The Literary Way

a newsletter for Xavier University of Louisiana's English majors, minors, and honors students

November 2011

English Club News

by Joi Martin, English Club President

English Club of Fall 2011 is continuing the momentum set in place from the previous years. As Xavierites, we pride ourselves on volunteering our services on-campus and within the community. Currently, the club is pursuing a number of community service activities such as a food drive for a battered women's shelter in New Orleans, reading story books to the children at a local library, and the "Books to Africa" program in which we work in conjunction with the History Club. Within the club, we also practice achieving academic success. Dr. Biljana Obradovic conducted a session on properly constructing rèsumès and Curriculum Vitae (CV), both vital components for all students seeking employment and furthering education. In the near future, the club plans to host a mock conference and create a board of panelists to discuss scholarly works of fellow Xavier students. The English Club has many events planned in an effort to better ourselves and the lives of those we come in contact with on a day-to-day basis. To be involved in such a tremendous growth process, feel free to join us at the meetings or English-related events. Our hearts and doors are open to students of all majors. Do not hesitate to contact the department about information, club meetings, and upcoming events. Hope to see you soon!

Joi Martin
Joi Martin

Where Are They Now?:
An English Graduate Update

by Dr. David Lanoue

Youshea Berry graduated from Xavier University in 1998 with a degree in English. She went on to finish law school at Emory University.

From law school, Youshea earned a Congressional Fellowship through the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and moved to Washington DC to work in the Office of Congressman Rangel. She then went on to open her own law firm in downtown Washington DC. She returned to government service four years later and served as the Legislative Counsel for Senator Mary Landrieu where she handled international law, foreign policy, global women's rights, child welfare issues and federal appropriations.

More recently, she was appointed by President Obama to the Bureau of Legislative and Public Affairs at the US Agency for International Development (USAID). She serves as a Congressional Liaison between high level Agency officials and Members of Congress to voice the Administration's policy priorities related to foreign assistance/appropriations.

What this former Xavier English major is most proud of, she says, "is being the mother of two little girls Sienna Joy Rollins (1 yr old) and Coreah Lyn Rollins (4 years old) and the happy wife of Steve Rollins. Coreah is attending a language immersion school and speaks Chinese. Sienna is learning to walk and speaks some unintelligible language. Unfortunately, we do not understand either of them but they seem to understand and get along with each other just fine."

Joi Martin
Youshea Berry, English Major, XU Class of '98

Creative Writing at XU

by Mark Whitaker, Creative Writing Director

Xavier University was the first HBCU to offer a creative writing minor, which offers instruction in fiction, poetry, and screenwriting. The minor features small seminar- and workshop-style classes where students focus on their own writings. Xavier students' works are judged in an annual competition that provides financial awards to four writers. Award winners are chosen on the merit of manuscripts by a judge who is a professional creative writer and who has no affiliation with Xavier University. The Truman Capote Literary Trust has been the program's major benefactor for over a decade, providing two annual scholarships, currently $7,500 apiece, to continuing students. The National Association of University Women funds two $1000 awards. While most minors continue their education in graduate programs in their major fields, some of our minors choose to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. In the past our graduates have done so at a variety of universities, including Pitt, Southern California, Sarah Lawrence, and Hollins. Past visiting and affiliated writers include Toi Derricote, Percival Everette, Lucille Clifton, Terrance Hayes, and Major Jackson.

Danger 1972

Inspired by "Danger" by Erykah Badu

by Kamaria Beamon

The brotha's got this complex occupation...

The business of Self-Defense
Was a grueling business
Filled with late nights
And long days
And little pay
Other than the smile
of a Black child
With a full stomach.
The hearty laugh
Of a Black Man
Discussing the advancement of his people
Finally feeling in control
Of his own destiny.

Me and this baby gon' be here all night long...

But the most underpaid employee
Worked from home most of the time.
Making breakfast for the neighborhood kids.
and keeping books
and making signs.
And waiting.
The world found them so threatening
With their swollen afros
And rosy lips
And stiff black jackets.
Standing by their men.
The dark ones.
The angry ones with
Ammunition strapped
To their chests.
But after all that,
They maintained their homes.
And raised children
With sometime fathers.
Reassuring those children
And themselves.
That the cause was not more important than them.

I'm at the front door. I'm listening by the phone

She tried to pretend
That the nights alone,
The nervous anticipation,
The threatening phone calls
Were all worth it.
That she was perfectly content in being paid in
Gentle caresses
And slow kisses
And "Queen, I love yous"
She tried to pretend that the business of Self-
Didn't leave her defenseless.


Kamaria Beamon is a sophomore English major and the recipient of the Truman Capote Creative Writing Scholarship.

Images of African Americans in Science Fiction

by Dr. David Lanoue, Professor of English

On Tuesday, November 1st, Dr. Bonnie Noonan of the English Department gave a presentation as part of the long-running interdisciplinary University Faculty Colloquium series at Xavier. Her interesting and eye-opening talk explored images of African Americans in science fiction movies from the 1950s through the early 1970s. Dr. Noonan based her lecture partly on information gathered for her book, Women Scientists in Fifties Science Fiction Films (2005), and partly from more recent research. She spiced up this well-attended event by having people from the audience read lines from various movies to illustrate her points. Academy Award-deserving readers included Mr. James Shade (English), Dr. Elliot Hammer (Psychology), Ms. Cocoa Williams (English), Ms. Pamela Franco (Administration), Mr. Jeremy Tuman (English), Dr. Oliver Hennessey (English), Mr. Ralph Adamo (English), Dr. Ronald Dorris (English), Dr. Robin Vander (English), and Yours Truly.

Here are some of the highlights of her talk:

I can still remember the first time I saw a movie called This Island Earth. When the title came up on the screen, it was accompanied by an overview of earth as seen from space. I immediately anticipated that I would be taken on an interstellar ride where the impossible would become possible, where I could, for an hour or two, escape the social confines of gender and class I sensed even then were closing around me.

In order to facilitate the suspension of disbelief that science fiction films require, actors had to play their scenes very realistically. Consequently black actors were allowed to act with dignity, not with the stereotypical monkeyshines many had been forced to adopt.

Science fiction films push limits, impressing upon audiences possibilities beyond contemporary mores. However, a science fiction film, extrapolating as it must from reality in order to be science fiction, can only push limits so far without becoming fantasy (or worse, commercially unviable). Science fiction films can show us both what we aspire to and what we must yet struggle for (or against). Applying ideological readings of race can only enhance our appreciation of these often overlooked films.

Dr. Bonnie Noonan

Dr. Bonnie Noonan, Associate Professor of English and Director of Composition.

Undergraduate Research

by Mr. Ralph Adamo, Assistant Professor of English

English majors have had opportunities in recent years to work directly with professors and other students on professional-caliber research projects, some of which have led to publication or performance, and all of which add to the students' training in scholarship and collaborative research. The umbrella organization sponsoring these opportunities is the Center for Undergraduate Research (CUR), and students selected to work also typically earn $10 per hour, up to $1,500 per project, for their efforts.

One such grant under Dr. Biljana Obradovic's direction, in collaboration with art professor MaPo Kinnord Payton and two students—Jameel Paulin and Winston Boyd—examined Ekphrasis, an ancient and complex undertaking in which a work in one art form is seen, even dramatized in the terms of another art form. One possible outcome of that project is the creation of an interdisciplinary Ekphrasitic class at Xavier. Another, under Dr. Nicole Greene, working with English major Shenitria Lewis, continues the work begun under her previous CUR grant—a comparison of two editions of Edith Somerville and Martin Ross’s first novel, An Irish Cousin. The research uncovered significant variations in style, structure, and the representation of the native Irish. Dr. Greene notes that this project also contributes to the internationalizing of our curriculum. Dr. Robin Vander's current CUR project, following a popular earlier one that had students imagine and perform post-Katrina citizenship in New Orleans, involves examining the spaces in which we live and how we in New Orleans have imagined and understood our relation to such space. Dr. Vander is conducting this research with the collaboration of an English major, Winston Boyd, who is photographing examples of space used and imagined in the city. I also did a Katrina-related study, one examining perceptions about the changes in public education, working with English major Christina Bryant. My more recent project engaged three majors—Kamaria Beamon, Veronique Dorsey and Kristine Mbadugha—in a study of three recently deceased New Orleans poets, examining ways in which their work bore similarities based on their contemporaneous place and time. Ideally, some of that research will inform a special section of an upcoming Xavier Review.

Shenitria and Dr. Greene
Dr. Nicole Greene and Shenitria Lewis

Sigma Tau Delta: The English Honors Society

by Dr. Robin Vander, Assistant Professor of English

Xavier University's English Department is proud to sponsor Alpha Beta Eta, an active chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the international English Honors Society. This November, we are inducting fourteen new members. Our membership is not only represented by English Department majors but also from various departments including Accounting, Philosophy, Speech Pathology, Political Science, and Mass Communication to name a few.

The 2011-2012 academic year marks the chapter's twentieth anniversary of its founding at Xavier University. During the international convention to be held in New Orleans February 29th through March 3rd, the chapter will be presented with a special plaque at an awards ceremony.

The requirements for Sigma Tau Delta include an overall GPA of at least 3.0, an English GPA of at least 3.0, and active participation in the local chapter's meetings, fund-raising efforts, and community outreach initiatives. There are also opportunities to travel to national meetings and to have work published in Sigma Tau Delta's two national magazines, The Sigma Tau Delta Review (Journal of Creative Writing) and the Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle (Journal of Critical Writing).

On Monday, November 28th, the induction ceremony for new members was held. The new inductees are Monique Diedonne, Veronique Dorsey, Kaitlyn Gaddis, Megan Haynes, Akia Jackson, Jessica E. Johnson, Corneisha McCorkle, Melanie Moore, Nikita Peters, Valencia Potter, Kelsey Riley, Jasmine Smith, Brittany Williams and Mychelle Williams. Continuing members include Andria Buckner, Kristine Mbadugha and Kimbery Young.

If you are interested in finding out more about Sigma Tau Delta, please contact Dr. Robin G. Vander, Faculty Advisor (rvander@xula.edu).

Claude McKay's Lifelong Pursuit of a Universal Truth

by Dr. David Lanoue, Professor of English

Ms. Cocoa M. Williams, English Lecturer, presented a talk on October 27th as part of the Xavier Humanities Scholarship Forum: "'Chanting of All Things': Claude McKay's Lifelong Pursuit of a Universal Truth." A week later, she gave the same lecture at a conference held at Emory University, "Comparative Caribbeans: an Interdisciplinary Conference" (November 3-5, 2011). Her talk was a hit both with the Xavier audience and with the conference attendees at Emory. To give you a taste of it, here is her abstract...

This paper will examine Claude McKay's The Cycle (c. 1943), the only full-fledged sonnet sequence written by the Jamaican-born turned American expatriate sonneteer. There has been a recent surge of interest in repositioning McKay as a figure of broader significance, stripping away many of the assumptions made about the poet based on the confines of labeling him a dissident of the Harlem Renaissance. McKay’s entrance into critical discussions of postcolonial literature, Diaspora studies, and other critical perspectives has been stymied by such designations as black nationalist or rebel that are often attributed to the poet. McKay's The Cycle (c. 1943) uses the central occupation of the American school of comparative literary thought, finding themes of universal human experience in literature across continents, as a motif that reveals not only what this school of criticism adds to our understanding of McKay’s entire body of work in relation to a "world literature," but also what this critical approach appropriated as a theme may imply about authorial intention. This work invites comparison and asks to be set side by side with other authors who, like McKay, have embraced a tempered transcendentalism coupled with a measured intellectualism.

The shift of focus in the subject matter of McKay's poetry also documents the history and trajectory of comparative literary studies. His early poetry is concerned with authenticating his Jamaican experience as unique from other cultural experiences. His Harlem poetry seeks to mark the unique struggle of the black American. His expatriate works, while incorporating global perspectives and transcendental sensibilities, are still preoccupied with the juxtaposition of the black male figure in contrast with the world. The Cycle (c. 1943) and his Final Catholic Poetry (1945-47) introduce the problem of humanity—questions of hegemony and accountability and of rectitude and depravity. Here, McKay opens the microcosm of his previous vantage points in order to embrace a new disembodied self that is poet. In the couplet of the proem, "The Cycle," McKay sings, "For I, a poet, can soar with unclipped wings, / From earth to heaven, while chanting of all things" (13-14). For McKay, it is the poet, not the critic ("No critic, white or black, can tie me down" (9)), whose activity is to unify the literatures of the world (and its peoples) through a reevaluation of self and art.

Cocoa Williams

Ms. Cocoa M. Williams, photographed during her presentation at Emory University.

Bonner & Skinner Repository Dedicated

by Ms. Katheryn Laborde, Associate Professor of English

Dr. Tom Bonner, Professor Emeritus and former Department Chair, and Mr. Bob Skinner, University Librarian, were pleased to learn that the Xavier Review/Xavier Review Press archive room has been named the Bonner & Skinner Repository in tribute to their many years of service to the press and journal.

At the surprise dedication ceremony, which kicked off the fall English Department Colloquium, Dr. Bonner and Mr. Skinner commented that they had each worked twenty years or more in the capacities of Executive Editor and Managing Editor, respectively. Dr. Bonner noted that the Review was started in order to pick up where the defunct Xavier University Studies had left off. Studies, a journal that was started in 1961 was, during its ten-year run, dedicated to arts, humanities, and social studies. In 1980, Dr. Bonner and African-American poet Charles Fort started Xavier Review with a focus on literature and culture. When Fort left, leaving Bonner at the editorial helm, Skinner's casual offer to help with production materialized into the position of Managing Editor.

Filling a new journal is hard work. Skinner said that they "scrounged around" for material and were rewarded with treasure. In the early years, the Review featured the writings of Andrew Salkey, Al Young, Tom Dent, Gordon Osing, Peter Cooley, Jerry Ward, and Lenard D. Moore, as well as interviews with Ernest Gaines, Walker Percy, Alex Haley, James Baldwin, Andre Dubus, and Elmore Leonard. The interest in Dubus would leave its mark on the press as it went on to publish a couple of books about the Catholic writer from Lake Charles, Louisiana. In addition, the Press published works from a variety of poets and other writers; the last work Dr. Bonner edited was a book on the work of Free Men of Color cabinet makers in the 1800s.

Mr. Skinner retired from his position in 2010, following Dr. Bonner, who had left the job of editing the Review and then the Press, a few years prior. Both continue under new leadership: Dr. Nicole Greene is looking forward to publishing a book about the landmark painting by Frederick J. Brown that is housed in the Xavier library and a collection of essays on Percival Everett; Ralph Adamo recently kicked off his first issue of Xavier Review, a volume that features the writing of novelist Nancy Lemann, among others.

The Bonner & Skinner Repository is located in the English Department.

Skinner and Bonner

Mr. Bob Skinner and Dr. Tom Bonner.

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The Literary Way is edited by Dr. David G. Lanoue of the Xavier University English Department. Contact: dlanoue@xula.edu