Honors and Awards

Mark Bresnan ’01 Baseball Essay to be published
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2010 – Mark Bresnan ’01: his article “‘Disgraceful Employment’: The Gentleman Amateur Ideal in Eric Rolfe Greenberg’s The Celebrant” has been accepted for an essay collection focusing on baseball literature and social class, to be published in 2012 by McFarland.


Solomon wins Kappel Prize
WEDNESDAY, OCT 7, 2009 — Jeff Solomon, visiting assistant professor of English at St. Olaf, has been awarded Twentieth Century Literature’s Andrew J. Kappel Prize for his work, “Capote and the Trillings: Homophobia and Literary Culture at Midcentury.”


Faculty member receives award for poetry collection

By Anna Stevens ’10
January 15, 2009

St. Olaf Assistant Professor of English Jennifer Kwon Dobbs describes her first introduction to poetry as “falling in love with the language the way one can’t shake a song.”

It is now Dobbs’ own poetry that is sticking in people’s minds. Her collection of poetry, Paper Pavilion, received the 2008 Sheila Motton Book Award from the New England Poetry Club. The New England Poetry Club, founded by renowned American poets Amy Lowell, Robert Frost and Conrad Aiken, is the oldest reading series in the United States. “Reading previous prize winners is like reciting a long list of touchstone poets, many of whom have been important to my own development as a poet,” Dobbs says. “It’s an honor to be included.”

Before joining the St. Olaf faculty this past fall, Dobbs taught at the City University of New York and Loyola Marymount College. She was the founding director of the SummerTIME Writing Program in Los Angeles, a college access program for inner-city high school students, and she has a background in music collaboration. Her song Among Joshua Trees, written with Steven Gates, won the New York Youth Symphony’s First Music Series and debuted at Carnegie Hall.

Now Dobbs is sharing her experiences and love for writing with St. Olaf students.

How did you become interested in poetry?
Growing up in Oklahoma, I read whatever I could get my hands on. By sheer circumstance, my first books were The World Book Encyclopedia (1964 edition), Trixie Potter mysteries, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, and Best Loved Poems of the American People because they sat on the living room shelves. I remember reading John Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Christobel” and falling in love with the language the way one can’t shake a song. Oddly enough, I began writing as a young formalist with an internalized metronome, probably due to playing the flute and taking ballet lessons, and imitated the poems I liked from that anthology. Yet I didn’t begin to study poetry seriously until I reached college, and even then I was reticent to give in. When someone asked me, “So what are you going to do with that?” I shrugged. I tried doing other things — studying for the LSAT, for instance — but poetry would not let me go. Encouraged by my thesis director, I applied to MFA and Ph.D. in Literature programs, got into both, but decided to pursue creative writing first.

What inspires your poetry?
My subjects tend toward diaspora, history and geography — the stuff of epic. Yet I am drawn to the single voice that can reach across an auditorium to the back of the room. Through voice, a set of questions usually triggers the book. One that persists and that I’ve not quite imagined to my satisfaction is, “What is home/land?” I love questions for what they make possible — felt insight. So the process inasmuch as the insight matter. Within the question is a quest, a search. I write in search of what can only occur and be felt in lines.

Has your time here at St. Olaf thus far shaped your poetry in any way?
Though I’m still new at St. Olaf College, I find that place affects language. Of course it does. There are poems that I wrote in Los Angeles that could only take place in Los Angeles — the quality of the light, immigrants, migrants, a nomenclature of dreams, the Interstate 10 dead ending at the ocean. At St. Olaf, I’m reminded of our relationships with the land through the college’s green initiatives such as Regents Hall and the wetlands project and how these initiatives shape our internal landscapes. The natural world has rhythms and syntaxes of its own. I’m taking a lot of walks and doing a lot of listening right now.

How would you describe Paper Pavilion to someone who has yet to read your work?
Paper Pavilion turns to Korean literature in translation, opera, and mythology to construct a space, a pavilion, where a conversation about origins and search might take place. The book begins and begins again at the Korean Demilitarized Zone, which is the motion of an overseas Korean diaspora attempting to see and see again its history. So there are poems about materialism, mater, maternus, and poems about Pinocchio and other orphans.

What can we expect from your poetry in the future?
I’m working on poems that are darker in tone. Maybe it’s the tenor of our current time? I’m not sure. It’s probably due to the questions I’m asking. Toward them, I’m reading about labyrinths and ancient architecture. I want to know what a city that withstands war looks like. There are so many books at present that describe spectacles of destruction. For me, seeing what’s there is not enough. The imagination can envision possibilities, and that’s the harder language.

If you could leave your writing students with one piece of advice, what would it be?
If someone asks you, “You want to be a poet? What are you going to do with that?” you might say, “It’s what poetry is going to do with me.” Or don’t bother answering at all. In fact, just read and write, feel and think, and let failure be your best company. After all, it’s going to be a longer and more interesting conversation.

St. Olaf professor, Colin Wells receives humanities grant

By Linnae Stole ’10
December 8, 2008

Associate Professor of English Colin Wells recently received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for a book he has been working on titled Poetry Wars of the Early Republic.

Wells, an American literature specialist at St. Olaf, originally began researching the topic of early American political poetry back in 2002 and started writing his book in 2006. At its heart, Poetry Wars is a comprehensive study of political poetry in America from 1765, around the time of the rebellion that led to the Revolutionary War, to approximately 1815, when the new American Republic was firmly established.

“I look at the ways in which poets used their works to wage political and ideological warfare with politicians, newspaper editors and writers, and each other, all in the name of influencing the future course the American Republic would follow,” Wells says. “It begins, of course, with the wars between ‘Patriots’ and ‘Loyalists’ during the Revolution. But soon after the new nation was formed, partisan warfare broke out between the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, and each side had its own partisan poets and satirists.”

Wells received his B.A. from Boston College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers University. He joined the St. Olaf faculty in 1995. His scholarly interests include the literature of the American Revolutionary and Early National periods, 18th-century English poetry, and the relationship between literature, politics, and religion. His book, The Devil and Doctor Dwight: Satire and Theology in the Early American Republic, was published in 2002. By receiving the NEH grant, Wells will be able to extend his planned sabbatical from a half to a full year, and he hopes to complete his book during that time.

Under the belief that “democracy demands wisdom,” since 1965 the NEH has strived to serve and strengthen America by promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all citizens. To achieve this goal, the endowment provides grants for humanities in four funding areas: preserving and providing access to cultural resources, education, research, and public programs. Typical recipients of NEH grants are culture institutions, including but not limited to museums, archives, libraries, colleges, and individual scholars.

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or vanderve@stolaf.edu.


Carol Holly has been named Lilly Vocational Scholar for 2007-08. She will write an essay on teaching as a vocation, as well as examine vocation in the life and work of a 19th century American writer, Rose Terry Cooke.

Mbele to co-edit Tanzanian language project

JANUARY 29, 2007 — Associate Professor of English Joseph Mbele recently was appointed one of the editors for the Languages of Tanzania Project, at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The project aims to publish research on the 127 languages of Tanzania, creating an up-to-date language map that includes demographics, grammars and dictionaries. Mbele will be editor of the Oral Literatures publications, beginning with a comprehensive bibliography of research in Tanzanian folklore, and continuing with publications of studies and collections of tales and folklore.

“The idea is to document these languages and create a record that preserves them for posterity,” Mbele says. Since most of Tanzania’s many languages are oral and not written, Mbele says there is concern that they may be lost entirely some day. “It upsets the ecological balance when that happens. When we lose one language, we lose a very valuable resource,” Mbele explains, comparing the loss of a language to the loss of a species.

Mbele believes that recording a language preserves not only the vocabulary, but also the traditional knowledge and philosophy of a culture’s heritage. “Recording these languages gives us insight into other fields, such as history,” he says. “Linguistics has yielded a great deal of historic insight.”

Although Mbele notes that there have been efforts to document the languages of Tanzania in the past, starting with European missionaries some 150 years ago, the Dar es Salaam project is the most comprehensive. Begun in 2001, the project — in conjunction with the University of Gothenberg in Sweden and funded by a Swedish foundation — has attracted scholars from Germany, England, France, Russia, Japan and the United States. Mbele predicts that work on the project will continue until at least 2012.

As a folklorist, Mbele has researched East African epic heroes, as well as tricksters and outlaws, such as Jesse James. For his book, Matengo Folktales, Mbele recorded many of the folktales from his native tongue and translated them into English.

“I wanted to share some of the folklore heritage with a wider audience,” Mbele says, adding that teaching and writing about folklore is what brought him into the Languages of Tanzania Project.

Mbele has been researching and recording folklore since the 1970s as a part of the process of preserving languages and understanding cultures. Before coming to St. Olaf Mbele studied at Dar es Salaam and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has taught such courses as “Post-Colonial and Third World Literature,” “Folklore,” and “The Hero and the Trickster,” as well as the course, “Africa and the Americas.” He retains strong ties with Dar es Salaam, where he conducts much of his research and frequently advises graduate students and involves them in his research.

DuRocher to address Milton’s merits in Mellby Lecture

By Trent Chaffee ’09
October 9, 2006

Professor of English Richard DuRocher views it as a great honor to be giving this fall’s Mellby Lecture, “Why Milton Matters.” DuRocher will deliver his lecture Thursday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m. in Rolvaag Memorial Library 525. The lecture is free and open to the public.

The subject of DuRocher’s talk, the 17th-century writer and poet John Milton, has been of inerest to DuRocher for more than 20 years. During that time, DuRocher has studied Milton’s personal life, his style and remarkable use of language, and his significance to the liberal arts. DuRocher hopes to encourage other people to read Milton and to consider the importance of his work.

For DuRocher, Milton’s significance is bound up with three phrases: “discriminating freedom,” “the rhetoric of heroism” and “searching for wisdom and beauty.” Through his experiences as a Christian writer, Milton taught the difference between one’s own freedom and the license to restrict that of another, to look not for heroes but for leaders of action, and to find truth for one’s self.

DuRocher’s strong background in language and classics has aided his Miltonist studies. While growing up along the Gulf Coast, he attended Jesuit school and, during high school, learned Latin, which has been important in analyzing Milton, who wrote in several languages.

DuRocher says he sees parallels between Milton and one of his other passions: chess. “Chess is about always playing ahead,” DuRocher says. “Milton is like that; he always makes you think. He can be fun, but he’s serving some plan and deeper meaning.”

In addition to Milson and chess, DuRocher takes an interest in the works of 20th-century writer C.S. Lewis. DuRocher notes several similarities between Lewis and Milton, including that both writers found Christianity in a similar manner and wrote during a time of war. They also both understood that people wrestle with questions of courage and seek answers through big questions. For example, during a time of great conflict, Milton posed the question: “How can there be a God?”

DuRocher has written two books on Milton: Milton Among the Romans (2001) and Milton and Ovid (1985). He has taught in St. Olaf’s English department since 1986. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Loyola University and completed his master’s and doctoral degrees at Cornell University. Before coming to St. Olaf he taught English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Florida State University.


The annual Mellby Memorial Lectures are given in remembrance of St. Olaf faculty member Carl A. Mellby and were established to let St. Olaf faculty share their research with others. Mellby, known as “the father of social sciences” at St. Olaf, started the first courses in economics, sociology, political sciences and art history at the college. He was professor and administrator from 1901 to 1949, taught Greek, German, French, religion and philosophy, and is credited with creating the college’s honor system.


Mary Titus‘s book, The Ambivalent Art of Katherine Anne Porter, has been nominated for the Minnesota Book Award in the general nonfiction category.


Colin Wells has received one of two Faculty Development Grants (2006-07) for his book project, “Poetry Wars of the Early Republic.”


Mary Trull has won an American Council of Learned Societies fellowship, a signal honor and one which will allow her time next year (2005-06) to finish her book project, “Gendering Privacy: Overheard Laments in Early Modern English LIterature.”


Colin Wells awarded Lilly Grant 2005

A Lilly grant for thematically linked courses broadly addressing the idea of vocation across the curriculum was awarded to Colin Wells (English) and Steve Hahn (history). They will offer two linked courses, “Discerning the Spirit in American Literature” and “Heeding the Call in American History.” Students who take the two courses will create a small learning community that focuses on promises and perils in the fact that American history is in large part a story of people and groups acting according to a belief that they are following the call of God. (04-05)


Karen Marsalek participated in the NEH institute, Shakespeare’s Playhouses: Inside and Out, during the summer of 2004. Twenty-five faculty members studied with a group of artists and scholars working with a theater company called Shenandoah Shakespeare in a reconstruction of the Blackfriars Playhouse in Virginia for three weeks, and then traveled to London, where they studied Shakespeare’s plays at the reconstructed Globe Theatre. Participants were able to direct and perform scenes to better understand how the plays work in two of their original settings, as well as reading, discussing, listening to presentations, and seeing six plays presented by the professional companies at both theatres. (04-05)


Cherewatuk awarded James Randall Leader Prize
by Katie Moore (’04)

Karen Cherewatuk was virtually the last person to find out that she was the recipient of the James Randall Leader prize awarded by the International Arthurian Society this year. “The neat thing about this award,” says Karen, “is that 350 people kept it a secret from me after I was announced the winner.” She was unable to attend the May meeting of the announcement and did not find out about the prestigious award until a medievalist conference in Wales two months later.

The essay, “Born-Again Virgins and Holy Bastards: Bors and Elyne and Lancelot and Galahad” was published by the Arthuriana journal last summer. Karen’s “richly learned…and characteristically bold” article, according to department head Jonathan Hill, explores a paradox within the medieval ideal of chastity. Sir Thomas Malory’s two mythical knights, Lancelot and Bors, commit similar sexual crimes, yet their consequences drastically differ. While Sir Bors, a “born-again virgin,” attains the highest honor of the Holy Grail with his bastard son, Sir Lancelot and son are tragically shunned.

Her essay, however, is only a piece of her diligent study of Malory’s work. She plans to revise the essay for inclusion in her five-year book project, which will hopefully be completed during her released-time grant this semester. “I knew it was a good idea, that the scholarship would be fresh,” says Karen of the already published except.

Karen first sparked an interest in Arthurian literature when she chose, as her first teaching assignment, to teach first-year composition using Arthurian myth. Since then, she has become highly involved in the International Arthurian Society and attends annual North American branch meetings in Kalamazoo, Michigan. As this year’s winner, she will now serve on their selection committee for choosing scholarly essays for the award.


Diane LeBlanc’s essay “Voices” has received the Brenda Ueland Prose Prize for creative nonfiction from Water-Stone Literary Review; it will appear in Water-Stone 2002. Recent issues of the review include work by Robert Bly, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Scott Russell Sanders, Jane Hirshfield, and Donald Hall.


Jan Hill’s essay “Morningtown Ride,”about a train trip from Seattle to Oakland she took with her daughter, has been accepted by Kimera,a literary journal in Spokane. It will be online on the web; clicking on Jan’s name will allow you to hear her reading it aloud on a machine she borrowed from Media Services. She is currently working on two essays, one on quilts, one on crafts, and at home is making a quilt for her “fieldwork.”