now he has a book coming out, Whenever You’re Ready, available for pre-order from ECW Press. As the press writes:

Whenever You’re Ready is an intimate account of the career of Nora Polley, who — in her 52 years at the Stratford Festival — has learned from, worked with, and cared for some of the greatest directors, actors, stage managers, and productions in Canadian theatrical history. In so doing, Nora became one of the greatest stage managers this country has ever seen. Here is an account of the Stratford Festival’s history like no other. From her childhood forays into a theater her father, Victor, worked tirelessly to help maintain, to her unexpected apprenticeship and the equally unexpected 40 years of stage management it ushered in, this is the Stratford Festival seen exclusively through Nora’s eyes. Here is an immersive account of a life spent in service of the theater, told from the ground floor: where actors struggle with lines and anxieties, where directors lose themselves in the work, where the next season is always uncertain, and where Nora — a stage manager, a custodian, a confidante, a pillar, a rock — finds her rhythm, her patience, her perseverance, her love, her consistency, and her invisibility. These are the qualities that make a stage manager great and, whenever you’re ready, this book will show you why.