Literature – On Wisconsin For UW-Madison Alumni and Friends Mon, 25 Mar 2019 17:14:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 8 Late Literary Giants Fri, 03 Nov 2017 23:02:37 +0000 Faded old photograph of author

Zona Gale. UW Archives S10366

Saul Bellow x’41 Humboldt’s Gift, The Adventures of Augie March; Bellow was awarded the 1976 Nobel Prize in Literature

August Derleth ’30 The Sac Prairie Saga

Zona Gale 1895, MA1899 Miss Lulu Bett, Friendship Village series of short stories

Lorraine Hansberry x’52 A Raisin in the Sun, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings 1918 The Yearling

Delmore Schwartz x’35 In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

Jean Toomer x’18 Cane, The Collected Poems of Jean Toomer

Eudora Welty ’29 The Optimist’s Daughter, which won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize; short story “Why I Live at the P.O.”

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Danielle Evans Fri, 24 Feb 2017 14:18:46 +0000 _DSC0893

Danielle Evans is no stranger to praise. During her 33 years, the UW assistant professor of creative writing has graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, been featured in The Paris Review, and published a wildly successful 2010 short story collection about race and coming of age in 21st-century America, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self. The northern Virginia native is finishing her debut novel.

Washington, DC, and northern Virginia play an important role in your writing. What makes this region unique?
There’s a certain kind of weirdness to being in a place that is in constant flux. People move in and out of that whole area, and even if they stayed there a long time, [they] will say they might leave. That transience is interesting to write about. I have learned to be interested in movement. A lot of characters that I write, they’re not putting down roots.

You also write about millennials. What are some of the main struggles they face?
There is something happening generationally where a lot of the things sold to us as “adulthood” don’t exist in the way they did. Knowing when you have settled [down] isn’t true in the way that it would be if you expected to buy a house, get married and have kids, or have the same job for 20 years. We don’t believe that there is necessarily a future out there that — if we did the right things — we could get.

How do you conceptualize race in your work?
There are stories where the characters’ racial identity is really central — and part of the story is a negotiation of that — and there are stories where the characters are given a racial identity but the conflict is something else. I think both of those kinds of stories are important. One of the things about racial identity is that it, for a lot of people, includes a constant awareness that, at any moment, what’s not about race could become about race. That anxiety about when race can come into your life is part of identity. It’s part of how people move through the world, even on days that are not about conflicts that explicitly involve race and racism.

Why did you come to teach at the UW?
What brought me here was feeling how special this department was, and seeing what the students coming into this program were doing. There are a lot of great people here. I wanted to be in a space where I could help students [become] full-time writers and where we could recruit and compete for the top applicants.

Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Riley Vetterkind x’17

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Rock ’n’ Roll Poet Fri, 24 Feb 2017 14:18:29 +0000 GettyImages-74269255

Getty images

Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck — and now Bob Dylan.

Awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature to the American singer-songwriter icon might not appear to honor tradition, but for Craig Werner, a UW professor of Afro-American studies, a musician getting the prize was a long time coming.

Werner, a member of the nominating committee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, says Dylan is a poet of the oral tradition, following the example of Homer and Shakespeare. And his music is so compelling, he adds, because it combines cultural impact, literary power, and musical genius.

“It’s lyrics, plus the music,” Werner says. “The music adds dimensions of emotional texture and intellectual insight and changes the meaning of the words.”

Dylan, he says, was the obvious choice to be the first musician to receive the literary honor.

“When people think about the ’60s and ’70s, particularly, Dylan’s frequently the first artistic figure who comes to mind,” Werner says.

But hold off reading his lyrics in book form, Werner cautions. To understand the essence of Dylan, listening is the only way.

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English 175 Wed, 05 Nov 2014 15:41:15 +0000 franky

What lit the corners of Frankenstein’s monster’s mind? Not memories: he had none. Mark Vareschi’s course explores how artificial memories — such as digital records — are changing the meaning of identity. Associated Press.

Frankenstein, Robocop, Google: Human Memory/Digital Memory

Mark Vareschi, an assistant professor of English, is exploring what it is that makes a life unique. Our memories, he believes, define who we are, but what defines our memories, especially in an age when the digital sphere keeps better track of our words and actions than our own minds do?

“I’m really interested in studying the relationship between memory and identity,” he says. “There’s a version of you that exists in your own mind. But human memory is fragile. We forget. At the same time, Amazon has a version of you, built out of your preferences and purchases. Google has a version of you. These versions are based on the things you’ve done, and the digital world doesn’t forget.”

A scholar of eighteenth-century literature, he found that the theme of memory and the individual dates back centuries, and so he built a course to study that relationship. Frankenstein, Robocop, Google launched this fall, as a seminar for about twenty first-year students.

FIG-ure It Out

Vareschi’s course is part of a FIG, a first-year interest group, and it combines his literary study with Philosophy 101 (intro) and Library and Information Science 351 (intro to digital information). “The fascinating thing,” he says, “is that the students aren’t all in the humanities. They’re about half STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] and business majors, and half in English and philosophy. We have students who are talking about the future of human identity, and that’s an exciting development.”

Classics and Cinema

The course begins with a classical foundation: Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero all wrote about memory and the individual, and Vareschi takes his students through that deep background. But with the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, literature adds in the question of technology: can science create a person by assembling the right building blocks? That’s a theme that writers — and, more recently movie-makers — have returned to again and again.

“When he made Robocop, Paul Verhoeven said he was making a new Frankenstein,” Vareschi says. “But it’s really quite different. Frankenstein’s monster actually comes with no memory — he’s got a brain that was presumably used, but he remembers nothing. He’s a tabula rasa. The main character in Robocop does have memories. He learns his identity through a series of flashbacks.”

Public Discourse

As the course develops, Vareschi and his students will turn to the ways in which digital records supplant memory, and what the implications of this may be. As people create digital avatars of themselves through social media sites — or have avatars created for them by Google or other online entities — the question arises of who the true individual is, and who controls that identity. “We’ll be looking at concepts of surveillance and privacy,” Vareschi says. “These ideas have been part of the realm of science fiction for decades, but they’re becoming more real now.”

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Marjorie Liu JD’03: Genre Bender Thu, 02 Jun 2011 15:39:25 +0000 Liu

Marjorie Liu decided to forgo a career in law to become a novelist. Courtesy Of Wunderkind PR

The UW’s Law School offers a broad variety of coursework, but there are some situations that it doesn’t prepare its graduates to handle. There’s nothing in the family law classes, for instance, to prepare future Badger attorneys to understand the issues that surround a relationship between a woman and a merman. Criminal law courses don’t teach students how to handle a murder investigation that might involve a woman covered in living, demonic tattoos.

Marjorie Liu JD’03 had to learn these things on her own. But then Liu is a bestselling author of paranormal-themed novels and comic books — her interest is strictly literary, not litigious.

“I really enjoyed law school,” Liu says. “I loved learning about the law, [loved] the intellectual challenge. But I found that I didn’t feel a passion for it as a career.”

In the years since she left Madison, Liu has forged a reputation as a genre-defying author. Her first novel, Tiger’s Eye, launched a ten-book (so far) series called Dirk & Steele. These romance novels are set in a world of mythical creatures, and they’ve been included on the New York Times bestseller list.

Liu has also penned a series of “urban fantasy” novels — works that incorporate elements of myth and magic into a modern setting. The Hunter Kiss series follows the exploits of Maxine Kiss, a demon-hunting woman whose tattoos come to life.

Between novels, she also writes comic books for Marvel, including such titles as NYX, Dark Wolverine, and Black Widow, and she’s the ongoing writer for Marvel’s X-23 series.

Life as an author keeps Liu busy, and next winter she’ll have three novels coming out in quick succession: Within the Flame, the next entry in the Dirk & Steele series, is slated for publication in December 2011; The Mortal Bone, the latest Hunter Kiss novel, is due out in January 2012; and in March 2012, Liu will step outside her established series with an as-yet-untitled mystery about a woman who discovers that her great-aunt was a noted dominatrix during World War II.

“I’ve always loved reading, daydreaming, and writing things down,” she says. “Once I sold that first book, I faced a decision — I could try to be a lawyer and find time to write on the side, or I could live cheap on the family farm in Indiana. I chose to live cheap and go all out, taking time to write, and that’s given me a career as a novelist.”

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