Last report from Boston -- One of my more pleasant duties in the course of the year's American Literature Association was entirely unrelated to the conference itself. Along with poet/critic Jodi Braxton, I served as an external examiner for a doctoral thesis from the University of Cardiff in Wales. Jodi and I jumped in a cab, had a good catching-up visit along our route, and arrived at a video conference site overlooking the harbor. Over the course of the next hour we had a most productive discussion with the examinee, Lisa Mansell, connected by video with the faculty in Wales.
Lisa's dissertation, titled FORM OF FIX: TRANSATLANTIC SONORITY IN THE MINORITY, comes from a program I wish we had at Penn State, that combines rigorous critical/historical work with creative writing. In Lisa's case, this produced a well-researched essay that brings together critical issues in "minor" languages with studies of race and nationality. One of the many revelations (at least for me) was her tracing of the incredible influence of the Fisk Jubilee Singers on Welsh culture and thinking about issues of language and minority. The essay is followed by 200 pages of some of the most original and provocative poetry I have read in a long time. And this is poetry, albeit lyric, that makes an argument, that carries forward the work of critique begun in the essay.
I fully expect that we'll be seeing much of this work in print, so keep an eye out for the work of Dr. Lisa Mansell, who can be seen in this photo phoning the good news of the successful completion of her defense to the friends back in California. And that's official boyfriend Leroy in the photo with her. After the defense we all retired to our conference hotel for a congratulatory champaign lunch.