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Department of English


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SU English Department News

Introducing an SU English Department Newsletter

Dear Syracuse University English Department Community,

This is the first newsletter for the Department of English at SU, and it is the result of the newly launched English Undergraduate Student Ambassador program. This offers experience credit to students who act as representatives of our English programs to the broader campus community and to incoming and prospective students and their families. These student ambassadors have gathered and written department news and ideas to offer to you in the form of this newsletter. We will publish this once per semester, and we hope to build the content and interactivity as the program develops. Please enjoy!


English Chair’s Note

As chair of the department, I want to join Assistant Teaching Professor and English Studies Coordinator Katherine Kidd in welcoming you to the Syracuse University Department of English’s inaugural edition of its online newsletter. I’m excited about this project as a way to stay in better touch with our amazing alumni, as well as all our current students.  As department chair, I am in my second year of helping the Department of English navigate its way through the strange, expansive, and apparently unending waters of the Covid pandemic. The slow-motion Covid crisis interrupted the unresolved #NotAgainSU protests and demands around the long-standing problems of safety, equity, inclusion, and belonging at the University that are so resonant with what we do in English. On the other hand, the hardship of the pandemic has been offset by the excitement of welcoming five new faculty members in the last two years, each of whom has added significantly to the department’s richness and diversity—Tony Tiongson and Mona Awad who joined us in Fall 2020, and Chanelle Benz, Delali Kumavie, and Ethan Madarieta, who joined the department in Fall 2021. These faculty members’ voices and the new courses that they offer are already transforming our department in meaningful ways, helping us rethink our own language and categories of analysis.

One of my goals as department chair is to increase the sense of community in the department for undergraduate students, graduate students, staff, and faculty. We started the year with a welcome back picnic, held a banned book reading on the quad, and hosted our first annual departmental holiday party. We said goodbye to Amber Gilmore, our Undergraduate Coordinator, in December. She is already missed. We do hope, however, to welcome her replacement soon.

All our faculty continue to work tirelessly to support their students, create dynamic, engaging, and challenging classes, and to pursue their own research. Indeed, this year two of our faculty are on year-long leaves to participate in prestigious fellowship programs—Professor Stephanie Shirilan is a fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Studies in Jerusalem and Professor Scott Stevens is a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University. Professor Stevens has also just won a $1.5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to establish and direct a Center for Global Indigenous Cultures and Environmental Justice here at Syracuse University.

 -Professor Coran Klaver

A New English Undergraduate Major: Creative Writing

At the start of the Fall 2021 semester, the undergraduate Creative Writing program was officially established, to the excitement of the English faculty, many of whom worked behind the scenes to create its framework. At the head of the operation was Professor Sarah Harwell, now the Associate Director of Creative Writing.

When asked about why the undergraduate Creative Writing program was established, Professor Harwell explained that previously, students didn’t know that there was a Creative Writing track within the English and Textual Studies major.

“We weren’t able to make ourselves known in the university,” she said. “There were people coming to my office and going ‘why didn’t I know about this?’”

Professor Harwell also noted that people assumed that the Creative Writing track was in the Writing and Rhetoric department, rather than English.

“There is a little bit of overlap, but really [the Writing Department is] focused on nonfiction. They are focused on essays, research papers, and the discipline of rhetoric– how do we best convince somebody about our argument,” Professor Harwell said. “Whereas with poetry and fiction, you are really trying to make sure what you are creating is real. We are not really tied to the argument in the same way that rhetoric is… from my understanding. We are living in the realm of the imagination. We make things up and they still need to feel true.”

Now that the program is established, students can declare a Creative Writing major or minor in the English department, distinct from the English and Textual Studies programs. “It is easier to fit [Creative Writing] in as a major or have the option to double major or minor,” Professor Harwell said.

The new Creative Writing major requires students to take 30 credit hours; the Creative Writing minor requires 18 credit hours. The program requires all students to study two of three genres in the program: fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. There are lower and upper-leveled courses for each of the three genres, allowing students to explore and develop their skills. Several new Creative Writing courses now expand the catalog of Creative Writing courses students can take. Some of these new courses include ENG 300 (Topics in Creative Writing), ENG 216 (Introductory Literary Nonfiction Workshop), and ENG 402 (Advanced Writing Workshop: Nonfiction)[1].

Before the creation of ENG 105 (Introduction to Creative Writing), the second-year SU M.F.A. students taught for the Writing department. With the creation of more Creative Writing classes, third-year M.F.A. students have the opportunity to teach creative writing and interact with students who share the same passion and interest in creative writing. One such graduate writer is Jonah Evans, who will be teaching ENG 216 (Introductory Literary Nonfiction Workshop) in the spring. This opportunity would have never happened before the establishment of the undergraduate Creative Writing program.

The course catalog expansion has also affected the English department faculty. Professor Matthew Grzecki, has noticed the differences that have emerged over the years. “It was a long time coming [compared to a lot of other universities],” he admits. “When [Creative Writing] became a major and minor, people were excited. We could definitely tell that it was positive, and a lot of people were hoping for that.”

When asked about what his hopes and expectations are for the future, Professor Grzecki said, “Creative writing is so expansive. There’s a lot of potential [about what we can do in-class]. [We] can experiment with different possibilities.”

For Claire Chicchi, a soon-to-be graduating senior dual-majoring in Newhouse and the College of Arts & Sciences, the Creative Writing major was a great supplement to her journalism major in Newhouse. “Creative Writing is different from journalism,” she said. “I wanted to supplement [my journalism major] with something more creative,” Claire admitted.

After she took her first English class, she took more specifically creative writing workshops. She declared an English and Textual Studies major in the English Department last year. Once the Creative Writing program was established, she switched her English major from English & Textual Studies to Creative Writing.

When asked about what her favorite thing about the Creative Writing program is, Claire immediately mentioned the English department faculty. “The Creative Writing professors are really knowledgeable and passionate,” she said. “They are writers themselves, so they are really nice, open, and willing to talk with you.”

Since the establishment of the Creative Writing program, several students have officially joined the Creative Writing program. As of the writing of this article, there are 17 Creative Writing majors and 9 minors. Although the number might seem small, the program is growing rapidly, and the English department expects that the number will continue to increase as the news of the program gets around campus. On behalf of the English department, we look forward to welcoming more students who will join the Creative Writing program and seeing the program flourish!

Ivy Lin, Creative Writing and History B.A., ’23


New English Faculty (New Courses, Too!)

Headshot of Mona Awad

Meet Creative Writing Professor Mona Awad

Professor Awad is an award-winning novelist who joined us virtually just last year. She will be teaching ENG 300: The Art of the Fairy Tale this spring of 2022. Students will examine themes such as power and resonance in mediums such as films, illustrations, and novels. Students will also explore their creativity while crafting their own fairytales. Readings and screenings include: Classic Fairy Tales (ed. Maria Tatar), which includes fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Perrault, The Shape of Water  (2017), Snow White and the Seven Dwarves  (1937), among many others. 

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Meet Creative Writing Professor Chanelle Benz

Professor Chanelle Benz and her family have just moved to Syracuse from Memphis. She will be teaching two graduate level courses, ENG 650: Counternarratives: Race, History, & Silence and ENG 617: Open Fiction Workshop in Spring of 2022. ENG 650 will use Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments and John Keene’s Counternarratives as primary texts to learn from the perspective of historically marginalized individuals. ENG 617 will give students a chance to write their own fiction and collaborate with their classmates. Students will strengthen their own voice and narrative through practice and revision. This workshop will give students the tools needed to master the challenge of crafting their own works.

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Meet Professor Delali Kumavie

Professor Kumavie’s focus is on critical race theory, global Black literatures, and science and technology. Her new book, Dreams of Flight: Literary Mapping of Black Geographies Through the Air and Air Travel, examines the intersection of race and transportation. She will be teaching ENG 352: Comparative Race Studies (The Black City) in Spring of 2022. This class aims to expand students’ cultural literacy by questioning how the development and expansion of cities has led to violence toward Black people. Students will use texts to learn how landscape can contribute to oppression.

Ethan Madarieta

Meet Professor Ethan Madarieta

Professor Madarieta’s classes focus on Black, Latinx, and Indigenous literature. They will be teaching ENG: 360: Queer Latina/o/x Literature and ENG 200: Reading to Repair in Spring 2022. ENG 360 explores Madarieta’s interest in the intersection between race and LGBTQ studies. Students will use resources such as short story, novel, poetry, memoir, theatre and performance art, the graphic novel, music, and film to strengthen their understanding of the lived experiences of queer Latina/o/x individuals. The variety of literary forms will allow students to hear from a diverse grouping of people who may have been excluded from traditional conceptions of literature. ENG 200 will emphasize how language can be a constructive force standing in the way of social change. This course will include field trips that allow students to understand how language is used in the world through speech, writing, and action.

Rachel Ferrera, English and Textual Studies and Philosophy B.A., ’22


Returning to In-Person Classes Brought Mixed Emotions

From looking at Zoom screens to looking out the windows of the Hall of Languages, members of the Syracuse University English Department have been enthusiastic about the return to campus this fall. Students and professors shared similar feelings of relief, combined with worries related to COVID-19.

Hannah Gardner, a Secondary Education and English student, took two English classes this semester: one in person and one online. She noted that it was newly challenging to balance time with in-person classes.

Film and Screen Studies Professor Will Scheibel acknowledged that it is not easy to return to the balance of day-to-day activities while adapting to changes. He adjusted by making film screenings virtual this semester.

Nevertheless, “everyone appears to be happy to return to a sense of normalcy and actually see their teachers and classmates in person,” Gardner said. Having in person classes and hanging out with friends gave her that piece of the college experience that was missing from last year.

Professor Scheibel was also glad to be back in the classroom, as long as it was safe to do so. After a year away from campus, he felt a bit disconnected from students. He called this semester a “reboot.”

English Professor Katherine Kidd agreed that she felt relief, as she also missed those in person connections. Although there was some stability, the feeling of normalcy didn’t completely return.

“A lot of classroom communication is non-verbal, however, and masks hide some of the nuance of facial expression,” Professor Kidd said.

Professor Scheibel agrees that teaching virtually is not the same as in person. Masks are important, but it made it a little harder to gauge the students’ responses and probably made it harder for them to read him too, he said.

Professor Kidd also prefers the in-person experience, since sharing a space with students gives her a lot of instructional energy.

Sydney Schroeder, an English and Public Relations student, loves being back in the classroom where she can focus and participate better. It’s the amazing professors and peers who make her excited to have in-person discussions, despite the challenges that came with the adjustment.

“Having everything in a class rely on participation and physical appearance in the room is rough,” Gardner admitted. After testing positive for COVID, she missed several class discussions.

Schroeder also had a few scares causing her to miss some classes. Although, the availability of regular COVID gave her some peace of mind.

The pandemic created some worry for Professor Kidd about her students’ and colleagues’ mental well-being. Similarly for Gardner, social life is a huge part of mental health, so having classes with others was beneficial.

Despite the difficulties, a positive of this semester is that campus is back in full swing, Schroeder said.

“It’s so nice seeing people on campus and having normal classes, fun extracurricular activities, and going back to the Dome for games,” Schroeder said.

Yasmin Nayrouz, English and Textual Studies B.A., ’24


Why Every Screenwriter Should be an English Major

Film and ScreenThere are good screenplays, and then there are screenplays that change lives. A life-changing screenplay is not only well-written and has realistic dialogue and consists of all the dictionary definition attributes of a good screenplay; a life-changing screenplay provides a meticulously written catalyst that turns a story into visual art, crafting the backbone for shots, scenes, and characters that shape the way people view art and the world. Professor Scheibel, a film studies professor in the English program, states that the screenplays should allow for the director and everyone else to visualize the story, elevating the words on the page into images.

“A good screenplay is a screenplay where not everything is in the screenplay,” stated Scheibel. “It’s flexible enough so that directors can adapt it visually.”

In the film studies concentration in Syracuse University’s English program, all classes are taught with the thesis of analyzing what is on screen and using a common vocabulary of film techniques and aesthetics to interpret what is on the screen. In Professor Scheibel’s classes, screenplays are not even read; the classes are focused on film as visual art, not a written medium. However, the focus on visuals over screenplays is exactly why all screenwriters should be English majors. This is because learning how to interpret film and analyzing what makes a film an incredible visual experience gives screenwriters the necessary tools to write screenplays that can be visually adapted.

Through the film and screen studies program at Syracuse, learning how to visualize, analyze, and interpret film is an immediate course requirement. In ENG 154: Interpretation of Film, when taught by Professor Scheibel, mise-en-scene is the first concept discussed and defined in the class. By focusing on what is in the frame rather than what is out of the frame, the subject material teaches necessary film vocabulary so one can identify and interpret every film’s mise-en-scene. As a screenwriter, knowing that vocabulary not only allows one to acknowledge their role in building the roots of the mise-en-scene but also specifically gear their roles towards certain aspects of the film to make a more impactful mise-en-scene. “Some of my favorite screenplays are those who think about the actor,” mentioned Professor Scheibel, “they focus on writing for a specific actor rather than just the story itself. A screenplay shouldn’t be just plot information.” By teaching about mise-en-scene first and the various aspects of mise-en-scene, screenwriters can focus on specific parts of the mise-en-scene to create a compelling narrative, thereby creating screenplays that leave an impact on the viewer.

Many grad students at Syracuse University are becoming better screenwriters because of the English program’s film studies courses. A lot of grad students, while also getting their masters in English, write screenplays and create their own films. “They are creatives, but they are critical thinkers first,” stated Scheibel when discussing the grad students in the English program. “They are very cine-savvy.” By learning how to critically think about film before producing and writing their own films, students in the film and screen studies department, specifically grad students, develop the same knowledge and understanding of film that greats like Spike Lee have developed. When one has that knowledge, they are able to write better films because they know the art form in and out. In some of Scheibel’s graduate courses, the final is to show a screenplay or another creative film venture the students have been working on. Those creative ventures are the product of film literacy, which is taught through the English program.

Screenwriters should be English majors not to gain a mastery of the English language so they can write scripts, but to gain a mastery of visual language so they can write scripts. The English program at Syracuse University fosters a path of deep-dive analysis, and when one concludes their studies, they have the film knowledge and interpretation skills paralleled with the greats of the film industry. So if you’re an aspiring screenwriter, become an English major, not so you can become a screenwriter, but so you can become a master of film.

Sam Baylow, English and Textual Studies (Film and Screen Studies), and Radio, Television, and Film B.A., ’24

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