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Department of English

Undergraduate Program Newsletter

Spring 2014

Volume 14 Issue 2


CONGRATULATIONS CLASS OF 2014 Jonathan Alvarez-Gutierrez

Rebecca Handlin

Ellen O’Leary

Olivia Ball Caitlin Ballotta

Anna Harnick Catherine Hasbrouck

Amanda Peery Tarina Quraishi

Kelsey Beck Sam Berstler

Elizabeth Holden Jeweliann Houlette

Liv Redpath Alexandria Rhodes

George Brauer Theodoretus Breen

Margaret Jiang Elaine Kim

Amanda Rodrigues Austin Siegemund-Broka

Adeline Byrne

Emily Ledbetter

Benjamin Silva

Hayley Cuccinello Zoe DeStories

Tyler Lewis Carina Livoti

Matilda Sokolov Jennifer Soong

Rumur Dowling Julia Eger Isabel Evans

Jenna Martin Megan McDonnell Matthew Megan

Jonathan Sparks Kevin Sun Katherine Walker

Elizabeth Glennon Madeline Gray Mary Hallowell

Alan Montelongo Gabriel Neustadt Sorrel Nielsen

Lindsey Waters Sarah Winn Susanna Wolk

Wonder What They’ll Be Up To? Olivia Ball will join the faculty at Pierrepont School in Westport, CT as an English Teacher. She will continue to pursue her love of Shakespeare by designing a new course for her students.

through the Graduate School of Education in the fall, and then will go to Pretoria, South Africa for a year to work at an educational non-profit called the Mamelodi Initiative.

Kelsey Beck plans to get her MBA from The Crummer Graduate School at Rollins College in August.

Rebecca Handlin will spend two weeks travelling through Italy, and then six weeks studying and travelling in Israel. After that she will begin school at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, where she plans/hopes to study either production medicine (cows, goats, sheep) or avian medicine.

Sam Berstler will be enter the PhD program in the Harvard English Department. Julia Eger will stay in Boston, working in social media at Fidelity Investments. Madeline Gray is off to New York to join Cord Worldwide, a music consulting firm, as a music planner to work on advertising campaigns. She is super excited, and hopes to get some travel in as part of the job as well! Catherine Hasbrouck will finish her teaching certification

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Megan McDonnell will attend the Peter Stark Producing Program at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Alexandria Rhodes will take a gap year between graduation and grad school. She will return home to Houston for a while, and then do a bit of traveling, teach piano, and apply to graduate schools for psychology.


5 Concentrators Receive Hoopes Prize Rumur Dowling for his submission entitled “Romantic Boredom: Discourses of Distraction in Wordsworth and Coleridge” nominated by Professor Andrew Warren and Mr. William Baldwin Sorrel Westbrook Nielsen for her submission entitled “Come Fire or Flood” nominated by Mr. Bret Anthony Johnston Tarina Quraishi for her submission entitled “’To Meet My Beloved Friend’: Literary Transformation of the Ghazal in English” nominated by Professor Stephen Burt

Le Baron Russell Briggs Grant for Continued Literary Studies Theodoretus Breen

M. Phil. at University of Cambridge

Edward Eager Grant for Continued Studies in Creative Writing

Jennifer Soong for her submission entitled “’What’s That Ugly Thing?’ Rediscovering Elizabeth Bishop’s Object-Oriented World” nominated by Professor Peter Sacks and Mr. Martin Greenup

Sorrel Nielsen

Kevin Sun for his submission entitled “’Making the Hang’ and Other Essays On Being a Young Improvisor” nominated by Mr. Darcy Frey

Congratulations to them all!

Amanda Rodrigues will be in Barcelona for a year thanks to the generosity of the Shaw Fellowship to write a book about art and graffiti. Tili Sokolov will live in New York looking to get started working in publishing. Austin Siegemund-Broka will write news and features on the entertainment industry for The Hollywood Reporter and pursue creative writing projects. Kevin Sun will attend the New England Conservatory of Music full-time in the fall to finish his Master of Music degree in Jazz Performance as part of the Harvard-NEC Dual Degree program. Lanier Walker will spend the next two years in London getting a Master’s in the history of design from a joint program between the Royal College of Art and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

MFA at Iowa Writer’s Workshop

Susanna Wolk will move to New York to pursue a career in theater. Lindsey Waters will work for Burger King Corporation as an analyst in their Leadership Development Program at their corporate headquarters in Miami, FL. The LDP program is a rotational program that allows analysts to rotate through two corporate divisions before receiving a final placement in January 2015. The program also requires that LDPs work in a Burger King restaurant for the first 10 weeks, which will be an interesting and challenging way to start her business career! Sarah Winn will serve as an AmeriCorps volunteer at Cristo Rey Boston High School in Dorchester. She’ll be part time teaching (high school English!) as well as fulfilling other duties around the school. She student taught at Cristo Rey this past fall through the UTEP Program, so She’s super excited to be heading back!

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Boylston Prizes for Elocution Case Q. Kerns

On Monday, April 7 in the W.S. Fong Auditorium, eight undergraduates participated in the final round of the 2014 Boylston Prizes for Elocution. The finalists were chosen from nineteen students in the first round, which was judged by three members of English Department faculty: Josh Bell, Briggs Copeland Lecturer (poetry); Sam Marks, Briggs Copeland Lecturer (playwriting); Derek Miller, Assistant Professor of English. Established in 1817 and endowed by Ward Nicholas Boylston, the prizes are awarded through a competition “for the delivery of memorized selections from English, Greek, or Latin literature,” not to exceed five minutes in length. The judges for the final round are selected from three different professions in which speech plays a major role in the practice of the discipline: a lawyer, a lecturer, and a member of the clergy. Owen Chen having graduated from Columbia Law School, practiced law for six years before enrolling in doctoral program in the Department of English at Harvard, where he earned his PhD and now teaches in Department of Expository Writing at Harvard. Steve Rozenski received a PhD in English Literature from Harvard University in the field of Medieval and Early Modern English Literature and lectures in the Harvard English Department. Reverend Zeigler is the Episcopal Chaplain at Harvard University and is currently the President of the Harvard Chaplains. Prior to his ordination as a priest, he practiced appellate law for twenty years with a large firm in Washington, D.C. The finalists were Matthew Barrieau ‘16, Julian Lucas ‘15, Aisha Down ‘14, Sorrel Nielsen ‘14, Myles McDonough ‘15, Alice Abracen ‘15, Nathan Hilgartner ‘14, and Cassandra Euphrat Weston ‘14. Their selections consisted of poetry and prose spanning over three

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centuries, starting with Satan’s Soliloquy from Paradise Lost and ending with an excerpt from Maxine Kumin’s poem “Sonnets Uncorseted,” which explores the poet’s own experience alongside a lineage of women writers, including Margaret Cavendish, Virginia Woolf, and Anne Sexton. After each of the participants delivered their selections, the committee of Judges convened to select first and second place prizes. This year’s first place was awarded to senior Cassandra Euphrat Weston for her delivery of an excerpt from “Sonnets Uncorseted” by Maxine Kumin and second place was awarded to sophomore Matthiew Barrieau for his delivery of an excerpt from James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The English Department would like to thank the judges of the preliminary and final round and all of the students who participated, making both events easy to watch yet arduous to judge.


Shown left to right: Alice Abracen ‘14, Matthew Barrieau ‘16, Nathan Hilgartner ‘14, Sorrel Nielsen ‘14, Myles McDonough ‘15, Aisha Down ‘14, Cassandra Euphrat Weston ‘14, and Julian Lucas ‘15. Photo by Henry Vega Ortiz

“She might have simply floated there, set loose in the privilege of privacy, her self unwritten, under no one else’s eyes… Excerpt from “Sonnets Uncorseted” by Maxine Kumin

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The Last Saxophone in Kolkata

that roughly translates to a “F——.” Trisha, a graduate student who spoke to him on my behalf, said he’d be willing to rent for 500 Rs for one day. We thought to ask other student musicians first, but after exhausting friends and friends of friends, we decided to get in touch with him again. “Okay, so here’s what he said,” says Kalpan, my trusty peer and middle-man. “He says that what he originally meant was that he’d rent an ‘Indian saxophone’ for 500 Rs, but a ‘Western saxophone’ for 1500 Rs.” “What’s an ‘Indian saxophone?’” I ask. “I have no idea. I think he’s trying to rip you off, man.”

Shown left to right: Olivia Ball ‘14, and Kevin Sun ‘14 Photo courtesy of Kevin Sun

This past January, two seniors, Olivia Ball and Kevin Sun, shared a travel and study opportunity, sponsored by the English Department. They were chosen from a number of impressive applicants, earning them a fully funded three‑week trip to Kolkata, India to experience Jadavpur University. Below is an episode from Kevin Sun about his struggle to get his hands on a saxaphone.

In case you were wondering, saxophones are rather difficult to come by in Kolkata1. If you do stumble upon a place that will deign to lend you a saxophone, it’s best to assume two things: (a) that said saxophone rental will cost you a pretty penny, even considering a relatively strong dollar : Rupee situation, and (b) that said saxophone might not be quite ‘right’, maintenance‑wise. During the three weeks that I spent in Kolkata as an ‘exchange student’ auditing courses at the Jadavpur University Department of English (known affectionately by the moniker ‘JUDE’)2, the warm solicitude of my peers at JUDE was constitutionally unwaverable, but at no time moreso than when I averred that I was hoping to rent a saxophone. I said the word and saw entire social networks mobilized on my behalf—social constellations subtly reordered and reconfigured—as friends called friends who called friends, asking, “Where can one rent a saxophone in Kolkata?”

On my last full day, we decided we’d go investigate two music shops—one of which was Mustak’s. At the first, an employee pulled a case out of storage, first setting it down upside down then flipping it over before opening it. As I started to playtest it, something dawned on me: there was an entire set of keys missing from the saxophone—not broken, but just categorically absent. When I mention this, the shopowner gives me a look as though to say, “What do you want me to do about it?” and tells the employee to bring their other saxophone out of storage, which isn’t missing anything major. “How much?” Kaplan asks. The shopowner replies in Bengali, and brief, heated negotiations ensue. “He says he wants 4—— Rs to rent it, but he’s willing to do 3——. That’s just too much; let’s go to Mustak’s.” At Mustak’s, we walk in and are immediately told that he has no saxophones on-site (a store called “Music Kafé,” whose slogan is, “Making Musician’s [sic] Smile”), and that we’d have needed to inform him two days beforehand to even try one. We step back out onto the sidewalk. “I’m sorry, man.” As we start walking back to campus, another friend, a guitarist, says, “That’s the worst—getting to play it, 1

There were many leads, but equally many dead-ends. A mysterious figure known only as “Mustak” was suggested at one point by a friend in the know, but he was also described to me by others as a “conman,” a “wheeler-dealer,” and a “chut,” a Bengali slang term

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Cf. Air India’s policy RE: bringing instruments on a plane, i.e., under all circumstances: no!

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As such, the phrase “exchange program” is somewhat misleading, since it implies a two-way street; in my case, I’d say the phrase “cultural transplantation” might be better fit to describe my time overseas, although mileage will vary.


but having to leave it. I feel your pain.” I stop and pause for a moment. Who knows when I’ll ever get to perform in India again? After my performance in the A.V. Room of the department that evening—the first performance I’d ever paid for to do—Kalpan came up to me and said, “You know, I’d never heard a saxophone properly before. That was brilliant!” I had the pleasure of many things: playing car park badminton; accidentally stepping in cow droppings; being mistaken as Japanese by a ragpicker (‘homeless’); observing the art of opening beer bottles with your teeth; scalping a ticket to a five hour North Indian music concert from a doctor of homeopathic medicine; attending classes; bunking classes; watching, paralyzed with fear in the backseat, my cabbie, driving no-handed at 3 a.m., dancing passionately to the Bollywood classic “Pardesiyah” blasting through the stereo system; and so forth.

Poirier, Josh Bell, and event Co-Director Bret Anthony Joshnston; and English alumni like Dan Chiasson, Mark Chiusano, and Kathleen Hale. The event was sponsored by Department of English at Harvard, the Office of the Dean of Arts and Humanities, Harvard Writers at Work, and the Office for the Arts at Harvard. Sarah Zeiser, Assistant Director of the event, stated, “...LitFest at Harvard was a resounding success, with packed rooms, attentive audiences, engaged speakers, and a genuine sense of purpose in sharing in a celebration of writing and the writing life at Harvard.” The organizers look forward to hosting another event in the near future.

I couldn’t have done any of this without some help from my friends, though. JUDE, hey: we came together, and it was unforgettable. Thank you.

Harvard LitFest

Shown left to right: Michelle Kuo AB ‘03, Kathleen Hale AB ‘10, Bret Anthony Johnston (Co-Director), Dan Chiasson Ph.D. ‘02, and Mark Chiusano AB ‘12 . Photo by Henry Vega Ortiz

"I am so honored to have had the opportunity to be involved with LitFest. It was incredible to participate in creating an event that brought all facets of the literary community at Harvard together. LitFest taught me the value of active discussions about creative writing on campus and that there are so many talented and passionate people who are willing to share their life of writing with others." LitFest Student Organizers (Shown left to right): Myles McDonough ‘15 (Social Media Manager, Producer), Amanda Rodrigues ‘14 (Executive Producer), Christopher Alessandrini ‘15 (Press and Promotion, Producer), and Rebecca Handlin ‘14 (Producer). Photo by Henry Vega Ortiz

From April 29th to May 1, Harvard hosted its first literary festival, which was comprised of various readings, panels, workshops and receptions that included established authors like Margaret Atwood and Jamaica Kincaid; faculty from the Creative Writing Program like Amy Hempel, Sam Marks, Mark

-Amanda Rodrigues, Executive Producer My involvement with LitFest started a few years ago when I began to yearn, around ArtsFirst time, for a similar festival that would celebrate the literary arts. Thus when Bret reached out to me at the beginning of the semester to put this together I was extremely excited and really wanted to see it happen. LitFest itself totally exceeded my expectations. Not only did it introduce me to great writers both in and outside of Harvard, but it inspired me to try as hard as I could to become a better writer, in a way that nothing has inspired me in a long time. -Rebecca Handlin, Producer

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Writers in the Parlor with Margaret Atwood

Henry Vega Ortiz and Case Q. Kerns Writers in the Parlor is a forum for presenting different visions and voices beyond that of the faculty through conversations with established writers of a certain stature.

A week filled with literary festivities at Harvard ended on a high note with a visit from Canadian writer Margaret Atwood (A.M. ‘62). The event, which was part of the department’s “Writer’s in the Parlor” series, was moderated by Bret Anthony Johnston, the Buttenwieser Director of Creative Writing. The intimate morning session was met with enthusiasm by faculty, students, and staff fueled in part by Atwood’s humor, but largely in response to her wise and generous advice for anyone hoping to pursue a life in writing. Ms. Atwood’s career spans more than forty years, writing in multiple genres, including novels, short stories, poetry, librettos, screenplays, and essays. As a young writer in the 1960s, she travelled around Canada on a Greyhound bus, touting her books from town to town, and giving readings at high school auditoriums where she would sell her own books, collect the proceeds in little beige envelopes, and “tip toe” them back to her publisher. Since that time, she has received wide critical acclaim and won major awards for her writing, and has continued to adapt to the ever-changing literary landscape; this includes her pioneering embrace of interactive social media such as IndieGogo’s fan based campaign, Fanado, her nearly 22,000 tweets, and contributions to sites like Byliner and Wattpad. Her return to Cambridge was a homecoming, in a way. Atwood’s local connections date back to 1961 when she pursued a master’s degree from Radcliffe College followed by her post graduate studies in Victorian and American literature at Harvard. She reminisced about her time here, recalling the apartment she shared with two roommates on Harvard Street that was so small she had to wash dishes in the bathtub.

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Bret Anthony Johnston with Margaret Atwood AM ‘62. Photo by Henry Vega Ortiz

Atwood addressed many issues concerning young writers, including what’s at stake for them financially. It is the “$64,000 question for any artist…if you’re a writer, how do you support your writing?” To which she offered five possible solutions: “Number one, inherit a lot of money; Number two, marry somebody rich, indulgent towards your habit; Number three, get a day job, which is not connected to your writing; Number four, go to the marketplace, which means writing books and selling them and living off the income; and, number five, get a patron, [which]…would include grants these days.” Atwood also stressed the need for writers to develop a thick skin in order to persevere in an industry relying heavily on reviews and criticism, advising them to be aware of the inherent “… sociology of reviewing, which goes like this: The reviewer is either the same gender as you or a different gender; the reviewer is the same age as you, younger, or older. And, all of those things play into how they review your book. You can ask me, ‘how so?’ And, there are good things and bad things to each one of those. So, the person who is the same gender as you, maybe they will understand and enjoy your book, or maybe they will hate you because your book is better than their book. If they’re younger than


“Your undertaking is the same as Virgil’s undertaking is to Dante, which is all right…you find yourself in the middle of the dark wood, you’re in a state of despair, I’m going to show you hell. You’ll feel a lot better because…I’m going to take you there and also take you out….” you, then they may want to either take you down or admire you because you’re older. If they’re older, even then they may either want to encourage you as a young upcoming talent or squash you like a bug because they don’t want you taking their place. If they’re the same age as you then you’re either a comrade or a rival. Like that… it does have an influence…you just need to be aware of these things.” She strongly believes that writers don’t have to be invested in one form of writing over another and should be encouraged to explore different forms and genres. However, because of the economics of the industry, novels tend to be the starting place for a lot of writers from the standpoint of the publishing market. “An agent will say to you ‘these are really good short stories, where’s your novel? We want to see a novel before we will represent you.’…It’s rare for an author to debut with a book of short stories because in this country…they are harder to sell.” On the writing process, Atwood also recommends young writers to fight the romantic impulse of clinging to original ideas. The process of writing is revelatory. Young writers need to be open-minded and allow the piece to become what it wants to be. Sometimes “…the novel just isn’t that into you.” Sometimes it wants to be a short story, a poem, or an idea for something later. “The waste paper basket is your friend…and for things that you think are actually pretty good but don’t belong in the novel, the drawer is your friend.” The number one resource that she contends with is not a problem of ideas but one of time. It is crucial for writers to make the time to write. Don’t put off writing, or wait for the right atmosphere. “I’ve always been an on the run writer. And, I’ve always been an anytime writer. So, if I’m working on something, it’s on the run anytime.” Writing on “…planes [is] good because no one bothers you. Trains and planes are quite good in that way. Sometimes hotel rooms you might happen to be staying in are good. Cafes

Margaret Atwood in a selfie with concentrators Gina Hackett ‘15 and Nora Wilkinson ‘15. Photo by Henry Vega Ortiz

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Margaret Atwood signs books for aspiring creative writers. Photo by Henry Vega Ortiz

are good if you don’t know anybody. Otherwise they’ll come over and sit down and have a chat. So, public places in cities where there aren’t likely to recognize you are good.” On research, Atwood takes a practical and minimal approach, stating that it is there to help the writer keep within the boundaries and possibilities of the fictional world: “If you’re writing about planet “X”… your rules…All you need to do is be consistent with your own rules. But, if you’re talking about this planet and the conceivable future, somebody is going to check you out. Just as they’re going to check you out on historical fiction quite a lot. Or even in fiction set in the present tense that mentions real places. So, if you have a stop light where no stop light is you will get a hate mail letter.” She goes on to add that there can be too much research and emphasizes that it should be used “…to back you up if anybody says ‘no it didn’t’ you can say ‘well actually yes it did and this is why I’m saying it did.’” Lastly, Atwood tries to approach writing from the perspective of the reader even though, she believes “…a writer can never actually read their own work in the way that a reader does…because you know what’s going to happen next…” She adds that a primary rule of writing is making page one exciting so that the

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reader will want go to page two. Don’t write 200 pages where nothing happens. And, as you write, maintain a commitment with the reader. “Your undertaking is the same as Virgil’s undertaking is to Dante, which is all right…you find yourself in the middle of the dark wood, you’re in a state of despair, I’m going to show you hell. You’ll feel a lot better because…I’m going to take you there and also take you out…we’re in this together. You are entering my book, so I have to make it worth both of our whiles. I’m not holding back on you…”

Margaret Atwood autographs Vietnamese currency for concentrator. Photo by Henry Vega Ortiz


Faculty Profile

Sam Marks Briggs-Copeland Lecturer on English What attracted you to playwriting and screenwriting? I grew up in the theater. Both my parents were actors. When I was in high school and college I attempted to only focus on academics and sports, but, soon enough, I found myself acting in Romeo and Juliet, and realized I wanted to be in theater. I was an actor for a few short years when it became clear I was more interested in writing for the stage, and then for TV. Human drama is one of my obsessions. I am lucky I get to write it.

Photo courtesy of Sam Marks

What kinds of projects are you currently working on? I recently had a play at the Humana Festival for New American Plays. I’m currently writing a pilot for HBO produced by Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci. I’m also attending a writer’s residency through the LARK theater to work on a new play about a boxer and a trainer.

Are there lessons or stories from boxing that you bring into your writing/teaching? You can’t be scared. Or, if you are, you can’t act scared. That’s more for boxing than writing, but it’s true in most arenas.

How did you get involved in boxing? Do you miss it? I was in the semi-finals of the Golden Gloves in NYC when in high school. My home life was difficult and the gym was the place I felt most safe. Most other boxers shared this affection for the gym; we sought refuge from our outside lives. This shared camaraderie made the gym a happy place. I miss the fight. I miss the gym. I miss the automatic confidence of winning a match. I miss the other boxers. I don’t miss starving myself and getting punched in the nose.

What do you like most about teaching? …about teaching at Harvard? My teaching and my work play off each other. I’m reminded in class of certain fundamentals of drama. I’m also inspired by the amazing and fresh work done by the undergrads at Harvard. They are the future of playwriting and theater so I try and pay attention.

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Spring Term Scrapbook

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“The purpose of education is to show a person how to define himself authentically and spontaneously in relation to his world...�

~Thomas Merton

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