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To Our 2020 Graduating Seniors

As I noted at our departmental Commencement ceremony, most literary scholars begin as lovers of books.  Somewhere along the way, that love becomes a belief that careful engagement with texts can change minds, lives, and the world.  Academic pretense aside, we all have faith in the transformative power of imagination and ideas.  The English faculty hopes you will carry that belief into whatever communities—geographic, professional, or intellectual—you come to inhabit.  You have already demonstrated a resilience unlike that of most classes before you.  We trust you will stay in touch as you build on the promise reflected in your wonderful careers at the University of Richmond. 

All good fortune!
David Stevens
Chair, Department of English

Congratulations to the Class of 2020 English Majors!
  • Alessia Barcelo
  • Sydney Collins
  • Nico Delvalle
  • Emilie Erbland
  • Jocelyn Grzeszczak
  • Anthony Isenhour
  • Sean Menges
  • Katherine Murbach
  • Griffin Myers
  • Tracy Naschek
  • Nadia Neman
  • Daisy Olschansky
  • Allie Patenaude
  • Maria Seitz
  • Nick Sherod
  • Yewon Son
  • T.J. Spicer
  • Valerie Szalanczy
  • Jacob Uzzell
  • Carson Watlington
  • Lauren Weingarten
  • Daniel Williams
  • Savannah Wilson
English Honors Students and Thesis Projects, 2019-2020

Sydney Collins, "A Hero No More?: Traces of the Byronic Hero in 19th-Century British Novels.” Director: Dr. Thomas Manganaro.

Abstract: The Byronic hero is a notorious literary figure created by George Gordon Byron, popularly known as Lord Byron. Lord Byron was an influential English writer whose poetry was often cited as immoral, passionate, scandalous, as well as genius. In his works, Lord Byron fashioned a character based on his own personality and this figure’s controversial essence is what attracted other authors to the character type. In this thesis, I explore what happens when the Byronic hero, who was originally created for poetry, manifests himself into social novels. These novels reflected the changing norms of the 1800s when the British public faced many changes in every facet of society, from technology to family life to morality. These social novels present themselves as an unlikely setting for this character. Thus, the ultimate question I explore is: how can this controversial and dynamic character survive in literature that embodied an age of rules and formality?

Emilie Erbland, "Speech, Silence, and Song: Investigating Language and Power in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.”  Director: Dr. Monika Siebert.

Abstract: With the rich linguistic background of South African history as a backdrop, J.M. Coetzee’s 1999 novel Disgrace presents a solution to lingering language issues in the newly organized country. The way individual characters find solace through a changing attitude in regards to language suggests a fruitful path paradoxically free of language: the solace of silence and eventually the universal empathy of music. The protagonist’s initial attitude toward language mirrors that of early colonizers as he tries to prescribe and correct speech while prizing English as the most civilized language. As he experiences trauma felt more commonly by those who are colonized and oppressed, his newfound empathy transforms his language first to a position of mindful silence and then to communication through song. This transformation emerges as a model for governments grappling with the linguistic damage wrought by centuries of colonialism; the approach of listening, empathizing and adjusting to new universal language policies can begin to forgive previous language control and oppression. 

Jocelyn Grzeszczak, “Reconciliation: An Examination of (Hi)stories Past and Present.” Director: Dr. Bert Ashe.  

Abstract: What does it mean to come of age in the American South? This thesis, presented as a lyric essay, focuses on the ways in which various parts of southern culture have affected the author, particularly in terms of the different places she attended school. The essay reflects on the author's experience of attending high school on a preserved plantation by weaving historical information about the former plantation with personal reflection on what the implications of this history look and feel like today.

Anthony Isenhour, "A Twisted Skein of Desire: Confession, Gaze, and Time in André Aciman's Call Me by Your Name.” Director: Dr. Nathan Snaza.

Abstract:  Andre Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name is framed by one question, stated in a time of deep conflict by the narrator: “Are ‘being’ and ‘having’ thoroughly accurate verbs in the twisted skein of desire, where having someone’s body to touch and being that someone we’re longing to touch are one and the same?” (Aciman 68). 

Aciman uses three modes of reference to claim that same-sex desires are inevitably built from a twisted skein of desires: confession, gaze, and time. Using confession, Aciman highlights the ways in which internal desires can conflict with external identities, creating a need to turn desires into actions. Specifically, same-sex desires are twisted in this skein through said internal-external conflict. Then, through narratorial gaze, readers see that consumptive and sexual desires are inseparable as Elio’s gaze shifts from objectifying to interacting with Oliver in entangled ways. Finally, through eliciting a queer structuring of time, Aciman demonstrates how nostalgia and regret can make resolving the twisted skein of desire impossible.

Griffin Myers, “Four Forms of Morality: How 19th-century Female Novelists Engaged Enlightenment Ideas.” Director: Dr. Libby Gruner. 

Valerie Szalanczy, “The Narrative Is All That Matters”: Storytelling as Justice in Indigenous Women's Writing.” Director: Dr. Monika Siebert. 

Abstract: This thesis investigates how North American women writers have responded to the realities of double colonization, taking Louise Erdrich’s 2017 novel Future Home of the Living God as its central example. The term “double colonization” was coined in Anna Rutherford and Kirsten Holst Petersen’s 1988 work, A Double Colonization: Colonial and Post-Colonial Women’s Writing to describe the dual oppression women experience through the power structures of both colonialism and patriarchal dominance. Although this concept was used in the British postcolonial context, the paper investigates whether it can be helpful in examining Native American literature focused on the experiences of indigenous women within the ongoing colonial world of North America. Double colonization thus frames the research conducted on Erdrich’s work: How does Erdrich’s autodiegetic narrative mode and reshaping of Catholicism in Future Home of the Living God illuminate double colonization in the North American context, where indigenous nations continue to be colonized?

Carson Watlington, "Through the Arc of the Rain Forest: Restoring and Reclaiming the ‘Asian’ in ‘Asian Immigrant Narrative.’" Director: Dr. Monika Siebert. 

Abstract: Karen Tei Yamashita’s 1991 debut novel, Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, reflects in its story and narration the critical shift seen in the early 1990s towards a globalized perspective that ultimately reshaped how scholars interpret Asian American literature and the Asian immigrant narrative. Ahead of her contemporaries, Yamashita resists the readers’ expectations of Asian American literature by presenting a story with an international backdrop, an interrogation of stereotypical images, and an experimental narrator. This thesis works to frame Through the Arc of the Rain Forest as a critical piece within the Asian American literary canon that introduced a then unorthodox group of topics and literary tactics to genre. Along the way, this thesis investigates the presentation (and manipulation) of Asian American literature in the U.S. and question the legitimacy of U.S. American multiculturalism in relation to the Asian immigrant and Asian American. I assert that Yamashita invents an unconventional telling of the Asian immigrant narrative to embrace its international nature, free it from ethnographic interpretations, and prompt the reader to critically consider the function of the Asian immigrant narrative both inside and outside of a U.S. context.

Savannah Wilson, “Small Lives, Small Worlds: Postcolonial Resistance in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night.  Director: Dr. Elizabeth Outka. 

Abstract: My thesis examines the ways Arundhati Roy and Shani Mootoo construct meaning and significance for lives – human and non-human – considered small by those in power within their novels, The God of Small Things and Cereus Blooms at Night, respectively. In their focus on small lives, Roy and Mootoo portray the devaluing these lives endure, but reveal that humans in the lower tiers of society and nonhuman animal (and, for Mootoo, plant) lives are in reality intrinsically significant and relevant. The authors additionally resist dominant structures through crafting alternatives to the current systems of power. These alternatives include healing accessible to the characters themselves in the form of “microecosystems,” physically small spaces that by changing the physical scales at play for the characters also change the small/large standards that define them societally, as long as they remain within these worlds. Although the shelter the microecosystems offer the characters is only temporary, the novels’ structures and framing, and the works’ status as their own sort of microecosystems, let the authors also imagine for themselves and their readers less fragile alternatives to the current systems of power that shape their characters’ narratives.  

Annual Award Winners

The English Department extends a special congratulations to this year’s award winners:

The Charles T. Norman Award – Savannah Wilson
Presented to the outstanding senior University of Richmond English major, as determined by the English faculty as a whole. 

The Margaret L. Ross Award – Carson Watlington
Presented to the outstanding senior Westhampton College English major, as determined by the English faculty as a whole. 

The Thomas West Gregory Award – Nick Sherod
Presented to the outstanding senior English major who has prepared for a career in teaching. 

The Valerie Kay Hardy English Essay Award – Genevieve Markee and Savannah Wilson (co-winners)
Presented to the English major or minor who has written the best paper in an English course during the most recent academic year.  

The Margaret Owen Finck Award for Creative Writing – Gabby Kiser
Presented to a student who has had outstanding creative work submitted for publication in the University of Richmond’s literary magazine, The Messenger

The Margaret Haley Carpenter Award for Poetry – Bridget Bodley
Presented to a student who has had an outstanding poem submitted for publication in the University of Richmond’s literary magazine, The Messenger.

The Charles T. Norman Award

Commencement Ceremony Remarks by Dr. Elizabeth Outka 

Hello. I’m Elizabeth Outka, and I teach modernism, twentieth-century literature, and the contemporary novel.  I am presenting the Charles T. Norman Award, which goes to the outstanding graduating senior English major at the University of Richmond, as determined by the English faculty as a whole. Mr. Norman was the owner of a clothing store for men and boys in the city, and in 1922 he established awards for the best University graduates in what he deemed were the three most important departments:  Law, Business, and English. 

This year, the Charles T. Norman award goes to Savannah Wilson. 

I have had the pleasure of teaching Savannah in several courses, and each time, I have been struck repeatedly by the following moment:  Savannah listens closely to the class discussion and her demeanor is not a showy or bombastic one; she is not calling attention to herself. And then she raises her hand and boom—she unleashes a flash of insight, pointing out a complexity or an original reading that takes the discussion in a whole new direction—and to a whole new level. 

Other professors note a similar dynamic: Savannah combines her fierce intellect with humility, and she has learned to wield this to productive ends. As one professor observes, [quote] “one aspect of her remarkable intellectual skills is her capacity to identify what she doesn’t understand (yet) about a text, and to focus her energies on that. This takes a kind of intellectual humility that she manifested in class by often asking very productive questions rather than rehearsing what she already knew.” “She’s humble,” remarked another, “But make no mistake: she has a formidable intellect,” noting that her “dazzling essay on ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener’ was easily the best student essay on the work that I’ve read since I began teaching this course 13 years ago.” Another professor speaks of her remarkable ability not just for hard work, but for being able to get something wrong, and then regroup and meet it head-on. 

I have seen all these traits at work this year, when I have had the pleasure of directing her honors thesis in English. In this project, she brings together ecocritical theory and postcolonial studies to investigate two novels: Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night.  The project’s significance lies in the innovative ways she unites a set of discussions surrounding the environment—the threats it faces, its exploitation—together with work on the damaging power structures set in place by colonial occupations and their aftermath. Savannah analyzes the particular ways a novel might allow a reimagined set of structures and power dynamics—how a novel might become a new theory, as it were, constructing new models for considering both the environment and the colonial aftermath. She carefully navigates her analysis of the stark inequalities depicted within the novels and the strategies of both authors and characters to rethink these, without ever losing sight of either end of this equation.  Savannah’s mind moves through the texts like a dexterous and paradoxical bulldozer—not clearcutting or destroying by any means—but missing no details and nimbly covering the full landscape, leaving behind new forests of inquiry and a garden of ideas. 

Savannah, for your fierce intellect, for the clarity and grace of your writing, and for your determination to confront what you do not know and seek to know it, the department is proud to award you the Charles T. Norman Award.  We cannot wait to see what you do next. 

The Margaret L. Ross Award

Commencement Ceremony Remarks by Dr. Monika Siebert 

Margaret L. Ross was a poet and a professor of English at Westhampton College for Women from 1926 to 1965, retiring just a decade before Westhampton and Richmond Colleges merged to become the University of Richmond.  She served as chair of the Westhampton English Department, where she taught literature and creative writing, and coached the debate team. 

In her memory, the Margaret L. Ross Award is presented each year to the outstanding graduating senior English Major from Westhampton College, a distinction determined by the English faculty as a whole. 

It is my great pleasure to present the 2020 Margaret L. Ross Award to Carson Watlington. 

Carson embodies the qualities celebrated via the Ross Award to the fullest extent. She is an extraordinary student, gifted with an open mind and exceptional analytical and creative talents. Always an original thinker, Carson gives expression to her ideas in persuasive, elegant, and beautiful ways in variety of media. Whether in her academic essays, her online literary magazine, her poetry translations, her visual arts projects, or her conversations with fellow students and with faculty, Carson reflects on literature, art, public discourse, and lived experience with sharp intelligence and deep insight about the complicated global, national, ethnic, and racial histories that have led us to the present moment; and she does so with profound appreciation for our humanity shared across these histories and manifest in culture and in ordinary life. Many of us have witnessed Carson at work and have been impressed, in the words of my colleague dr. Brian Henry, by her ability to perform as both a scholar and an artist, at the highest levels in different areas that require different skills and ways of thinking. 

Carson’s thesis in English, for which she has earned the highest honors is an excellent example, in this regard, one of many. Titled “Through the Arc of the Rain Forest: Restoring and Reclaiming the Asian in Asian Immigrant Narrative,” Carson’s thesis investigates how a Japanese-American writer Karen Tei Yamashita’s treatment of Asian migration as a global phenomenon, in her 1990 debut novel, impacted Asian American literature and Asian American Studies, a genre of literature and area of study in the U.S. that examines ethnic minorities as isolated pockets within the larger fabric of American society and culture. Carson’s meticulously researched and utterly persuasive argument reveals Yamashita, who until recently has been an understudied and underappreciated writer, as foundational to the Asian American literature and to Asian American studies that have emerged in the twenty first century, and their global perspective in particular. Carson’s work thus not only enriches the canon of Asian American literature by an important writer but also offers a new scholarly account of the development of this tradition, extending the genealogy of the thematic and formal preoccupations of the 21st century writers to a much earlier predecessor. 

Written in a clear and elegant prose, Carson’s argument unfolds in a very effectively designed sequence and deploys in an exemplary manner all the fundamental elements and strategies of literary historical analysis. From meticulous close readings of textual details that render provocative yet utterly convincing interpretations (and betray an eye of a visual artist at work) to a deft deployment of historical context, as well as meaningful engagement with existing scholarship, Carson’s essay is an aspirational model for all humanities majors. The timeliness of her project, as it prompts us to reconsider how as a society we have been representing Asian migratory history and experience at a moment of increased virulent anti-Asian and anti- Asian American prejudice, makes it a model for public facing, engaged humanities. 

To give you all a brief taste of this excellent work, let me conclude with the final sentences of Carson’s thesis, a plea of sorts, we are all well advised to consider. Carson writes:  

Through the Arc of the Rain Forest and its representation of the Asian immigrant narrative carries an urgent message worth sharing with any and all who will listen. As a text that questions the role of trait based stereotypes, designs voices that rebuff ethnographic readings, reaffirms and normalizes Asian immigrants’ international roots, and acknowledges the agency that fueled their choice to assent to a new nationality, Yamashita’s debut novel does convey a critical message that is just as meaningful now as a reminder of shared humanity for the U.S. American population, as it was in the 1990s.  when it acted as a pivotal work for Asian American literature.  

Carson, we are proud of your work, grateful for your time with us, and we look forward to following your scholarly and artistic achievements in the future, near and far. Congratulations!

The Thomas West Gregory Award

Commencement Ceremony Remarks by Dr. Kevin Pelletier 

The Thomas West Gregory Award is named for a faculty member who, for many years, advised students seeking certification to teach English and is presented to the senior whom the English faculty judge to be the best English major preparing to teach. 

This year’s winner of the Gregory Award is Nick Sherod. 

This fall, Nick plans to return to U of R to complete a Masters of Teaching degree. He also has one more year of eligibility to play basketball, and in the fall of 2021, he will start teaching English at his former high school – St. Christopher’s – right here in Richmond. 

I have gotten to know Nick over 4 different classes and I hold him in the highest regard, both in terms of his abilities as a thinker and his qualities as a person.  

My colleague, Dr. Libby Gruner, recently expressed similar sentiments: 

This spring, Nick was a student in her Victorian Literature course. For his final essay, Nick chose to write on an obscure novel--The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands—as a way to explore the relationship between the mixed-race status of the Jamaican protagonist and her desire to be seen as a British subject. 

In Dr. Gruner’s words: “Nick took the hard way. In other words—rather than focusing on Great Expectations or Jane Eyre, well-known texts for which he could have found many resources, he explored something relatively under-explored, and experienced the challenge of discovery. It was a pleasure to witness that discovery, and I look forward to seeing what his future holds.” 

Dr. Laura Browder, another colleague, worked with Nick on an independent student reading South African protest literature. Dr. Browder says of that experience: “Every week I looked forward to our rich and far-roaming discussions, and to the insights that Nick invariably brought to the work. Working with Nick was one of the great highlights of the semester for me.” 

What makes Nick such an endearing student is that despite his abundant gifts, he is humble, empathetic, and demonstrates a deep commitment to the public good. It seems to me that now more than ever, we are in desperate need of these qualities in our leaders and fellow citizens, and I am convinced that Nick will model for his students precisely these virtues. 

One example in particular illustrates this point. Following a basketball game earlier this year, a reporter asked several players about a recent incident in which racist graffiti was discovered in several student dorms. Nick did not hesitate to reply to the reporter’s question, explaining that the university’s response to racist graffiti and its capacity to protect students of color at UR was far more important than the outcome of a basketball game. If you haven’t yet seen this exchange between Nick and the reporter, I strongly encourage you to find it on YouTube. 

My colleague, Dr. Nathan Snaza, recently expressed why Nick’s remarks were so important: 

“Nick’s response to a question by a sports reporter about racist incidents on campus propelled that story in the media, and forced a . . . fairly serious set of conversations that were taken seriously by people who don’t always engage with, or frankly even notice, such things. To my mind, it was the event of the year on campus, and I’d like to think that Nick’s ability to say something important, under a lot of pressure, with grace, also speaks to what we might hope for in our majors.” 

My colleagues and I could not agree more. 

Please join me in congratulating this year’s Gregory Award winner, Nick Sherod.

The Valerie Kay Hardy English Essay Award: Savannah Wilson

"Acting Out Meaning: Role-Playing, Agency, and Meaning Production in Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" by Savannah Wilson

Commencement Ceremony Remarks by Dr. Anthony Russell 

Hello, my name is Anthony Russell, and I teach Comparative Literature, specializing in the Early Modern period. 

The Valerie Kay Hardy English Essay Award was endowed by Valerie’s classmates and parents in her memory in 2001.  Valerie was a magna cum laude graduate who won both the Margaret L. Ross Award and our then unnamed essay prize. Valerie went on to receive a master’s degree with distinction from Georgetown University. The winner of the prize is chosen each year by a panel of English Department faculty, and all essays written for English Department classes are eligible. 

This year, the committee received an unprecedented number of qualified nominations, a testament to the high quality of our students’ work.  In the end, the committee members decided to share the award between two equally excellent candidates.  

I will introduce the first of these winners, which is the research paper Savannah Wilson wrote for a Junior/Senior seminar on “Shakespeare, culture, and adaptation.”  The paper is entitled “Acting Out Meaning: Role-Playing, Agency, and Meaning Production in Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”  It is, in my at this point fairly extensive experience, one of the most memorable papers I have had the privilege of reading, both for the scope of its ambition and its sheer will to realize that ambition.  The paper provides a reading of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead in relation to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Stoppard’s play, written in the 60’s, focuses on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who appear as two minor characters in Shakespeare’s play.  Without quite knowing how or why, these two find themselves stuck in Hamlet, fated to play their minor roles in a story that- without their knowing- will lead to their deaths.  I offer this brief summary simply to give you a sense of the complex levels of reality that Stoppard’s play confronts us with: Are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern real characters playing the role of actors, or actors playing the role of real characters, or actors playing real characters playing actors?  Is the play in which they find themselves a fiction or a reality for them?  And if they are stuck in a fiction, what kind of freedom do they have?  And are they really dead, if they are fated to relive in Shakespeare’s play for centuries to come?  In a kind of preview of movies like the Matrix, Stoppard’s play toys with various levels of  reality while asking serious questions about identity, free will, and how we create meaning.  

Savannah’s paper, with almost heroic abandon, not only thoughtfully and incisively confronts most of these difficult questions, but it does so in the context of also wrestling with Stoppard’s even more challengingly enigmatic predecessor, Hamlet.  By tracing a series of structural and thematic parallels between Shakespeare’s and Stoppard’s plays that, as far as I can tell, have not been noticed before, Savannah offers us not only a truly original reading of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, but also some novel insights into role-playing, narrative, and fate in Hamlet.  Acting a role, she argues, holds out the possibility of creating meaning in both plays, but in both plays this possibility also conflicts with our capacity for agency or “real” identity.  Stoppard’s work, according to Savannah, develops the questions raised in Hamlet in order to make us think further about how we create meaning for ourselves in the face of mortality.  It is a complex argument, but suffice it to say that in 17 rigorously and eloquently argued pages that demonstrate a remarkable critical sophistication, Savannah made her way through conceptual, logical, and theoretical thickets that would unnerve many more experienced readers!   

Most originally, perhaps, rather than succumbing to the nihilistic temptations embedded in both of these plays, Savannah leaves us with a moving vision of the extent to which we as readers or spectators are always fated, in a sense, to seek and to find meaning, whatever the destinies may be of the fictional characters we are invested in. 

This may seem a bit odd, but as I was trying to think of ways to describe Savannah’s essay, what came to me was the image of Jacob wrestling with the angel from Genesis.  In that uncanny episode, Jacob find himself wrestling through the night with a mysterious being.  We never find out exactly who this entity was (an angel, God?) but Jacob refuses to let go until  he is blessed.     Engaging with great works of art is a bit like this… We always get something back from a sustained and often demanding encounter with them, but at some level they also retain their mystery.  I don’t know how many nights Savannah spent on this paper, but I have rarely witnessed an essay that wrestles with such intelligence and determination with texts as challenging as Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.  She produced something very compelling out of that encounter, while also leaving us with a sense that they (and she) have much more to say!  

Thank you, Savannah, for offering such a wonderful example of the kind of work our students in English are able to produce, and we wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.      

The Valerie Kay Hardy English Essay Award: Genevieve Markee

"Allusion-Disruption-Reclamation in the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Genuine Negro Jig" by Genevieve Markee

Commencement Ceremony Remarks by Dr. Bertram D. Ashe 

When I pass out the assignment for Paper Two, the “big” paper in my classes, I have four recommendations that I always include, and I always read them aloud. The fourth recommendation sounds like this:

Don't look at the camera: Don't spend your time trying to guess what I'll like. I'll tell you now and save you the trouble: I enjoy reading thoughtful, interesting papers that have engaging, original theses that are supported with compelling points and ideas. I appreciate reading papers that teach me something I didn’t already know. It's that simple. Concentrate on doing that instead of trying to guess what I might specifically want. Focus on the paper. Concentrate on depth. If your thesis fascinates you and makes you want to write the paper, chances are it'll fascinate me as well.

I’ve read that italicized line, “Don’t look at the camera,” countless times, over the years, as a way of acknowledging that, much like subjects in a documentary, the camera—me—is there, and will, of course, be “recording” what happens, but that the best results would emerge when a writer has a dance-like-no-one’s-watching approach. Genevieve Markee’s paper for Slavery and the Post-Black Imagination, “Allusion-Disruption-Reclamation in the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Genuine Negro Jig,” is certainly a paper that had the “best results emerge.” 

Her paper is an excellent example of the language of the camera I used in my paper assignment because her paper demonstrates that much of writing a good paper involves sight. One needs a vision—and, yes, one needs revision, of course—in order to conceive of a paper that will, as I requested, “teach me something I didn’t already know,” and Genevieve’s paper accomplished such a vision. What I’m asking, I suppose, is for a writer to locate and see things in the text that I can’t see—since I can’t see the text through anyone else’s eyes but my own, which is, I suppose, the whole reason critical papers are written about texts: to allow a writer’s vision to be seen by others. But what Genevieve did with her paper was to move beyond mere sight—to arrive at insight. She used graceful and witty prose and an organizational structure and approach that really worked to her advantage: She employed five titled sections in her paper. In between sections titled “Introduction” and “Conclusion,” she focused sections on each Chocolate Drop, and while that approach carried with it the danger of feeling like three different papers bookended by introductory and conclusionary sections, the sections of the paper, to the contrary, felt like complimentary components toward a seamless and cohesive whole, all the while providing a platform for engaging observations. Additionally, Genevieve’s decision to highlight a single song—for each single Drop—in each section allowed her to delve far more deeply into the Carolina Chocolate Drop’s post-black leanings than if she had attempted to range widely. That demonstrated excellent compositional instincts, as well. 

Perhaps most impressive, though, was how Genevieve uncovered these compelling observations about an extraordinarily uncomfortable music band—a black band that loves and therefore plays fiddles and banjos and kazoos as they perform music that I like to call “the soundtrack of slavery”—and, furthermore, their music was often made popular and performed during the era of blackface minstrelsy. Of course, the Carolina Chocolate Drops are only uncomfortable if you attempt to figure out what it all means—musically, culturally, historically, performatively—and then try and write it down in a 10-12 page paper. Part of my admiration for this paper comes from the courage it took—twenty years deep into the 21st century—for a white student to talk deeply and candidly about race—without fear or trepidation. (Well, I actually can’t say for certain that there was no fear or trepidation. All I can say is that none of it showed up on the page—which is what matters most!) 

I came to the University of Richmond in 2004, sixteen years ago; since I’ve been here, I have nominated exactly ONE paper for the Hardy Award, which gives you a sense of how impressed I was with Genevieve’s paper. But in a very significant way, her paper is representative of all the papers you’ve each written in pursuit of this degree. I’ve always said—and I deeply believe—that a good, strong humanities education is like having a superpower in the American workplace; you’ve each been trained to think beyond the norm, to see around corners—and that’s a way of thinking you can’t unlearn; you’ll benefit from it even when you’re unaware you’re benefiting from it. Genevieve Markee’s Hardy Award-winning paper, “Allusion-Disruption-Reclamation in the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Genuine Negro Jig” is an example of that focus, that vision, that sight—that insight—that all of you possess, as English graduates of the University of Richmond. Congratulations Genevieve—although I think we’ll ask you to stick around for another year—, and to the extraordinary and tenacious Class of 2020: for all of you major and minors who’ve learned to consider, learned to think, and learned to write thoughtfully and well in this major, I am proud and happy to offer congratulations on your achievement. Good luck to you all.

Sincerely,

Bertram D. Ashe, Ph.D.
Professor of English and American Studies
University of Richmond

Sigma Tau Delta, English Honor Society

2020 Graduates 

Thanks for your many contributions fostering a sense of community among literature students, faculty, and staff.  Our classrooms—and bagel brunches—will not be the same without you! 

  • Emilie Erbland
  • Sydney Collins
  • Anthony Isenhour
  • Griffin Meyers
  • Valerie Szalanczy
Graduate Reflections

Anthony Isenhour: One class that drastically shaped my entire college career was taking Queer Literatures with Dr. Singh my first semester at Richmond. I truly think that had I not taken that class, I would not have majored in English. The course opened my mind, and taught me a lot about college and the world. But one moment stands out. It was just before class registration, and Dr. Singh handed back our first papers--my first college English paper ever! I had come into class and told my friend my exact plan for the classes I wanted to take the next semester. But in reading over Dr. Singh's comments on that paper, one comment demolished my entire course plan, something along the lines of "I think you should consider an English major or minor." I had another class after Queer Lit, and I spent the entire time ignoring the lecture and arguing with myself if I should continue on towards an English major (and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies minor). Clearly, I did choose to do so. I'm just so thankful for the moment that helped me convince myself to major in English because it truly has been a joy. 

Jocelyn Grzeszczak: If I had to pick my two favorite texts from my time as an English major at UR, they would be “David’s Ankles” by Sam Anderson and To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.  “David’s Ankles” is an award-winning New York Times Magazine piece, which I first read during a course on the lyric essay with Dr. Ashe in the fall of my first year. It is a beautiful piece about imperfection, and it inspired my senior thesis on the lyric essay. I read To the Lighthouse this past semester during my senior seminar with Dr. Outka, and Woolf’s meditations on many facets of humanity helped me deal with a lot of questions that came up in my personal life throughout this past year.  

Sydney Collins: During every session of English Literature of the Romantic Movement, I felt my passion for literature being reinvigorated. The professor managed to transport the entire class into a time of sublime spirituality, curiosity, and mindfulness. I was drawn to this time period’s literature because it constantly questioned the nature of existence and urged readers to rethink the relationship between mentality and humanity. I remember the day we discussed Percy Shelley’s “Prometheus Unbound.” I was fully immersed in the beautiful lyrical drama and struck by one notion that the professor pointed out: all we have to fear is who we become, not what we suffer. That lesson has been ingrained in me throughout my intellectual journey in college, reminding me why I work so hard to become the best version of myself. That piece will forever remain with me as I leave the comfort of the English department and move on to face new challenges.                              

Spring 2020 Messenger

View the Spring 2020 Messenger.

The objective of The Messenger is to encourage the appreciation and exploration of the creative arts on the University of Richmond campus. Since 1876, The Messenger has celebrated student work by publishing submissions in a literary and visual arts magazine. More information on the magazine, as well as past
publications since 1987, can be found on messengerur.wordpress.com.