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“The End”

July 13, 2009

The completion of a novel is nowhere near as momentous as the birth of a child. But in some ways, the pain and anxiety of separation is similar.

D-Day 65 Years On

June 6, 2009

This weekend I will be taking a journey into the heart of America and Americana with my grandfather to attend a D-Day commemoration at the Eisenhower Presidential Library.

If You Malaprop Us, Do We Not Bleed?

May 26, 2009

In these days of excessive credit card fees and imminent financial regulation, one of the most bandied-about (and misused) Shakespearean phrases is “a pound of flesh.”

Whose Woods Are These? (A Manifesto, Part 2)

May 14, 2009

Inside Higher Ed is reporting that New England Review is now on the chopping block. The Middlebury College Budget Oversight Committee initially announced "that effective June 30, 2009, the College will end its relationship with the New England Review (NER) and wind down operations. The winding down of operations will allow for the redeployment of staff and the fulfillment of existing contracts." That recommendation was amended to: "The New England Review will have until December 31, 2011, to eliminate its current operating deficit. If it cannot, the College will end its relationship with the Review."

This is shocking news. Middlebury College is primarily known as a haven for language and literature. In addition to NER, it is home to the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the School of English, the Environmental Journalism fellowships, and the Robert Frost Writer-in-Residence fellowship. (The college also contributes to the maintenance of the nearby cabin where Robert Frost lived during the summers when he was teaching at the Writers' Conference and School of English.) All of these entities support the outstanding undergraduate program in creative writing and Middlebury's English faculty—including Julia Alvarez, David Haward Bain, Robert Cohen, Kathryn Kramer, Jay Parini, Don Mitchell, and Christopher Shaw. And yet, the Writers' Conference and School of English are also being asked to "find ways to maintain balanced budgets" and "increase revenue."


The Future of University Presses and Journals (A Manifesto)

May 9, 2009

In February 1935, James Monroe Smith, president of Louisiana State University, decided his institution needed two things—a literary journal and a press. He drove his black Cadillac to Robert Penn Warren’s house and invited the newly-minted LSU professor and his graduate student boarder, Albert Erskine, to go for a drive. He wanted to know what they thought it would cost to produce a top-flight journal. Warren told him $10,000 per year—that’s more than $150,000 in today’s dollars. Surprisingly, Smith quickly agreed on two conditions: 1) he wanted Warren and Erskine to team up with Cleanth Brooks, then a professor in the English department, and Charles W. Pipkin, dean of the graduate school; and 2) he wanted a full proposal from them by the next morning. Warren and Erskine worked deep into the night, and the next day Southern Review was born. Shortly thereafter, Smith appointed Marcus Wilkerson to the directorship of the newly formed LSU Press and set aside money for several ambitious projects, including a history of the university, a two-volume survey of Western civilization, and a doorstop anthology of American literature co-edited by Brooks and Warren (based on Warren’s literature course at LSU)—the now-classic An Approach to Literature. “Although James Monroe Smith was not himself an intellectual,” writes literary historian Mark Royden Winchell, “he valued intellect in others and knew how to put it to work for the good of the university.”

Nearly seventy-five years later, Southern Review remains one of the most important quarterlies in the country, and LSU Press has earned a reputation as one of the nation’s most revered university presses. In the last three decades alone, LSU Press’s literary titles have garnered four Pulitzer Prizes, a National Book Award, and a National Book Critics Circle Award, and its exceptional history list has won three Bancroft Prizes and the Lincoln Prize. Yet, LSU’s new chancellor, Michael Martin, has targeted both Southern Review and LSU Press as entities within the university that, due to the economic downturn, will now need to contribute additional revenue to the university—or else. According to the preliminary budget report issued by the university, “it is very possible they cannot generate the revenue needed and will close.” In a prepared statement released after the budget was made public earlier this week, Martin praised LSU’s nationally recognized publications as “a very valuable asset to this university” but insisted that “we must protect the academic core of LSU first and foremost.”