A Different Kind of Book-Burning

16 Nov

Chair’s note: The following is a guest post by Brian Gebhart, one of our majors. I think he makes a strong case for taking English Studies seriously. It is my hope that you, dear reader, will agree. 


When I applied to college, I had to write a number of essays. It comes with the territory, I suppose: the nature of applying to university in our present day requires students to pen some sort of “statement,” often in response a question of some sort. “What does education mean to you?”“What do plan to achieve at such-and-such university?” ”How will such-and-such degree help you attain this goal?”“How have you been influenced by this factor or thing?” “Name a world problem and how you plan to solve it.”And these are all fine and dandy, one could argue: at best, what they’re trying to do is prompt some sort of response out of their would-be responders, and, sometimes, they are the only real window into the character of the soul behind the GPA and the letters of recommendation. It’s one thing to have others vouch for you; it’s quite another to vouch for yourself.

At any rate, my application essay burned a hole in my computer. I jest, of course, but the idiom is appropriate because of its underlying metaphor: fire. I was fortunate enough to have a teacher that spent a few weeks in my junior year going over the application essay, and what to expect; and I was even more fortunate that she had just spent the past half-year going over American literature. For me, Edith Wharton, Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and J. D. Salinger were hot off the presses – what is more, I loved those writers. I tried aping their style in my own writing; I would make notes and mark up words and lines and phrases that captured my interest, and then try to incorporate those same phrases into my own writing (often about those same writers, no less, and with varying success). Regardless, my teacher had revealed to me the benefits of extended metaphors (among other rhetorical tricks and tools) – of taking an idea or image and stretching it throughout a piece of writing, so as to uses its powers for a new purpose. In any case, I knew enough about writing by that point to know that metaphors, when used consistently and repeatedly, make for easily remembered writing, and extended metaphors can help to make up for writing that is otherwise quite bland or boring. (And what is the college application essay, if not a boring topic, made to dress up like an interesting one?)

And so I played with fire. In my application essay, I spoke of a flame that had begun somewhere in my education, probably in middle school – a spark that flickered and ignited out of my own teachers’ passion for literature. This is significant if only because I used to despise English – in elementary school, I thought reading and writing were wastes of time. Even though I loved stories, I saw reading and writing as burdens to bear, as these ugly little beasts that needed to be slain and burnt to a crisp, immediately.

And it might have stayed like this – with me preferring to doodle mindlessly in my spare time than to read. But something changed. Somewhere over the years I began to see literature not as a useless chore, but as a powerful means of escape. I’m not quite sure exactly when and where that change took place, but it did. And, beyond that, I started to see that reading didn’t just have to be an escape, either – it could also be a means of learning, and growing, and expanding the mind. It took me some time to realize, but I owe that first change to my parents; I owe the second change to my teachers. Especially my middle and high school teachers. These strange people had a love for reading and writing (and a knack for teaching) that, to me, was infectious. As I put it in my application essay, “they had a spark, a zest for the written word.” How could I resist these teachers who could recite poems and lines from memory, and speak to the power of stories by telling those stories and asking us (their students) about them? As I wrote elsewhere in my (brief) application essay, “With that flame, they [my English teachers] taught me how to understand the themes in storytelling, to glean the morals and the lessons, to illuminate the dark caverns of character and make it better, bit by bit.” Somewhere along the line of my own education, I saw books for what they were: portals into other worlds, harboring a host of contradicting worldviews, out of which I would have to assemble and develop my own. To keep the metaphor going, I learned how to take some of the fire of others (both my teachers and the writers they taught) and start my own with it.

And while my time here is not yet quite over, I think it is safe to say that, at the University of Michigan-Flint, that fire has only grown larger and burned brighter. I remember my most influential teachers from school not just by their personality, but by what they taught – I can tell you whom I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Things They Carried with, or who introduced me to Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 and A Clockwork Orange, or who assigned Night and A Brave New World and All Quiet on the Western Front as summer reading.

I could say the same of UM-Flint. While here, I’ve had the opportunity to read no less than Yeats, Byron, Eco, Ibsen, Garcia Marquez, Homer, Frost, Soseki, Heaney, Gaines, Milton, Mishima, Borges, Eliots T. S. and George, both Shelleys, both Rossettis, and more Shakespeare than I can shake a stick at (to say nothing of scholarly work and articles). Not a bad bunch, if I do say so myself. And there are many others, to be sure – I mention only the ones that jump to my mind immediately. But the point is this: I have a name I could attach each of these writers to. And I have my English professors at UM-Flint to thank for that. I’m not going to say that I never would have read any of these writers without my professors (who can know when he or she may end up reading a particular author at a certain point in life?), but, because I did read these writers with certain people, my perceptions of their (the writers’) works will be forever colored by their (my teachers’) presence.

And that, I think, is the inevitable byproduct of the profession of the English teacher – whatever books he or she teaches you will invariably become linked with them in your mind. Or, at least, I think so. It’s something I try to be aware of in my own path toward becoming an English teacher, in any case. I know that one day I will be teaching my own class of students, and I may just introduce to them an author whose name means nothing to them – an author whom, by association, I will bond with in their heads (along with all the other attachments I may give them, from test to essays to homework to presentations: the real package deal).

Even so, my real hope is that I can keep that flame going, and – if possible – pass the torch along to my own students. I hope that I can show my students that reading is a lifelong joy as well as a constant source of paradox, worldview, and knowledge. I hope that I can show my students how their thinking will only improve through and with reading. My favorite part of school has been, and always will be, reading. Discovering new writers, rereading and relearning old ones – I just love to read. If nothing else, I want my kids to see that a love of reading can spark fires and enlarge the mind – that knowledge can warm as easily as it can burn, and can provide both a certain kind of defense and light in their lives. I am fortunate in that my English professors at UM-Flint have only reinforced my understanding of literature, even as they have challenged and expanded it. What else can I say? I’ve had some great classes here.

In short, in my original application essay to this college, I spoke of a flame that had been sparked by good teaching and great reading. I like to think that flame has only been fanned here at UM-Flint.  My only hope is that I can one day help others see that playing with that fire – the fire of literature, that blaze of knowledge, those embers of other worlds – is worth the effort.


New Scholarship by Prof. Feuerherm!

21 Apr

Loring & Ramanathan Discount Flyer

New: Earn a TESOL Certificate!

10 Mar

This fall the Linguistics Program will begin offering a new 15-hour certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.  Now you can earn this valuable and highly portable credential right here at UM-Flint, and in only four classes!

TESOL Certificate purple handout


Professor Emily Feuerherm has co-edited a new book!

17 Dec

Feuerherm BookCongratulations to our colleague on an important publication!  This volume brings together scholars from various disciplines to discuss how language is used by, for and about refugees in the United States in order to deepen our understanding of what ‘refugee’ and ‘resettlement’ mean. The book will be of interest to researchers of applied linguistics and sociolinguistics, anthropology and cultural studies.

“In an era of unprecedented forced migration, this book provides valuable and timely insights into how refugees in the US are impacted by the discourses, policy and education practices they encounter. The research-based chapters offer ways to rethink assumptions and ideologies surrounding refugees, so often positioned as victims and a burden on institutions. A readable and important book.” – Jenny Miller, Monash University, Australia

For a limited time you may order this title at a discount – using the form you can download here.

Call for Papers: Clement S. Stacy Undergraduate Research Conference

7 Dec

The College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences of Purdue University Calumet is pleased to announce the 24th Annual Clement S. Stacy Memorial Undergraduate Research Conference, which will take place on Friday and Saturday, April 15-16, 2016 at Courtyard Marriott Hotel, near the campus in Hammond Indiana.

The conference’s goal is to provide a forum for undergraduate Humanities and Social Sciences scholars from across the upper Midwest to present their projects and discuss the results of their research with fellow students and faculty mentors.  Information about the abstract submission guidelines, deadline, and conference details can be found at our Clement S. Stacy Memorial Undergraduate Research Conference web page. UM-Flint English majors are likely writing and preparing course-related projects this month which would be excellent material to submit for inclusion in this spring’s conference.

Enter the Mochila Review’s MoRe Prize Writing Contest

12 Nov

The Mochila Review, a national undergraduate literary journal published by Missouri Western State University, is hosting its annual writers’ contest for undergraduate students, called the Undergraduate MoRe Prize.

This year, the contest will be open to short fiction (up to 3,000 words) submissions only. Contest submissions will be accepted through the journal’s website (www.mochilareview.com) from October 1 to December 1. The winning writer, selected by guest judge, author Ellen Hopkins, will be announced January 1. He/she will receive a $50 prize and publication in the journal’s 2016 issue. The Undergraduate MoRe Prize is separate from the journal’s regular submissions and there is an entry fee of $5.

Undergraduate Gender Studies Conference – Call for Papers

14 Oct

Midwest Undergraduate Conference in Gender Studies – call for papers

The University of Notre Dame will host an undergraduate conference for Gender Studies on February 12 & 13, 2016 on Notre Dame’s campus in South Bend, Indiana. The conference will be co-sponsored by the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at Saint Mary’s College and the Women’s Studies Program at Indiana University South Bend. We invite submissions focusing on any area of original research-based scholarship in gender studies (including, but not limited to, work in literary criticism, sociology, theology, anthropology, economics, psychology, biology) from colleges and universities in the Midwest. Presentations should take the form of 15-minute presentations (with or without visual support, like PPTs and posters). We welcome scholarship that deals with the significance of gender—and the cognate subjects of sex, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, religion, and nationality—in all areas of human life, especially in the social formation of human identities, practices, and institutions.

  • Students will need a faculty mentor from their field of research to offer guidance as the student develops and carries out the research project. Faculty mentors do not need to attend the conference (though they are welcome).
  • This conference will consist of a series of individual panels of 3-4 papers. A faculty panel will select papers from among the proposals received and constitute the panels.
  • Lunch (both days) and snacks will be provided. There will be no registration fee for participants selected to present work. It is expected that all participants will attend the entire conference.
  • Proposals (200 word max) should be submitted on the appropriate submission form to: apalko@nd.edu, subject line “Undergraduate conference abstract submission.”
  • Questions can be submitted to: Abigail Palko (apalko@nd.edu)

Deadline for submissions: December 16, 2015 (notification of acceptances to be sent in early January 2016)

English Majors: The Albion Review wants to see your writing

30 Sep

The Albion Review, a national literary journal based at Albion College, seeks work for its 11th annual journal.  Contributors must currently be enrolled as undergraduate students at any college or university.

Submit your short fiction, poetry, essays, or visual art by November 1st – you could win a $200 prize.

Written submissions (include SASE): The Albion Review, 4942 Kellogg Center, Albion College, Albion, MI 49224.

Online submissions: albionreview.submittable.com

For more information and submission guidelines, visit them on facebook.

English Majors – Why not present your work at a conference?

29 Sep

The 24th Annual Clement S. Stacy Memorial Undergraduate Research Conference (sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at Purdue University-Calumet) will take place Friday and Saturday, April 15-16, 2016 at the Hammond, IN Courtyard Marriott Hotel.

The conference’s goal is to provide a forum for undergraduate Humanities and Social Sciences scholars from across the upper Midwest to present their projects and discuss the results of their research with fellow students and faculty mentors.

That’s you, English majors!  Why not submit your work?  The submission deadline is February 6, 2016.  More information and conference details can be found on the Clement S. Stacy Memorial Undergraduate Research Conference web page.


Summer Reading 2015 – A Whale of a List!

27 Apr

For the last couple of years, Who Are These People Anyway? has been happy to share summer reading plans with you: what we’re reading, what we think you should read, and how we did with last year’s resolutions.  Here’s the 2015 installment; just peruse the WATPA? archive if you want to read the older ones.

Stephanie Roach
My reading list this summer includes Tana French’s The Secret Place.  I have a thing for reading debut novels and got totally hooked by French’s debut In the Woods. I’ve enjoyed each book after even more (The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor), and I’ve heard The Secret Place  is the best yet of her literary mysteries.French

Last summer I planned to read S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst and that is the book I would recommend.  It is a fascinating study in how characters are developed, how suspense is built, and how we think about the book as an object.  Reading this book is unlike any other reading experience I’ve ever had.  This review in The Guardian includes a short video clip of what it is like to unfold the pages of S.: .  If you are looking for something different, unique, complex, and nerdy-cool, then this is your book.


Fred Svoboda
What’s on your summer reading list? More John Updike as (I hope) I finish my book on him for University of South Carolina Press. I’ll be reading mysteries and histories as my breaks from serious fiction.John-Updike-002

What you hope your students read this summer: I want them to read all the novels for the courses that they are taking from me in the fall, so that they can have the pleasure and insight of rereading during fall semester. (Also, this will help obviate suicidal feelings while faced by the likes of Moby-Dick and The Portrait of a Lady, big, big 19th century novels.) I always email the reading lists to enrolled students at the beginning of the summer.mobydick

How your planned reading from last summer went: I didn’t even turn in a reading list last summer. I had too much to do!!


James Schirmer
On my reading list:

  • H Is For Hawk, by Helen MacDonald
  • Girl In A Band, by Kim Gordon600full-sonic-youth
  • A Stranger In Olondria, by Sofia Samatar
  • Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What I hope students read this summer:
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
I came late to this book, but I’ve been rereading every year for the past three years now.  Great characters in a great story & technical communication in the service of a narrative!

Cathy Akers-Jordan
My Utopian dreams for the summer involve more writing than reading but I am currently re-reading Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine Dandelion Wineand considering the possibility of doing a composition class using the book as the theme. I like it because it deals with all the big questions of life, love, fear, death, wonder, joy and everything else you can think of. It’s the one book I’d like my students to read this summer, too, for a vivid immersion into early-twentieth-century life (BEFORE the Internet! Gasp!) through savory, lyrical language they’ve probably never experienced before. For me reading a Bradbury book is like eating potato chips: you can’t read just one. Next on the reading list are Something Wicked This Way Comes, One More for the Road, The Toynbee Convector, Dark Carnival, The Machineries of Joy, I Sing the Body Electric and many of his other wonderful story collections. Ray thoughtful

 Some of his books are listed here.


Emily Feuerherm

On my summer reading list is Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. This book was passed down to me from my uncle, who besides being an accomplished teacher and researcher, was my inspiration to study linguistics. Many thanks, Uncle Fred!

wildI hope students will read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed, because it is a beautiful true story of strength and hope. When I read it two years ago, before the movie had been made, I yearned to explore the PCT. That yearning grew with every page-turn, despite the hardships and lost toenails Strayed describes. Last year, my husband and I hiked just a very few miles of the PCT through desolation wilderness (near Lake Tahoe) and it was just as challenging and beautiful as she describes. Now, having just moved to Flint from Northern California, I will admit I miss the Sierra Nevada mountains, but look forward to backpacking in the UP this summer. Students, if you have an opportunity to hike any part of the PCT, do it! But prepare better than Cheryl Strayed, and pack lighter.

Jacob Blumner
My summer reading list includes JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I’m rereading them as our twins discover them.  It seems, though, that I will need to find things to add to the list quickly because they read The Hobbit already — in about two days.  Suggestions?  I also want to read Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, since I’m an outdoor enthusiast and want to find ways to rationalize my values.  last-child-louv

I hope students read at least one novel this summer, preferably the paper kind.  There is beauty in the meditative experience of losing oneself in a physical book.


D. J. Trela
Last summer I worked my way through a number of biographies, and want again to tout Walter Isaacson’s biography of the late Steve Jobs. To my mind, this is one of the finest contemporary biographies to appear in the last twenty years. My students last fall were fascinated by the story of a College drop-out who changed the world with his computers, I-phones, Pixar movie technology and I-pads/pods. Practically everything we do with technology not only has Steve Jobs’ fingerprints all over it, but his DNA in its design. That said, he was often an insensitive jerk. Go figure.

jane-austen-frontispiece-1870For summer 2015 my reading will again primarily be prep-work for fall classes. I am two thirds of the way through all of Jane Austen’s six completed novels, all but one of which (in my opinion) is “perfect, in being far too short.” To find out which one you’d need to enroll in my fall senior seminar in English. (Clue: It isn’t Emma.) For at least a couple of novels in the course itself, we’ll take a close look at Austen’s incomparable narrative and dialogue and see whether Hollywood offers any improvement on her storylines.

Last summer I also mentioned wanting to read Five Came Back, which dealt with how WWII experiences influenced the post-war film-making of five classic Hollywood directors. This was an insightful work that helped me take fresher looks at films directed by Frank Capra, John Ford and Howard Hawks. I highly recommend the book for devotees of classic Hollywood films.

While I’m not a great reader of magazines, I subscribe to (and recommend) The New Yorker to any and all. The articles are thoughtful, often offbeat, always intelligently written, and sometimes memorable.

And, along the lines of the Woody Allen character Zelig, maybe one of these summers I’ll read Moby-Dick.


Scott Atkinson
My list is ever-changing, but here’s what I’ve led myself to believe I’ll be reading in the coming months.

Antonya_NelsonFirst on the list–which I’ve actually started–is whatever I can find by Antonya Nelson. I was unaware of her until recently, when a friend invited me to audit a short fiction writing workshop she’s leading. The plan was just to look like I’d been reading her all along so I could appropriately kiss up, but I’m enjoying her stories immensely so far.


I also want to read a lot of Roddy Doyle, who I discovered on The New Yorker Fiction Podcast recently. I’ve read his first novel, The Commitments, but want to read more of his stories as well. I just started a recent novel of his, The Guts, trying to read it alongside other things (like Nelson), which I’m horrible at doing.

Joseph Mitchell is very much on the list. I’ve read some of his book My Ears Are Bent which is a collection of his pre-New Yorker journalism, and I just ordered, Up in the Old Hotel, a collection of his journalism for The New Yorker. There’s also a new biography out that is on my wish list for Father’s Day. As a journalist I’d love to (pretentious as it sounds) explore Flint the way he explored New York. I’ll probably re-read Joe Gould’s Secret just because, well, if you’ve ever read it, you’ll know.

I recently met K.M. Zhart, a Flint guy who started the literary journal Old Northwest Review, and I’ve been meaning to read his novel Old Man Outlaw. I’m also planning on reading UM-Flint lecturer Andrew Morton’s award-winning play, Bloom, which I regrettably didn’t see when it was being performed in town.

What do I hope my students read? Everything.


As for last year’s reading list, who knows? You should have seen my general 2015 reading list, which was ambitious enough to include among other things, everything by David Foster Wallace. That’s a mountain I’ll be climbing for a while.

Steve Bernstein
My reading plans are only slowly coming into focus, but so far I want to finish a book of literary theory, Caroline Levine’s Forms, and then move onto Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence (which my wife has encouraged me to read for many summers).  I’m also hoping to squeeze in volume 1 of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle so I’ll know what all the buzz is about.

My goal last summer was to complete my two-summer project of reading Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.  I did it!  Proust is amazing, and really: just read him.


But my recommendations this summer are these: anything by Norman Rush and/or Alice Munro, two of the best contemporary writers around.  For Rush, especially Mating, and for Munro, especially Runaway.Runaway