Saturday, May 9, 2015

Busy Month for the Department of English and Comparative Literature

San Diego State University’s Department of English and Comparative Literature deserves a moment in the spotlight for the great work it has done in the past month. Not only did they host an inter-disciplinary LGBTQ conference that invited brilliant minds from all over the world to our humble campus, but they also organized the Humanities in Action event that consisted of current SDSU English Professors and Master’s students who shared their research projects and interests in the field. The Department’s efforts to give students an educational experience outside the classroom that includes opportunities for attendance and participation at these academic events have not gone unnoticed.

The Coming of Age of LGBTQ Studies:  Past, Present, and Future, which took place at San Diego State University April 17-18, brought in scholars from all over the world to share their work in this field with others. This conference brought in professors, master’s students, and independent scholars from the U.S., U.K., Australia, Netherlands, and Canada! It was a melding of minds interested in the advancement of the broad field of LGBTQ Studies through a closer examination of the sub-sections of interests that people investigated.

The conference also included two movie screening followed by a Q&A session with the directors. The movies were Suddenly, Last Winter (2009), with directors Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi and Homeboy (2011), with director Dino Dinco. The keynote speaker, Dr. Karen Tongson from USC, gave a fascinating talk that reflects her work for her latest book project, Empty Orchestra: Karaoke. Critical. Apparatus. It offered a critique of prevailing paradigms of originality and imitation in aesthetics and critical theory, while exploring karaoke cultures, technologies, techniques and desires.

Not only was this two-day conference a huge success, but it also paved the way for The Humanities in Action program, which hosted a smaller, one day symposium for the English Department. This event allowed the faculty and Master’s students in the Department of English and Comparative Literature to get together and share their own research interests and current academic projects in 5-minute lightning talks. As a graduate student, my peers and I can say this was a wonderful experience because it allowed us to see what our professors’ areas of interests are and who would be a good person to work with for the thesis or portfolio project. Not only did everyone share their current projects and research interests, but it also lead to very stimulating conversations about the intersectionality of some of these works. 

In attendance was our very own NCSCL Director, Dr. Joseph Thomas. Dr. Thomas showed off his creative side by making his lightning talk an alphabetized list of every single word from the title of all of his publications. One can certainly make note of his interest for Shel Silverstein from this list, alongside the odd words from some of his quirkier publication titles such as ““a joint rolled in toilet paper”: Funkadelic’s Funky Soul.”

The event concluded with a keynote lecture by Dr. Oona Eisenstadt from Pomona College. Her lecture, entitled “Dress for the Revolution: “The Hunger Games” and Continental Philosophy,” discussed the appeal of dystopian novels for young adult readers. She stated “In some ways, imagining dystopia is a safer activity than imagining utopia. The latter involves projecting our hopes desires and fantasies rather than simply our fears.” She continues to explain how dystopias actually result from utopias, which explains why it is easier to project our fears than our hopes: because our hopes for utopia will often ask us to sacrifice some part of our humanity. She states that the books representation of “corruption and injustice as unavoidable” in this “politically dark and hopeless” world is what appeals to most young readers. This change in the literary appetite of young adults points to a shift in the expectations and desires of young readers. Dr. Eisenstadt applauded these novels’ lack of moral that suggests “a clear eye and a good heart can set things right” because life is a lot more complicated than that and today’s youth are learning that at an earlier age. These dystopian novels introduce young readers to complex scenarios and difficult decisions that can have severe costs, and perhaps our own capitalist world with its insistence on accelerated progress will call upon these future generations soon to make such decisions in reality. Dr. Eisenstadt’s lecture was fascinating and led to a fantastic discussion afterward. It certainly was an intellectually stimulating day at SDSU!

Overall, the Department’s involvement in events such as these, and their encouragement of the students’ participation as well, has been a great example of the rewarding educational experience students in the English and Comparative Literature fields can get at SDSU. The small yet powerful community that we have here allows for a lot more personal interactions between faculty and students, which enhances the quality of the program for students and develops their own academic interests. Though we who pursue a career in the humanities are few, we are mighty in our spirit and valiant in our ideas! 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Interview with Linda Salem- Children’s Literature Subject Specialist at the SDSU Love Library (Part 2 of 2)

This week is part two of the blog post from our amazing interview with Linda Salem. If you didn’t get a chance to read it yet, Linda is SDSU’s very own Children’s Literature Library Specialist at the San Diego State University’s Love Library

Storytelling is one of Linda’s key interests, and this lead to an interesting conversation regarding the history of children’s stories through oral tradition, into what they are becoming today: e-books. There is a curiosity to understand e-books and if they should be accepted into the education community. Will e-books for children have the same effect as their counterparts in print?

When asked about the motives of children selecting their own stories, Linda responded, "When they come to the library, children sometimes have a topic, a character, or just an idea in mind and they would like to see a book about it." There is a level of certainty that children project for a type of story they might be interested in reading.

Of course I had to ask Linda what her take was on modern day fairy tales that are consuming pop-culture. She suggested that these new fairy tales and the new methods that they are being told through are a continuum of the change that stories must go through. She explained how oral tales turned into printed books and those became fancier with color prints and popup art, then adapted into large motion pictures, and finally became stories that lay face-up on an LED screen device in brightly lit images and sounds captivating the child’s attention and perhaps even our own. Linda mentioned that the previous semester a composer had contacted her for a list of fairy tales that she thought would make good symphonic composition. There is really no end to where fairy tales and storytelling for children will go next.

So in the case of the e-books, Linda as the library specialist of Children’s Literature is faced with a tough question when it is time to select books for the collection. If the book is available in the e-reader format, does that overtake the need to purchase a physical copy? Linda says selecting the print or e-book format depends on many factors.

We spent some time looking through different and neat iPad apps of e-books that incorporated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with music, read-out-loud settings, or interactive animation (Atomic Antelope). "Ebooks editions are often media enhanced editions that may be seen as an expansion of the narrative form."

Ultimately, these examples for the evolution of storytelling perhaps make a statement about where children’s book culture is going. And really in a way, storytelling has come miles since its oral tradition. Now children are exposed to stories with graphics, activities, and music; consider not that this may be a distraction to the story itself, but that now stories incorporate so many other senses and create a new experience for the reader. The experience of the reader is changing in general with e-books, audiobooks, and movies, so why not allow children to adapt with                                                                        this shift at the same time?

The final question I had for Linda was regarding the overall study of children’s literature as a newer form of scholarship and the significance it creates in the academic field. Perhaps this question served a need for reaffirming that children’s literature is not invaluable or easy to glance over because it is merely for children. Linda says that in her work with the Children's Literature Society affiliated with the American Literature Association she sees topics of scholarship growing. She and co-editor Dr. Dorothy Clark have an edited book of essays in press now entitled Frontiers in Children's Literature; this book explores this expansion of scholarship through contributions from exciting scholars working in the field today. Also, The Children's Literature Association or ChLA at is a wonderful place to start to learn more about the direction of scholarship in this subject.

The importance of stories and books through any medium is the establishment of literacy, period. So while e-books do not have the comfort of musty pages that hold history with their own existence, they are part of our evolution. Current generations of children will grow into the adults that analyze these texts in ways we cannot comprehend yet. And sometimes it takes getting to know your local librarian to understand the bigger picture of what books of all kinds really mean.