15 March 2021

Dear Everyone:

There was so much going on in the program on Friday! It was quite strange, really, to have such a distinctive sense of place — the program as a distinctive space — despite the virtually mediated nature of our gatherings.  Strange, yes, but quite great, as it was a reminder that however mediated, connections between people, among us, are nonetheless quite real. I do miss yet and still the in-person energies we bring, and/but appreciate and welcome all the ways that remote work allows people who wouldn’t be able to participate in program events to do so.

Putting on the events takes so much work, which is to be especially acknowledged and appreciated given the attenuating circumstances of the long present. ESA Conference Co-Chairs Miranda Hajduk and Emily Price, drawing on and conjuring reserves of energy from I don’t know where, organized a conference that showcased the core and best of what it is we do: nurturing and holding space for collective work with ideas. The first paper I heard at the conference — by program grad Stephen Spencer! — attuned me to the category of joy and the politics of affinity such that they’ve stuck with me since; and the poetry session that closed the conference, featuring and organized by Janelle Poe, a first year doctoral student in our program, underscored the vital nature of the simultaneously individual and collaborative effort that is poetic and intellectual life.

WE/ENTER SEED(S),” which she’s graciously given me permission to share, evinces the persistence of creative life despite and because of history, here and everyplace, as it amplifies the joyful perdurance of Black life in cherished part through art and in the context and company of others.

The work of the poets reading alongside Janelle — Laura Hinton, Aldon L. Nielsen, Sheila Maldonado, and Dudgrick Bevins — as well as their collective effort (and a journal to which you might consider contributing your work!) is called Chant de la Sirene and may be found hereIt was a beautiful close to a day full of rich ideas and collegiality made possible only by dint of Miranda’s and Emily’s efforts and the support of the ESA broadly.  Huge thanks and congratulations!

Amid all the work they were doing, Emily and Miranda made special effort to make sure the admitted and waitlisted students visiting with us on Friday could access the conference, and I was very glad to see some of our visitors at the keynote address by Julie Sze and at the poetry session. That visit, produced by our brilliant DEO of Admissions Siraj Ahmed, was amazing in part for the numbers of us — of you all — who participated!  From the opening panelists — Eric Lott, Nancy Silverman, Wayne Koestenbaum, Inma Zanoguera Garcias — to the loads of you who shared insight and advice and laughter in the various parts of the event, and especially to the recruitment committee members — Paris Shih, Daniel Hengel, Christian Fryer-Davis, Sukie Kim — and Kent Yuen, for helping to manage the event — every single one of you who created time to attend and engage, immense thanks. We do not, I think, as a rule “recruit” students so much as enact welcome and invitation to join us in what Mario DiGangi in a different context called our “wonderful weirdness” (or something close to that).  Thank you, everyone, for your wonderful and wonderfully weird selves.

A little bit of news to share, mainly from the Graduate Council meeting last week:

1. We have been successfully freshly accredited by Middle States — hurrah! and,

2. Our close program friend Comparative Literature has done away with the GRE as an admissions criterion — also hurrah!

I’ll close this note by repeating what I said to our prospective student visitors on Friday, which is that one thing we’ve learned as a program in this past ever so long year, is that it’s been one when, as a program, we’ve tried to practice mutuality and care, and though certainly sometimes awkwardly and imperfectly, it has been awesome — truly awe-inspiring — to witness how you’ve reached out to and for one another, to hold each other and all of us up through compounding loss and corresponding grief, to be present with and for each other. This characteristic is not so weird, perhaps, but is most definitely wonderful; endless gratitude to and for you all.


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