What does the English Department want?

I met last week with the staff of GW’s Advancement office to speak about projects with which they might assist the English Department in fundraising. I was surprised to learn that most of what we seek is so modest that donors probably would not be that interested: significant gifts are those above $25,000. As an English major I can say only “!” I’m seldom at a loss for words, but that revelation left me speechless.

So apparently my department comes cheap. If you are reading this, have a kind heart and a love of culture and a wallet that has cash or even a credit card in it, here are some of the requests I made to Advancement on behalf of my colleagues.

  • A research fund so that faculty can travel to the archives they need to conduct their work. We work on projects as diverse as the life of Willa Cather and illustrations of incubi in medieval manuscripts. What these projects have in common (besides their ambition) is that the primary materials are housed in distant libraries, and a scholar’s salary seldom allows for extended visits.
  • A once a year, major lecture on Shakespeare. The lecture would be given by a scholar known for path breaking work. The talk would be for current undergraduates, regardless of major, and would be an event that we’d invite our alumni to attend each year to catch up with us.
  • Better support for our creative writing reading series. We’ve accomplished much on a shoestring budget; we could accomplish so much more on a more ample one.
  • A permanent source of support for our GW-British Council Writer in Residence. Currently we have only three years worth of funding.
  • Renovation of our physical space. As those of you who have visited our departmental offices know, we do a lot with the shabby chic aesthetic. Still, it would be conducive to a better sense of community to have a functioning lounge with a couch (shouldn’t every English major have access to a couch to crash upon and read Chaucer so that professors can wander by and strike up life changing conversations? That’s what I thought college was all about). We’d like a better place for faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates to congregate for informal conversation.
  • Some funds to have a yearly series of talks that would give our majors a better feel for the contours of the field. We’d love to feature some of our alumni in it.
  • More ambitiously, we would like to hire a faculty member who specializes in Jewish American Literature. We are fortunate to have Faye Moskowitz on our staff, but we would like to build on the strengths that she gives us.
  • We would also like to hire another Shakespeare specialist, and to create more full time positions for creative writers.
  • The department chair would also like to fund an annual trip for him and his family to Bermuda. However, we leave that one under “dreams best left unfulfilled for legal and ethical reasons.”

If you are interested in supporting anything on this list — or have ideas of your own — please don’t hesitate to contact me [chair @ gwu.edu] Please consider contributing via this link and designating your donation for the ENGLISH DEPARTMENT (scroll down the long list to check the box marked “Other” and then type in ENGLISH).

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