Ocean Crossings Reading Group

Spray at the little arch rock, waves, islands, Pacific Ocean, South Mazatlan, Mexico

“Spray at the little arch rock, waves, islands, Pacific Ocean, South Mazatlan” by Wonderlane on Flickr (via Creative Commons license)

The interdisciplinary reading group Ocean Crossings will meet three times over the course of the Fall 2014 semester. According to their website, Ocean Crossings “explores the Mediterranean as a space, marked by the fluidic and nomadic networks formed by transnational fluxes.”

The group seeks to explore “the role of culture, history and literature for non-national spaces, characterized by exchanges, migrations and conflicts that take place outside existing legal frameworks” (Ocean Crossings).

The first Ocean Crossings meeting took place in September; the second will take place in mid-November at the IPRH Building (805 West Pennsylvania Ave). In March, graduate students will co-host a colloquium on the topic with students from Duke University.

To follow the group and access readings for future meetings, visit the Ocean Crossing public Facebook group.

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Man Booker Prize shortlist includes American authors

On September 9th, the Man Booker Prize judge panel announced the 2014 shortlist for the literary prize. For the first time in the prize’s 46-year history, contestants include American authors. The judges released a statement on their decision to extend the prize to all English-language publications:

“This is the first list to reflect the diversity of the novel in English regardless of the author’s nationality, as the Man Booker Prize has opened up to any author writing originally in English and published in the UK. Previously, the prize was open to authors from the UK & Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe.” (The Man Booker Prize shortlist)

This year’s shortlist includes two American novelists, Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler, as well as an Australian author, Richard Flanagan. The prize shortlist is:

  • To Rise Again At a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  • J by Howard Jacobson
  • The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
  • How to Be Both by Ali Smith

The winner, revealed on October 14, will receive £50,000 and worldwide exposure for their work. For more information on the Man Booker Prize and the contestants, see The Guardian’s shortlist coverage.

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Pygmalion Literary Festival

Audrey Petty and Peter OrnerThe second annual Pygmalion Literary Festival kicks off this evening. Part of the Pygmalion Festival, the festival features readings and literary events with local and visiting writers and publishers.

UIUC Creative Writing professor Audrey Petty and author Peter Orner will read tonight at Krannert Art Museum at 5:00 PM. The festival, which takes place September 25-28, also includes readings from authors Richard Siken, Jennifer Percy, Jamaal May, Tarfia Faizullah, Alissa Nutting, and more.

All Pygmalion Literary Festival events are free to the public. For a full listing of events, visit the Pygmalion website.

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Welcome to Fall 2014!

A belated welcome to new and old students and faculty alike for the Fall 2014 semester!  We hope that you are settling into the new school year, and the Literatures and Languages Library is here to help you with all of your research needs.  Our semester hours are as follows:

Monday-Thursday: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Friday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Saturday – Sunday: 1 – 5 p.m.

If you can’t stop by 200 South Library in person, email one of our librarians, or explore our website with links to all of our library catalogs, electronic databases, and other valuable research resources at http://www.library.illinois.edu/llx/. 


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Review: Alif the Unseen

“The semester is coming to a close, and I have a lot of work to do. Why can’t I put this book down?” I ask myself, having spent this last week completely engrossed in G. Willow Wilson’s latest novel, Alif the Unseen, which came out in June 2012. On Sunday, I fell asleep with the book on my pillow.

From the book jacket:

In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients—dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups—from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif—the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the State’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover’s new fiancé is the head of State security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.

This book is an adventure, a veritable tour de mystical force. I cannot help but compare the book to Neil Gaiman’s novel, American Gods; both require the protagonist and the reader to believe, and belief opens the doors to worlds unseen. Although many may see it as such, this belief is not an exotic dressing for the novel, but a part of the world. To call fire-eyed jinn, the power of words and code, desert car chases, and revolution “mundane” would certainly be wrong, but Wilson treats them as part of the world, and this world’s got them all. Wait, how do you believe in a car chase? That there is hope of escape. In a world of increasing digital state surveillance, this is a powerful hope. It is not an exotic impulse to hope, and believe, and to act on hope and belief.

This is perhaps one of the most powerful aspects of Wilson’s writing, and is impressive for a debut novel. This is without even mentioning her wonderfully crafted characters. It takes a while to warm up to Alif, another unsurprisingly male protagonist, but his struggle with identity is real and worth note. He has personality, convictions, and a capacity to learn. Nearly all of the characters, in fact, show these traits. From the indomitable Dina, Alif’s childhood friend, who invites us to share a space both personal and spiritual, to the jinn Vikram in which Alif sees “a predatory, unnerving humor, like the musing of a leopard in a pen of goats,” G. Willow Wilson urges perspectives into the world.

Alif the Unseen won the 2013 World Fantasy Award. You can find this book in our collection at the Literatures and Languages Library. Click here to view Alif the Unseen in the catalog. Other works by G. Willow Wilson include her graphic novel Cairo (2006), comic series Air (2008-2010), and an autobiographical account in The Butterfly Mosque (2010). Currently Wilson is writing a Ms. Marvel comic series starring an American Muslim teenage shapeshifter.

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Alistair MacLeod, Canadian Novelist, Dies at 77


The Canadian literary world is mourning the loss of Alistair MacLeod, a great writer and academic who inspired generations of students, who died at age 77 this past Sunday. The Saskatchewan native died from complications from a stroke he suffered in January.

MacLeod’s first and only novel, “No Great Mischief,” was published in 1999 to ecstatic reviews. He also published somewhat fewer than two dozen short stories. Nearly all of MacLeod’s fiction is set on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, where MacLeod spent his childhood and maintained a home later in life. In spite of his limited literary output, his reputation remains extremely bright.

For wonderful biographical accounts, please consider reading the following:

-“In appreciation of Alistair MacLeod” by Frances Itani, Ottawa Citizen

-“Alistair MacLeod, a Novelist in No Hurry, Dies at 77″ by Margalit Fox, New York Times

-“Remembering a great writer: Alistair MacLeod dies at 77″ by Steven Galloway, Special to the Globe and Mail


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Shortlist for Fifteenth Caine Prize Announced

On Tuesday, April 22nd, Professor Wole Soyinka, Nobel Prize Winner and Patron of the Caine, announced the five shortlisted writers for the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing. The prize is an annual literary award for the best original short story written by an African writer and published in the English language. The prize was founded in the United Kingdom in 2000 and is named after Sir Michael Harris Caine, the former chairman of Booker Group. Due to the Caine Prize’s connection to the Booker, the contest is sometimes called the “African Booker.”

To commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the Caine Prize, each shortlisted writer will be awarded £500. The chair of judges this year, Jackie Kay, remarked: “What a golden age for the African short story, and how exciting to see real originality – with so many writers bringing something different to the form.” The winner of the 2014 Caine Prize will be announced on Monday, July 14th. The winner will be awarded £10,000.

The official Caine Prize website includes a wealth of related content, including the full press release, biographical information about the writers, and – best of all! – the nominated short stories themselves in free downloadable PDF files. The Caine Prize website also maintains a blog rich with information about the prizewinners, workshops, and more.

For a critical perspective on the Caine Prize, try reading African writer Ikhide R. Ikheloa’s commentary regarding the 2011 prize, called “How Not to Write About Africa.” He remains concerned that prize winners lazily play on stereotypes to meet Western expectations, rather than enlarge readers’ conceptions about Africa.


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IPRH Spring Symposium: Ecological Bodies

The Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH) is hosting its annual symposium this week, starting May 1, continuing through May 2. The theme this year is “ecological bodies.” The event will be held in the Chancellor Ballroom, I of the Hotel Conference Center, 1900 South First Street, Champaign.

According to the IPRH website:

This symposium turns scholarly attention toward the mutual construction of “natural” bodies and “natural” environments. Responding to contemporary concerns surrounding the shaping of “human” ecological awareness, the symposium focuses needed attention on what ecological sensibilities mean for rethinking ontology of the “human” as extended into space, dependent and shaped through encounters with nonhuman others. “Ecological Bodies”  provides a conceptual tool for scholars to explore how we can productively join feminist, queer, and postcolonial insights into body politics with what environmental studies scholars have taught us about the construction of “nature.”  “Ecological Bodies” also cuts across multiple turns in the humanities in what has been called the “affective” turn, the “ontological” turn, and the “spatial” turn. Divided into four thematic sessions– which investigate imperialism, built environmental encounters, risk, and biological/reproductive processes— the symposium explores arenas of ecological relations that interrogate boundaries of the natural/cultural, human/nonhuman, and body/environment.  Its focus on “ecological bodies” encourages building connections among scholars across natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities, as well as between sites of political activism across bodies and environments.

Featured Speakers:

Thursday, May 1

7:30 p.m. Keynote: Gregg Mitman
Vilas Research and William Coleman Professor of History of Science, Medical History, and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
“Ecological Imperialism Revisited: Entanglements of Bodies, Knowledge, and Commerce in a Global World”

Friday, May 2

9:00 a.m. Keynote: Catriona Sandilands
Professor and Canada Research Chair in Sustainability and Culture, York University
“Encountering Plants: Entanglements and Embodiments.”

1:00 p.m. Keynote: Linda Nash
Associate Professor, History, University of Washington
“From Purity to Risk:  Constructing Bodies and Health through Regulation in the Twentieth-Century US”

5:00 p.m. Keynote: Jim Endersby
Reader in the History of Science in the School of History, Art History and Philosophy, University of Sussex
“Models and Metaphors, Orchids and Primroses:  When, Why and How Is a Person Like a Plant?”

University of Illinois Participants:

Aaron Carico | English / IPRH Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow 2013–15
Samantha Frost | Political Science / Gender and Women’s Studies
Carla Hustak | History / IPRH Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow 2012–14
Bob Morrissey | History
Zachary Poppel | History
Leslie Reagan | History / Gender and Women’s Studies
William Sullivan | Landscape Architecture
Jenn Thomas | Landscape Architecture / IPRH Graduate Fellow 2013–14
Paula Treichler | Professor Emerita, Institute of Communications Research / Media and Cinema Studies
Roderick Wilson | History / East Asian Languages and Cultures / IPRH Mellon Faculty Fellow 2013–14

Click here to view speaker bios/abstracts.

And follow this link to view the full symposium schedule.

We hope to see you there!

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