Literature allows the mind to travel

Why did popular authors like Edna Ferber and Willa Cather continue to write conventional fiction while living lives that were far from conventional? I have always loved explorations of such literary topics that sink deeper into complex thought amidst the bombardment of superficial sound bytes that today’s media subjects us to. That is why I was delighted to see that Idaho State University professor Amanda Zink’s monograph, Fictions of Western American Domesticity: Indian, Mexican, and Anglo Women in Print Culture, 1850–1950, came out in paperback this summer. Zink shows how a variety of writers championed and challenged the ideology of domesticity.

Literature allows the mind to travel. So I recommend connecting with the steady stream of portable magic from Zink’s department: English and Philosophy at Idaho State University. Their ‘Black Rock and Sage” Journal is one of my favorites. This collection of creative works is published annually through the Department of English and Philosophy with assistance from the Art and Music Departments. It features only the work of ISU graduate and undergraduate students.

Fascinated by the English Renaissance? Many early modern poets and playwrights were also members of the legal societies the Inns of Court. These authors shaped the development of key genres of the period, especially lyric poetry, dramatic tragedy, satire, and masque. But how did the Inns come to be literary centers in the first place, and why were they especially vibrant at particular times? Find answers in Lawyers at Play: Literature, Law, and Politics at the Early Modern Inns of Court, by Professor Jessica Winston, who chairs the department. The book won the Joseph L. Andrews Legal Literature award from the American Association of Law Libraries.

Anyone who is concerned about the Earth should check out Professor Emeritus Brian Attebery’s co-edited book, Fantasy and Myth in the Anthropocene. This literary adventure explores the role of story systems called fantasy and myth in reshaping how we should live at the time when human supremacy threatens all of the planet’s living systems. Central questions include: How can fantasy and myth mobilize resistance? How can they serve as vehicles for anticipatory imagination that articulates alternatives? How can they point a way to restoring the connection with the natural rather than the supernatural? Ultimately, how can fantasy and myth help us reimagine ourselves as an ecocentric, ecological civilization?

Attebery also recently published Fantasy: How It Works. His book addresses pivotal questions about fantastic storytelling. How can it be meaningful if it doesn’t claim to represent things as they are, and second, what kind of change can it make in the world? How can a form of storytelling that alters physical laws and denies facts about the past be at the same time a source of insight into human nature and the workings of the world? What kind of social, political, cultural, intellectual work does fantasy perform in the world–the world of the reader?

The author shows how fantasy allows writers such as Michael Cunningham, Hans Christian Anderson, Helene Wecker, C. S. Lewis, Ursula K. Le Guin, Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson, George MacDonald, Aliette deBodard, and Patricia Wrightson to test new modes of understanding and interaction and thus to rethink political institutions, social practices, and models of reality.

Professor Emerita Jennifer Attebery has a soon-to-be-published book As Legend Has It: Historical Legends, Local History Writing, and Swedish-American Heritage. A recipient of the ISU Distinguished Researcher award, she has written other scholarly books ranging across the verbal, customary, and material genres of folklore, including Up in the Rocky Mountains: Writing the Swedish Immigrant Experience and Pole Raising and Speech Making: Modalities of Swedish-American Summer Celebration.

The department has produced a lot of other gems. Professor Matthew VanWinkle’s essay “How Blank an Eye? Seeing and Overlooking Nature in Coleridge’s ‘Dejection: An Ode,” recently appeared in New Ohio Review 31. Interested in comics and graphic novels? Read Professor Matt Levay’s review of “Frame by Frame: A Materialist Aesthetics of Animated Cartoons” by Hannah Frank. It appeared in the journal Modernism/Modernity. The review reflects Levay’s specialization in the history of comics and graphic novels. And here is some academic reading to take in by the fireplace as winter looms: Graduate Dean and Professor of English, Adam Bradford, recently published “The Inca in the Nineteenth-Century US Poetic Imagination,” in the Companion to American Poetry.

Associate Professor Bethany Schultz Hurst is the author of Miss Lost Nation, winner of the Anhinga Poetry Prize and finalist for the 2016 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her work has appeared in “Best American Poetry 2015” and in journals such as “Ecotone,” “The Gettysburg Review,” “Gulf Coast,” “Narrative,” and “Ploughshares.” A recipient of a literary arts fellowship through the Idaho Commission on the Arts, she is an unmistakable one-of-a-kind voice.

Reading takes the free raw material of the mind and builds castles of possibilities. Great literature is transformative. Take an intellectual trip at:  https://www.isu.edu/english

Michael Strickland

Michael Strickland

Michael Strickland teaches at Boise State University and studies at Idaho State University.

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