What Professor Mom wants you to know, part 2

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On Monday we published a letter from UWaterloo English’s Dr. Frankie Condon, full of practical advice for her children about navigating university. We are grateful she allowed us to share both that one and this second one, which addresses her hopes for her children.–JLH

Dear Dan and Lucy,

It will come as no surprise to you that I have some regret and a lot of worry about sending you off to attend American universities this fall. On one hand, I’m so happy and proud that you have found schools where you can both study the subjects in which you delight and play the sports you love. On the other hand, I fear the rising tides of fascism, racism, hyper-nationalism, sexism, and transphobia in the U.S. I fear for you – and for us all – as I hear the rhetoric of hate and rage that fuels international tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. I would prefer to keep you close to me and to your Dad in such times. When I am most afraid, I spin exit strategies for you in my imagination; I wonder how you will get across the border into Canada and back to us if worst comes to worst.

But when I think of each of you – my smart, brave, compassionate, and justice-loving children – my heart swells with pride. I know that you will stand for what is right and good, loving and Godly, and that the nation and your universities need people like you.

It isn’t easy to stand up when others sit down, to speak out when others are silent, to rise up when others capitulate. You will feel pressure to do as too many other white cis-gendered students do: to go along to get along. In the delight of friendship formation or in fear of attracting too much notice, you may lose your way and make choices that wound not only People of Colour and Queer people on your campuses, but that also tear at the fragile bonds that hold coalitions of justice-loving peoples together in the struggle for equality, inclusion, and democracy. I want you to be safe but I also want you to be brave – and there may well be times to come when you cannot be both. If this time comes for one or both of you – as much as it pains me to say so – please choose to be brave.

Success entails so much more to your Dad and me than good grades, goals scored, games won, or even a degree at the end of four years. I’ve written you a list of tips for achieving these kinds of successes. This is your other and even more important list:



In your classes, in the dining hall, in your residences, across your campuses, LISTEN to faculty, staff, and students who are Queer and/or People of Colour. LISTEN to women and especially to Women of Colour.


Listen and learn to quieten that voice we have all internalized that hisses at you that these things cannot be true, these people cannot be trusted, that it is more important to be sure of and to assert your own innocence than to entertain the possibility that there is work for you to do to change yourself and the world. To still this voice, you will need first to be conscious of it’s influence over you; you will need to notice it, admit that it is in you, and then address the lies it tells systematically – one by one. You will need to unlearn its lessons.


Choose to (re)educate yourself. Don’t ask, expect, or rely on those most subjected to injustice to teach you what to think and what to do. To the best of your ability, teach yourself. Ask your Dad or me if you need help with this. You will find as you take the first steps into social justice work that more help will come to you as you take more responsibility for yourself.


Remember how your Dad and I used to tell you that if you don’t fall down you aren’t trying hard enough? Well, now I’m telling you that if you don’t fail in this work, you aren’t working hard enough. You will fail. And when you do, you will feel shame. But remember this: the shame you feel at having failed in opposing racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia is teaching you that you yearn to be in right and just relation to those whom your failure has hurt. This form of shame calls you to a renewal of your efforts to love justice more than self-preservation and so to be capable of loving Others and worthy of being loved by them. That other shame – the shame of doing nothing, of remaining silent, of standing passively by while Others suffer – that shame will be far worse than any sorrow you may experience as you learn by trying to stand for what is right, true, good, and just. If this second form of shame overtakes you, STAY and LEARN from it no matter how painful its lessons may be. Know that you are loved, unconditionally, by your Dad and by me. We will stay with you no matter what. We are strong enough to help you through. We will challenge you to do more than you think you can, and we are still and always here to catch you when you fall.


Perhaps the most important work you can do as an ally is to confront racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia among your white and cis-gendered friends and acquaintances classmates and teachers, coaches and teammates. You will need to learn to pick your battles and to act courageously when battles pick you. You will need to learn how to sustain relationships that will be tested by such confrontations when you can, and how to let go of those relationships that require you to compromise your integrity and betray your commitment to social justice. You will learn that racism and other forms of oppression are perpetuated and sustained, in part, by those who enforce the rules of racial, gender, and sexual standing in white, cis-gendered communities. This is accomplished, you will find, through rewards for complicity that come in the form of “friendship” and, simultaneously, threats of social expulsion or exclusion proffered against those who dare to speak out from within dominant communities against injustice. BE BRAVE! As terrible as any mobbing you may experience at the hands of those you once called your friends may be, should you speak out and so become a target, in such a moment true friendships will become apparent to you and be cemented and new friendships will be made possible. You will feel your spirit rise within you as you learn better who your people really are.


I have wanted to be honest with you. This work can be hard, so hard. But I would distort the truth if I leave you with the conviction that the work is only hard, only painful, requires of you only suffering. If you do this work, you will know how to give and to receive deep and abiding love. If you do this work, you will know laughter – deep belly laughter. If you do this work, you will know the fulfillment that comes from living to the best of your ability with integrity, courage, and commitment in service of a more just future for us all. If all you feel as you engage with social justice activism is sorrow, shame, or rage, go back to the beginning and deal with that hissing voice again. No movement can be sustained without hope and no hope can be found without joy.**

• Watch this sermon by my old friend, Reverend Yolanda Denson-Byers (https://www.facebook.com/pastoryolanda…)
• Watch this performance by my old friend, Rex Veeder (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPlPFbcU9dU)


What Professor Mom wants you to know, part 1

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In the countdown to orientation week, many parents are contemplating just what to say to their children who are entering first year. English’s own Dr. Frankie Condon is no different. Read on for what a professor wants her children to know as they head to university. –JLH

Dr. Mom’s Tips for Success in University


Go to class (duh!) and do the assigned reading before class (duh!). If there’s a pop quiz, you’ll be ready. Class discussion, you’ll be ready. Preparing for exams, you’ll be ready.


Sit in one of the front two rows every day in class. And…check out which hand your professor writes with. Choose a seat on the opposite side of your professor’s writing hand when she’s turned toward away from students and toward the white board, black board or screen. I’m not kidding! Really do this!


No matter how hard it may be at first, put your phone away during class! Keep your head up and your mind alert. Believe me! Your professors will see you on your phone and may well infer (based on experience) that your mind is elsewhere, that you don’t care about their subject or about the learning you and your classmates might accomplish. Stay awake, interested, alert to learning.


If you are handed a syllabus at the beginning of the semester, put it in your binder ASAP. If your syllabus is online, print it and put it in your binder ASAP. Then, go to what will probably be the final page of the syllabus for the class schedule. Put every due date for every assignment into your agenda ASAP. For every due date, consider how long it will take you to complete that assignment (be generous and add time for procrastinating cuz, well, you know). Put start dates for each assignment into your agenda. If you are given handouts in class, put them in your binder (in other words, don’t lose shit cuz it annoys your professors and suggests that you don’t care or that you’re careless).


Raise your hand to ask a question or to contribute to class discussion at least once during each class meeting. If your class is having a difficult discussion about race or gender or sexual orientation or religion or war, BE BRAVE. If you hear something that troubles you, ask why or how your classmates or your teacher came to think or believe in the ways they do. BE BRAVE! Tell your classmates and your teacher how you have come to think and believe as you do. Link your comments and questions to the readings you’ve done for class or on your own. BE BRAVE. Share the contents of your mind and the processes of your learning with your teacher and your classmates, no matter what the subject.


University is a great time and place to imagine all the things you might do and become. Practice seeing the world and yourself from new vantage points. Whether you are in class or on the ice, demand the best of yourself, give the best of yourself, and open yourself to the learning that becomes possible when you risk failure by pushing yourself beyond what you know you are and can do. Go to the outside edges of what you know and see what you can learn from there.


If you are the student who shows up consistently, who is prepared for class consistently, whose written assignments demonstrate thoughtfulness, engagement, and care, then you are probably the student who can ask for an extension or extra help and get a positive response.


If you already knew everything you’re going to university to learn, you wouldn’t need university at all. Ask questions. Go to every one of your professors’ office hours at least once during the term. Talk with your professors about what interests you in their class, about the things that make you curious. Share your interests with your professors and ask about their interests too. You will learn so much more in such conversations than you will ever learn by merely going to class. If you need help to understand something you’re being taught, ask for it. Your professors’ jobs include providing this support to you. Just remember, the better the question you ask, the fuller the answer you’ll get. Do the reading, review your notes, do a bit of research on your own then explain to your professor what you’ve done to try to find the answer on your own. Trust me, they’ll be impressed and they’ll want to help you.


Everything you do – from processing your course readings to all of the writing you produce in university – will be better for having a dialogue about them. And writing centres are awesome places to work when you’re a student!


Don’t always look for the folks who look like you, talk like you, think like you. BE BOLD! Reach out to folks who are different from you. And reach out to those who may need care. BE KIND! Seize the opportunity to grow your soul and your mind by coming to know all kinds of people, by heeding your upbringing and your intuition, and by thinking about who you want to be in this world and bringing the best you can imagine of yourself to every relationship you make.


University can be stressful. There will be times when you doubt yourself, wonder if you can succeed or achieve your dreams or make your family and friends proud. Whatever your fear or worry, whatever your failure, whatever your sorrow, reach out. Go to the gym regularly before during and after your season. Sleep! But also, and most importantly, talk to your family, talk to your friends, talk to a counsellor or to a professor you trust. Never allow yourself to believe that success means going it alone. Reach out and know that you are loved!



On Confederate Monuments and American Literature

I teach African American Literature, from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. Like many people, the past few days I have found myself explaining things that I thought didn’t require explanation. Among these things is that Confederate statues are not war memorials as generally understood, but monuments intended to memorialize and romanticize the Confederacy, a nation explicitly founded to defend the right of whites to enslave black children, women, and men. We take it for granted that statuary of Nazi military leaders from the war years are better suited to museums than public squares; but statues of leaders of armies mustered to preserve slavery are somehow treated differently. Research demonstrates these Confederate monuments were erected—many during the Civil Rights era—to validate narratives of white supremacy, to commemorate not individuals but a way of life dependent upon inflicting exceptional physical and psychic violence upon black children, women, and men. An estimated sixty to twenty million people died in the transatlantic slave trade. Somehow, the personal pain of these black children, women, and men, the murders, rapes, and other violences of slavery, are glossed over by the mythology these statues help perpetuate. As I point out to students, so successful has this propaganda been that many have never questioned the ethics of marketing plantation houses—sites of sustained racial terror—as romantic wedding venues.

So how is this about literature? For those who are unaware, Documenting the American South has made available an unprecedented number of novel-length narratives by those formerly enslaved, in which they recount portions of their experiences of slavery. (I say portions because many refrained from recounting fully what they witnessed or experienced out of respect for Victorian conventions.)

The full-length narratives most commonly taught are by Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass, and sit firmly within the canon of American Literature. Douglass is considered one of the greatest orators and rhetoricians of American letters; Jacobs is a master of a variety of literary forms, weaving them together to craft a compelling and persuasive account which students find absolutely gripping. (She spent seven years hiding in a crawl space to prevent her children being sold.) These narratives remind us in deeply personal ways of what slavery meant to those enslaved, while also being among the nineteenth-century’s most important literary works.

For those who prefer fiction to non-fiction, there is also the genre of the neo-slave narrative, essentially a modern work set during slavery. Many neo-slave narratives have proven to be critical successes: Colson Whitehead’s 2016 novel The Underground Railroad won the Pulitzer, as did Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1988), and Edward P. Jones’ The Known World (2003). Octavia Butler’s Kindred is always popular when I teach it; so is Sherley Anne Williams’ Dessa Rose.

It’s obvious to literary scholars and students: we read and interpret narratives all of the time; our understanding of the world is shaped by the narratives we encounter. And often we don’t realize what those narratives are—as the saying goes, a fish can’t tell you the colour of water. But sometimes events reveal narratives some weren’t even aware of, and that’s where I’ve found myself the last few days, having to argue that the Confederacy wasn’t an underdog nation we should honour for adhering to its foolish beliefs in the face of overwhelming odds, but a nation founded to defend racial terror as a  way of life.

Images are of advertisements placed following the Civil War, as African Americans sought to locate family lost through slavery. See: http://informationwanted.org/ and https://www.hnoc.org.

MA Grad Alexandra Fournier: Literary Editor

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I’m sitting in an old farm kitchen in New Brunswick right now, reading The Maritime Edit, an absolutely stunning quarterly magazine “devoted to highlighting the heritage and lifestyle of the East Coast.” And on the contributors’ page, under the title “Literary Editor,” is a name I know very well: Alexandra Fournier. A UWaterloo MA English graduate, Fournier convocated in 2016 with a Masters in Literature, after completing a thesis on the adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012-2013). Keen-eyed Waterloo folks might catch that her  “Essential Reads” column in the current issue of The Maritime Edit includes a mention of another one of our English alumna.

Globe and Mail interviews Dr. Clive Forrester

You may know Dr. Clive Forrester of English at University of Waterloo–he’s an expert in applied linguistics, with a specialization in forensic linguistics. What that description doesn’t  tell you is that he is also an expert in Jamaican Creole. Which meant, when the Globe and Mail needed an expert on the ways in which patois has become part of Toronto, of course they interviewed Dr. Forrester. You can read more about how the popularity of patios has been met with mixed reactions at “Di soun in di city.”

Stolen Poetry, Unsuitable Animals, and Engl 460D

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There are multiple reasons to consider taking Engl 460D: Contemporary Literature of the United Kingdom and Ireland with Dr. Murray McArthur this fall (MW 2:30-3:50), not least of which are the professor, the topic, and the readings. There are six books total on the reading list; four novels, and two collections of poetry. I decided I should play the Facebook game where you turn to page 100 and type the third sentence of each book: except that the two volumes of poetry have been swiped from the university library I am currently sitting in. In other words, Dr. Murray is teaching poetry this term that is so compelling people commit crimes to own it. So you’ll have to settle for just the novels, award-winning, award-nominated, amazing novels. How can you read that sentence form Zadie Smith and not want to know more? Or not sigh in resignation with Ian McEwan? Page 100!

Angela Carter, Wise Children
I offed the false eyelashes, snitched a handful of Lady A.’s cotton wool to wipe off my make-up.

Margaret Drabble, The Radiant Way
It could not bear the bright inspection of another’s sorrow.

Ian McEwan, Saturday
This, he told himself, is the democratic process, however inconvenient.

Ali Smith, Girl Meets Boy
And the writer of Metamorphoses needed, who really really needed a happy love story at the end of Book 9 to carry him through several much more scurrilous stories about people who fall, unhappily and with terrible consequences, in love with their fathers, their brothers, various unsuitable animals, and the dead ghosts of their lovers.

Zadie Smith, NW
See them paintings your dad sells sometimes, the dots with the secret pictures?

Image credit: Zadie Smith, The Heroine Collective


Two truths, one lie: English 362 edition

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Did you know English 362: Shakespeare 1 is being offered in fall 2017? Dr. Ken Graham will take you through comedy and tragedy alike. One semester! Six plays! Three of which you no doubt already know in some form, because they are so ubiquitous in our culture. In recognition of that pervasiveness, I created a version of “two truths, one lie” with Dr. Graham’s reading list. I’ve taken all six plays which will be studied this fall and cited two truths and one lie about each. Can you spot the lie?

Much Ado About Nothing
1) The song “Sigh No More” by Mumford & Sons quotes Much Ado About Nothing
2) The original Muppet Show had a recurring plot featuring Miss Piggy as Beatrice
3) The lead vocalist of Green Day composed the music for a rock adaptation titled These Paper Bullets

Twelfth Night
1) A 1937 version featured Orson Welles as Orsino and Tallulah Bankhead as Viola
2) A teen-movie adaptation featured Tanning Chatum as Orsino
3) English Heritage staged Twelfth Night as a choose your own adventure event

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
1) A Urania moon is named after the character Puck
2) Terry Pratchett parodies the play in his 1992 novel Lords and Ladies
3) The play was banned in certain U.S. counties during prohibition

Richard II
1) Unlike most other plays by Shakespeare, it has never been adapted for cinema
2) The fourth quarto contains a later excised reference to indelicate behavior in stables
3) Kevin Spacey has played the lead

Henry IV Part One
1) Orson Welles adapted Henry IV Part One, incorporating dialogue from The Merry Wives of Windsor
2) Tom Hiddleston invented a drinking game based on recurring tropes
3) This is the first of threee Shakespeare plays in which Falstaff appears

Henry V
1) Coach Dinklage inadvertently quotes Henry V in the Amanda Bynes vehicle She’s the Man
2) A 1796 book of fan fiction claimed to be authentic letters penned by those mentioned in the play, passed down by a descendant
3) A post-modern interpretive dance version received a National Endowment for the Arts American Masterpieces in Dance Award

Midsummer pitcher: Canadian retailer thekingsmistress

(and now for the lies: 2, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1)