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Alumni Newsletter 1.3 • 16 March, 2007

Welcome Message

In this edition of the Alumni Newsletter, we are featuring a new member and a past member of our faculty.  We want to introduce you to the latest addition to our Department: Dr. Petra Dierkes-Thrun. We feel lucky to have this very talented teacher and scholar on our faculty. We are also welcoming back Dr. Donald Hall, who will be the featured speaker for the Honors Colloquium. We are very excited to have this extraordinarily prolific and insightful scholar and former colleague speak at CSUN, and we hope that some of you will be able to join us for his talk on March 27.

New Faculty

Last fall a new colleague, Petra Dierkes-Thrun (PhD University of Pittsburgh, 2003), joined the English Department faculty at CSUN.  Petra’s teaching and research specialty is Modern British Literature (roughly the period from 1880-1939).  Born and raised in Germany, Petra originally trained to be a high school teacher there, earning degrees in English, German, and Catholic Theology at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn, before relocating to the United States with her husband Sebastian in 1996.  Her graduate studies in the PhD program at the University of Pittsburgh allowed her to combine her interest in literary and cultural studies of the Victorian and Modernist periods with courses in film studies, gender studies, and critical theory.  She picked a dissertation topic that again allowed her to draw on these interests, writing on 20th-century adaptations and transformations of Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé (1891) in literature, film, opera, and dance.

Petra Dierkes-ThrunIn her first year at CSUN, Petra says she is already very impressed with her new students and colleagues: “I really like the friendliness, openness, and personal touch of the students as well as the faculty here, and the diversity one can observe everywhere on campus.”  Of her students she says, “I am especially impressed that so many of our students hold jobs and work for their living, at the same time as they are going to school.  That takes a lot of dedication to education, and illustrates a real desire to be here.  I feel very lucky that I can be part of their educational journey.”  Aside from keeping busy teaching her classes in Victorian and Modernist literature, Major Critical Theories, and a graduate seminar on “Gender and Modernism” this year, Petra is working on her first book manuscript, tentatively entitled Salome’s Modernity: Modernism and the Aesthetics of Transgression.  Petra blames her love for research for making her a “big archive nut”; she likes to dig deep into the library stacks or a specialized archive and getting her hands on dusty old books and manuscripts, or rummaging through boxes of original letters of a particular author or filmmaker (she did this twice in recent years, once at the British Library in London, and once at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC).  “Archives,” she says, “can make literature and culture come alive, show you that these people were living and breathing human beings with some pretty cool and often wacky ideas and experiences.  Maybe our own ideas aren’t that wacky after all—or just a different kind of wacky.” 

In her spare time, Petra loves movies, theater and opera, hiking, singing, hanging out in coffeehouses with a laptop, and of course, buying more books than she will ever be able to read (or store).  She says, “As an English professor I love books, of course, but what I love even more about literature is the way I feel it connects me to both history and the present.  In my classes, I strive to illuminate and make palpable for students how texts are always part of larger cultural and historical contexts, as well as our general humanity.  Literature and other important forms of cultural expression can tell us so much about ourselves, our aspirations and dreams, but they also hold up the mirror to our face and show us our delusions and injustices. I want to share my own excitement about books, culture, and learning with my students.  English classes help students develop the kind of critical, analytical, historical, and comparative thinking that is needed to understand ourselves and our world better—where we’re coming from, why, and where we might be going.  But in my opinion, it should also provide them with some truly memorable experiences of great words and ideas--along the lines of, ‘This rocks!’” 

Donald Hall to Speak at Honors Colloquium

Donald HallThe English department is pleased to welcome Dr. Donald Hall back to CSUN as the plenary speaker at this years Honors Colloquium on March 27 at 2 pm in the University Student Union. Alumni and emeritus faculty are invited to attend. Parking information and daily permits ($4) are available at Information Booth #1 located on Lindley Street off Nordhoff.

Dr. Hall, an eminent scholar in the fields of literary and cultural theory and Victorian studies, was a faculty member in the English department from 1993 to 2004, and was Chair of the department from 2002-2004. He co-founded  CSUN’s LesBiGayTrS Institute and also coordinated the Humanities Interdisciplinary Program for seven years. Dr. Hall majored in German and political science as an undergraduate at the University of Alabama, and received an M.A. in Comparative literature from the University of Illinois and his Ph.D. in English from the University of Maryland. He has won numerous awards, including three Fulbright fellowships and lecture grants to work in Finland and Austria. The winner of a Distinguished Teaching Award from CSUN, he has also taught in Rwanda. 

Dr. Hall is currently the Distinguished Professor/Jackson Chair of English and the Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages at West Virginia University. A prolific writer, he has published widely on aspects of critical theory ranging from subjectivity to queer studies to feminism, on academic life and pedagogy, and on Victorian culture and literature. Dr. Hall is the series editor for Victorian Critical Interventions: The New Victorian Literature and Life Series (Ohio State University Press) and has guest-edited several journal editions on Victorian writing and topics in critical theory. His 2002 book, The Academic Self: An Owner’s Manual, integrates critical theory with practical discussions about negotiating life as a teacher-scholar, and illustrates his commitment to mentoring those engaged in scholarship at all levels. His most recent books, including Subjectivity (Routledge 2004), Queer Theories (Palgrave/St. Martin’s 2003), and Literary and Cultural Theory: From Basic Principles to Advanced Applications (Houghton Mifflin 2001) are required reading in programs across the country. He is currently at work on Reading Sexualities: Hermeneutic Theory and the Future of Sexuality Studies for Routledge Press. We are thrilled that Dr. Hall is able to join us—despite his obviously busy schedule!—for the “Crises and Modernity” Colloquium. He will be speaking at 2 pm on “Globalization and Sexuality: James Baldwin’s Loveless American in Paris.” More information on the colloquium is available on the English department website (http://www.csun.edu/english/news.html).

Upcoming Events of Interest

Erin Gruwell and The Freedom Writers

On Monday, April 23, at 5:30 p.m., Erin Gruwell will be speaking in the Oviatt Library Presentation Room at CSUN. Erin Gruwell, a well-known educator, wrote The Freedom Writers Diary—How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them. Her inspirational story is told in the recently released film, Freedom Writers, which features Academy Award-winner Hilary Swank. The English Department will be showing the film in JR 319, at 2:30 p.m. during the afternoon of Ms. Gruwell’s talk. Both events are free. If you wish to attend the talk, please rsvp by e-mail to academic.affairs@csun.edu. If you wish to attend the movie, please rsvp by e-mail to jennifer.lu@csun.edu.