The Faculty Forum showcases the work of the faculty of the VCU Department of English. This series, coordinated by Professor Catherine Ingrassia, carries on the collegial tradition of First Fridays, the department’s previous lecture series, which was organized by Professor Bryant Mangum. The subtitle of that gathering was “A Forum for Ideas on Research, Teaching, and Writing.” The Faculty Forum embraces that spirit and similarly seeks to offer a regular venue in which to share original work and build community through the exchange of ideas. These events are open to anyone interested in attending.
Fall 2021 Events
How to Read Like A Creature: Language, Labor, and Hard Play in Early English Visionary WritingDr. Adin Lears
October 12, 2021 | 2:00 p.m. | Hibbs Hall, Room 308
How It Is: Writing Towards Wonder in Creative Nonfiction
Spring 2022 Events
Herrenvolk Beats: Country Rap, the Alt-Right, and [Not So] Creeping Fascism
Dr. Paul Robertson
February 22, 2022 | 2:00 p.m. | Hibbs 308
The genre of country rap (or its alternate designation “hick hop”) has from its inception in the late 1990s emphasized U.S. nationalism and standard tropes of American exceptionalism that appeal to its overwhelmingly white, rural-representing audience base. However, for much of the genre’s existence, both lyrical content and the visual representations of performers primarily concern a commodified recreation-as-identity, statements of a nebulous Southern regional identification, and extoling an individual personality in these contexts. In short, country rap could be (and was) easily dismissed as yet another vapid appropriation of hip hop culture by a white American media demographic. This talk examines the recent turn, corresponding to the rise of Donald Trump and the hyper-reactionary national impulses he inspires and facilitates, of country rap to unambiguously articulated right wing nationalism and extreme social conservatism, up to and including organized paramilitary violence. This talk will discuss both the overtly ideological content of lyrics, along with the stylized signification of the music videos that promote the tracks. Why, in 2020, might a heavily-armed young, white right-wing protestor enthusiastically describe himself as a “hip hop-head,” as a means to deflect accusations of racism? How are Black hip hop artists used as justification props, both referentially and physically, in country rap productions? It will chart how a cultural narrative shifts from relatively uncomplicated images of off-road vehicles, illegal liquor production, and quotidian rural “lifestyles” to detailed fantasies of detaining and executing leftist protestors. The talk will also compare the appropriation, by a right wing ideological extreme, of potentially liberatory (sub)cultures like hip hop, to punk rock and American folk music—two other music-related subcultures with fascist splinters persisting to the contemporary moment.
Detours Through the Past: Traversing Paradigms in Octavia Butler’s Kindred
Dr. Michael Ra-shon Hall
April 7, 2022 | 2:00 p.m.
Riffing off of Stuart Hall’s observation in the “The Dialogics of Identity” that “Identity is never finished. It moves into the future by way of a constructive detour of the past,” the late Cheryl Wall notes that a hallmark of contemporary literary production are “detours through the past.” Such detours refer to the many contemporary literary works which reach back to reimagine, for instance, “the interior lives of enslaved individuals” (e.g., Butler’s 1979 Kindred, Toni Morrison’s 1987 Beloved, Edward P. Jones’s 2003 The Known World). In this talk on travel and literary imagination of African American writers, I consider travel as literary device in Butler’s most celebrated novel Kindred. A work of speculative fiction, Kindred presents the story of Dana, an African American woman married to a European American man, who is pulled back in time from 1970s California to a plantation in antebellum Maryland to protect distant relative and eventual plantation owner Rufus Weylin, thereby ensuring her eventual birth.
Grounded by historical research on enslavement, Kindred uses the trope of time travel in a way that troubles easy distinctions between the figure of the enslaved and the traveler and reveals the paradox of freedom and confinement as an almost inescapable dialectic that continues to persist even given a speculative trope that seemingly holds out the possibility of altering history. Reading Kindred against contemporaneous works employing the speculative trope of time travel, I argue Butler’s representation of time travel (particularly as she dissociates time travel from technology) forces her readers to confront experiences of enslaved Africans in the antebellum South and continuities of those experiences as they persist into the novel’s present (1976). Butler’s concern with gendered and racialized complexities of mobility connects her to other women writers like Zora Neale Hurston (who preceded Butler) and Jewelle Gomez.
History of the Forums
English Faculty Forum carries forward the department’s longstanding practice of scholarly intradepartmental exchange that extends all the way back to VCU’s earliest years. In 1969, a year after VCU was created with the merger of RPI and MCV, Ann Woodlief started a germinal departmental newsletter – called, appropriately, The English Exchange. Thus began the department’s convention of public exchanges about research, writing, and teaching.
In 1973, Richard Priebe brought the charge forward when he began an informal series under the banner of Brown Bag Lunches. The series was as long-lasting as it was active, eventually growing in scope to encompass a larger body (as the College of Humanities and Sciences Symposium) while retaining English participation until the end. Indeed, when the CHS Symposium had run its course, a themed annual version continued informally for some time.
In the late 1980s, a group of colleagues in the department added to the departmental tradition with Composition Theory symposium. Later, from 1990 to 1994, Professors Marcel Cornis-Pope and Claudius “Bill” Griffin organized a faculty discussion group entitled Theory across the Curriculum. In 1994, Professor Terry Oggel initiated (and convened for more than a decade), the Faculty Symposium, with lunchtime presentations, open-to-the-public, of faculty research and writing; and, last but not least, Professor Bryant Mangum’s similarly successful First Friday forum continued to encourage the work of dozens of English faculty while ably fostering the exchange of ideas across subfields, ranks, and communities.