accident · accomodation · bad news · balance · being undone · best laid plans · Uncategorized

Hustle and no

I broke my foot. The doctor’s office phoned at lunch yesterday to confirm Monday afternoon’s x-ray: I broke my foot.

I broke my foot about 10 days ago, actually, in Nova Scotia, falling down some dew-covered stairs in the dark. At the time, it hurt so much I nearly threw up, and when I stood I was incredibly dizzy and disoriented, but I really had to go pee and I was all alone in the dark on the grass so I kept walking another 200 meters or so to the camp bathroom. And when I got back to my cabin it hurt to even have the pressure of the lightweight sleeping back on it, so I stuck my foot out into the open air, and gritted my teeth for the hour or so until the pain subsided enough for me to sleep. I mean, people were sleeping, what was there to be done? The next day I clocked about 8500 steps. I let my friend Megan carry my luggage for me, out to the camp bus, and up and down the stairs at her house. My foot was comically swollen. I walked to Erin’s house and back. (WORTH IT–BISOUS BISOUS TO THE WONDERFUL ERIN WUNKER.) The next day, I walked around two airports, took the dog around the block. The day after that, I taught all day, on my feet, walking around the room to every student, every group work laptop, writing all over the boards. Later that week I walked to and from campus. Yeah, my foot hurt, and was weird colours and was swollen, but there were things to do, you know?

My partner and my sister eventually convinced me to go the doctor on Monday, after I’d insisted on a 5km walk on Sunday to clear my head: my toes bruised solid purple and the top of my foot turned an alarming green.

I should have sought medical attention the night I hurt my foot.

I didn’t, and probably, you wouldn’t, either. People kept suggesting it and I was like, but what’s the point? I can walk, I’m fine. I don’t have time for the appointment itself, let alone whatever nonsense convalescence anyone is going to recommend to me. Rest. Elevate. I laughed out loud when the doctor murmured rest-and-elevate, stay-off-your-fee, a big mean guffaw: BUT WHEN? I demanded, HOW? There’s a dog, and I teach, and what about the groceries, and my kid’s pickups and her lessons, and all the rest of it. I have an incredibly supportive partner, and the blessing of a sister in town, but I was really like, meh, I’ll just muscle through it.

There’s something in that, something about the contemporary academy and contemporary woman- or mother-hood. There’s no slack in the system: we break our feet and we keep walking, because we feel we have to, just to keep the system moving forward, but also, and importantly, because we just don’t want to be a bother to anyone.

We break our feet and keep walking.

There’s something in me that doesn’t want to listen to my own body: I wanted to start the term strong, teach my classes, keep my writing days, be the prof I want to be. The life of the mind, the knowledge professions, can be intensely alienating: our bodies are impediments that we appease in order to keep thinking, seamlessly, frictionless. There was no room in this narrative for a broken foot and so I edited that part out. My partner already does at least half of the child care and the house work and the emotional labour and I don’t want to burden him, so I carried my own weight. My sister has a family of her own and a demanding job: she doesn’t need to come walk my dog at lunch everyday so I hold the leash in my other hand and pretend that makes things easier. My own pigheadedness and refusal to acknowledge my own body’s reality is pretty impressive. My denial game is STRONG.

We break our feet and keep walking.

I’ve emailed my chair and department administrator and the occupational health and safety officer to let them know about my foot, and ask about parking accommodations. I’ve canceled my on-campus meetings today so I can stay home and type with my foot up high on the desk beside me. I’ve taken off my fitbit and put it in a drawer. My sister is coming at lunch. I feel really awful about asking for and accepting this help, this help I would gladly and unhesistatingly extend to friends and colleagues.

So I ask you, dear readers, beyond pig-headedness and heavy responsibilities and maybe some guilt, why, why, why do we keep on walking, alone, when our feet are broken? And how can we stop.

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Yeah, that’s me in my grad class, 8pm, teaching with my foot on the desk. IN DENIAL.
#shinetheory · DIY · fast feminism · guest post · Uncategorized

“This book is an action”: Notes on Creating a Feminist Small Press

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.

– Audre Lorde

Gap Riot Press is a Toronto-based, women-run chapbook press cofounded by Dani Spinosa and Kate Siklosi. Our mission is to engage a wider literary community through the publication of formally innovative and experimental poetic works, with a priority on unrepresented and marginalized voices.

There’s no ifs ands or buts about it: the textual object is an expression of privilege. As women, we know this well. It’s 2017, and if you want to publish experimental poetry today, chances are, you have to go to a white man to do it. So, we asked ourselves – how, with embers of the CanLit dumpster fire still glowing (see here, here, here, and everywhere), can we enter the space of publication and open a communal space to listen to and engage with writers we so desperately need to hear from?

Gap Riot is the fruit of conversations between women – it is infused with the night heat of summer, the breath of whiskey, the lament of hearts outpouring. It is also the result of our classical anarchist training (thanks, Robert Duncan!). We believe that artists and writers have a communal responsibility to respond creatively to the world – to approach its conditions with a spirit of action, intervention, and love.

A great deal of this responsibility lies with literary publishers and editors, who have a huge role to play in shattering the canon and opposing the very foundations of canon-formation. “By editing with empathy and a wider eye to the readership,” Jacqueline Valencia has recently written in “How Do We Fix the Canlit Canon,” “we can start to form a dialogue conducive to openness and understanding.” Gap Riot Press is our little way of minding the gap in these conversations. If the canon is to change, we don’t need more words – we need dialogue, coproduction, and exchange.

We’ve gotten a lot of questions so far about what makes feminist publishing, well, “feminist.” Do we only publish works by and for women? Does all of our writing have to pertain to gender issues as a theme? Do we hate men? For us, the feminist press is not about exclusion or cutting off conversations between men and women, or people of different races, sexualities, or abilities. It goes beyond having a diversified masthead and roster and our work is just one way of looking at how to move beyond “diversification.” As we will explore in our second installment with Hook & Eye, there are many ways of doing this editorial and cultural work. Gap Riot is also a way for us, as women, to get our hands dirty in the poetic craft as a form of activism: or, poetic craftivism, to use Betsy Greer’s term that grew out of Riot Grrrl. Purposeful acts of gentle anarchy to keep the patriarchal, academic, and corporate worlds woke.  

That’s why we at Gap Riot are so devoted to the craft and the material of small press book production. As poets ourselves, we have always had our eye on the visual poetic which refuses to withdraw the materiality of language from its meaning-making capacities. This materiality, countless poets reminds us, is central to the politics of poetic production. At Gap Riot, we translate this interest in the materiality of poetry to the production of small runs of books that are crafted by women working collaboratively across disciplines and printed at the Toronto-based art printing house Swimmer’s Group. Of course, along with material production and craft comes the issue of finances; we speak more specifically to that issue in our second installment with Hook and Eye on the practical issues of starting a small press and the politics that goes alongside that. As we continue to design and publish these books, we will work collaboratively with designers, artists, printers, and poets to produce books that challenge the traditional structures of book publishing. Chapbooks have always done this work. Craft has always done this work. Feminists have always done this work. We are still learning.

We desire an active and responsive readership. Too often, literary publication practices ignore crucial opportunities for engagement beyond the page. We not only want to take up space in the material production of texts, but we want to open spaces for women and marginalized writers to become their works, try them on, experiment with them. So, beginning in the fall of 2017, we will be starting a reading series that fosters inclusivity and interaction. These events will create reading spaces that are inclusive, supportive, and antagonistic to the traditions of canonicity and exclusivity that so frequently accompany experimental writing.

It is a well-known and widely discussed fact that marginalized writers are severely underrepresented in what we read and critique; it is also well-known, but seldom engaged-with, that the labour of literary production – the work of editors, publishers, agents, and reviewers who wield so much capacity for changing the industry – is work that is controlled and undertaken by white liberal sentinels. Why are there so few marginalized people in influential gatekeeping roles? What barriers to access need to be torn down? These and other questions need to be asked of our literary peers in arms. But we need to start doing more than just asking these questions. As white women, we’re aware that we have a lot of work to do beyond the privilege of setting up a press, and we know how great of a privilege it is to get to do this work. Sure, we can model the editorial practices we wish to see in the world; but mimicking praxis is not enough to destabilize the accumulated cultural capital wielded by the literary establishment. This is an establishment whose kingdoms are universities, whose loudspeakers are mainstream media, and whose coffers are filled by corporations. The establishment is as powerful as it is steadfast; it is a black hole that hungrily absorbs and consumes that which comes near to it. We need strategies other than those practices used by the establishment to feign change, assume diversity, and then reabsorb any glimmers of progression back into its flat, self-serving agenda. It is not enough to simply ask questions about why writers are continually sidestepped. It is not enough to pledge quotas or insert a few texts by recognizably “diverse” writers. We need to begin to open conversations, and open spaces to collective presents at the limits of and outside the establishment. We need to imagine and reimagine together, revise and revision together, and create and recreate – together.

Part of this work involves seeing intersectionality as more than just tokenizing Indigenous, Queer, PoC writers and their work. We want to get further to the roots of access not only in terms of who gets read, but who gets to produce and therefore interrogate and intervene on the canon. We don’t need more words about inclusivity, we need action. We need to mind the gap. So, once we are a little more established, we plan to establish a sponsorship program that will offer funding to add an editor who has traditionally been denied opportunity and representation to the Gap Riot collective. Such funding will also allow that editor to take editing workshop classes and to curate a series of chapbooks, magazines, readings, or perhaps even an anthology for our press. It’s a small way of creating some space for necessary hands in the literary production of what we read. It is a way of constructing shared creative futures based on reciprocal mentorship and exchange. In this way, Gap Riot becomes more than a press – it becomes a moving project, a tremoring constellation of diverse voices, radical ideas, and dissonant discussions.

As they exist and govern today, the larger structures of literary production (their institutions and their gatekeepers) do not foster this type of movement. Most literary powerhouses – commercial houses and university presses – protect whiteness, and in particular, male whiteness. These institutions also foster a culture of self-absorbed elitism and careerism. We need to counteract these entrenched narratives by using community to combat the institutions and practices that render innovative writers tokenized or invisible. Part of the solution is to increase exposure by getting on the ground with our works – selling them at book fairs, in parking lots, at kitchen tables. We need to actively identify those writers who are doing innovative work but aren’t receiving acknowledgement and invite them to publish and to edit the work alongside us. We have to move beyond the desire to just sell a few books, and work instead towards getting people talking, performing, and creating alongside each other.

Gap Riot Press takes influence from our literary forebears and Riot Grrrls. We know we are following in a long lineage of women, PoCs, queer and trans folk, and allies who have done, and continue to do, the work of supporting and amplifying marginal voices of all kinds. We’re also in good company. Bolstered by the continued work by organizations like CWILA, literary awards like the Emerging Indigenous Voices Fund, and publishing and editorial support initiatives like Vivek Shraya’s new imprint, VS Books, with Arsenal Pulp. We’re here to embody the unexpected and question expectations. We’re here to challenge the view of marginalized as always “emerging” when they have simply been unacknowledged. We’re here for collectivity, protest, and resistance channeled through creative energy. We’re here to work together towards shared, intersectional futures. We’re here to kick down the doors of the privileged canon, and take some names.

Of course, we’re only just getting started. Our first chapbook, the beautiful and moving What Linda Said by Toronto-based poet, novelist, and playwright Priscila Uppal, soft launched as a part of the premiere of her play by the same name at this summer’s SummerWorks Theatre Festival in Toronto. Our next release is already being finalized as we write this—an innovative, visually striking, and generally badass look at Salomé from feminist poet Adeena Karasick. And we have more on the way.

For more information, please visit us online at www.gapriotpress.com, follow us on Twitter @gapriotpress, or shoot us a quick email at gapriotpress@gmail.com.

being undone · emotional labour · goals · hope · ideas for change · Uncategorized

Connection / Disconnection

In a fit of post-admin-role freedom, I booked myself to go to sleep away camp halfway through Orientation Two Days. I flew away to Halifax, on points, to join my friend Megan for four days at Big Cove Camp, the oldest such camp in Canada. The camp was called Make. Do. Camp. And they took away our phones.

It was a transformative experience.

I remember camp as a child: sing-alongs, campfires, hikes, group activities. I remember feeling … nervous, disconnected, not-quite-right, not-quite-fit. I did not feel, as it were, hailed (in the Althusserian sense) by camp: everyone seemed social and outgoing, everyone was chipper and enthusiastic, everyone had lots of friends and no inner turmoil. There were things I loved about camp: being outside, swimming, the rhythm of the days tied to cycles of daylight, and so that’s why I went, and only with a friend–we’d have each other at least, even if there were cliques and we didn’t fit in any of them.

But here’s the thing. I have never felt so connected to a group of strangers in my life. Never so safe, never so seen and supported. Part of it was getting rid of the phones and the safety line they provided, but much of it was due to incredibly thoughtful facilitation, and there’s something to learn from this that I can bring back to my teaching.

From the opening ceremony forward, camp facilitators, directors, leaders, and minders opened up spaces of difference and welcome. They invited us to come in, in all of our differences, a huge list of identities and feelings and orientations and histories. We could be a group, they suggested, while remaining in substantial ways complicatedly different from one another. This was magic to hear. I felt named and seen and as a result could not retreat to my usual space of meteoritical, ironic, abstract distance. They hailed me: nervous, skeptical, hopeful, tired. The welcome, in seeking to name all the ways we could arrive in the space in all our differences, took a really long time, as they sought to acknowledge and celebrate these differences. And we all sat there, rapt: we had been seen and noticed and named and welcomed.

It is amazing how a sense of group feeling can develop from a 15 minute recitation of all the ways we are different from one another. Instead of jostling for space or recognition or feeling excluded, we become more free to find a strand of connection.

I’ve been thinking, as a result, of how I welcome my classes to the term. What totalizing assumptions do I make about them that might limit or exclude them, that might lead to ironizing, to checking out, to hurt feelings or disconnection? How can I welcome and celebrate everyone’s differences so that they feel hailed into our shared project?

I have been trying to start the term by inviting personal communication from students, creative work that situates them in their own contexts, on their own terms. Then I summarize for the class all the different kinds of difference we see, and how wonderful it is, and how little we can know about one another just from looking at a list of names, and majors, and year level. I think I could do more, I’m wondering how. But the kinds of work that people can do when they feel seen, heard, understood, and recognized is incredible, and I want more of that possibility in my own teaching.

academic work · after the LTA · new year new plan · Uncategorized

Repetition with a Difference

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A funny thing happened this weekend when I stopped by my office to drop off some books and art. As I got out of the car my partner reminded me to have some identification as well as my keys in case I had to call security to let me in. In the past several years we’ve both had trouble getting in on weekends because, I think, of how part-time and contract faculty cards are programmed. As I walked up to the security doors on Saturday they clicked open before I could even pull my card form my pocket. They didn’t quite swing open, roll out a red carpet, and hand me champagne as I passed through them, but the difference was palpable: I have a tenure-track job now. I am legible to the institution.

It is a very strange feeling indeed to return to an institution as a tenure-track faculty. Much of my public-facing work in the last decade has been about precarity, and now I am no longer precarious. My feelings are complicated: I don’t feel guilty about landing a job, not really, but I do feel acutely aware of how very hard the hustle has been. I know I deserve my position, and I am also acutely aware of how many others—my loved ones, my colleagues, my peers—deserve the stability and legibility I’ve been granted.

When I received the call that I got the job several months ago, I burst into tears. I cried (a lot). Then I took a three-hour nap. I slept in a way I hadn’t in who-knows-how-long. My body relaxed in ways I still don’t have the words for. And yet, I’m also more attuned to and more attentive to the ways in which stability is such a privilege. The more I calm, the more I focus, the more time and space I have for carefully plotting out my five- and ten-year research plans, the more I am also aware of how completely precarity is woven into so very much of one’s life.

And so, as I head into a new school year, I’ll be here writing and thinking about the shifting experience of working and teaching within the institution, rather than on its periphery. I’ll be working to structure my time here with the aim and intent of making and holding space for myself and others who are and have been so marked by our precarious times. And, I’ll be doing my very best to strike a balance between having a critical attention and a joyful heart. For, a feminist killjoy’s work is never done.

Uncategorized

Countering Alternative Facts: Wikipedia in the Classroom

Because a few friends have asked about this recently, and because many of us are embroiled in the semi-traumatizing mid-August ritual of syllabus planning, I’m breaking the summer hiatus to describe my experience of assigning a Wikipedia project in my Spring 2017 ‘Women in Early Modern Drama’ sophomore course. Tl;dr: it was useful, I’m glad we did it, and yayyyyy public outreach and engagement (see: Hannah McGregor’s post) but I would certainly change a few things in future iterations of the assignment.

Wikipedia has a highly developed education department that has full-time staff hired to specially help with your courses. They are good: I first ‘met’ their Outreach Manager Samantha Weald over Skype at a WikiEd event at Fordham last year, and since registering my Spring class for a small project, she and her colleagues have contacted me frequently offering help, advice, guidance, and asking for feedback. Here is the page they’ve created for getting started with your course, which includes an orientation tutorial that takes about 25 minutes to complete, and there is also a dashboard where you can browse all the different courses registered with WikiEd and what impact they’re making.  Really there’s not much practical guidance I can add to the multitude of electronic and personal resources they’ve already compiled. Just shoot Samantha or anyone an email; they will respond.
My project: 
Working internally with the WikiEd experts, you create a course page which allows you to track student progress and edits (which means instructors will know who waited until the final hour to complete all 5 weeks of assignments!). Once you register your course, you are assigned a Content Expert who will help field questions or concerns your class may have – I know some of my students corresponded directly with ours. Here’s what my page looks like from my perspective, with course data:

750K article views! That sounds pretty impressive, right?
Personally, since I myself was just learning how to edit Wikipedia for the first time and I had never assigned anything like this before, and also because I was teaching a sophomore class with many first-years, I opted for the ‘small project’ rather than a full article-length project. If you glanced at my course description above, a project like this has obvious topical relevance: our course was designed to identify and recover early modern fictional women from oblivion, and we similarly aimed to expand their representation on Wikipedia in accordance with the diversity problems Wikipedia faces across-the-board.
After compiling a list of viable articles in class, the project was split into five weeks: in the first week, students simply had to sign up for the course and complete personal interactive modules on how to edit and evaluate Wikipedia; in the second week, they completed an ‘Evaluating Articles and Sources’ module and then had to find an article related to our course content and critique it (is the article written from a neutral POV? is every fact referenced with appropriate citations? is any information out-of-date? Are any viewpoints overrepresented?); third week, they copyedited an article, perhaps building on the changes they suggested in Week 2. Things really heated up in week four, as I asked them to add at least two sentences of new content to an article. Week five, they had to add a peer-reviewed scholarly source to an article, formatted and cited flawlessly of course, as well as 1-2 sentences of content summarizing and introducing it. This final step also included a training module on ‘Sources and Citations’ which instilled the fear of plagiarism deep into their souls. I gave my students a fair bit of leeway regarding which articles they could focus on, and whether or not they wanted to contribute to and edit only one across all five weeks.

Further guidelines were provided on the internal course website.
WikiEd allows you to select templates for these individual modules and alter and customize them to your course. The weeks appear in an internal timeline and you can also grade them through the system, though I opted to base my numerical assessment on the final reflection I had them write wherein they needed to narrate their progress through the sequence and offer any comments on how well (or not) the assignment went. I did not want to be responsible for tracking each student individually across every single step, so while they knew I was watching over them big-brother-style, they were responsible for taking screenshots of their work and describing what they learned at each step of the process. These final reflections were about two pages long.
Outcomes: 
My students were pretty excited when I told them that their changes–even those as small as fixing a grammatical error or improving the clarity of a sentence–received tens of thousands of hits (numbers I can also access as the instructor). (As an academic blogger whose posts have received thousands more hits than my academic articles ever will, I can relate to this!) See for example this edited sentence on the page for The Taming of the Shrew whose changes have been seen 136 320 times, a fact I made sure to relay to the student:
You can access all these changes through your course page, which is crucial since they may no longer exist when you’re grading the assignments: the sentence above now reads “Numerous men, including Gremio and Tranio, deem Katherina an unworthy option for marriage because of her notorious assertiveness and willfulness.”  Such is the ebb and flow of the internet. At least in that case, some of the student’s language has been preserved.
However, our course was victim to what I suspect to be a bit of online trolling: many of my students’ changes were rejected and reversed by one single user with an apparent interest in early theatre, and though I understand some of his changes, it was still discouraging to see. We noticed as a class that there is a separate page for Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, but not for Katherine, which replicates the very same gendered issues that are raised by the play (the men have autonomy, agency, mobility, while the women are controlled by their fathers and husbands, viewed as aberrant forces to subdue when, like the Katherine of the opening scenes, they refuse to bow). But one student’s attempt to create a separate page for Katherine has subsequently been rejected, presumably because it wasn’t notable or well-sourced enough.
Mostly, though, my students had positive feedback for the assignment. Here are some excerpts of what they wrote in their final responses (and for the most part, I do believe them!):

I suddenly remembered that this information was put into the world for anyone to see, but instead of being nervous about that fact I felt amazed and happy. It is so exciting to see something I did be seen by thousands of people and makes me want to add information to other articles. This project also made me very conscious of what I contribute in the future and has taught me some good tips on how to use reliable sources and cite them correctly. (Maryam)

I feel as though I am now more apt to notice holes and errors in Wikipedia pages, and I plan on making edits to articles in the future when opportunities present themselves. If there’s anything I have learned from the politics of the last six months, it is that we need to take responsibility for verifying sources before spreading the news we read on the internet.  After this experience, I feel more confident in my ability to help protect myself and others from the dangers of ‘alternative facts.’ (Bree)

Although at first it seemed outside of the realm of what our class was really focused on, it proved to be a valuable activity both related to our content and to a broader spectrum of academic work. (Marissa)

If all college students were required to do this for all of their classes, there would be free and reliable information for almost every subject. (Stephanie)

I want to take my knowledge of Wikipedia editing and use it to fix articles about my favorite books, TV shows, movies, and celebrities. These pages may not be as educational as the pages that I already cited, but it makes me want to look up more, fix more, learn more, and aid others in learning more as well. (Maria)

This exercise allowed me to practice my research and citation skills, whose usage can sometimes feel isolated to only academic settings. (Julia)

So many of the female characters […] either have no pages or have very bare pages. It is very frustrating to see a more minor male character, like Edmund [from King Lear], with a page that approximates three or four pages while prominent female characters, like Goneril and Regan, barely have two pages. (Clare, who added an excellent section on “Role in Play” to the Goneril character page

While it can’t be denied that I had an especially eager, bright group of students last semester, I am confident that the project taught them editing, sourcing, and observational skills that extended beyond the narrow confines of our classroom, fulfilling service learning objectives. I’m also pleased as punch that some of them picked up on the utility of the project in the current political climate of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news.’ They loved feeling like what we learn in the classroom could make a difference in the public sphere. The assignment also helped them recognize that yes, sexism still exists in the present and can be seen through unequal online representation of female characters whose depth, nuance, and complexity our course was based around. In fact, we realized that in some ways we’ve regressed in terms of gender parity: we were mostly reading plays by men, after all, some of which featured strong characters who could not readily be placed on a binary gender spectrum (Middleton and Dekker’s The Roaring Girle), or girls who fall in love with each other while disguised as boys (John Lyly’s Galatea).

Future changes: 
I may assign another Wikipedia assignment in my courses this year, but if I do, it will involve two major differences:

  1. I will assign longer projects in groups which will give weaker students who found posting online intimidating a boost, and help round out the grammatical and content problems that found many individual changes getting rejected by other Wikipedians. I will also assign a draft of the changes that I’ll approve before posting to help prevent the same. More oversight was needed.
  2. I will spend more time in class going through the modules and expectations. The reading load for this course was heavy and probably could have benefited from a slightly slower pace to make room for more practical in-class guidance. I think I let too much of this assignment happen on individual computer screens in dorm rooms. Devoting more classtime will also help us generate shared goals for pages and projects that we want to develop as a class.
Basically, my future assignment will involve less atomized learning and more communal goals which would help us leave a more lasting digital footprint after the class is over–so that perhaps we can indeed create a standalone page for Katherine.
Readers, have you used Wikipedia in the classroom, and do you have anything here to add or comment on or critique? Would love any feedback or further suggestions. Now back to your regular August programming of denying the approach of the fall semester…

Thanks to Megan Cook, whose Facebook query sparked an email discussion 
that prompted the creation of this post! 
literature · Uncategorized

Guest Post: Podcasting CanLit

In her post about Unpacking CanLit, Jennifer Andrews writes about the spaces we occupy as critics and asks what it might mean to “[step] outside of the institutions which prop us up.” In the ramp up to the same conference Jennifer is writing about, I was stepping outside myself, walking through the streets of Dublin and listening to podcasts that, I think, exemplify publically engaged and politicized Canadian literary criticism. As I walked, I listened, and I thought: what are these podcasts doing that makes them so much more thrilling than other forms of cultural criticism?

I find myself talking a lot about podcasts these days, and not only because I listen to so many of them. Cheap, intimate, mobile, manipulable, interactive, and participatory: the podcast, I think, is an ideal medium for public scholarship. So why don’t we see them saturating academia? The problem lies in how they’ve been used. Academic podcasts are mostly lecture recordings, which is disappointing, because podcasting can do so much more than that. It can upset the binaries between scholarship and pedagogy, professor and student, producer and listener, opening up space for different kinds of critical dialogues. It might even be able to push a new kind of public scholarship, one that goes beyond the abstraction of our work into bite-sized pieces. We—academics—often presume that the real scholarship happens in the university and is then disseminated out to the public. But what if, instead of just thinking about public scholarship and public pedagogy as forms of dissemination or knowledge mobilization, we instead thought of it as public first? What are the real barriers that are preventing us from thinking publicly as the default mode of our work—and how can start to tear those barriers down?

I want to tell you about the two podcasts I was listening to in Dublin, and how I think they build public engagement with Canadian literature and cultural production beyond the academy. I want to talk about how they model different kinds of engagement that can teach us something about how academics could use podcasting differently.

“Everything Is Weird Here”: Can’t Lit 

Dina Del Bucchia and Daniel Zomparelli’s Can’t Lit is a monthly podcast birthed from the literary magazine Poetry Is Dead. In each episode, the hosts have an author on to talk about books and feelings and CanLit feuds. Sometimes they play games; frequently they make fart jokes. As the hosts explained in an interview for Discorder Magazine, their goal is to make Canadian literature both less insular and less serious. Says Zomparelli:

It’s important because people are having these conversations like the ones we’re having in the podcast, but they’re not recording them. We’re able to create some sort of a record of what’s going on in Canadian literature.

Del Bucchia and Zomparelli emphasize the conversational informality of the podcast as a genre, the way it can break down perceived cultural barriers between potential listeners and this thing called literature.

That informality registers at multiple levels, from the clear friendship of the hosts to the inclusion of laughter, tangents, and mistakes. Listen, for example, to the opening of their sixth episode, with guest Wayde Compton:

Zomparelli and Del Bucchia embrace the messiness of a medium that must go on no matter how flawed. The promise of seriality as a contract with the listener produces something more raw and immediate than academics are used to. Sure, many of us have learned to embrace the classroom as a space of productive failure and unpredictability, but our public performances are so scripted. As Lucia Lorenzi recently discussed on Twitter, the academic drive towards perfection and polish often shuts down conversation, even in spaces like the conference where conversation is supposed to be the point.

Read the whole thread by Dr. Lucia Lorenzi (aka @empathywarrior) here.

The possibility for goofiness, profanity, and, of course, error is what makes podcasts in general, and this podcast in particular, so appealing. Now take note of how Tintin Yang of Discorder Magazine describes this appeal:

By placing emphasis on the more relatable, less academic perspectives on literature, Can’t Lit follows a similar mandate to Daniel’s project, Poetry is Dead: “If it’s not fun, don’t do it.” Can’t Lit is one solution addressing the problem of framing Canadian literature in an inaccessible and pedagogic way.

That’s academic, pedagogic, and inaccessible on one side, and relatable and fun on the other side. And part of being relatable and fun is also being enthusiastically flawed. Listen to this clip of Vivek Shraya and Del Bucchia in episode 34:

Imperfection isn’t a side effect of seriality: it’s the point. In order for Can’t Lit to break down barriers between listeners and the culturally intimidating construct that is Canadian Literature, it needs to embrace a little messiness. Imperfection is the starting point of letting people in.

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“Listen, We Should Be Making Things”: Red Man Laughing

Imperfection is also embraced in Ojibway/Metis comedian Ryan McMahon’s podcast Red Man Laughing. Red Man Laughing is part of the Indian & Cowboy Indigenous Media Network, “the world’s only listener supported Indigenous podcast media network.” McMahon describes Red Man Laughing as “conversations, investigations and pontifications about the collision between Indian Country and the Mainstream,” embracing both the openness and the orality of podcasting as a medium to highlight indigenous artists, thinkers, and creators. Guests have included Tanya Tagaq, Wab Kinew, Lee Maracle, Christi Belcourt, and, in the episode I’ll talk about here, Anishinaabe/Métis games designer and scholar Elizabeth LaPensée.

McMahon and LaPensée’s wide-ranging conversation should be required listening for every academic, particularly for its focus on the experience of working in the academy as an Indigenous scholar. But the real reason I’m focusing in on this episode is how LaPensée frames the value of what we might call maker culture. “Can we just make some things,” she exclaims at one point. “Can we just do that? Fuck! Who wants to come make some games?”

These thoughts obviously resonate with McMahon, who opens the next episode, on Indigenous comic books and graphic novels, with the statement “Listen, we should be making things.” Specifically, according to LaPensée, indigenous creators should lean into the pleasures of smaller projects and their shorter development cycles. Here’s what she has to say:

The shorter development cycle is key to the sustainability of creation. This is especially true for creative work that challenges the ideas of success and legitimacy promoted by institutions like big gaming companies—or universities.

LaPensée and McMahon’s discussion of podcasting as a form of experimental and community-driven creation contrasts the podcast with the university. One is a pleasure-motivated expression of real cultural values, while the other is a Kafka-esque bureaucracy that presents a series of hoops to jump through in pursuit of a credential.

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I don’t think it’s particularly radical to say that the university in general, and humanities education in particular, is at a crossroads. One might even call it a crisis. The precaritization of our workforce, in particular, is driving many of us to ask what the point of higher education in the humanities actually is. I’m not claiming, by any means, that podcasts offer a solution to this crisis. That would be absurd. What I’m saying is that podcasts, like animals, are good to think with—and I’m saying that the rise of public-facing cultural criticism podcasts like Can’t Lit and Red Man Laughing offer us an opportunity to think about what the university is for, and what academics are for.


Hannah McGregor is an Assistant Professor of Publishing at Simon Fraser University, where her research and teaching focus on the histories and futures of print and digital media in Canada. She is particularly interested in Canadian middlebrow magazines, podcasting as public scholarship, and the histories of structural racism in the Canadian publishing industry. She is also the co-host of Witch, Please, a feminist podcast on the Harry Potter world.

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Beginning, Endings, and Transitions

I’m not good with transitions.

I am, in fact, really lousy at transitions. I’m late for nearly everything because that liminal space in between being here and being there somehow paralyses me. Sometimes I sit on the edge of my bed, fully dressed, for 20 minutes because while I want to be in my pajamas and in my bed reading, I just can’t handle the whole routine of getting undressed and changed, and taking out my contacts and removing my makeup and brushing my teeth, and finding the dog, etc. See also: me in the driveway half in and half out of my car, and me in my office wearing a coat and holding my keys in my hand, but idly browsing Facebook.

I’m no better at big transitions. My dear love has packed up our shared domicile for big moves three times while I either left town (twice!), or cowered in corners, crying (memorably, once). Never mind we were always moving somewhere better, happily. Moving in always involves moving out, and that’s sad.

As the song has it (and I’m embarrassed this is my reference here, but it’s what popped into my head), “every new beginning feels like some other beginning’s end.” Well, because it is.

This week, I’m the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies in my department. Next week, I am … not Associate Chair for Graduate Studies.

It turns out my feelings about this are pretty complicated. I volunteered for this role, took it on with passion and purpose. I worked very hard and achieved some of the goals I had, important goals, big goals. I am proud of my work: I made money appear out of nowhere, solved some structural problems, recruited and supported some great students, learned a lot. I also have regrets: I’m still no good with paperwork and barely competent at email and my calendaring skills result in me occasionally missing meetings, to my deep shame. Sometimes I procrastinate on overwhelmingly nitpicky tasks. I’m going out with a bang: we’ve had to produce an enormous program review document summarizing the past seven years of work, and it’s been a gargantuan task that I’m barely going to get finished, and certainly procrastinated on. I don’t feel super great about that. It’s not a secret that the last year has been hard for me: I’ve been overworked and burnt out.  I thought I would be glad to be done.

I am, but, it turns out, I’m somehow really sad, too.

It just hit me Monday night. I’m in transition. Sitting in my driveway with the engine off, not going anywhere but not really arrived, either. Resentfully still doing grad chair work, but not particularly energetically. Writing hard-ish toward a deadline, but exhaustedly. Took a vacation day, but didn’t really unplug, without really staying plugged in, either. Neither here nor there.

Perhaps you are in transition, too. Here in Canada, July 1 is an important academic date–it’s when many positions officially start, when administrative roles change hands, when milestones are marked.  I started here as an Assistant Professor on July 1, 2004; I got tenure and promotion to Associate on July 1, 2011; I started as Associate Chair, Grad Studies on July 1, 2014. Some of you are starting new jobs and new roles and new ranks on July 1.

But some of you, like me, are not so much starting something new on Saturday, but rather endingsomething. Returning to regular ranks, leaving a position, retiring. Or maybe you are watching others begin new roles while you … do not. These endings and non-startings are important, too.

I needed, for myself, some kind of ritual, that I haven’t really allowed myself yet, to end this period of my work. I’ve decided to just use this week to transition, emotionally and mentally. I’ve asked for an extension on the writing deadline so I can let that work go for the week so I can just really work on ending my time as grad chair this week. I met with our incoming grad chair, and handed over my master key: we had cocktails, we traded wisdom, I sincerely wished him well and offered him my help. It’s his master key now, the email becomes his on Monday, the sign moves from my office door to his. I’m trying to tie off loose ends with my coordinator. I’m also, honestly, just kind of wallowing and feeling my feelings. My feelings of relief and regret, of pride and frustration, of sadness and hope.

I’m on vacation next week. My email autoresponders have been set. I teach in the fall and then will begin a 12 month sabbatical. All things to happily plan for, to look forward to, to dream about. And I have been, and I will.

But for now, this: something is ending, and it’s okay to spend a few days just sitting in the discomfort of the transition. Really taking the time to let go before finding joy in picking something else up. Whatever you are transitioning into and out of this summer, I hope you, too, will find a moment to feel that pivot, between then and now, here and there, what you have been, and what you will become next.

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Unpacking: A CanLit Special Series

 

Although the blog has been on summer hiatus, we have decided to re-open the blog for a moment in order to take up Jennifer Andrews’ guest post. First, though, a short introduction from Lily and Erin.

For many of us here in Canada, the spring conference season is finally winding down. For Lily, as with a lot of other literature academics, the season began with Black Like, rolled into Mikinaakominis/ Transcanadas, then right into Congress where she ran madly between incredible panels at Congress 2017 from ACCUTEACQL, and CACLALS. Erin began in Dublin at Untold Stories, then went to Toronto for Mikinaakominis/ Transcanadas, and, like Lily, right into Congress 2017. (We both collapsed after that but we know that for a lot of you out there, the conferencing continued and might not even be over yet.) Throughout these post-conference weeks, we’ve thought a lot about what just happened? Indeed, we’ve been in touch with one another more regularly than ever before—texting, emailing, and writing to one another and asking how are you? What about this thing that happened? And, how are you feeling and what are you thinking now?

We’re in agreement: we don’t normally think these kinds of questions after conferences. But these conferences have been some combination of the most generative, fraught, difficult, and complicated ones we have ever attended. Since then, we’ve been talking to each other over coffee, in snatched moments in the hallway, on email, on the phone, on limited social media channels. In our experiences, these have been private conversations thus far, but it is clear to us we also need to have a lot of public dialogues too. There is a lot to unpack. Hook & Eye will only be one place where this happens.

This post, sent to us by Jennifer Andrews, is about a set of conferences that happened in Toronto and that mostly concerns folks working in Canadian literary criticism. Each of these things – Toronto, CanLit crit – can be, and often is, its own bubble. But these bubbles—the interconnected spheres of power and relations— need to be named. And the issues that have come up and out of these conferences are about much more than Toronto and literary criticism in Canada. Jen’s post is also very much about the spatial dynamics of institutional power, of the ways in which whiteness and masculinity are reified in the very buildings and cities where we gather to work. As Jen’s post highlights, there is without a doubt a LOT that happened in CanLit this year that those of us in the field need to keep talking about. Additionally, as Jen writes, there is a wider and equally urgent need to think hard not only about the conversations we have, but also where we have them.

This isn’t just about what rooms are in, but also about the kind of room we need to make. One of the greatest things to come out of this year, as Jen notes, is the Emerging Indigenous Voices Literature Award(if you haven’t already kicked in, and want to, it’s not too late!). This award gets us to all the rooms that are going to emerge from indigenous voices that will be supported by it.

But there’s a backstory to the award that is also about feminism and making the rooms that we want. The campaign for this award is put together by a lawyer, Robin Parker, who is a partner in a newly formed feminist law firm, Paradigm Law Group, LLP. When The Precedentwrote about the firm, Angela Chiasson, another partner, said, “This is not a female-only space… but this is a no-bullshit space.”

So, here’s to a LOT more no-bullshit spaces. What we’re aiming to offer here at Hook & Eye is an interim no-bullshit space to think through power and space in the academy through the context of CanLit.

Let’s unpack.

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Unpacking Transcanadas

by Jennifer Andrews

I recently returned home from a Canadian literature conference held in my old hometown of Toronto in a state of disillusionment, frustration, and anger.  Usually I attend conferences after a long semester of teaching, looking for a glimmer of inspiration and motivation to jumpstart my research and writing but most importantly to engage with other scholars and to see what is happening in the areas that I write about and teach—in this case, Canadian literature.  This semester was a bit different.  I am working on a project that examines how American fiction writers perceive of and write about Canada; the motivation for this came from a longstanding interest in and commitment to exploring how Indigenous writers straddle, contest, and as best they can ignore the imposition of the Canada-US border as something that has been imposed upon pre-existing communities.  All this to say, that I have spent most of my time over the last few years reading and writing about American fiction and I was eager to see what is happening in Canadian literary criticism.

The months and weeks leading up to the conference were filled with turmoil within the Canadian literary establishment.  The termination of Stephen Galloway, the #UBC Accountable letter and counter-petition (the latter of which I signed), the rightful probing of Joseph Boyden’s ability to speak for and about Indigenous peoples, the recent horrifying debacle of Write: The Magazine of the Writer’s Union of Canadain which the white male editor published the work of Indigenous authors while simultaneously including an editorial that mocked the very serious questions of appropriation, without prior disclosure of the contents of the editorial to the writers being included in the issue.  The one good thing to come from these events is the viral success of the Emerging Indigenous Voices Literary Award which now totals over $110,000; I was thrilled to contribute and watch it grow.  So given all of the possibilities that could and might have come out of a Canadian literary criticism conference at this juncture, why was I left feeling so depressed and embarrassed by this experience.

Full disclosure: I am one of the lucky ones in spinning the roulette wheel of the job market.  I am a white, middle class woman who did my graduate work at the University of Toronto with full-funding, held a SSHRC post-doc for seven months, and then received my first tenure-track job offer at UNB.  I have no right to complain.  I have the stability and security to do my research and teaching in a supportive and nurturing environment, to apply for grants and hire graduate researchers to help move my projects forward, as well as creative and academic freedom to teach a wide array of texts.  Over my career, I served a decade as co-editor of Studies in Canadian Literature, a role in which one, like it or not, contributes to canon formation, while also hopefully making room for new ideas, approaches, and texts.  In other words, I have institutional clout.

I’ve been fully employed ever since, albeit far from my birthplace and hometown of Toronto in Central Canada, a move that I made because I wanted a job but have grown from in so many ways.  While the Fredericton campus of UNB is a bucolic place, as evidenced by the work of the white, male Confederation Poets, many of whom are deeply tied to the city of stately elms, I have also learned a great deal about checking my own privilege and unpacking what lies beneath those elms—deep-rooted classism and racism. I have watched my spouse struggle with over-education and underemployment in a region of Canada where work is difficult to find, resources are scarce, and the challenges faced by a small population are all too often dwarfed by the desires of Central Canada.  Many of my students are first generation university goers, working multiple jobs for minimum wage, and overwhelmed by an institution that appears alienating and exclusionary; for those who leave their rural homes, coming to a city of 50,000 is a big step.  I have embraced my life in Atlantic Canada and my research reflects that interest—I regularly work on, teach, and write about the rich literature from the region, including a plethora of incredible African-Canadian and Indigenous texts, many of which remain unknown nationally.

So coming to Toronto now has its own baggage for me, claiming a geographic, cultural, economic and political clout that I did not recognize or critique when I lived there.  Moreover, the conference was held in Hart House on the University of Toronto campus, an all too familiar locale from my time as a graduate student, primarily because it housed a very fancy restaurant on its second floor that my grandmother treated me to several times.  Built in 1919 and gifted by the Massey Foundation, its Beaux Arts Gothic Revival style is intimidatingly beautiful with Italian travertine flooring and wood paneling.  The Great Hall is described on the Hart House website as the “showpiece” of the building.  It was also the primary location for the majority of the conference, housing the plenary sessions and literary readings, despite the fact that it is a difficult place to hear people speaking because of grandeur of its size without renting an extensive and doubtlessly expensive sound system; to be able to hear people’s voices and see their faces is critical yet challenging and virtually impossible without extensive equipment in such a locale.  Its vaulted ceiling and enormous stained glass windows are reminiscent of a church, and symbols of empire and institutional status abound, with the “coats of arms of the Royal Family and degree-granting universities of the British Empire” from the era of its construction located on the south wall.  Among the decorative features of space, the north end of the hall displays “shields” representing 74 universities of nations allied with Britain and Canada in 1919” and large portraits of the Hart House wardens, as well as university chancellors and governors are visible throughout the room.  In other words, the Great Hall conveys a great deal of White, male, heterosexual authority and privilege by virtue of its history and thus perhaps, could or might have been the perfect place to engage with “Literature, Justice, and Relation,” key conference themes, in new and productive ways.

Yet, institutions are notoriously hierarchical, resistant to change, and eager to hold onto established practices, often because it ensures that those at the top don’t have to surrender their power, which is all too often tied to disciplinary turf.  It takes enormous courage and self-reflexivity to break free of—or into—those ivory towers and it is especially hard to do so when a conference is itself framed physically by a building that represents the very essence of empire, at least in the context of Canadian education, as an iconic building on the largest research university in the country, located in a city that has constructed itself as the financial centre of the nation.  Perhaps I have it wrong, or maybe I am just misguided.  Nor would I have read the situation this way had I remained in Toronto, or even another large city as a professor.  And sometimes there is no rhyme or reason as to why conferences work or don’t, despite the best intentions and efforts of the organizers.  But I do believe that reflecting on what constitutes Canadian literary criticism, at least for professors, may mean stepping outside of the institutions which prop us up, whatever the level of discomfort or unfamiliarity of moving off campus.  This may offer one small step toward making Canadian literary studies more accountable to those who work within and outside of academia and turn frustration, anger, and disavowal into the beginnings of new kinds of dialogues that acknowledge the ways in which institutions and those at the top (me included) all too often dictate who teaches Canadian literature, what they teach, and how they teach it.

jandrew2016Jennifer Andrews is Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. She has published book chapters and articles in a variety of scholarly journals including American Literary HistoryESCAmerican Indian QuarterlyECW, The Canadian Review of American Studies and The Journal of Commonwealth Literature. Her co-authored book, Border Crossings: Thomas King’s Cultural Inversions, was published by the University of Toronto Press in 2003 and her SSHRC-funded book on Native North American women poets, titled In the Belly of a Laughing God, was published by the University of Toronto Press in 2011.

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Announcement

Hi everyone,

We are taking a break for research, conference season, recalibration, and vacation. Hook & Eye will be back at it with a whole new website in August. We can’t wait to show you what our designer has been working on for us! Until then please consider sending a guest post to our Managing Editor Erin Wunker. You can reach her at erin.wunker at gmail. Please put “Guest Post Pitch” in the subject heading.

Take care of each other!

Love,

Hook & Eye