Archives For really?

I already hate myself for the impulse to write this post. I find few things more annoying than a short op-ed or whatever in the New York Times or whatever about the English Major or the Humanities or whatever and how they are disappearing or dwindling or whatever and how we should keep them around because they preserve our highest values and make us better people or whatever and how everyone (“everyone” here is defined as a bunch of sappy humanities people) weighs in with treacly, cliched supports or refutations or whatever.

But I’m an English professor; I just read Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker; I can hardly help myself.

Gopnik’s final sentences: “The reason we need the humanities is because we’re human. That’s enough.” Does this make anyone else throw up a little in their mouth? And then swallow it again, which is actually the worst part throwing up in the mouth. We’re human! How very profound!

Last month I met with my Dean, who, having reviewed The Numbers, observes that students are hot on Creative Writing. Writing of all sorts – creative writing, business writing, writing for the web – is where it’s at. Duh, I think. My creative writing colleagues (none of them tenure-track, btw) and I have been making this claim for years, begging for more money, more support, more staff. Students want to create, whether it’s stories, poems, or friggin’ web content. Some of them even want to write literary analyses, which is also creation, the creation of ideas and arguments and insights.

[Side note: Eminem is playing on my Pandora. Yes.]

The Dean seems to think that, just like at Pomona (where English majors are down to 1% of the student body), the English Major is dying. That everything is trending toward Writing.

One would think that I, as a creative writing prof, would be super excited to have the Dean seeing what I have been trying to tell the Dean since it was a different Dean I was talking to. And yes I am. Except I’m not saying that the English Major is irrelevant or dying. I’m just saying we need more support for writing, which is a growing component of the discipline. The problem, at least as I see, at least in my department, is that we have a disproportionate number of faculty teaching literature to faculty teaching writing.

But that doesn’t make the Literature classes irrelevant. One of my colleagues occasionally laments that our English Department, in terms of curriculum and staff, looks exactly like his undergraduate program in the 70s. I can see his point, and I do think English Departments can be shockingly conservative in their structures, especially when people are fighting for their jobs. But I’d argue that what happens INSIDE the classroom is WAYYYY (sorry, I’m shouting) different than what happened in the 70s, especially at Regional Campuses of State Universities, like ours.

[Now it’s Amy Winehouse “Back to Black.”]

My literature colleagues are pretty much all from Research One graduate schools (or, you know, Yale), and they all engage in complex, 50-shades-of-gray literary analysis, and they demand rigorous thinking and writing from our students. Thinking about things they (the students from small-town, northern Indiana) have experienced but not necessarily reflected on. Or about things they’ve not experienced, but that other people have. Or about things that other people have imagined and that suggest alternative ways about thinking about what the students have experienced. Then they have to analyze those textual representations, make connections to both experiences and other texts, make arguments about their relationship, and support those arguments with evidence.

Which is why I regularly make this claim: that English Majors are the smartest kids on campus.

I know it’s not new in the realm of defenses-of-the-English-Major to cite critical thinking as an important skill and outcome. And I know that some of this happened in the 70s in the wake of the radical 60s; it wasn’t all Literary Appreciation. And I know, as the Dean suggests, that most of our students don’t want to go on to graduate school; they just want a degree. I also know that, as everyone else suggests, it is stupid to go to grad school in English in this economy. But I also know, because I teach these students, because I WAS one of these students, that they have NO IDEA what they want to do or can do or what might be available to them if they pursue what they are passionate about.

[Lana del Ray on the Pandora now. “Blue Jeans” remix.]

I remember taking my daughter, who is now 17 but who was actually, impossibly, at one time 2 years old, to the park. Mt. Storm Park at the top of a hill overlooking the west side of Cincinnati. I was pushing her on the swing and she was squealing with glee or whatever. Then she met a friend at the park and they ran off to climb the jungle gym and throw mulch at each other. So I started talking to the mother of the other kid, who turned out to be the wife of an English professor at the University of Cincinnati, where I had just been accepted to grad school.

“Don’t do it,” she told me, referring to grad school. “It’s miserable and there are no jobs.”

This was 1999. They say the same thing today.

I had just quit my job and was so excited to start grad school I could hardly stand it. Who wanted a job? I was going to get to read and write and talk about reading and writing and meet other people who loved the same thing? I remember thinking, “Whatever, lady. Nothing can stop me.”

And nothing did. Not my family, who would have preferred that I have a ‘job’; not the lack of money; not the limited job prospects. And when I finished my MA and PhD and applied for jobs, I got offered not one but two. Even my friends who didn’t get them right away, eventually got jobs. I’m not saying academia always works like this, or that I don’t know people who got exploited on the adjunct track. And I’m certainly not saying that any of my mom-friends understood what the hell I was doing in grad school when my daughter clearly needed me to get from soccer practice to violin lessons. I’m just saying it’s Life, who the hell knows what will happen?

Dammit. I’ve lost track. I was surely going to say something profound about English Majors. Something even more profound than “We’re human.” But now I’ve gone on too long for a blog post. And I don’t even have any pictures!

[And now, no joke, on Pandora is a commercial for an online degree. The University is dead. Long live the Online University.]


Just saw this in the New York Times. I supposed they’d also destroy a Picasso painting if it was blocking a great view. (No, that reason actually has an aesthetic basis. They’d destroy a Picasso if it was blocking a great view that they could charge a lot of money to look through.)

Wright Masterwork Is Seen in a New Light: A Fight for Its Life

By Published: October 2, 2012

It’s hard to say which is more startling. That a developer in Phoenix could threaten — by Thursday, no less — to knock down a 1952 house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Or that the house has until now slipped under the radar, escaping the attention of most architectural historians, even though it is one of Wright’s great works, a spiral home for his son David.

Read the rest here:

Screenshot taken from NYT. Click image for link to slideshow.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with writing? And why do I care about this? Becausebecause, because . . .

Last night I had a dream that one of my best friends (hi, Anet!) bought Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house, the one I’ve been thinking and writing about fairly obsessively for my novella.

there's a cantilever for you

She bought it for the low price of $179,000, which, in my dream logic, I could only attribute to its location in the middle of nowhere and to the fact that she was now going to have handle its million-dollar maintenance. (The guides talk a lot about the costs of maintaining those cantilevers.)

photo I took from the bridge

Anet and her husband and four kids promptly moved in and started tearing the place up, and I kept wondering if that was what FLW or the Kaufmanns who’d commissioned it would have wanted: an active family really living in the house.

I should have sensed something was awry when I spotted, high above the crowded treetops, flying elephants. One was using its ears to guide it to a landing on the roof of the garage. It was only when it got closer to the ground that I noticed the elephant was mounted on an electric wheel-chair-type flying machine, which explained the fact that the elephants could fly.

I created a link to Melville House Publishing yesterday because of its novella series, and today I clicked around the web site a bit. I could forgive them for being totally unpleasant at AWP (it was almost over, we were all tired, and I was just another loser with another novella), but the bad attitude is of a piece with their submission guidelines, which start with three WE DO NOTS, continue with shouting CAPS, gain momentum with scolding LECTURES, and punctuate the policy with INSULTS:

Note: We are not currently accepting poetry manuscripts.

Note: WE DO NOT ACCEPT ELECTRONIC SUBMISSIONS, QUERIES, OR PROPOSALS. Even if you’re an agent. No, wait, I take that back — ESPECIALLY if you’re an agent. Ha!

Submissions policy:

Melville House will not respond to, nor be able to return, any unsolicited manuscripts that are not accompanied by a self–addressed, stamped envelope. Please be sure to include the appropriate postage. (Note: Not the money for the postage, but the postage itself. Stuck on the right sized envelope. See, the idea is to save us a trip to the P.O. If you send us a check for the postage, you’ve added not only a trip to the P.O., but a trip to the bank. We get grumpy and short of time and — well, it could work out to be bad for you.) Also, SENDING SOMETHING SIGNATURE REQUIRED IS NOT A GOOD IDEA. It is, in fact, what is known in publishing as a bad idea. If we haven’t requested it, we won’t sign for it, and so you will just be paying to mail something back to yourself, not a good economic strategy for most writers. Also, whatever you do, for God’s sake, do not send your only copy of your work.

Idiotic submitters notwithstanding, there’s no need to talk down to us. Most of us can follow rules just fine without being talked down to and patronized and insulted. There are 15 sentences here, and 12 uses of the word or contraction for ‘not.’ That’s an impressive 80% rate for negative sentences!

But the bad attitude wasn’t the only thing that got to me. There was something else emanating from the (sleekly-designed, attractive, well-organized) site. Oh wait, I know: Testosterone.

I scanned their catalogue and did some more calculating:

Of the 16 ‘New’ releases, 14 are by men and 2 are by women. (One of the texts by a woman is actually an interview with Roberto Bolano, so that almost doesn’t count.) [12.5% women]

Of the 35 Classic ‘Art of the Novella’ books, 30 are by men and 5 are by women. [14.3% women]

Of the 13 Contemporary ‘Art of the Novella’ books, 12 are by men and 1 is by a woman (the same woman in the ‘New’ releases list). [8% women]

Of all the 132 books, 110 are by men and 22 are by women. [16.7% women]


In the spirit of promoting solutions and not just problems, perhaps Melville House can take a lesson from Geoffrey Gatza at BlazeVOX Books, who noticed a similar issue in his own catalog and has posted this message on his submissions page:

\\\ ATTN!!! \\\

BlazeVOX [books] had recognized a deficiency in our publication catalog. We are now ing the process of developing a book series that promotes the work of women who are courageous, innovative, definition defying writers.

By last November, BlazeVOX had a list of 8 women authors with books scheduled for release.

See this brief mention in Poets and Writers. That’s how to solve a problem.