Zadie Smith’s The Wife of Willesden

by Candace Barrington

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Zadie Smith. Photo from Brent 2020 website

The Guardian reported on 12 November 2019 that Zadie Smith (author of White Teeth among other notable novels set in contemporary London) is adapting The Wife of Bath’s Tale (but I suspect they mean her Prologue) for the borough of Brent’s 2020 program marking it as a “borough of culture.” Titled The Wife of Willesden, this first play by Smith will be a monologue performed at Kiln Theatre. The article reported that, per Smith, the piece will “raise questions about the place of women in society and aim to capture the voice of Brent.”

By adapting the Wife as a vehicle for a distinctively localized and contemporary voice, Smith is not alone. Jean “Binta” Breeze’s “The Wife of Bath in Brixton Market” and Patience Agbabi’s “The Wife of Bafa” have adapted the Wife’s monologue for voices associated with the African Diaspora.  (See Jonathan Hsy’s posting where he describes  how he incorporates their work into his classroom teaching.) In Brazil, Francisco Botelho has adapted his Brazilian-Portuguese translation of The Wife of Bath’s Prologue into a one-woman dramatic monologue.

We’ll keep an eye on updated information on Smith’s Chaucerian play. And for those wanting to see a performance, we will post dates and ticket information as soon as they appear.

Job Posting for Assistant Professor, Medieval Literature

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We have news of a job posting that will interest Global Chaucerians. The English Department at Yale University seeks to appoint an outstanding scholar at the rank of assistant professor specializing in medieval literature.  Scholarship may focus on any area of Medieval Studies, with particular attention to work that expands the reach and engagement of the field.

They are primarily interested in scholars who specialize in later Middle English, though applications from scholars of early Middle English are also welcome.  They seek applicants with research interests that might include (though are not confined to) the following areas: the theory and history of sexuality; ecocriticism and environmental studies; the global Middle Ages; digital humanities and media studies; contemporary and historical approaches to literary criticism and theory; Latin intellectual culture; Piers Plowman; manuscript studies; and/or topics addressing diversity in race/ethnicity, gender, and other categories of identity.

To learn more about the position, visit https://apply.interfolio.com/67884 .

From Yale News: Medieval literature without borders: New classes rethink the Middle Ages

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The following story by Kendall Teare appeared on the Yale News website, 29 August 2019.

This year at Yale, two new literature classes will push the boundaries — cultural, linguistic, and geographic — of what we talk about when we talk about medieval literature. The aims of the classes are complementary but distinct: One will push against the strict definition of “English literature” in the Middle Ages, while the other will challenge the notion of borders between both the societies and the literary genres of the medieval world.

The first, “Multicultural Middle Ages,” a fall-term lecture course taught by Ardis Butterfield, the Marie Borroff Professor of English and professor of French and of music, is described in the Yale course catalog as an “introduction to medieval English literature and culture in its European and Mediterranean context, before it became monolingual, canonical, or author-bound.” The second, “Medieval World Literature, Genres and Geographies,” a spring-term seminar taught by Samuel Hodgkin, assistant professor of comparative literature specializing in Persian and Turkic literatures, is a “comparative survey of classic texts from around the medieval world.”

For the rest of the story, see https://news.yale.edu/2019/08/29/medieval-literature-without-borders-new-classes-rethink-middle-ages .

The 2018 New Chaucer Society Congress: Day 2

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Reception at Art Gallery of Ontario; co-sponsored by Medievalists of Color.

I began the second day of the Congress by joining a group of Global Chaucerians for breakfast at a nearby coffee shop.  Jonathan and I have found informal gatherings like this are helpful for colleagues attending the NCS Congress for the first time.

For Session 3, I attended my first lightening panel: “Chaucer and Transgender Studies” moderated by Ruth Evans.  The six short papers were fascinating and provocative.

  • Leanne MacDonald (University of Notre Dame) “Challenging Normative Notions of Transidentity in Medieval Studies”
  • Wan-Chuan Kao (Washington & Lee University) “Trans*domesticity”
  • Michelle Sauer (University of North Dakota) “Reading the ‘Glitch’: Trans-, Technology, and Gender in Medieval Texts”
  • M. W. Bychowski (Case Western Reserve University) “Transgender Ethics: The Wife of Bath’s Trans Feminism”
  • Miranda Hajduk (Seton Hall University) “’My Sturdy Hardynesse’: The Wife of Bath’s Antifeminist Satire as Trans Narrative”
  • Cai Henderson (Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto) “Christine de Pizan’s ‘droite condicion’: Authorial Construction and Resonant Reading in Transgender Text”

Because the presenters were limited to 5-7 minutes, the heart of the panel was the ensuing conversations among themselves and with the audience, as we explored transgender topics, including the ways Chaucer’s characters inhabited multiple, simultaneous identities; the transphobic elements of The Miller’s Tale; transmission glitches revealing resistance to hegemonic norms; and the nature of transgender ethics. The lightening format, a new format for NCS, proved an excellent structure for presenting ideas and generating conversation.

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Plenary Roundtable: Race and Inclusion: Facing Chaucer Studies, Past and Future Evans, Barrington, Bale, Kao, Dinshaw, & Sévère

Next up, the program featured a plenary panel on Race and Inclusion: Facing Chaucer Studies, Past and Future.  The five speakers were Anthony Bale (Birkbeck, University of London), Candace Barrington (Central Connecticut State University), Carolyn Dinshaw (New York University), Wan-Chuan Kao (Washington and Lee University), and Richard Sévère (Valparaiso University). The invitations to participate on the panel were issued nearly year ago, and the subsequent months proved the program committee’s wisdom in forming the plenary round-table addressing questions of race, whiteness, and inclusion in the field of Chaucer studies.

The program committee requested that our short presentations consider “more broadly the historical past of our field as well as our ethics of engagement in the present, and to look forward to what needs to happen next.”  We were also asked to consider the international dimension of our society and “to offer a past-future presentation on whatever facet of Chaucer” we would like to address.

  • Anthony Bale “Whose Prioress?”
  • Candace Barrington “The Feral in Chaucer Studies
  • Carolyn Dinshaw “Facing Incarceration”
  • Wan-Chuan Kao “White Attunement”
  • Richard Sévère “Teaching Chaucer While Black: Strategies for Pedagogically Inclusive Classrooms and Curricula”

As Ruth Evans mentioned in her opening remarks, the session title alludes to the title of Carolyn Dinshaw’s 2000 NCS Biennial Lecture in London, “Pale Faces: Race, Religion and Affect in Chaucer’s Texts and Their Readers.” Another major point of reference was Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages (Cambridge University Press 2018).  Accordingly, speakers were asked to touch on one or more these topics:

  1. Scholarship in the field of race and Chaucer specifically, which can include Orientalism and antisemitism, etc.
  2. Scholarship about Chaucer and medievalism as it relates to race
  3. Strategies for pedagogy when it comes to racially inclusive classrooms, etc.
  4. Race and mentorship in Chaucer studies
  5. The role of NCS as public face for Chaucer studies in these contexts
  6. Methods for decolonizing Chaucer Studies

While the five of us each approached the task differently, we all ended by focusing on our individual and institutional responsibilities to ensure that, despite our mistakes as scholars and teachers, we make the study of the literary past open to everyone. The panel generated useful conversations that should extend well beyond the limits of the Congress.

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OACCT Contributor Picnic.

At lunchtime, many contributors to the Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales gathered for a picnic lunch on the lawn outside Victoria College. For the first time since Brantley Bryant broached the idea to a group of scholars in 2015, the large group assembled, with some of us meeting each other for the first time.

Because I am very interested in the sorts of texts we provide students and scholars throughout the world, I attended the two afternoon sessions organized by Elizabeth Scala: Is There a Text for This Class? Editing Chaucer Now I & II.  There are many proposed solutions to our current predicament, and I’m eager to see if any address the needs of undergraduate students (like mine) who are eager to engage with early literatures but have no plans for graduate study.

After those two sessions, I met Ruen-Chuan Ma, an early-career medievalist at Utah Valley University. We were introduced through the NCS mentorship program organized by Tom Hahn (Rochester University), Shazia Jagot (University of Surrey), and Sierra Lomuto (Macalester College).  As we talked, we walked leisurely to the Art Gallery of Ontario for a reception co-hosted by Medievalist of Color and featuring a display of art objects—Ethiopian religious paintings and European boxwood beads—accompanied by a beautiful, contextualizing pamphlet (written by Meseret Oldjira [Princeton University] and Seeta Chaganti [University of California, Davis]).  Attendees were provided “thought questions,” and I’m going to close Day 2’s posting with them.

  1. If you are a senior scholar, what can you do to help grad students and less-established scholars of color feel welcome in a field that has historically alienated people of color? (Note that NCS has a wonderful mentorship program that will serve this end really well.)
  2. If you are a journal or book editor, what do you think about the diversity of the authors your publication or list represents? What can you do to improve that diversity?
  3. For everyone: how can we create networks together that will be truly inclusive?
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Reception at Art Gallery of Ontario.

Going Rogue

The Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales (OACCT) is a featured textbook in Alex Mueller’s essay “Heading for the Open Rogue: The Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales” (with a nice tandem acknowledge of Global Chaucers) for the Open Library of Humanities (OLH).

empowoa-open-insights-twOLH is a publishing platform supporting “academic journals from across the humanities disciplines, as well as hosting its own multidisciplinary journal.” Launched in 2013, it works to bring scholars and librarians together to provide peer-reviewed academic articles and to showcase “some of the most dynamic research taking place in the humanities disciplines today – from classics, modern languages and cultures, philosophy, theology and history, to political theory, sociology, anthropology, film and new media studies, and digital humanities” (from the OLH “About” pages).

As Alex points out, OACCT is an important means for bringing Chaucer to a Global audience because “[p]ublished resources are difficult for many readers to obtain. While we’re all aware how book costs hamper students, we often forget what this can mean for libraries—and not just our libraries, the ones affiliated with research universities, well-endowed colleges, and strong high schools. Vast underfunding means public libraries, rural and urban high schools, community colleges, as well as colleges and universities outside the sphere of Anglophone privilege are limited (at best) to outdated publications.”  The OACCT is a vital mechanism for bringing current, approachable scholarship free to anyone with an internet connection.

If you haven’t already read Alex’s article, do.  It highlights the important ways that Open Access publication can revolutionize academic publishing  And if you haven’t already checked out the Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales, do–especially if you teach high school or undergraduate courses  The OACCT is designed for non-specialists, and this free resource just might be perfect for your students.

New resource: Open Access Companion to The Canterbury Tales

oacctlogoNow available!

For those who teach The Canterbury Tales or want to know more about the Tales, check out the new Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales, a free and downloadable resource.

Chapters can be downloaded individually, making it perfect for classroom use or personal edification.

Please let the editors know what you think about it (opencanterburytales AT gmail dot com).  They are especially eager to learn how it is used in classrooms outside the UK-US-Canada-Australasia matrix.

To learn about updates to the Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales, follow it on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OACCT/ .

A conversation with José Francisco Botelho

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Last February 2016, José Francisco Botelho, Chaucer’s award-winning Brazilian translator, traveled to Connecticut. He was scheduled to speak twice, at Central Connecticut State University on translating The Canterbury Tales and at Southern Connecticut State University on translating Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Though a snow storm that shut down the entire eastern seaboard caused us to cancel the SCSU presentation (and added an extra day to Chico’s Connecticut stay), we were able to squeeze in the conversation at CCSU. There, he and I held a conversation about his translation strategies and how looking at the Tales through the lens of Brazilian-Portuguese provided him insights that English readers might miss.  We arranged to have the conversation videotaped using a stationary camera, and after a delay, I’m pleased to provide a link to the video: Gaucho Culture and Chaucer: Translating The Canterbury Tales for Brazil. 

Chico’s appearance at CCSU was supported in part by the CCSU English Department.