Eight early career English scholars to participate in 2019 First Book Institute

Susan Burlingame
May 30, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Eight early career English professors and post-doctoral fellows will come to Penn State from June 3-7 for a week of workshops, critiques, presentations, and collaboration as part of the seventh First Book Institute (FBI), hosted by the Center for American Literary Studies (CALS) in the College of the Liberal Arts.

The first and only program of its kind in the United States, the FBI helps young scholars transform their dissertations or other scholarly writings into first books that promise to make a significant impact on their fields. The institute was the brainchild of Sean Goudie, associate professor of English and director of CALS.

Realizing that early career scholars had nowhere to go to transform their dissertations into first-rate books, Goudie said he wanted to fulfill a need.

“Once dissertations are complete, the community of advisers and mentors the scholars depend on drops away,” he said. “As the job market has gotten harder and harder in the humanities, there are a lot of early career professors who are trying to continue their research while also holding large teaching loads. There wasn’t a lot of attention paid to how to help scholars with their first book, so It just seemed like a logical step to create an institute where first book authors could get support and feedback.”

Goudie reached out to Priscilla Wald, R. Florence Brinkley Professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke University and editor of the journal American Literature, to serve as FBI co-director.

“Priscilla is one of the country’s leading scholars and editors in American literary studies,” Goudie said. “She was the first person on my list of possible co-directors.”  

“I said ‘yes’ because I was impressed by the concept and by the work Sean had done to get support,” said Wald, who has served as FBI co-director since the first year and plans to continue. “I have incredible respect for Sean. Getting to know him through this program has only deepened my respect. I’m very honored that he chose me.”

Start-up funding for the institute came from Penn State English alumnus and philanthropist Steven Fisher. Since then, the institute has been supported by the Department of English and the College of the Liberal Arts. Goudie said he would be pleased if someone established an endowment to ensure the institute could continue indefinitely.

Together, Goudie and Wald mapped out a structure for the program, which includes eight participants, selected from an applicant pool of approximately 100. Through the years, several past participants have gone on to garner awards for their books, and one returned to Penn State as a postdoctoral research fellow and FBI faculty member.

“At least a third to a half of the applicants’ projects are really worthy,” Goudie said, explaining that selections are based on forming a community of scholars who will be productive and collaborative and whose work shares common themes. “What people might be surprised to learn is that we don’t necessarily pick the eight best projects. We often prioritize participants who might not have a lot of support from their home institutions and who are not already close to publishing. Obviously, the accepted applicants are very excited.”

Each institute begins with a day of workshops on writing book proposals and the nuts and bolts of the publishing process. On subsequent days, the work of two participants per day is critiqued and “workshopped” by the other participants, Goudie said. In addition, each participant is paired with a Penn State faculty member in their subfield of expertise. Now in its seventh year, the program has continually evolved based on participant feedback.

“What we couldn’t have anticipated was the ripple effect the program would have,” said Goudie. “The participants go on to stay in touch with each other and continue to share their writing. They go back to their own communities and universities and establish their own writing groups using the strategies they learned at the First Book Institute.”

“It’s very gratifying that we’re creating a space that’s apart from the participant's home institution or department that cultivates and inspires them to do what it is they have chosen to do with their life,” Goudie continued. “I’ve been really inspired by the success of the experiment that is the First Book Institute as well as by the boldness of the participants and their willingness to redesign, redraw, reorganize and rethink their projects.”  

“It feels magical every summer,” Wald concluded. “Every year I think it can never be this good again, and then it is. Though the program is similar every year, the participants and the work they present isn’t. A good deal of the fun is in working with people who are really excited about bringing an original project to life. And that never gets old.”

The participants for the 2019 First Book Institute include:

— Nissa Ren Cannon, postdoctoral fellow, Kilachand Honors College, Boston University

Project Title: “Paper Identities and Identity Papers: Documents of Interwar Expatriation and Modernist Writing”

— Chris A. Eng, assistant professor of English, Syracuse University

Project Title: “States of Provisionality: Improvising Queer Extravagance in Asian American Camps”

— Emily Hainze, postdoctoral fellow, Kilachand Honors College, Boston University

Project Title: “Incorrigible: Writing from the Early Women’s Prison in the United States”

— Alexander Mazzaferro, postdoctoral fellow, American Philosophical Society, 2018-2020

Project Title: “No Newe Enterprize: Empirical Political Science and the Problem of Innovation in the Colonial English Americas”

— Don James McLaughlin, assistant professor of English, University of Tulsa

Project Title: “Infectious Affect: The Phobic Imagination in American Literature”

— Jesse Miller, clinical assistant professor of writing, School of Management, University at Buffalo

Project Title: “The Birth of the Literary Clinic: Modernism, Bibliotherapy, and the Aesthetics of Health, 1916-1944”

— Cristina Pérez Jiménez, assistant professor of English, Manhattan College

Project Title: “Here to Stay: The Making of Latinx New York, 1931-1951”

— Christy Pottroff, assistant professor of English, Merrimack College

Project Title: “Citizen Technologies: The U.S. Post Office and the Transformation of Nineteenth-Century American Literature”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 30, 2019