Thursday, Nov. 9 marked a decisive battle for three English professors. Sha’Dawn Battle, Mike Mattison and Kate Polak all were asked to defend their book choices on The List for a colloquium for the English Department.
The List is a group of books selected by various English professors. There are 53 books currently on The List. They range from “Rhetorical Grammar” by Kolin and Gray to “The Sound and The Fury” by William Faulkner. If a student reads 35 books from The List, they get a book they liked with an inscription and the student gets to go to a literary salon to discuss the works they have read. If a student completes 50 of the books, they get to add a book of their choice to The List.
On Thursday, the aforementioned professors defended one of their four book selections for The List. Before the event started, students could see the personality of each professor. Polak casually sipped wine, Dr. Mattison rechecked his slides and then lounged in his chair while Battle fervently reread her sections in her book she would use. Jennifer Ryan, ’19, was the MC of the event and started off the evening by having the professors introduce their works to the audience composed of a mixture of students and professors.
Battle defended “Go Tell it On the Mountain” by James Baldwin. This novel follows John Grimes, a teenager in Harlem navigating his relationships with his family and his church. Mattison presented on “Lost in the Funhouse” by John Barth. This is a collection of works, but the story he talked about was the title work “Lost in the Funhouse.” Barth was trying to show that traditional writing had been exhausted and this could lead to a new invention in creative writing. Polak defended “Deogratias” by Jean-Philippe Stassen, a graphic novel. The work explores the life of a man who lives in Rwanda during the genocide.
Mattison led the evening and, as with all of the professors, Ryan read negative Amazon reviews for each book selected. After having his choice on The List ripped by Amazon reviews, Mattison confidently walked to podium and asserted, “All those reviews were written from the comfort of their parents’ basements.”
Mattison presented his book with the help of a slide show. He aggressively took shots at critics and made his key points through witty humor and jests. Eventually, Mattison got to a chart which marked the ideas being expressed in the work. Gradually, he edited the un-complex chart to include chaos, which Mattison felt is the idea of Lost in the Funhouse. Mattison argued that the book was necessary to be included on The List because it challenges the conventions of traditional academic writing and looks at being open about literary style.
Polak followed Mattison and continued with the ridiculing of the Amazon reviews as she mockingly chuckled at the negative ideas expressed. She related the book back to a time in 1994, when she was 12 following the Rwanda genocide. She came to the colloquium prepared, as she had read through the Amazon reviews before and thought through each one. Polak, who has a work of her own about “Deogratias,” examined the accurate depiction of what was going on in the genocide and the psychological impact of the genocide on the people in the country. “Deogratias” obviously means a lot to Polak.
As she talked through the book, she explained the title, which means “Thanks be to God” and she even expressed, “I have always viewed this as God’s book.”
Battle finished out the evening with her argument. She spoke directly to the reviews stating, “My only response is: It’s Baldwin!”
Battle started out with a powerful statement that Baldwin is the most influential writer in the 20th century. She went right to the text and gave the audience examples of what she was talking about and showed how the book was a masterpiece as it examines great topics and deep ideas. She looked into the relationship with Grimes and his father, sexuality and religion. These ideas were all pulled together in the book and Battle brought them all out to display to the listeners. She presented with a unique flare of using terms from rap artists, like Drake.
All of the arguments were met with applause. Fellow professor Julius Bailey, in turn, had deep questions for the speakers that made the audience really think about the work. This colloquium was extremely interesting for listeners and each professors convinced the crowd why their book needs to be on The List.