As Janet McNew observes at the outset of her discussion of the current curriculum controversy— a.k.a. political correctness—in American higher education, “ferment over what knowledge is most important to teach is not. . .new.” Indeed, The Battle of the Books is the principal title of the second work reviewed in this issue’s “History” section of “Notes on Current Books,” only the battle took place in Augustine England 300 years ago and was more about how history should be written than about what was to be taught. Nevertheless, it was, as is today’s battle, a conflict between, in Ms. McNew’s words, “the Ancients and the Moderns.”
Janet McNew is hardly a stranger to the academic world and is well qualified to examine the pros and cons of the political correctness/curriculum ruckus. She received her Ph. D. degree in English from the University of Virginia and subsequently took a position in the joint English department of Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota and the College of Saint Benedict in Saint Joseph, Minnesota. She recently completed her second term as chairman of this joint English department, and during the past fall she directed the Saint John’s/ St. Benedict’s British Studies Program in London. She has since returned to her alma mater in Charlottesville, where she is now working as an administrative fellow in the office of President John Casteen under a Bush Leadership Grant. She has spoken in several colleges and on Minnesota Public Radio about recent controversies in the humanities, but this is the first time she has written about them at length.
Constance W. Curry has been called the “unknown soldier for civil rights,” and as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal and Constitution wrote in a feature story about her in April 1990, her “memories of the Civil Rights Movement are a roadmap of small towns across the South.” In fact, for 12 years in the 1960’s and early 70’s Ms. Curry, a white Southerner, made stops in little towns like Wetumpka, Alabama; Unadilla, Georgia; and Drew, Mississippi, the site of what she describes as “one family’s struggle for justice in America.” From 1975 until 1990 Ms. Curry served as director of the Atlanta Bureau of Human Services. She left that post two years ago to spend a year at the University of Virginia as a Carter Woodson Fellow. There she committed her memories of her days in Southern small towns to the printed page in a biography of the Movement’s “ordinary people.” Among those people were the Carters of Drew, a Delta hamlet where cotton and Jim Crow still reigned supreme in 1965. The story of what happened after that is the subject of Ms. Curry’s VQR essay. She is now working on a book-length manuscript about the Carters, their travails and their triumphs.
Sidney Sulkin’s first VQR story, “Like the Whiteness of the World,” appeared in VQR exactly a year ago (Winter 1991). That story was set in Boston. His latest, “In the Kingdom of the Spider,” goes from the Atlantic to the Pacific and is set in San Francisco. A prolific novelist and short story writer, Mr. Sulkin’s books include Gate of the Lions, a verse play which won the Quarterly Review of Literature Award; The Secret Seed, a collection of stories and poems; and The Family Man, a novel. His stories have appeared in such publications as Kenyon Review, Sewanee Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, TriQuarterly, and have also been included in Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Stories, and other anthologies.
What historian today would be so bold to declare that his work “is not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but was done to last forever.” Yet that is exactly what Thucydides said about his History of the Peloponnesian War, and so far he has proved to be right as Robert Zaretsky observes in his essay on the “Timelessness of Thucydides.” A frequent VQR contributor, Mr. Zaretsky holds a Ph. D. in history from the University of Virginia and is an authority on modern France. He teaches history in the Honors Program at the University of Houston.
Heather McHugh is writer-in-residence at the University of Washington in Seattle. She is also on the faculty of the Warren Wilson M.F.A. Program outside Ashville, North Carolina. Her most recent collections are Shades, and To the Quick, both published by Wesleyan.
The subject of Keith Althaus’ VQR poem, “Piero Manzoni,” was an Italian conceptual artist who died in the early 60’s. According to Mr. Althaus, “he once exhibited an empty gallery; measured the distance between cities with string, then canned and exhibited the string.” Mr. Althaus has had recent work in Provincetown Arts and The Agni Review.
A recent graduate of the M. F. A. Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, Martha Rhodes has had poems published recently in Beloit Poetry Journal, The Cape Rock, The Florida Review, and other magazines.
A resident of San Francisco, Mary Hower has contributed poems to The Iowa Review, Threepenny Review, California Quarterly, and Pacific International.
J. C. Ellefson was a fellow at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center during 1988—89. He taught in 1990 in China. He now teaches composition and American literature at the University of the Azores in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and he is also coach of that university’s rowing team.
Bethany Pray holds degrees from Williams College and the Warren Wilson M.F.A. Program for Writers. She lives with her husband and daughter in New York City.
Among the most distinguished of contemporary American poets, David Ignatow is a recipient of the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, one of the most prestigious awards presented to an American poet.
Bernice Grohskopf was one of four American writers who went to the Soviet Union last July on a cultural exchange program as guests of the Soviet Writers Union, staying at the House for Writers at Peredelkino, a village 12 miles from central Moscow. She also visited Leningrad and other Russian communities during her visit. “Moscow Kitchens, Moscow Nights” is a report of what she saw and felt during her stay in a country whose system was unraveling.
A native Virginian born in 1961, Porter G. Raper was reared in Richmond and received his B.A. in philosophy from William and Mary in 1984. He worked in England and taught private school in Richmond before beginning graduate studies at Virginia Commonwealth University where he received an M.F.A. degree in Creative Writing in 1990. His VQR story, “Taking Aim,” is his first to be accepted and published, but it is safe to predict that it will not be his last.
Pat C. Hoy, II, who teaches writing at Harvard, retired from the Army in 1989 as a colonel and professor of English at the U.S. Military Academy, where he had served on the faculty for about half of his 28-year military career. At West Point he taught electives in modern British literature and directed the freshman writing program. He has edited two collections of modern essays, Prose Pieces, and Women’s Voices, and holds a Ph. D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of a textbook (Writing and Reading Essays) and a collection of familiar essays (Images of Our Lives) and has published in such journals as The Sewanee Review, South Atlantic Review, and Twentieth Century Literature.
A native New Yorker who still lives in Manhattan, Diane Lefer has also resided in Mexico, the site of her VQR story. She has published more than two dozen short stories in magazines and journals ranging from The Agni Review to Zeta. She has received five PEN Syndicated Fiction prizes as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. She teaches in the M.F.A. Writing Program at Vermont College.
After receiving his B. A. degree from the University of Virginia in 1981, Jahan Ramazani went to Oxford University’s New College as a Rhodes Scholar. After Oxford, he enrolled in the graduate department of English at Yale University and received his Ph. D. degree in 1988. He then returned to his alma mater, where he is an assistant professor of English. He published his first book, Yeats and the Poetry of Death: Elegy, Self-Elegy and the Sublime (Yale) in 1990 and is now completing a second.
Diana de Armas Wilson has a doctorate in comparative literature and is an associate professor of English, with a specialty in Renaissance studies, at the University of Denver. She has published widely on Cervantes and Renaissance critical theory, and her book on Cervantes’ last work, The Persiles, was recently published by Princeton and is entitled Allegories of Love. At present she is co-editing a collection entitled Cervantes and Psychoanalysis.
Jeffrey Meyers visited India in 1966 and again in 1969, and his memory of the sub-continent is still vivid. A prolific author, he has written biographies of Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, and Katherine Mansfield, among others, and recently completed a new biography of Edgar Allan Poe.
J. A. S. Evans is a professor of classics at the University of British Columbia and a past president of the Classical Association of Canada.
No stranger to the British literary scene and certainly no stranger to Wales, where he was born, Richard Jones is a former journalist, BBC correspondent, and author of several novels. He is, as you will see, no fan of Kingsley Amis.
W. D. Ehrhart lives in Philadelphia with his wife Anne and daughter Leela. A veteran of the Vietnam War, he described his return there in VQR’s summer issue. His most recent books are Just for Laughs, a collection of poems, and In the Shadow of Vietnam, a collection of essays.
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