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UTK Department of English

News and Views May 2024

As we look back on this momentous year from across the fence of summer, we have much to celebrate, as well as a few wistful memories. We bid a happy retirement to five of our long-time colleagues at a year-end celebration: Lance Dean, Laurie Knox, Mary Papke, Rob Stillman, and Richard Yost. PhD and soon-to-be PhD graduates Caitlin Branum-Thrash, Emily Butler-Probst, and Kelly Sauskojus will leave to start tenure track jobs or prestigious post-docs. We also bid farewell to a wonderful, award-winning, and growing group of graduating English majors at the English Major Convocation, organized by DUS Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud. Looking ahead, in the fall, we will welcome Ryan Perry and Marie Taylor as new tenure-stream faculty, as well as new Herbert Fellows Amanda Gaines, Kyle Macy, and Michael Pontacoloni, and new full-time Lecturer faculty Jeff Amos, Ziona Kocher, and Tyler Smith.

The administrative team (including Sean Morey, Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud, Ben Lee, Martin Griffin, Kirsten Benson, and our incredible staff (Judith Welch, Molly Johnson, Leanne Hinkle, Maggie Wallen, Pam Whaley, and Dennis McGlothin) led us through a ten-year APR report, which highlighted our strengths and gave us grounds to ask for more support for our graduate students, for faculty development, and for operating budget. While we wait for a response from the institution, the department recommitted to more support for graduate students in these challenging times in the form of additional scholarships, new funded supports for GTA/GA mentoring, pedagogical development, and summer studies, and pay for GSE co-chairs, bringing the total of our privately raise monetary support for graduate students to over half a million dollars this year. We see the challenges of this housing and job markets, and we not done advocating for our graduate students. Thanks to GSE leaders Kaitlyn Alford and Maggie Warren for your hard work, and to the leaders of the NEXUS Homebodies conference (Emi Wood Scully, Kate Wright, and Maggie Warren), who made that bi-annual event big success, which is commemorated by an original piece of art now in our mailroom, donated by Emi Wood Scully.

We are able to do what we do with the help of many supporters who bolster our success. This year, we inaugurated the Trahern professorship and also saw two major gifts that carry us into the future: the Leggett Professorship, created by Kirby and Ann Davis to honor Professor Emeritus Bob Leggett, and the Hall Professor of American Literature, established through an estate gift from Chris and Watty Hall to ensure future professorships in the years to come.

My best wishes to all of you for a lovely, restorative summer.


Misty Anderson

Selected Awards:

Jamal-Jared Alexander won the Denbo Humanities Center Digital Fellowship for the upcoming academic year.

Misty G. Anderson won the College’s Teaching Outreach Award.

Jake Buller-Young won the Hambright Fellowship, the GSS Graduate Student Teaching Award, and the Provost’s Graduate Student Teaching Award.

Margaret Dean won the GSE’s “Best Instructor Outside the Classroom” award, determined by a vote of our graduate students.

Mary Dzon won the GSE’s “Best Instructor in the Classroom” award, determined by a vote of our graduate students.

Dionte Harris won the 2024 Crompton-Noll Award from the GLQ Caucus of the MLA and the Q/T Caucus of the ASA

Sarah Harshbarger won the Mary Phipps Shepherd scholarship

Sally Harris was named a Faculty Champion in Online Learning

Henry Kirby was recognized as a finalist for the Jimmy Cheek Medal of Excellence

Mariah Rigg has been awarded a 2024 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in Creative Writing

Tanita Saenkhum was a recipient of a Graduate Student Senate Award for Outstanding Graduate Research Mentor.

Mark Tabone won The Society for Utopian Studies Eugenio Battisti Award for the best article published during the previous year in its peer-reviewed journal, Utopian Studies

Connor White won the Shipley-Swan scholarship,

Eliza Alexander Wilcox won the new Denbo Humanities Center Summer Travel fellowship and the Slagle Fellowship for work in the UK in eighteenth- and nineteenth century medical humanities.

Sarah Yancey won a fellowship from the Wittliff Collections at Texas State.

Books and Edited Collections:

Martin Griffin, author
Reading Espionage fiction: Narrative Conflict and Commitment from World War I to the Contemporary Era
Tanita Saenkhum, co-editor
EFL Writing Teacher Education and Professional Development: Voices from Under-Represented Contexts
Jeff Ringer, co-editor
Rhetoric and Religion in the Twenty-First Century: Pluralism in a Postsecular Age
Nancy Henry, guest editor
Nineteenth-Century Contexts: special issue from INCS 2023, Nineteenth-Century Movement(s)

Individual News

Misty Anderson was elected as the first vice president of ASECS in May 2024.The edited collection Staging the Mysterious Mother, built around her production of Walpole’s Gothic incest tragedy at the Yale British Art Center in May of 2018, appeared in November of 2023 and includes her essay on adapting the play for production. In September of 2023, she produced Joseph Addison’s Cato in collaboration with the CBT and IAC.

MFA student Shlagha Borah’s poem “Umami” was published in Anmly.

Recent PhD Caitlin Branum-Thrash accepted a tenure-track position as a professor of Medieval literature at Middle Tennessee State University.

PhD candidate Jake Buller-Young won three teaching awards during the 2023-2024 academic year: The David A. Hambright Teaching Award from the Department of English, the Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching Award from the Graduate Student Senate, and the Extraordinary Graduate Student Teaching Award from the Office of the Provost.

Recent PhD Emma Butler-Probst has been hired as a tenure-track Assistant Professor of English with a specialization in American literature at Anderson University in South Carolina. She will start there in the Fall.

Matt Bryant Cheney’s review of Colin Cutler’s album _Tarwater_ will appear later this summer in the Flannery O’Connor Review. Bryant Cheney will also present work at two conferences this summer. At the American Literature Association Annual Conference in Chicago this May, Matt will present his paper “The Artificial I-Word; or, Teaching Writing Teachers During a Decline of Canonical Authorship.” At the Society for the Study of Southern Literature Biennial Conference in Gulfport, MS this June, Matt will present his paper “Flannery O’Connor’s Exvangelical Dilemmas” and facilitate a workshop titled “Reconstructing Your Humanities Scholar Identity: Career Pathways in Academic Community Engagement.”

Gerard Cohen-Vrignaud’s article with Simon Reader, “The Importance of Being Bitchy,” appeared in the April 2024 issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. His chapter, “Hopeless Romanticism,” was published in Miranda and Singer, eds., Percy Shelley for Our Times (Cambridge UP, 2024). His book review of Mark Canuel’s The Fate of Progress in British Romanticism came out in /MLQ/ (March 2024).

In March, Dawn Coleman served as the respondent for the panel “Never Say Die: Secular Immortalities in the Long Nineteenth Century,” which she co-organized with Dr. Ashley Barnes, at the biannual conference of C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists.

Bess Cooley’s debut poetry collection will be published by Sundress Publications in November 2024.

Cornelius Eady’s Trio will release PAINTING, an eight-track acoustic EP on June 22, 2024. Here is a link to the first online review which has links to some of the songs. In April, he was at Lincoln Center for the recording and performance of the cast album of Running Man, his 1999 collaboration with Deidre Murray, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In May, a short ballet based on his Phillis Wheatley-Peters song cycle Mercy was filmed in Montreal.  

Amy Elias oversaw the establishment of the Humanities Center naming as the Denbo Humanities Center and the move into their beautiful new location at Cherokee Mills.

Elizabeth Gentry’s new piece of nonfiction came out in October in the North American Review

In May, Martin Griffin saw his new book Reading Espionage Fiction: Narrative, Conflict, and Commitment from World War I to the Contemporary Era come out with Edinburgh University Press. Also, Martin’s article “Of Gaines and Genre: Plotting the Racial Borders in Southern Louisiana,” looking at the novels of Ernest J. Gaines, will appear in the June issue of Mississippi Quarterly.

In May, Tom Haddox presented a paper entitled “Christian Faith and the Absolute in the Novels of Robert Stone” at the Western Regional Conference on Christianity and Literature in Langley, British Columbia.

MFA (Fiction) student Caoimhe Harlock has accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and U.S. Literatures at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA.

New Assistant Professor Dionte Harris won the 2024 Crompton-Noll Award from the GLQ Caucus of the MLA and the Q/T Caucus of the ASA for his article “The Smear: Vibrational Flesh and the Calculus of Black Queer Becoming in Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight,” published in differences (2022) 33 (1): 1–27. 

Hilary Havens has co-authored an article on the Maria Edgeworth Letters Project (MELP) with graduate students Eliza Alexander Wilcox and Jamie Kramer, as well as Meredith Hale (UT Libraries), that is forthcoming this spring in Digital Humanities Quarterly. The pilot version of MELP has recently launched: Hilary received an honorable mention for the 2024 Percy G. Adams Prize from the Southeastern Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies (SEASECS) for her article on Samuel Richardson and Edward Young. She gave an invited talk at a symposium in honor of Jim Engell at Harvard University in December and will give another on Frances Burney’s Cecilia at the University of York at the end of May. Hilary also gave presentations and co-chaired panels at SEASECS and ASECS this spring.

Tom Heffernan’s book “Tertullian’s Letters in a Time of Crisis” will be published by Brepols in 2024. Tertullian (140-218 CE) — to give him his full name Quintus Caecillius Quam Celerime Septimius Florens Tertullianus — composed two important treatises in the early years of the 2nd decade of the 3rd Century. He wrote a blistering attack on the Roman Proconsul of Africa, C. Julius Scapula Lepidus Tertullus and a brave defense of pacifism for Christian soldiers in his De Corona. The two works are amongst the earliest Christian Latin texts.

Nancy Henry co-edited a Special Issue of the journal Nineteenth-Century Contexts on “Nineteenth-Century Movement(s) (February 2024). The Special Issue is based on the Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies Conference that took place in Knoxville in April 2023. Her co-editors are graduate students Eliza Alexander Wilcox and Amber Walters-Molena.

Heather Hirschfeld spent three weeks in March at the University of Toulouse, Jean Jaurès, as a Visiting Professor in their English Department. She gave undergraduate and graduate lectures and seminars as well as a paper, “How to Mind a Prefix: Bethinking on the Renaissance Stage,” as part of an international conference on “Minding the Renaissance Stage.” In April she attended a seminar on stage properties at the Shakespeare Association of America Conference with a paper on stage “muffling.” Her essay, “ ‘To double business bound’: Shakespeare, Hamlet, and Multiple Gen Ed Requirements,” was published in January by Palgrave in Teaching Shakespeare Beyond the Major, ed. Marvin Sasser and Emma Atwood.

Since retirement from teaching, Laura Howes was honored at a special session at the Southeastern Medieval Association Conference in October, 2023, organized by former student Dr. Kendra Slayton, featuring papers by Slayton, Dr. Caitlin Branum-Thrash, and current PhD student Joshua Mangle. Her short note, “‘Upon Grounde’: A Note on Alliterative Significance in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” was published in Notes & Queries, August 28, 2023:

During the Spring 2024 semester, Lisa King had a book chapter titled “The Rhetorical Power of Indigenous Land and Place: Colonial Logics and Decolonial Possibilities at the Humboldt Forum” published in the new edited collection Pluriversal Literacies: Tools for Perseverance, and Livable Futures (eds. Baca, Cushman, and Garcia, U of Pittsburgh Press). She also delivered two presentations at the Conference on College Composition and Communication: “Unsettling the Rhetorical Legacy of the Settler Museum: Turning to Indigenous Voices” and “To Do Things in a Good (Decolonial) Way: Putting Indigenous Rhetorics and Rhetorics of Religion in Conversation.”

Michael Knight became the inaugural Joseph B. Trahern chair of English.

Chris Mayer shares perspectives on integrating generative AI into peer review and academic writing in a chapter titled “Navigating the New Frontier of Generative AI in Peer Review and Academic Writing”. The open access book Teaching and Generative AI: Pedagogical Possibilities and Productive Tensions is available here:  For more updated (and better!) approaches and lesson plans, email Chris any time.

Eleni Palis’ article “The Brand of Peele” was published by Film Quarterly in December 2023. Through generous support from the Riggsby Travel Fellowship Award through the Denbo Humanities Center and SARIF Foreign Travel funding, Palis presented pieces of forthcoming work at four major conferences. As for public-facing work, Palis published in the “Docalogue” series on documentary and public discourse. She also served as a film festival juror for the inaugural Film Fest Knox.

PhD Candidate Mariah Rigg has been awarded a 2024 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in Creative Writing, along with residencies and fellowships from The Mount, MASS MoCA, Marble House Project, and the Carolyn Moore Writers House. Her debut short story collection, Extinction Capital of The World, was sold this spring and will be published with Ecco in summer 2025.

Southern Illinois University Press published Rhetoric and Religion in the Twenty-First Century: Pluralism in a Post-Secular Age in the fall, which Jeff Ringer edited with Mike DePalma (Baylor U.) and Paul Lynch (St. Louis U.).

Tanita Saenkhum has recently published a co-edited collection EFL Writing Teacher Education and Professional Development: Voices from Under-Represented Contexts with Multilingual Matters, one of the leading presses in Applied Linguistics. This collection, as featured on the press’s website, “explores how EFL writing teacher education is theoretically, pedagogically, methodologically and sociopolitically shaped, given teachers’ unique local contexts and circumstances. It showcases practitioners and researchers teaching in, or studying, geographic areas that have as yet been under-represented in international publications, and it focuses on ways that specific contexts create unique opportunities and constraints on what developing teachers know and do in their work.” Additionally, she was selected as a recipient of a Graduate Student Senate Award for Outstanding Graduate Research Mentor.

Kelly Sauskojus, PhD student in RWL, will be a postdoc at Clemson University next year. The appointment features community engagement and allows Sauskojus to continue her work on food deserts, urban farming, and the rhetorics of community advocacy.

Urmila Seshagiri traveled to Bath, England, in April for the Persephone Books Literary Festival, where she spoke about discovering a delightful new typescript by Virginia Woolf in the archives of Longleat House, Wiltshire. She is preparing an edition of this 1908 comic biography, The Life of Violet by Virginia Woolf, for Princeton University Press and has received an American Philosophical Society Franklin Grant to support further archival research. This summer, she will be part of the T.S. Eliot panel at the Conference of the British Association of Modernist Studies speaking about her Afterword for the collection Eliot Now (Bloomsbury, 2024). She is very excited about two new programs she has created for our undergraduates: The first is ODYSSEYS, a “literary orientation” for freshmen and other new students, will launch this August in partnership with the Division of Student Success; and the second is a new upper-division interdisciplinary English course about Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival will run in spring 2025.

Erin Elizabeth Smith’s work has recently appeared in the Elysium Review and on, the website of the Academy of American Poets. This semester she was the keynote reader at the Young Writers Institute here at UTK and an invited speaker at the New Orleans Poetry Festival and Oak Ridge Rotary Club. She just completed her first year as our Director of Internships and Careers.

Rob Spirko has an essay, “Love and Risk,” forthcoming in Love at the Center from Skinner House Press. Love at the Center is a collection of theological reflections on love and justice. The essay draws on his work as co-chair of the Article II Study Commission, which re-wrote the purposes and principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which comprises around 1,000 congregations and 150,000 members across the U.S. He also won a Hodges Research course release to develop his thoughts the pedagogy of hope in times of crisis.

Mark Tabone won The Society for Utopian Studies Eugenio Battisti Award for the best article published during the previous year in its peer-reviewed journal, Utopian Studies for his 2022 essay, “Insistent Hope as Anti-Anti-Utopian Politics in N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy.”