Geneseo English department’s statement on racial justice

The English department has added a statement of commitment to action on racial justice to its website. You can also read the statement below.

Our Commitment to Action on Racial Justice

As protests continue and emerge across the U.S. and around the globe in response to the killing of George Floyd, and the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, we write to express our anger and grief. We write to acknowledge that the protests unfold not only because of these killings but because of the accumulated history of Black death at the hands of law enforcement, vigilantes, and the violence of structural inequalities. We acknowledge and mourn too many deaths, from Eric Garner to Jonathan Ferrell and Nina Pop, from Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Pamela Turner to Patrick Dorismond, from Tamir Rice and Tanisha Anderson to Amadou Diallo, from Sandra Bland and Korryn Gaines to Atatiana Jefferson and Shantel Davis and Trayvon Martin and so many more human beings across time and geography. We acknowledge that these protests unfold also because of the toll of COVID-19 that has fallen disproportionately upon Black people because of the long-term effects both of white supremacy and anti-Black racism. We write to support Black Lives Matter and other national and local movements for justice and to commit to actions as well as words.

We write to support Black students who in both the physical and digital world must navigate Geneseo. We witness the excellent academic and creative work of the Black students in our classes, students able to thrive and innovate even while Geneseo’s spaces, like those of other predominantly white campuses, accumulate everyday careless and gratuitous insults and other obstacles to Black students’ achievement of a public liberal arts education.

As Geneseo English alumna Evelyn Mendez puts it, “Black individuals are dying inside and outside of jails and because many of us are afraid to seek help because of systemic racism….We aren’t at peace. All we want is to no longer live in fear.” We write, then, in response to her and her peers: we write to affirm the shared responsibility of our Community Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and particularly to “sustaining and expanding the diversity of our community and to making equity for all members of our diverse community a measure of our success.” That is, we write to acknowledge we can and must do more and better to fight actively against anti-Black racism.

As faculty members who study and craft literature, we rely on the long record of evidence that Black artists, scholars, and cultural critics have woven into stories of the fight against fear and the fight for peace that cannot be unpartnered from justice. These are narratives that, in the words of Geneseo English alumna Dr. Jacqueline Monique Jones, can “help us better understand the world that we’re in and the world that we want to see.” We strive in our courses to offer specific historical and cultural contexts for the texts that we teach, understanding both that art does not lie outside of history and politics and that complex stories and rigorous interdisciplinary scholarship inform the transformative Black art and activism we witness today. Such transformation is possible even and especially when it feels impossible; indeed, as Geneseo English alumna Sabrina Bramwell put it during her 2019 Senior Oration, “A core characteristic of interdisciplinary thinking is being willing to value a thought that differs from your own and use it to foster growth. With this mindset, the fear of difference is transformed to intrigue, the unfamiliar is now admired, and inclusion—the desire to hear different opinions—develops more naturally.” Discomfort is not there to be avoided but rather to be explored, not singly or by a few but by a community committed to equity as essential to inquiry.

As teachers and scholars, our commitment is to be listeners: to learn, to reflect, to educate ourselves and others. In the wake of the 2016 election, Mariame Kaba wrote that “Humility is in order across the land. It’s really OK to say that you don’t know the answers. You don’t have to pretend you do.” Kaba’s words guide us now. We commit to taking action, and in doing so commit to making Black lives the center while not asking those most affected by anti-Black racism to take on more emotional labor. We commit to be accountable for the sources, words, images, and narratives that we spread in personal and digital spaces, especially as Black Lives Matter warns of misinformation and disinformation targeted at the movement. We commit to take action within our various spheres of influence. We refuse saviorism, white and otherwise. We offer what we have and can in service to building a more just world.

Above all, we are called to commit to behaviors and structures for care and caring rather than behaviors and structures that exist only for calling to order, as Fred Moten has termed it. Such commitment must be careful. As Saidiya Hartman has affirmed, “Care is the antidote to violence.” Yet also as Geneseo English alumna Davina Ward has affirmed, “Care can exist as violence. Violence can exist as care.” We see this over and over where police, whose charge is to “care and protect,” target Black people with violence. Resources devoted to continuing such violence (such as the $230 million paid out in claims against the NYPD in 2018 alone) must be reallocated to structures for public health, mental health, and public education.

As faculty members who teach and craft works of the imagination, we must not fail to work to build the different world that protestors and students are imagining through their demands. Indeed, rather than just saying Black lives matter, we should actively work on what Geneseo English and Philosophy student Emma Mandella identifies as a new model for reparations. Citing the work of Roy Brooks, in “The Ills of American Capitalism: A New Case for Reparations,” Mandella argues for reparations in the atonement model, demanding revolutionary structural change to support Black citizens. As an alternative to settlement reparations, the atonement model emphasizes long-term efforts to address structural inequalities and systemic inequities.

We close with words from Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, who notes a truth that emerged from her experience coming into what she calls her “full power” as an adult human being during the Civil Rights Movement:

Sometimes you really need things to be thrown up in your community, everything to be turned over in such a way so you have another chance to look at what you have put together. And in any culture, any people, any history, throwing things up gives you a chance to be selective about what you will carry forward.

Note: All Geneseo students and alumni invoked in this statement have given their express consent to their work being included in this context.

English department announces 2020 student awards

We’re excited to announce our 2020 senior award winners and the winners of our annual writing contest.

2020 English Department Senior Awards

The end of spring semester traditionally is a time to honor, in person, the hard work and accomplishments of our graduating seniors. As believers in metaphor, the English Department won’t allow separation or measly screens to become an obstacle to celebration — for as Walt Whitman wrote, “a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.” In this spirit the faculty recognize sustained excellence in literary studies through our senior awards. A couple of months not seeing these students in person remind us how much they have contributed to the vitality of our department during their time at Geneseo. Our congratulations!

William T. Beauchamp Memorial Award

Presented annually to a senior for outstanding service to the vitality of literature on campus.

Winner: Sean McAneny

Patricia Conrad Lindsay Memorial Award

Presented annually to a senior for excellence in scholastic achievement and intellectual promise.

Winners: Clio Lieberman, Margaret Pigliacelli, Brianna Riggio

Calvin Israel Award in the Humanities

Presented annually to a senior with an outstanding academic record and a strong support of the humanities.

Winners: Claire Corbeaux, Abigail Ritz, Helen Warfle

Joseph O’Brien Memorial Award

Presented annually to a senior English major who has exhibited those attributes exemplified in the life and career of our colleague Joe O’Brien: a demonstrated record of academic excellence, a spirit of volunteerism, and a sterling moral character.

Winners: Sandy Brahaspat, Julia Merante, Don Rothwein

2020 Geneseo Writing Contest

As physical journeys have narrowed during the coronavirus epidemic, many of us have become reacquainted with the power of writing to open up new spaces. The English Department has the pleasure of recognizing excellence in student critical, creative, and self-reflective writing though its annual writing contest. The contest is open to the whole campus, and this year’s winners, ranging from first-year students to graduating seniors, represent the following programs: the English Literature and Creative Writing tracks, Women and Gender Studies, Africana Studies, the Film Studies minor, Adolescent Education certification, the Edgar Fellows program, French, Philosophy, History, Anthropology, Communication, Geography, Psychology, Mathematics, Biology, and Physics. The winning entries were written for classes with ANTH, AMST, ENGL, FMST, HIST, HONR, and INTD 105 prefixes, and sometimes also produced by students writing outside class for the sheer love of language. Congratulations to all!

Irene E. Smith Award in First-Year Critical Writing: INTD 105

Winner

Sarah Fadlaoui, “Carlisle in the Great War”

Second place

Maria Pawlak, “Conformity in the United States and its Effect throughout the Twentieth Century”

Third place

Madisyn Pausley, “Parable of the Sower as a Warning for Climate Change”

Honorable mention

Nicole Lallier, “Human Migration: Displacement from Disaster”

Jérôme de Romanet de Beaune Award for an Essay in Diversity Studies

Winner

Brianna Riggio, “Can He See the Forest for the Trees?: The Eagle Tree

Second place

Sean McAneny, “Approaches to Teaching Age in King Lear

Research Paper

Winner

Rachel McLauchlin, “Maternal Horror: Women’s Bodies as Monstrosity in Macbeth

Second place

Claire Corbeaux, “The Threat of Greed and the Cultivation of Community”

Third place

Shannon Curley, “Space, History, and Tourism in Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina”

Honorable mentions

  • Ashton McCormack, “Benefits of Entomophagy”
  • Alissa Moeller, “American Slavery and Historical Silences in the Journal of Women’s History

Self-Reflective Writing

Winner

Sean McAneny, “Addressing Slavery’s Legacy at the Academy”

Second place

Emma Short, “Fame, Fandom, & The Woman in the Spotlight”

Third place

Abigail Ritz, “This Is Paratext”

Honorable mentions

  • Claire Corbeaux, “Realizing Service Learning”
  • Brianna Riggio, “Ableist Constructions of Communication Disabilities and Identity”

John H. Parry Award for a Critical Essay

Winner

Sean McAneny, “Against the King’s Two Bodies: Richard’s Corporeal Authority”

Second place

Claire Corbeaux, “Wuthering Heights, Quantum Entanglement, and Loving One Dead”

Third equal

  • Rosa Mesbahi, “Dismantling Dualisms: Exploring Agency and Victimhood in Purple Hibiscus
  • Abigail Ritz, “Disability as Doozy: Kurt Vonnegut’s Use of Disability as Metaphor in ‘Harrison Bergeron’”

Creative Non-Fiction

Winner

Aliyha Gill, “Sisters”

Second place

Kyle Navratil, “Into Base Camp”

Third equal

  • Hannah Fuller, “Promises”
  • Rosa Mesbahi, “October”

Agnes Rigney Award in Drama and Screenwriting

Winner

Patrick Donohue, “The Masque of the Red Death”

Second place

Ben Michalak, “FOLLOW THE PATH: A Twelve Day Immersive Theater Piece”

Mary A. Thomas Award in Poetry

Winner

Kayla Eyler, “THE FAIRWAY MARKET HOSTAGE CRISIS”

Second place

Aliyha Gill, “Ruminations”

Third place

Sparrow Potter, “On the Slowing of the Universe”

Lucy Harmon Award in Literary Fiction**

Winner

Laura Gikas, “Not Greek”

Second place

Brianna Riggio, Selection from “Elodie May”

Third place

Elizabeth Roos, “The Archeologist”

Boston Review publishes nonfiction by Lytton Smith

Boston Review has published online “The Pruner’s Tale,”, a nonfiction piece by Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing Lytton Smith about the experience of a migrant orchard worker in Western Upstate New York. This piece is part of the Refugee Tales project, a series of walks and books in solidarity with Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Immigration Detainees in the U.K., Italy, North America, Australia, and elsewhere. “The Pruner’s Tale” first appeared in Refugee Tales vol. 3 (Comma Press, 2019).

Composer Gregory Spears to deliver 2019 Walter Harding Lecture

Composer Gregory Spears
Photo used with permission

Composer Gregory Spears will deliver the 2019 Walter Harding Lecture on Wednesday, September 25, at 7 pm in Doty Recital Hall on the SUNY Geneseo campus. His subject will be “Thoreau and Music.”

Spears’ song cycle Walden, which premiered in 2018 in a performance that the Washington Post called “gripping,” takes a series of excerpts from Thoreau’s Walden and arranges them in four structurally interconnected songs to loosely tell the story of Thoreau’s departure from and return to society in Concord, Massachusetts. Along the way we see Thoreau’s progression from anxious social critic, to passionate naturalist, to contemplative mystic.

Spears’ other compositions include Fellow Travelers, written in collaboration with Greg Pierce and based on the McCarthy-era lavender scare, and Paul’s Case, written in collaboration with Kathryn Walat and based on the Willa Cather short story of the same name. The latter was described as a “masterpiece” and a “gem” (New York Observer) with “ravishing music” (New York Times).

Spears’ music has been called “astonishingly beautiful” (New York Times), “coolly entrancing” (The New Yorker), and “some of the most beautifully unsettling music to appear in recent memory” (Boston Globe). In recent seasons Spears has been commissioned by The Lyric Opera of Chicago, Cincinnati Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Seraphic Fire, The Crossing, Volti, BMI/Concert Artists Guild, Vocal Arts DC, New York Polyphony, The New York International Piano Competition, and the JACK Quartet among others. He is currently working on a new evening-length opera, Castor and Patience, with U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, commissioned by Cincinnati Opera and scheduled for premiere in 2020.

Spears holds degrees in composition from Eastman School of Music (BM), Yale School of Music (MM), and Princeton University (PhD). He also studied as a Fulbright Scholar at the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen with Hans Abrahamsen. He currently teaches composition at SUNY Purchase.

The Walter Harding Lecture is sponsored by the English department and supported through the generosity of the Harding family.

English department 2019 writing contest winners

The English department has announced the winners of its annual writing contest.

Irene E. Smith Award in First-Year Critical Writing

Winner: Alissa Moeller

John H. Parry Award for a Critical Essay

Winner: Katelyn Sullivan
Honorable mention: Sean Welch

Jérome de Romanet de Beaune Award for an Essay in Diversity Studies

Winner: Autumn Piletz
Honorable mention: Elyse Manosh, DongWon Oh

Research Paper

Winner: David Beyea
Honorable mention: Victoria Cooke

Self-Reflective Essay

Winner: Sean Welch
Honorable mention: Katelyn Sullivan

Creative Non-Fiction

Winner: Torie Wiley
Honorable mention: Grace Gilbert, Sean Welch

Agnes Rigney Award in Drama and Screenwriting

Winner: Autumn Piletz
Honorable mention: Kristopher Bangsil, Brittany Pratt

Lucy Harmon Award in Literary Fiction

Winner: Jen Galvao

Mary Thomas Award in Poetry

Winner: Grace Gilbert
Honorable mention: Natalie Hayes, Isabella Higgins

Green New Deal Exhibit Opens May 2 in Mount Morris

A collaboration between SUNY Geneseo and the New Deal Gallery in Mt. Morris is updating a collection of more than 200 paintings from the 1930s, and seeing new relevance for the ecological challenges of our own times. The project, called “The Green New Deal: Art During a Time of Environmental Emergency,” is taking the form of a gallery show that opens May 2, along with a digital exhibit created by students of Associate Professor of English Ken Cooper.

Postcard for Green New Deal exhibit

The gallery’s collection owes its existence to the Federal Art Project, which “allocated” paintings to the state tuberculosis hospital on Murray Hill. They seem to have been chosen for their restful associations, however, and weren’t always typical of the artists’ more experimental or political work—an important context recovered by the project. For the past year, junior English major Abigail Ritz has been re-photographing and researching the collection thanks to an Ambassadorship through the Center for Integrative Learning. Students in Cooper’s OpenValley course this spring have continued that work and developed a series of linked online exhibits to re-evaluate paintings now approaching a hundred years old.

Why a Green New Deal? Americans already know how the Dust Bowl intensified the social crisis of the Great Depression. But new “attribution studies” by climatologists suggest that a series of record temperatures during the late 1930s probably were the first to have some Anthropogenic dimension. In other words, those past events have a direct lineage to climate change today and our own efforts to mobilize an effective response.

SUNY Geneseo teams with University of Rochester to celebrate Thoreau and creativity

SUNY Geneseo is partnering with the University of Rochester to sponsor a week’s worth of events celebrating Henry David Thoreau and creativity, April 3-5.

Poster for Thoreau Events

Wednesday, April 3: Concert and Lecture

  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Place: Hatch Recital Hall, Eastman School of Music
  • Admission: Free
  • Sponsor: University of Rochester

Heather O’Donnell (piano) and Laura Lentz (flute) will perform Charles Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord, Mass., 1840-1860.” Ives biographer Jan Swafford will deliver a lecture contextualizing Ives’ sonata.

Swafford writes regular columns on music and other subjects in Slate, and is heard as a commentator on NPR and the BBC. His writing honors include a 2012 Deems Taylor Award for internet writing and a Mellon Fellowship at Harvard. His Brahms and Ives biographies were end-of-year Critics’ Choices in The New York Times. The Ives biography was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award in biography and won the Pen-Winship prize for a book on a New England subject. His biography Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph in its first week appeared on the New York Times bestseller list.

Thursday, April 4: Lecture

  • Time: 5:00 p.m.
  • Place: Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester Humanities Center, Room D
  • Admission: Free
  • Sponsor: University of Rochester

Laura Dassow Walls, William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, will deliver the University of Rochester’s 2019 George Ford Lecture, titled “The Death of Nature and the Life of Thoreau.”

Walls is the author of Henry David Thoreau: A Life, published by the University of Chicago Press. The first full-length, comprehensive biography of Thoreau in a generation, Walls’s book draws on extensive new research and the full range of Thoreau’s published and unpublished writings to present Thoreau as vigorously alive in all his quirks and contradictions — fully embedded in his place and time, yet speaking powerfully to the problems and perils of today.

Friday, April 5: Film, Henry David Thoreau, Surveyor of the Soul

  • Time: 6:00 p.m.
  • Place: The Little Theatre, Rochester
  • Admission: Free
  • Sponsor: SUNY Geneseo

The Little will screen independent director Huey Coleman’s feature-length film, Henry David Thoreau, Surveyor of the Soul. The screening will be followed by a conversation between the filmmaker and Thoreau biographer Laura Dassow Walls.

For thirty years, Huey has been making films about artists, education, the environment, and Maine. His films have been shown at film festivals throughout the US, on PBS, and on European television. Surveyor of the Soul explores Thoreau’s life and the impact of his writings on environmental issues, civil rights, and individual thinking in our time. It includes appearances by Bill McKibben, Howard Zinn, Robert Bly, Rep. John Lewis, and Thoreau biographer Laura Dassow Walls.

Note: Huey will be on the SUNY Geneseo campus Friday, April 5 at 1 p.m. in Bailey 204 to talk about Surveyor and about his career as an independent filmmaker.

Leah Christman wins Fulbright

English major Leah Christman (’19) has won a prestigious U.S. Student Fulbright Award for 2019-20. Leah will travel to India, where her award will enable her to serve as a Fulbright-Nehru English Teaching Assistant (ETA) in either a middle or secondary school in a community to be determined by the United States-India Educational Foundation. The Fulbright Program is the highly competitive flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and citizens of other countries.

More in this SUNY Geneseo News story.