Codes, Victorians, and Zombies: A Conversation With the English Department’s Newest Professor, Dr. Kari Nixon!

Out of all the possible music genres one would anticipate Whitworth’s Victorianist Dr. Kari Nixon to enjoy, least expected is rap. However, her stunning interests in academia align with this same concept: mixing (as one would in a rap album) old ideas and aesthetics with what humanity has learned in the 21st century.

Nixon connected her interests in music with her passions regarding the Victorian Era and research in medical humanities. I asked why she pursued both English and medical studies and she replied, “Well, the Victorian era kind of lends itself to that… Those very basic foundations of science were all developed in the Victorian era.”
When she was an undergraduate student, Dr. Nixon tended to have an idealistic view of how sciences and statistics can affect the world. She passionately believed that, somewhere out there, there was a formula that could “solve the world.” While in graduate school, she learned about how fallible statistics and math could be; how the tools humanity uses are only as good as the humans who use them. It was at this point in her life that Nixon found a personal connection to those in the Victorian era. The 19th century scientists discovered some of the most foundational aspects of how the medical world functions. They discovered the law of entropy, the theory of evolution, the infinite expansion of the universe and germ theory. Nixon notes how anxiety-provoking these discoveries and ideas were in the time they were made. “The world is full of a lot of flawed and fallible systems… but we really want that ‘meaning framework’… I was seeing them go through the same kind of struggle that I did and that got me thinking about what some of the lesser-known discoveries were.”

Branching off of interests in English and medical humanities, Dr. Nixon shared of her passion for research. She states, “Research, for me, feels like my creative art. And I feel most in my creative prime just when I’m researching and buried in an archive.” One of her works on research is the book Endemic: Essays in Contagion Theory where she and Lorenzo Servitje explore the idea that knowledge of germs’ ability to spread can impact foreign aid and stigmas revolving around illnesses. Her interest in this research was largely driven by how monumental contagion theory was in the Victorian era.

Her passion for Victorian ideas and how they interact with modern times extends to her workspace. Her office shelves are full of old books that she has collected over the years while on her wall she posts some of her research about pregnancy tests and social media. On her door, she has magnets in Norwegian (a language she teaches at the high school level) beside a vintage poster warning about a household under quarantine. “I love the contradiction of like really old Victorian aesthetics and like techno-culture look… Because for me, the Victorians are both like kind of beautiful and stately, and kind of creepy.”

Dr. Nixon is excited to help students open their minds to the breadth of literature in her classes such as Victorian Literature and Modern Global literature. The idea that texts are far more than dusty old books is exciting to her. As a professor, Dr. Nixon appreciates both that research makes her courses more interesting, and that her students can help to open her mind to new ideas in literary studies. At the same time, Nixon is indeed a Victorianist and loves sharing those same dusty old books with students. To study a specialized field such as this means you must learn the language of that field. Nixon describes this technical jargon as “codes”

These codes and secrets are part of what attracts her to rap music. Nixon enjoys listening to music that involves what is called “sampling” (the technique of using a track from another song) and a large amount of allusion to other songs. Those techniques and references create an environment where “unless you know the other music you can’t really understand what’s going on in a given song.” This same concept is what drove Dr. Nixon into researching pregnancy tests and teaching students about the intricacies of Victorian literature.

While many tend to avoid the strange, creepy, and unknown, Dr. Kari Nixon is drawn to it. She is glad to join the Whitworth community here and to experience that passion that those in the English department share.

By Adira McNally

Beyond the Pinecone Curtain- English Professor Dr. Casey Andrews presents meaningful lectures to a wide range of learners.

Early in September, Whitworth English Professor Dr. Casey Andrews made a visit to the Waterville Library in Wenatchee Washington to give his presentation called “Great Writers and the Great War: Literature as Peace Activism” which mirrors his latest book, Writing Against War. 

Casey’s lecture and insights on peace movements within literature between World War I and II greatly impacted this quaint library community. Click on the link to a piece written by the Empire Press for more information and a sweet look into the influence that English professors are having on eager leaners and communities beyond Whitworth.

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Pat Thomsen speaks with Humanities Washington presenter Charles Andrews following Andrews’ Sept. 6 presentation at Waterville Library. (Empire Press photo/Karen Larsen)”

Welcoming Dr. D.B Emerson to Whitworth

By: Emily Hanson

This past fall, Whitworth welcomed Dr. Bert Emerson to the English Department. For those of you who were fortunate enough to take a class from him — either his Survey of American Literature Before 1865, British Women’s Writers, Novels of the Upper 19th Century , or Hamilton — you know him as an enthusiastic professor with a grudge against the dark and the cold. For those of you who haven’t gotten the chance to interact with him yet, I was able to ask Bert ten questions so that you might get to know him as well.

dr-emerson

Where have you taught before Whitworth?

I have taught at Pomona College and at Cal Poly Pomona.

 What about Whitworth made you want to come teach here?

I was drawn to Whitworth because it is a liberal arts college,that has the small school experience. The community was a big part of it as well. I was really interested in the faith and learning aspect of Whitworth because it was different from the other schools that I have taught at.

What exactly do you specialize in?

19th century American Literature and Political Culture.

What has been your favorite class to teach at Whitworth?

They have all been wonderful. The Survey was a challenge because it covered such a vast time period. The Novels of the Upper 19th Century was amazing because of the depth and trajectory with which we explored the novels with. With British Women Writers, I was able to explore and read books that I haven’t in a long time while thinking about how much the culture of Britain and America were intertwined and affecting each other. With Hamilton, I was able to immerse myself in Jan Term and think about the founding of America and explore the literature there.

What work of literature has influenced you the most?

That’s a really broad question, I don’t know how to answer that, there are so many different possibilities and different literatures that affect the present day — but it has to be provocative and innovative; like a cliché destroying and imaginative work.

Being from Alabama and California, what about Spokane is different, aside from the weather?

The weather is a big part of it, but it is interesting to see that there are good people in different places, along with different attitudes. The local culture is also something that is always different from place to place and something that I want to explore. I want to experience the world, and I believe in the inherent goodness of people and it is amazing to see the different manifestations of that.

What are you looking forward to most at Whitworth? What are your goals?

I’m excited to craft my way of teaching as well as working with the student’s getting to know them, as well as the community. Getting to know Spokane — when it’s warm and in the light. Writing as well, I get to finish my book. My goals are to get to know and work with every student, help them learn culture and knowledge and writing skills. I hope to make sure that everybody improves.

What research are you working on right now?

I am writing an introduction to a book on democracy in America which is also connected to my book project about democratic thinking before the Civil War.

What book do you seem to come back to?

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

Fun fact?

No fun facts, I’m a pretty boring person.

As I quickly learned after getting the initial answer to question #10, that it was a lie, he just told me not to write about it in the article. But, as I hope you are all interested in getting to know Bert better, as he is a delightful person and is great at having thoughtful and deep conversations, I hope that you swing by his office, get to know him better, and ask about that fun fact — I promise that it will be worth it.

Dr. Emerson has also recently published an article for the Los Angeles Review of Books. Check it out here.

Emily Hanson is one of our freshman writers and is a lively addition to the team.

 

A Reflection on the Faculty Research Presentations of Fall 2016

By: Emily Church

To start off the academic year, Professor Casey Andrews and Thom Caraway invited faculty, students, and community members to share in their excitement over the current research projects.

Professor Andrews presentation, “Writing Against War: Literature as Peace Activism,” gave us a sneak-peak into his upcoming book (the cover of which his wife painted) about the ways in which British novelists like Virginia Woolf and Aldous Huxley wrote peace activist fiction in the 1930s.”His research dives into the question of “How can art be clearly political and also “artful”?” Virginia Woolf, who is the center piece of the book, criticized all writers who wrote books that were composed of endings that made the reader feel like they had to act by doing a certain service or by writing a check. She instead vouched for the type of writing that had politics in it, since you can’t avoid politics or social issues, but not a clear message. This is what, in Woolf’s opinion allowed it to still function as art. Another one of the points in the presentation looked at literature as “peace witness.” British author Vera Brittan, and her novel Testament of Youth, thought of war literature as a way of preserving the memory of our suffering so that successors may understand it. Andrews expressed a clear excitement over his topic, which was expected as this is within his area of expertise and Virginia Woolf is among his favorite writers.    (Andrew’s book cover can be view here)

Professor Thom Caraway’s presentation and research, titled “Poesis: The Language of Creation” did not emerge from a past interest in the subject. Instead, his path towards the topic began with a simple text message from a college and friend that said, “Theopoetics?” to which Caraway eventually replied back “Yes.” He began his talk with the disclaimer of “I am not a theologian,” in order to make it clear that he is still in the learning process. While most approach the topic of theopoetics with a theological background, Caraway comes from the expertise of poetry, which allowed him to focus on the use of the word “poetics.” The goal of theopoetics is to see both scripture and God with fresh eyes, recontextualize our understanding of faith, and demytholize scripture; all through the use of poetry, which for Caraway is perfect because according to him, “poetry is the purest kind of literary writing.” He connected Theopoetics to specifically poetry of witness, defined as poetry speaking to the truth of experience and the realization of God’s revelation. In both contexts, Caraway made clear, it is the responsibility of the reader to witness to the text and they therefore cannot remain passive. It is only in this way that theopoetics and poetry of witness can be successful.

If you wish to learn more about either of the topics presented during the Faculty Research Presentations, I’m sure they would be happy to share more.

Emily Church (’17) is an English Writing and Sociology major at Whitworth University from western Washington and dreams of one day traveling the world. She enjoys writing, reading, painting, collecting journals (not writing in them), fall leaves, summer warmth., and adventure.

Recently Published in the The Cresset: A review of literature, the arts, and public affairs

The most recent issue of The Cresset featured two Whitworth names.

Associate Professor of English, Charles Andrews published a review of the recent movie version of Vera Brittain’s memoir Testament of Youth titled “Learning to Live with Ghosts” as part of his research of the British peace movement.

Testament-of-Youth

Also appearing in the same issue is a poem, titled “Losing His Religion” written by Whitworth alumnus Michael Schmidt (’13)
 

Annie Stillar: Superwoman

By: Olivia Shaffer

For a little over a year now, I have had the privilege of working for Annie Stillar at the English Department front desk. She has become a mentor and a friend, and her commitment to our department is ceaseless. (I am often reminded that I am not Annie by faculty in the department, as they frantically look for her to solve their crises while I’m working and she takes lunch).

Ask anybody in the English Department about Annie Stillar and you will hear words like “ebullient” and “magical” to describe her. Annie is the Academic Program Assistant for our, as she puts it, lively department. Aside from assuring that the building does not burn down, she relieves all of the administrative tasks from the faculty in the department so they are less overwhelmed. In all honesty, the title of Academic Program Assistant is much too narrow to describe everything Annie does for our cozy little department. Assisting the English Department, the Honors Program, the College of Arts and Sciences, and Women’s and Gender Studies, as well as working as managing editor for Rock & Sling is incredible. And she does it all with a smile on her face and a witty attitude that keeps the department alive.

Annie works toward creating communicative and trusting relationships among the students and staff to ensure she can best support and assist us academically and, maybe more so, emotionally. Professors and students alike would agree that Annie is often the rock in our department, keeping us from going completely insane. As she says, “it’s for the greater good that [she] be intuitive, attentive and not burn out” – which makes her job equally rewarding and challenging, having to be our collective backbone even when she may not have it all together all the time.

Outside of work – because yes, she does enjoy doing things that do not involve alleviating us of our own demands – she feels she’s her best self when she does what scares her the most. She spends her time outside: hiking, being adventurous, and jumping from really high places and living to tell about it. Only once did an experience like this completely terrify her: when she scaled a 400-foot mountain without a harness, but made it to the top without turning around or calling in the helicopters (pictured below). In addition to an insanely adventurous life, she’s made an unofficial career out of singing – and is good enough to make her own album, in my opinion.

Annie Stillar

I asked Annie to outline details of her work, and got an answer with an overwhelming list, which I’ll add here because there’s no other way to fully understand her dedication to us:

“On a wider scale, my job entails pulling off an academic year’s worth of events like endowed readings, socials, graduation fun, retreats and informational meetups (and where applicable, playing travel agent to guests, getting them paid, keeping them fed and hydrated and feeling like Whitworth is a delightful place to be), fostering a healthy and communicative relationship with the Business Office, becoming BFF’s with the department chairs and directors housed here (current count: 4), assisting in the execution of course schedules, contracts and office space (or as I like to call it—musical chairs), the acquisition of class/department resources from far and wide, the management and oversight of six program budgets, and the general endearing of myself to all persons regardless of how much they can do for me and how quickly. I’m an equal opportunity provider of fun and snark alike, if anyone asks”.

She is our own personal superwoman. She has worked here for 6 years, and I’m not sure how the department got through every day without her before. She is witty, and joyful, and full of an energetic spirit that executes the ideal of mind and heart. And she (almost) always has chocolate. No matter what happens, no matter what crisis we are in, she’ll tell you that the show must go on. And because of her, it does. Annie Stillar, we thank you.

 

Olivia Shaffer (’16) is an English Literature major and History minor at Whitworth University. Aside from academics she dedicates a large part of her time to the Jubilation Dance program at the university; an extra curricular that allows her to continue to pursue her passion for dance. She has no idea what post-graduation life will look like, but hopes for the best.

Whitworth English Prof. Expanding the Discourse on China Missions History

By: Kristin Bertsch

Coming in November of 2015, Whitworth will host the much anticipated “China’s Christianity: an Exhibit and Symposium on China’s Struggle for Christian Identity.” This exhibit and symposium responds to the historical growth of Christianity, the world’s largest religion, in China, the world’s most populated country. The exhibit will display rare documents and objects related to the missionary period of Christian evangelization in China, and the symposium will bring prominent scholars to Whitworth to confront the issue of China’s Christian reality, past and present.

The exhibit highlights the relationship between object artifacts and written letters in constructing a historical narrative. Among scholars contributing to the exhibit is the Whitworth English Department’s own Dr. Pam Corpron Parker, whose collection of artifacts from her own family’s missionary history inspire reexamination of the China missions “canon.”

Corpron Family [424229]

Corpron Family, ca 1930s, Hofei China

Institutional newsletters, correspondences, and reports of official missionary activity constitute what has been the established literary canon informing the historical narratives of 20th century China missions. To better understand the reality of the missions experience in China, the conversation is opening up to include an often overshadowed social history, which was recorded in the “unofficial” literature coming out of China in the 20th century. This unofficial literature consists of the letters, photos, and other intimate communications between the missionaries stationed in China and the people they left behind. For those who made the journey to the Middle Kingdom, “writing home” was more than a method of connecting with loved ones; writing home was also a way of creating a new sense of “home” in a foreign environment and an identity as a servant of God.

In her own scholarly work with the collection, Dr. Parker wants to reintroduce those voices largely lost from the missionary literature canon:

“This unofficial literature represents centuries of unrecognized stories of private loss and pragmatism. There is a history here of sacrifices compounded by silences in the traditional Evangelical narrative. These stories of grief for the “accidental missionaries”—those children and innocents overtaken by disease, violence, and general hardship—raise important questions about our narratives of acceptable and unacceptable loss and sacrifice in the missionary tradition…”

Dr. Parker’s grandparents, Douglas and Grace Corpron of Yakima, Washington, sailed for China in 1924, where Douglas began work as a medical missionary and established the first Christian hospital in Hofei. The Corprons’ presence in Hofei was well-received, as they provided much-needed medical care and public services to the soldiers and families of an increasingly war-torn territory. Serving in China during the escalating Sino-Japanese conflict was a test of both spirit and constitution for the Corprons, who chose to remain with the Christian mission until the late 1940s despite having to endure a series of private tragedies while in service. The unofficial literature of the Corpron family mission in China details the homesickness, the disease, the fixed threat of violence, and the unrelenting specter of death that took from them their two small children, Phyllis Anne and “Billie” Corpron, in 1927. With the generation of a “second family”—children Douglas, Ruth, and Mary—the Corprons experienced China as a place of both destruction and recreation.

To view Dr. Parker’s contributions and the full collection of artifacts from the China Mission, come visit the exhibition on 1st floor of the Harriet Cheney Cowles Library.

Kristin Bertsch (’17) is a junior English/Writing major at Whitworth, pursuing a future in graduate school and a career in travel writing. Kristin studied abroad last year in Britain and Ireland and will study English at Oxford University during spring of 2016. In addition to her studies and contributions to the English Department blog, Kristin works as research assistant to English Professor Dr. Pam Parker and as archiving assistant to Library Director and Art Professor Dr. Amanda Clark. Kristin is an active supporter of local art and theater and a frequenter of Spokane Poetry Slam.

2015 Faculty Summer Reading Lists

Have you recovered from finals yet? Need some new reading material? Here are a few suggestions from our lovely English department faculty. Happy reading!

pinecone

 

Laura Bloxham: I’m not just recommending these two books.  I’m telling you these books are stunning.  Your life will be better for having read them.  Both books are by authors currently living in the northwest, Anthony Doerr in Boise and Daniel James Brown just outside Seattle.

4A93A6BE-8DFD-4C84-983C-BBAD3A1A379DDoerr’s book, All the Light We Cannot See, recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize, is set primarily in occupied France during World War II.  But this book is not a book about war.  It is a book about resiliency.  Two inordinately strong children tell their stories, Marie-Laure, a blind French girl living in Paris, and Werner, an orphan in Germany who earns his way into the Hitler Youth.  There is a third narrator who enters the story later and gives urgency to the plot, as well as presenting a mystery of sorts. The highlight of the book is the people we love and the details of their lives.  All that is presented in short narratives and gorgeous prose.  The novel grows from pieces into one story.
D1DBAD68-DB46-4657-B1FA-052E571B4018Daniel Brown’s The Boys in the Boat is non-fiction, narrative history.  It is similar to
Doerr’s novel in that it is a person’s story primarily, one of the boys in the boat at the University of Washington who wins a spot rowing at Hitler’s 1936 Olympics.  The central figure lives in Spokane and in Sequim, before moving to Seattle.  It is his early life, his struggles with abandonment and poverty, that makes him our cherished center of the story.  All of the boys in the boat have circumstances that provide back stories and qualities necessary for great collective achievement.
But you just have to trust me.  These books belong on the top of your reading list this summer.

 

 

poetry_rankine_citizen_fThom Caraway:Citizen: an American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf, 2014). This book won the 2014 National Book Critic’s Circle awards for both poetry and criticism. One book has never been nominated in both categories, much less won, so I am very interested in reading it. In a long series of prose poems, cultural critiques, and artworks, the book explores issues of racial identity in America.

30ywarMy Thirty-Year’s War, by Margaret Anderson (Knopf, 1930). Anderson was the founder and editor of The Little Review, one of the most influential and important little magazines of the Modernist period. Anderson published, in serial format, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and was tried for obscenity as a result. The magazine was always on the brink of financial collapse, but she published everyone we still consider important (including Mina Loy, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and many others). With Harriet Monroe, Anderson is one of the most important poetry editors of the 20th century. This is her autobiography.41MBJ0BJq+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

The Blue Buick: New and Selected Poems, by B.H. Fairchild (Norton, 2014). I’ll read anything written by Fairchild. He’s one of the best living American poets, and will be visiting Whitworth in the fall of 2015.

Well, that’s a start!

 

 

51jt1hDk0GL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_the-hired-man

Amowi Phillips: 

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna
Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

 

 

 

Casey Andrews: I’ve been spending a year reading about peace and war, which I realize is not everyone’s ideal for the beach, but here are a few suggestions regardless.

Parade's EndFord Madox Ford’s Parade’s End tetralogy. One of the great modernist monster-pieces, but with an engaging plot and characters to pull you through the dense, impressionistic passages.

And, if you don’t feel like hundreds of pages worth of Ford’s prose, there is the excellent mini-series starring Benedict Cumberbatch, with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard. According to Stoppard, this film—more than any he has worked on—feels like one of his own original plays.

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Rose Macaulay’s The World My Wilderness. A young girl named Barbary returns to London in 1946 after serving the French Resistance. She wanders the rubble, living in the bombsites and trying to make sense of a war that was supposed to bring peace but instead leaves devastation. Macaulay was a supremely popular comic novelist, but this is my pick for her finest work of serious fiction.

the-love-charm-of-bombsLara Feigel, The Love-charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War. This “group biography” traces in marvelous detail and great storytelling a set of five writers as they experienced the London Blitz and its aftermath—among them Rose Macaulay, Graham Greene, and Rebecca West.

1303921Helen Zenna Smith, Not So Quiet… The romance novelist Evadne Price got a contract to capitalize on the success of Erich Maria Remarque’s antiwar novel All Quiet on the Western Front. Writing as Helen Smith and basing her novel on true stories, she chose to write a book even more brutal than Remarque’s about the realities of war from the perspective of volunteer ambulance drivers and nurses. There are plot twists and turns and enough hard-edged, tough talking female characters to make Orange is the New Black jealous.

 

 

downloadDoug Sugano:

The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa.

 

 

 

41FD2KGPX9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Laurie Lamon:

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr (Just won the Pulitzer….it’s gorgeous!), and  The Collected Poems of Czeslaw Milosz !

 

Vic Bobb: Reading in the Summer.  It’s the thing we’re born for.  Reading is what Summer is for.  Summer is the definition of Readingin the Unfallen State.  This is a delicious subject.  (Especially if you eat bacon while you’re Reading in the Summer.)

BB0493_3I’m going to open the summer with the bizarre magnificence of Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy.  The Hamlet.  The Town.  The Mansion.  This triplet work (published in 1940, 1957, 1959) has some slack moments, but is immense and wonderful (and very funny) and faulknerian…and its capacity to immerse the reader in the character of Mink is astonishing and implausible (and, to some writer / readers, awe-inspiring).  I commend my beginning-of-summer choice to your attention.

111201However, if you’ve never managed to click with Faulkner, you can skip the Snopeses and go directly to some contemporary English writers: sample one each from Penelope Lively [The Photograph, or City of the Mind, or Moon Tiger…virtually any Lively novel, in fact, except Heat Wave, which I insist is a forgery, with a lame ending that could not have come from so wonderful a writer as P. Lively]; and Pat Barker [Double Vision, Ghost Road, or Union Street]; and Graham Swift [Last Orders or The Sweet-Shop Owner]; and Penelope Fitzgerald [The Book Shop or Offshore]; and John Berger [To the Wedding]; and Joanne Harris [Five Quarters of the Orange]; and Julian Barnes [Metroland or Staring at the Sun]; and Ian McEwan [assuming you’ve already read Atonement and Saturday, try On Chesil Beach or Amsterdam]; and Anita Brookner [Hotel du Lac or A Friend From England]; and Nick Hornby [How to Be Good, A Long Way Down; or the stunning creative nonfiction / memoir Fever Pitch {don’t worry: you Shakespeare_Wrote_for_Money_loresdon’t have to know or care a thing about soccer for this book’s writing to blow you away}; or the offbeat goofiness of The Polysyllabic Spree, Housekeeping vs the Dirt, Shakespeare Wrote for Money, and More Baths Less Talking]; and Barbara Pym [An Unsuitable Attachment]; and Kazuo Ishiguro [The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go]; and PD James [The Black Tower, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, or The Children of Men]; and Martin Amis [Koba the Dread, or Night Train; plus any of his books of essays].  Yes, there are some good and celebrated writers missing from that list, but by now you’ve gotten to July, and it’s time to widen your scope, and take in some literature in translation.

But that’s a list for another time….