Posts by Gina Barreca
April 26, 2010, 06:48 PM ET
Brenda wasn't sure what to call herself.
Her name was fine, but her racial and ethnic designation was something else. She thought about this as the Amtrak moved out of Manhattan against the night sky.
She turned her head and looked steadily at her profile from beneath her arched eyebrows; she approved of her polo shirt with the collar pushed up in the back. The soft-pink headband complimented the shirt and the pearl earrings were perfect, even without the necklace. Was she African-American? That's how she was identified in terms of what she checked off the college application form. She was more comfortable with the word "Black." Besides, she wasn't only, wasn't even mostly, "African-American." She was more Cuban, Jamaican, and Brazilian than African. It was simply easier to say "Black" which, when you thought about it (and she thought about it for the entire fall term of her senior ...Read More
April 20, 2010, 10:30 PM ET
What do you know about sex?
I'm putting together an anthology—short, sinful, and sweet.
I know you know something, but where did you get that information? Where did you learn it?
What kinds of books did you read that had sexy bits?
Did Catcher in the Rye turn you on? Shakespeare's sonnets? (And if so, which ones?) Did you turn down the page on the bridesmaid and Sonny passage in The Godfather, perhaps? Are there sections you reread in Notes on a Scandal? Did I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell seem to be the most accurate reflection on sex you've ever read? Was it Ginsberg who inspired you, or Yeats? Molly's monologue in Ulysees or was it Margaret Mitchell's description of kisses and swoons in Gone with the Wind? How about Fear of Flying?
Who made you laugh about sex? Who made you never want to touch...Read More
April 14, 2010, 09:53 PM ET
One of the smartest and most honest things that I heard from any panelist at the AWP Annual Conference last week was from Julie Barer, a literary agent, who said that the best thing anybody could do to get himself or herself published was to go out and buy a book of poems or short stories.
The very real question she asked was this: "When was the last time you bought a book of poetry or short stories? Everybody's writing them, but who is buying them?" People looked around the room as if searching for a savior, someone who'd cry out "I've purchased a new collection and/or anthology every other day for the past three years and BOY am I HAPPY!" We would have circled that person, bowed, and made wreaths of laurel.
Nobody said anything.
April 9, 2010, 11:40 AM ET
So here I am in Denver, attending my very first annual conference of the AWP: Association of Writers and Writer Programs. I don't know if it's a sign, but after I gave my presentation yesterday for a panel called "Sick Humor: What's Not Funny About Serious Disease?" I lost my voice. As of this morning, I've been forced to speak in a whisper that makes me sound like a cross between Dietrich and Brando. (To be honest, I sound neither seductive nor threatening, but I'm trying to heighten my sense of self-esteem here, and I'll explain why in a minute.) Anyway, I have spent the rest of my time at the conference listening carefully and taking notes.
In part I've been taking notes because I'm feeling weirdly out of place. I figure that if I write...Read More
April 6, 2010, 08:24 PM ET
Is the study of English doomed?
Should Ph.D.'s be envying ABD's, who, in turn, should be dissuading even tots from learning their ABC's because they'll only end up with a stack of IOU's if they take a liberal-arts education beyond a B.A.?
Are humanities departments essentially one big Ponzi scheme?
Should we be chasing one another around the hallways with sticks in order to put ourselves out of our own misery and, in addition, so as not to cause risk to others?
Not that we're bitter, but it hasn't actually been a fun week of reading in The Chronicle.
We hear from Peter Conn at the University of Pennsylvania that "as a profession, we are enrolling too many Ph.D. students, we have been doing so for decades, we spend far too long in guiding them to their degrees, and we then consign them...Read More
April 3, 2010, 08:44 PM ET
As what you might call a "Recovering Catholic" (I know that I am one, I have accepted that I can never be anything besides one, but I can't go out and practice it except at what I perceive to be my peril), I have a complex relationship to the idea of Jesus.
Drummed into me from an early age was the fact that God was the Father, which led to my thinking of God as somebody home only at the weekends. I also thought of God as somebody on my mother's side of the family because my own father never went to mass, washing the car or reading the paper instead, which suggested to me that, in going to church, my mother was visiting one of her relatives--we would say hello for my dad, but it wasn't really his business to go through the whole routine. Thinking about God as a Father also meant thinking of Him as ...Read More
March 30, 2010, 02:10 PM ET
I'm always asked by grad students who have just finished or who are about to finish their dissertation how it "feels to be done."
Here's a version of my response. I'd like to hear yours.
It takes a moment, so stay with me for this one, okay?
Consider the following scenario presented by Brides magazine: "After months of planning, endless phone calls, and entertaining relatives from out of town, the big day was all over. Rather than feeling relieved, as she'd anticipated, [the bride] was depressed. 'I'd put my heart into it, and it was like someone had just died,' she recalls. It might have helped [her] to know that such feelings are not only normal, but also healthy, according to Professor Edward Bader, M.A., of the department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto. 'Any event has some letdown, because you've channeled your energy in that direction. Afterward, there...Read More
March 25, 2010, 09:37 PM ET
Am I the only one who doesn't read many of the emails I get announcing no-doubt fabulous things going on around my campus?
I feel bad about being a bad citizen, but not bad enough to read most of them all the way through. I hate myself for not taking advantage of everything that's being offered, but not enough not to go home when I'm done with my classes, office hours, and my own research.
One of the many unreasonable fantasies I had as a graduate student was that when I became a full-time faculty member and would therefore have all the time in the world (my first mistake because of course things never get easier, just more complicated) I would go to all sorts of events happening in the glorious community of which I would be a part. I...Read More
March 21, 2010, 06:00 PM ET
The class is thoroughly under way
and I am reluctant
to admit new students.
You have already
missed the first three lectures
and two in-class writing assignments.
The course carries an extremely heavy reading load.
To begin the course at a disadvantage
would be, in my estimation, unwise.
If, however, you are committed to enrolling,
you may take a seat on Tuesday
(you'll find a blue book on the desk;
bring a black ballpoint)
having read all of The Brothers Karamazov
and be prepared to write an essay,
which will be graded,
comparing this novel to three other works
including Zulieka Dobson
The other work may be
of your own choosing.
A wise choice always matters.
Please let me know if you decide...Read More
March 19, 2010, 09:21 AM ET
From Catherine C., a reader of Babes in Boyland:
I believe that the stories you're trying to construct are basically stories of identity, individual, cultural and institutional. You happened to be delivered into a moment in American history when previously all-male colleges, those bastions of white privilege and power, were being forced to accept women. In your community and family's cultural background, time spent earning an intellectual education was beyond the world of possibility, especially for a woman. What took place was your search for identity set against the similar search being done by Dartmouth (probably mostly against their will) and the general national shift into accepting that women had both a right and a place in the world of Ivy League education formally reserved for only the sons of the rich and powerful. So there's a story inside a story inside a story, and perhaps...Read More