Department of English
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What is the purpose of a novel? How satisfactory are the meanings that literary critics assign to novels? How has the novel changed? What does the novel share with cinema, and what does that mean for thought and literary criticism in the contemporary period? Iqra S. Cheema talks with Timothy Bewes about these and other questions as addressed in his book Free Indirect.
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Orion Magazine

First Passage

In this essay featured in Orion Magazine, Elizabeth Rush travels to Antarctica as she considers motherhood in an age of glacial loss.
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SEISMA Magazine

INSIDE THE MIND: PAUL ARMSTRONG

Interview with Paul Armstrong in June 2022 about his work on literature and neuroscience in Seisma, a London-based magazine that focuses on the relations between art and science. The discussion focuses on Paul's books How Literature Plays with the Brain: The Neuroscience of Reading and Art (2013) and Stories and the Brain: The Neuroscience of Narrative (2020), and examines the differences between taxonomic and phenomenological literary theories as well as types of cognition such as perception and selfhood as they relate to reading and literature. How might a neuro-phenomenological approach to literary studies facilitate our understanding of the interrelation between humans and literature?
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Elizabeth Rush, author of Rising: Dispatches From the New American Shore, wrote a guest essay for the New York Times in April 2022 about people living in frontline flood communities, who may know something the rest of us do not about the looming threat of climate change.
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Columbia University Press

Caitlin Hurst and Ada Smailbegović on Poetics of Liveliness

Ada Smailbegović’s new book Poetics of Liveliness investigates the ways twentieth- and twenty-first-century poets have intermingled scientific methodologies with poetic form to reveal unfolding processes of change. The book shifts across scales to describe the subtly changing realms of molecules, fibers, tissues, and clouds. It explores works such as Christian Bök’s insertion of a poetic text into the DNA code of living bacteria in order to generate a new poem in the shape of a protein molecule, Jen Bervin’s considerations of silk fibers and their use in biomedicine, Gertrude Stein’s examination of brain tissues in medical school and its subsequent influence on her literary taxonomies of character, and Lisa Robertson’s studies of nineteenth-century meteorology and the soft architecture of clouds.

In this two-part conversation, Smailbegović talks with our own Caitlin Hurst about how her work thinks through the relationship between poetry and science, guided by its interest in questions of “liveliness,” soft matter, and nonhuman perception. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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Meeting Street: Conversations in the Humanities

Black Aliveness

A wide-ranging and revelatory conversation with scholar and writer Kevin Quashie about his new book Black Aliveness, which emphasizes the experience of Black life through readings of poetry and first-person essays.
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I met Elizabeth Rush on Twitter, through friends I also met on Twitter, who all resided, generally, in Providence, Rhode Island, and who didn’t necessarily know each other in real life. In the summer of 2019, we all broke bread and drank beer in a Providence backyard where the conversation centered around toxics, built and natural environments, sociology, chemistry, writing, and the publishing industry—all except Elizabeth who had been invited but had run off to other climes: Columbia and then on to Antarctica to work on a new book. Before our group met again online in April 2020, this time including Elizabeth, I re-read her book Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, which was a Pulitzer finalist for 2018. In it, she took complex topics (rising seas, climate change, the human condition) and showed the vulnerability of all three in a way that made me feel at home. In her voice, I recognized a sibling to my own. As girls, we played a little too rough, swore a little too much, considered our stubbornness a positive thing, but we always kept our hearts in the game. And in our books, I also saw parallels in the way we told stories, by allowing humans their humanity and nature its course, all the while recording the former’s intrusion upon the latter.

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